On January 8, the nation is gearing up to witness a complete shutdown as workers from all sectors including industrial workers, regular and contractual workers in state and central public sector units, construction workers, scheme workers, transport workers (both public and private) will be observing a general strike. Following the declaration by the ten Central Trade Unions (CTUs) namely Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Trade Union Coordination Committee (TUCC), Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Left Progressive Front (LPF), United Trade Union Congress (UTUC), along with various sectoral independent federations and associations. Over 175 farmers’ organisations, 60 students’ organisations are joining in solidarity, and a Grameen Bandh (Rural India shutdown) has been announced.
Two days ahead of the strike, representatives of the unions gathered in Delhi to state that the government is failing to tackle a crisis-ridden economy and is busy in privatising and selling PSUs, natural resources and other national assets which is detrimental to the national interest and national development.
Amarjeet Kaur, from the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) said, “25 crore people will be participating in the strike call and a complete bandh will be observed in 10-15 cities and a massive strike action in others. We have been campaigning from September, when the call was first given. There is no faith in this government and there is massive public anger over ghastly targeting of people and students and the violence witnessed across campuses.” She added, “Anger of the nation will culminate on January 8.”
Also read: Jan 8 Strike: 23 Workers’ Unions Set to Participate in Maharashtra
The union members criticised the privatisation of 12 airports stating that they are being sold out to private hands. While 100% sale of Air India has been already decided, the decision to sell Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) has also been taken, BSNL-MTNL merger has been announced and 93,600 telecom workers have lost their jobs under the garb of voluntary retirement scheme (VRS). The statement released by the trade unions said, “The privatisation of railways is being pursued in steps, the auctioning of platforms is on, attempts to privatise railway production units being made, almost 150 private trains planned to be run at the cost of services to the common man and efficient running of trains by Indian railways, there is decision to corporatie 49 defence production units deferred for the time being in face of opposition of unions, forcible merger of Banks despite opposition from employees and officers unions, 100% FDI in coal sector also on the cards after such decisions in case of defence, railways, pharmaceuticals, animal husbandry, security services, retail trade etc. (sic)”
Speaking at the press conference, Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU said, “The acts of the current regime are going to lead to the destruction of the country. What we have built in the last 70 years is now going away and is being pushed towards de-industrialisation. The government advisors themselves have stated that the economy is in ICU. While economic slowdown is not on the government's agenda, they want to take control over the media and the workers. Farmers, youth, students, all are out on the streets.
He added, “Moreover, the Ministry of Labour failed to assure the workers on any of their demands during the meeting on January 2, 2020. The attitude of the government is that of contempt towards labour as we construe from its policies and actions. It is more than 4 years, there is no Indian Labour conference since the last held in July 2015.”
The 12-point charter of demands of the trade unions includes urgent measures for containing price-rise through universalisation of public distribution system and banning speculative trade in commodity market, containing unemployment through concrete measures for employment generation, strict enforcement of all basic labour laws and stringent punitive measures for violation of labour laws, universal social security cover for all workers, minimum wages of not less than Rs 21,000/- per month with provisions of indexation, stoppage of disinvestment in Central/State PSUs and strategic sale, stoppage of contractorisation in permanent perennial work and payment of same wage and benefits for contract workers as regular workers for same and similar work, among others.
Also read: January 8 Strike: Protest Against Record Sale of National Assets by Modi Govt
The working class – both in the public as well as private sector – has valiantly led the fight against Modi government’s policies of disinvestment, among others. In the past six years, there have been three historic all-India strikes, a mahapadav at Parliament, several strike struggles by industry sectors and a growing solidarity with peasant struggles. All trade unions (except the BJP/RSS affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh) have forged a unity in these struggles. This massive and united resistance has forced the government to hesitate and even reconsider some issues. But on other issues, the government has gone ahead with its anti-worker policies.
The coming strike on January 8, 2020 to protest against all these anti-worker policies is another step forward in the struggle for workers rights. The farmers, too, are set to join by observing a grameen bandh (rural shutdown or strike).