Three years ago, in September 2018, a joint demonstration of workers and farmers was held in the national capital for the first time – not merely to press for a charter of demands but set out a path for a much ambitious unity between workers and farmers against their “common enemy”.
The march near Parliament was called “Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally”, organised at the time by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), along with the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU).
“The idea was to bring the two sections – the producers of the wealth, yet heavily exploited – to a common platform that, we thought, will provide strength to both of their respective struggles,” according to Hannan Mollah, general secretary, AIKS.
Cut to February 27, 2021, the idea now seems to have resonated with other groups, representing same sections, as well. ‘Mazdoor Kisan Ekta Diwas’ was celebrated on the said day at the border protest sites located on the outskirts of Delhi, where slogans celebrating their unity rented the air.
The protest sites – Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur, and Shahjahanpur – have emerged, since the past few months, as the cynosure of what is being arguably hailed as the biggest farmers-led movement in the world.
The leadership of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella farmers’ group spearheading the ongoing movement, has maintained that the event was organised to attract more and more workers to join the struggle against the reform-oriented farm legislations; workers, on the other hand, mainly led by 10 central trade unions (CTUs) rallied, giving louder voice to their own demand of withdrawing the four labour codes.
Also see: Farmers' Agitation: Worker-Farmer Unity Deepens
As such, the argument that this is a “united fight of farmers and workers” against a “common enemy” - made earlier in 2018 – was reinforced once again, albeit on a much larger scale.
“This is exactly what the plan was back in 2016-17 when a process to forge a farmers-workers alliance was initiated,” Mollah, who also holds a prominent position within the SKM, told NewsClick on Saturday. “We knew that these are the only two sections in society which are capable of fighting till the end,” he added.
The attempts to forge this unity gained momentum in August last year, when on August 7, a call to observe “Save India Day” by the national platform of CTUs was also supported by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which consists of 250 farmers’ unions from across the country. Similarly, when the latter called for a countrywide ‘Rail Roko-Rasta Roko’ protest on September 25, the trade unions declared their unstinting support to the programme.
Moreover, after a first joint meeting of its kind between the leadership of CTUs and AIKSCC back in November last year, solidarity was drawn between the workers’ general strike and farmers’ Delhi Chalo, that were called by the respective groups.
Most of the leaders associated with the AIKSCC are also now part of the SKM that was formed in the wake of the farmers marching to Delhi.
Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), one of the CTUs, explained the specifics of this “unity” understanding between farmers’ and workers’ groups. “Both saw Modi government’s policies as deterrent to the interests of the section of people that are represented by them as well as to the nation itself,” she said.
According to her, just as the agriculture reforms are being feared for corporatising farming, the codification of labour laws as a process is also “nothing but to benefit the corporate groups who also act as the employers”.
Avik Saha, working group member of the AIKSCC, agrees with this argument. “The common enemy of both farmers and workers is this group of big corporate houses, whose interests are being safeguarded by the Narendra Modi government,” he said, adding, “then why shouldn’t there be an united fight against such an agenda”.
More Collective Programmes on Table
Saturday's ‘Ekta Diwas’ event also hinted at the strategy that would be adopted to keep the morchas running at Delhi’s border, now that the deadlock with the Centre continues, after the talks with the government interlocutor falling apart last month.
“The SKM and the CTUs have planned to meet on March 1 to chalk out a joint programme between workers and farmers for the days to come,” Kaur said. According to her, while in the previous meeting between the two groups trade unions agreed to extend their solidarity to “what was planned by the farmers’ groups,” this one is expected to see discussions over a “collective action programme”.
Also read: Kisan Mazdoor Rally: Massive Show of Unity in Punjab’s Barnala
“The central trade unions, from the very start, had inserted the demand to repeal the farm laws in their charter. In the upcoming meeting, we will certainly look for more discussion on the issues pertaining to labour codes. However, it will be up to the farmers’ groups whether to include this demand [of withdrawing labour codes] while negotiating with the Centre… we will not insist them,” said Kaur.
Mollah of SKM confirmed that such a meeting between the two umbrella groups is indeed scheduled. Calling it an “advancement of the movement”, he claimed that “labour codes will be discussed” and that “a joint programme” will be planned.
Saha of AIKSCC said that his organisation will fully support such a joint action programme, if it were to be carried out. Asked what he thinks about labour codes being discussed during the talks with the Centre, if they were to occur, he, however, said, “That is highly improbable, given the attitude of this government which will not entertain such a unity between workers and farmers.”