Indian Workers Stand Up To Globalisation

Today the solidarity of the working class reverberated throughout India, when millions of workforce—not prejudiced by ideology, class or political linkages—came together, bringing the country almost to a standstill, to protest against the anti-working class attitude of the ruling government. The 14th general strike (since 1991) established that the working people of the country en masse raised their voice of protest, warning the Government about its indifference to the burning issues affecting the lives and livelihoods of the workers, and its anti-people economic policy regime. The call for strike was given by all the central trade unions in the country and was endorsed by almost all the major independent national federations of employees and workers. According to a joint statement issued by the unions (BMS, INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, AICCTU, UTUC, TUCC, LPF, SEWA), “Around 10 crore workers, from both the organized and unorganized sectors, took part in this strike across the country.”

“The strike was bigger than the earlier one, with the participation of both organized and unorganized sector workers. In many states it was a bandh-like situation because the workers from sectors such as transport, port and dock, and posts struck work totally,” says Tapan Sen, General Secretary, CITU. “The clarion call given by the central trade unions as well as the independent industrial federations was responded to in an unprecedented manner, making the February 28th strike a historic event in annals of the Indian working class movement,” states Comrade Mahadevan, Deputy General Secretary of AITUC. “The demands that we have put forward are genuine and so the workers motivated themselves to take part actively in the strike,” says Comrade D.L. Sachdeva, the AITUC National Secretary. “In Kerala, even the journalists came together in support of the cause. Shops and educational institutions were closed in support of the strike,” says T.P. Ramakrishnan, State Secretary, CITU. “All the Defence civilian workers working in ordnance factories, DRDO labs and other defence installations participated in the strike,” says Raju, National Secretary, INTUC. A release issued by the All India Bank Employees Federation stated that the employees held processions, rallies, demonstrations, etc., to mark the strike. In spite of various provocations from the state government, the strike was complete. Five union leaders and activists were arrested by the police in Kolkata.

Delhi witnessed demonstrations by the workers on strike near ITO, blocking the traffic for an hour. Industrial areas such as Mayapuri, South Delhi, Okhla, Mangolpuri, Kirti Nagar and Azadpur were closed due to the strike. Auto rickshaws were off the roads. Of 125 flights from Delhi, only 30 flights could take off; due to the strike in the oil sector in 146 installations, airports in the northern region were completely affected.

“The miseries of the common people and workers are increasing day by day. Exploitation of the workers is on the increase. Nearly 40 lakh workers have lost their jobs in recent years. Whereas employers are being bailed out, workers interests are being sold out. Labour laws are being violated by employers and the government is openly supporting employers. The public sector is being disinvested and privatized,” says C.H. Venkatachalam, General Secretary, All India Bank Employees Federation.

The General Strike by the workers en masse visibly impacted almost all the sectors of the economy, including coal, steel, petroleum, telecom, defence, banks, insurance, electricity, transport, port and dock, anganwadis, construction, brick-kilns and beedi. This is a fitting reply to the utter neglect and insensitivity of the government to the problems and miseries of crores of the working masses who keep the country’s economy running. This is also a signal that the working people and their unions will, in no way, accept such indifference and neglect lying down; instead they will take their struggle to a higher pitch if their basic demands are not addressed by the government through concrete remedial action.

Demands of the Countrywide General Strike

  1. Concrete measures to contain price rise.
  2. Concrete measures to link employment protection with the concession/incentive package offered to entrepreneurs.
  3. Strict enforcement of all basic labour laws without any exception or exemption, and stringent punitive measures for violation of labour laws.
  4. Universal social security cover for the unorganized sector workers without any restriction and creation of a National Social Security Fund, with adequate resources, in line with the recommendation of NCEUS and Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour.
  5. Stopping disinvestment of central and state profit-making PSUs.
  6. No giving out on contract the work of permanent/perennial nature and payment of wages and benefits to the contract workers at the same rate as available to the regular workers of the industry/establishment.
  7. Amendment of Minimum Wages Act to ensure universal coverage, irrespective of the schedules and fixation of statutory minimum wage at not less than Rs 10,000.
  8. Remove all ceilings on payment and eligibility of Bonus, Provident Fund; Increase the quantum of gratuity.
  9. Assured Pension for all.
  10. Compulsory registration of trade unions within a period of 45 days and immediate ratification of the ILO Conventions No. 87 and No. 98.

According to the unions, almost all the strategic sectors of the economy as well as unorganized sector participated in the strike. These include:

  • The entire financial sector, that is, the banks and the insurance companies, involving around 20 lakh workers and employees, witnessed almost total strike throughout the country.
  • All the central Public Sector units and major industrial units in private sector in Bangalore and Mysore were completely paralysed owing to strike.
  • All the Ports—Kolkata, Mumbai, JNPT, Chennai, Tutikorin, Visakhapatnam, Paradeep, Kochi and all the three ports in Gujarat—were on strike
  • More than 6 million state government employees, teachers, employees of state public sector, boards and corporations of almost all the states of the country, barring a few, participated in the strike in a massive way. In West Bengal, the state government employees, braving threats and intimidating action by the state government, responded to the strike call in a magnificent way. •
  • Many central govt employees all over the country participated in the strike. In the defence sector too, the strike was around 80 per cent.
  • Of the six-lakh coal-mining workers in nine companies, including ECL, BCCL, CCL, SECL, NCL, WCL and CMPDIL, a majority of the workforce joined the strike action. In Singareni colliery, the strike was partial. In the non-coal mining belt, spread over Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the strike was near total.
  • The strike by the workers and employees of telecom giant BSNL was more than 70 per cent throughout the country.
  • In the petroleum sector, both in upstream, refineries and marketing, the strike was total in the eastern, north-eastern and southern parts of the country; and more than 70 per cent in western and northern India.
  • In the steel sector, the strike was almost complete among the contract workers in all the eight steel plants. Among the regular workers, the strike was 90 per cent in Vizag Steel Plat, 85 per cent in Salem Steel Plant and 70 per cent in Alloy Steel Plant; in Durgapur Steel Plant and IISCO, the strike was around 50 per cent, in Rourkela it was 40 per cent. In Bokaro and Bhilai, the strike was partial among the regular workers.
  • In the plantation sector throughout the country, the strike was near total in eastern and southern India and partial in Assam.
  • The workers in the unorganised sector, namely, in brick-kilns, head-load, beedi, and mandi, took part in the strike in a big way, and organized rail-roko and rasta-roko at various places throughout the country.
  • The construction workers, both from the organized and unorganized sectors, responded to the strike call in a big way.
  • The construction workers in all hydel-projects under construction in Himachal Pradesh were on complete strike.
  • Around 15 lakh anganwadi workers throughout the country also participated in the strike.
  • Fisher and fishery workers took part in the strike in lakhs throughout the country.
  • Transport workers, both from the state and private sector responded to strike call magnificently in a number of states.
  • Electricity workers joined the strike in a big way in most of the states.
  • An overwhelming majority of the 1.5 lakh medical representatives in the country were on strike.