New Delhi: Trade unions, independent federations and associations are planning novel forms of organising workers to ensure maximum participation in the nationwide call for a general strike on November 26 by central trade unions, barring the RSS-backed BMS.
Preparations for mobilisation of workers, especially from the informal sector which engages over 90% of the workforce, began with a convention held here on Wednesday.
Trade union leaders said they would have to think of newer ways of campaigning and groundwork considering the COVID-19 restrictions on assembling of people are still in place, defying which could increase health hazards or attract penal provisions – as in the past .
As a result, what can be expected are demonstrations and protest actions in multiple sites across states. These would be more decentralised with lower participation in keeping with the pandemic-induced social distancing norms. In addition, protests in designated areas, namely, Jantar Mantar, will also be held.
Wednesday’s convention saw participation from all Delhi chapters of the 10 central trade unions.
“Modiji’s slogan of turning ‘crisis into opportunity’ is now been understood by everyone. This pandemic is an opportunity for the capitalist class to achieve what was not possible in the normal days,” the resolution, adopted by the leaders, reads in Hindi, while condemning the privatisation spree, wage cuts, lay-offs and massive job losses.
Among the signatories to it are Congress-backed INTUC, socialist HMS, Left-backed CITU, AITUC, AIUTUC, TUCC, AICCTU, LPF, UTUC and women’s union SEWA.
Trade union leaders reiterated their long-standing demands for the working class which, above all, includes a monthly cash assistance of Rs. 7,500 to all non-income taxpaying families and free 10 kg ration to all those in need.
The resolution also demanded scrapping of, what it called, “anti-farmer” agriculture reforms and “anti-worker” labour codes – both of which were passed during the recently concluded Monsoon session of Parliament.
Abhishek, belonging to Delhi unit of All India Central Council of Trade Union (AICCTU), told NewsClick that many matters ranging from the protest of doctors in the national capital to the housing question of the workers were discussed in the meeting.
“COVID-19 has presented newer challenges and has given rise to more insecurity among the working classes. Multiple protests are being staged already which highlight those issues. We are expecting them to all come together on November 26, with their own sets of demands, in solidarity with each other,” he said.
The national capital, in the wake of the pandemic, is seeing workers – doctors, teachers and sanitation staff – employed by the municipal corporation bodies raising their voices against poor working conditions and pending salaries. They have accused both the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – led Delhi government and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – which controls the three municipal corporations – of not paying heed to their issues.
Additionally, the demand for adequate housing for the poor has taken a front seat, with multiple demolition drives being carried out in the National Capital Region (NCR). The housing question was also triggered by the August 31 order of Supreme Court which directed removal of 48,000 shanties along the railway tracks.
“These developments have led the unions to organise workers at a community level as well, rather than only at the factories – as part of our preparations for the general strike,” Abhishek said, adding that this “will ensure wider community participation in the demonstrations. A new form of protest might also emerge in these communities in days to follow.”
In this light, a protest has been called at Delhi Secretariat on November 6, where a strike notice will be served by the Delhi units of the central trade unions.
Apart from focusing more on community participation, the general strike this time is also expected to see greater participation from the unorganised workforce, who have been the worst hit by the sudden lockdown and subsequent economic disruptions.
Subhash Bhatnagar, coordinator, National Campaign Committee for Construction Labour (NCC-CL), a national campaign body for construction workers, told NewsClick that there is anger among informal workers for not receiving anything – in terms of social security – in the recently promulgated labour codes.
“The functioning of the building construction boards are getting diluted. Most of the informal working sections have not been included within the framework of providing social security,” Bhatnagar said, adding that perturbed by this, “the informal workers will take to the streets along with the organised workforce to raise their demands.”
Similar apprehensions were raised by Dharmendra Kumar of the Hawkers Joint Action Committee, a street vendors’ body active in Delhi. “The labour codes failed to include ‘self- employment’ as a category to extend the social security benefits,” he said. “We are preparing to ensure larger participation of street vendors in the upcoming general strike to raise this issue.”
As part of the mobilisation effort, meetings among town vendors’ bodies are being held where street vendors are being organised over issues relating to their evictions and livelihoods. “We demand an immediate moratorium on eviction of the street vendors and a protection to their livelihood from the Centre,” Kumar said.
Furthermore, thanks to the ‘ruinous policies’ of the Narendra Modi –led Central government, protests are breaking out across the country. Three nationwide demonstrations – on July 3, August 9 and September 23 – have already been held.
The upcoming general strike is only “a preparation for more intense, more tenacious and longer struggles that lie ahead,” the central trade unions had said earlier in their statement.