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Explained: Forty Years Later, Looking Back at the First All India General Strike of 1982

Arguably for the first time in independent India, the peasantry and the rural-urban workforce came together in a joint action to protest against the economic policies of the Central government.

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), along with the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and All India Agricultural Workers Unions (AIAWU), has given a joint call to observe Wednesday as 'Kisan-Mazdoor Ekta Diwas', celebrating the date, January 19, to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1982 all-India one-day general strike.

The day holds great significance in the history of the country's trade union movement, for it marked in 1982, arguably for the first time in independent India, the peasantry and the rural-urban workforce's coming together in a joint action to protest against the economic policies of the Central government.

And, as such, every year, sectoral federations active in coal, steel, insurance and telecom sectors, among others, hold a convention on this day, while demonstrations and rallies are carried out at district levels across the country, in a bid to highlight the importance of the workers-farmers’ alliance.

That such an alliance between the two sections to wage a "united fight" against a "common enemy" has been in the making for many years now. This idea was only given a further fillip last year, as farmers, under the leadership of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) and supported well by the trade union organisations, registered a “historic victory” against the Narendra Modi – led Central government by ensuring the withdrawal of the controversial farm legislations.

Against this background, the 1982 general strike anniversary holds even greater importance this year, trade union leaders tell NewsClick. According to them, it will also serve as an “important step” in the direction of successfully observing the upcoming two-day general strike, called by the 10 central trade unions, in February this year.

1982 AND NOW

The nationwide strike action in 1982, observed to press for a 13-point charter of demands, was called then by the National Campaign Committee of central trade union organisations, which had the participation of all the major trade unions including CITU, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and even the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangha (BMS), along with the all India federations of the numerous public sector enterprises.

Among the major demands that were pressed by the unions included above all, the repealing of the Essential Services Maintenance Act of 1981 and an introduction of a need-based minimum wage for the workers, along with a remunerative price for agricultural produces and central legislation for agricultural workers for their social security, among others.

On June 4, 1981, a convention was organised in which a call to general strike was given, which was subsequently followed by regional conventions across different States and a rally to Parliament in the national capital in November of the same. According to one news report from the said period, over 6,000 labour activists throughout the country were arrested by the then Indira Gandhi – led Central government in the days leading up to the general strike.

Moreover, as per the estimates of the unions, ten protesters were also killed in police firing on the day when the general strike was observed.

The semblance of the events witnessed in 1982 with what the country is seeing in the recent years under the Modi government is too hard to be missed, Tapan Sen, general secretary, CITU told NewsClick in a phone interview. According to him, the extension of the support by the peasants and agricultural workers’ unions strengthened the strike action in 1982, more like how the help of the trade unions had strengthened the last year's farmers’ movement.

“When the workers and peasants come together on a common platform, it gives altogether a different dimension to the struggle that is waged against the common enemy– the corporates and the government that serve their interests – of both the sections," he argued.

Sen added that it is to push forward this idea only, that demonstrations and public meetings will be organised throughout the country, more so at village levels, on Wednesday.


Vikram Singh of AIAWU shared similar views and further hinted that in recent years too, the slogan of 'Kisan-Mazdoor Ekta' did not evolve in just a few days but was the result of a long-planned process. Indeed, in September 2018, a joint demonstration of workers and farmers was held in the national capital for the first time against the Modi government, thereby, planted the seeds for the unity between the workers and farmers that was later resonated with other groups, representing the same sections.

More recently, solidarities were also extended by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which consists of 250 farmers’ unions from across the country, to the programmes announced by Central Trade Unions and vice versa. Subsequently, a ‘Mazdoor Kisan Ekta Diwas’ was also celebrated last year at the border protest sites located on the outskirts of Delhi, where slogans celebrating the workers-farmers unity rented the air during the farmers’ agitation.

“The programmes of the workers and the farmers have coincided with each other to form a joint action more in recent past than ever, which is a good sign for the future struggles in the country," argued AR Sindhu, national secretary, CITU. According to her, the January 19 anniversary will remind the numerous constituents of the history of this unity and will serve as an "important step" in further strengthening it.


There is another reason why January 19 hold more importance this year. Ten central trade unions have given a call for a two-day general strike for February 23 and 24 to press for the withdrawal of the reform-oriented four Labour Codes and roll back the policy decisions that involve privatisation of the national assets.

Earlier this month, SKM also extended its support to the strike call.

Sen said that Wednesday's programmes would be the "launching pad" for successfully implementing the upcoming general strike. "The government will see that the anger against its policies has spread across the nation. And that the farmers and the workers have resolved to fight against them jointly," he added.

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