Unity in Action

Unity is a small word. Just five letters! But it is a big word for the oppressed who always remain divided. It is a big word for those who are ardently opposed to a denial of expanding democratic space for the voiceless millions. Unity is the muscle of working people who have been on the defensive for long. In truth political forces talk more about disunity, not unity. The urgency of the moment dictates that workers and wage earners in all sectors, both organised and unorganised, continually forge ahead with progressive ideas that are inseparable from the fight against corporate rule, rather minority rule. The enormous challenges that they confront day in day out for sheer survival look overwhelming. They need new jumping off points from which to launch an offensive against the prevailing inhuman conditions. Toilers cannot pose themselves as a threat to brutish reality unless they chalk-out some strategy of united action—or unity in action. It is an historical fact that all the significant changes for the better in working conditions were the result of workers being unified for a common cause. It is unified action that matters in changing the suffocating situation in which people are being forced to live. That the government and its agencies are able to thwart any dissent it is because they don't face any unified action, peaceful or non-peaceful, anywhere in the country.

The proposed strike by the central trade unions and federations in the second week of January 2019, seems to be a welcome relief for people who find it increasingly difficult to adjust with Modi's autocratic rule. The January shutdown will be a nation-wide protest by workers and employees against the centre's anti-working class and anti-people policies. They have also announced their time table and strategy to start a campaign so that the dictatorial face of Modi gets exposed. There is nothing new in the discovery that this Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA government is out and out reactionary and signifies the rise of far right in India. If anything India is at a dangerous crossroads with the ascent of saffron ideology in the country's body-politic.

Unions and federations that are not affiliated to the ruling BJP and its allies have called the strike demanding among other things minimum wage of Rs 18,000. Need-based minimum wage has been a bone of contention for decades. Government comes, government goes! And unions and federations reiterate their oft repeated demand of minimum wage without showing any resolve to continue agitation uninterruptedly. People who believe in freedom cannot rest. There is every reason to believe that unions and federations prefer rest to sustained agitation. The periodic tool-down seems to have lost its edge. This government and its sponsors—corporates, both foreign and domestic—understand only one languages—the language of production loss and decline in GDP.

These days nothing is heard about mandays lost due to withdrawal of labour. The reason is simple! Workers are too shaky to raise their voice against unfair labour practice of employers. Most labour intensive industries are gone. And Modi is the architect of large-scale bankruptcy of small and medium enterprises through his most ill-conceived policy of demonetisation and introduction of complicated Goods and Services Tax (GST) in haste. In other words jobs too are vanishing with the closure of thousands of small units—the main shock-absorbers for labour force. With big companies replacing small and medium ones and introducing high-tech automation including robotics the prospects of job creation in the future seem bleak.

Mostly left unions and federations are in the forefront of January industrial strike long over due. Labour under the sway of Congress—the main opposition will participate in the January strike. Despite so many setbacks, both here and abroad, labour unions having affiliation to the left, have not learnt any lessons. They have developed a habit to agitate for their sectional interests ignoring vast masses who have no future under the Modi regime. Why didn't they—left-oriented labour unions—launch sustained campaign against demonetisation and GST, is open to question. Gone are the days of possibility of success, even in limited measures, in sectoral movement. Without broad-based united action against the Modi tyranny, labour cannot bounce back even in the organised sector the way they did in the fifties and sixties of the last century. There are so many areas where organised workers can easily move forward with broad-based unified action and yet they are reluctant to do so. Employers have centralised production system to such an extent that decentralised labour efforts fail to rise to the occasion and meet the challenge.

The stereotyped pattern of placing some charter of demands while periodically resorting to strike and that too in the form of tokenism at best cannot deliver. If toilers would like to remain passive at this juncture when lives and livelihoods of people in general are threatened, they are going to isolate themselves further from the masses. Workers and youth worldwide are restive but their defiance even in totalitarian regimes hardly gets currency in the so-called mainstream media. No doubt workers frequently resort to strike to fight corporate high-handedness and retrenchment. Even in China there are reports of workers in some cases organising themselves into independent unions to break the stranglehold of the state-controlled All China Federation of Trade Unions. Students and youths are protesting in Mexico in large numbers, they are protesting in South Korea, in Chicago and elsewhere. The problem before them is how to go beyond sectional demands to a real democratisation of society and, in the end to its total reorganisation which in essence means rebellion from below.

Unity in action and broad-basing of united front cannot be achieved in isolation. In the Indian context labour initiatives are totally apolitical, they never react to gross violation of human rights by the Modi regime. Human rights bodies take to streets wherever workers' rights are curtailed, they protest in their own way when workers face punitive action from employers and police. Strangely, they do hardly anything meaningful when rights crusaders themselves become victims of state repression, thus negating the scope of unity in action.

Vol. 51, No.21, Nov 24 - Dec 1, 2018