8 January General Strike

Workers demand Red Flag over Red Fort

[Mazdoor Ekta Committee, New Delhi, issued a fervent call to assert the hard earned rights that legitimately belong to workers, peasants and other toiling people, on the eve of All India General Strike, 8th January 2020. We publish below some excerpts from that bulletin:]

30th September, ten central trade union federations jointly organised a National Open Mass Convention of Workers in Delhi. The Convention gave a call to mobilise workers all over India to strike work on 8th January, 2020, to demand rights and display the combined strength of the working class. The National Open Mass Convention of 'Workers was organized by the following central trade union federations—INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC.

Thousands of representatives of workers unions from different sectors participated in this convention. They included workers in banks and insurance companies, coal mines, railways, ordinance factories, port and docks, road transport, steel, telecom, metals and machine building sectors. They included ASHA, anganwadi workers, mid-day meal workers and other scheme workers.

Mazdoor Ekta Committee calls upon all workers and working people to organise for the success of the all India general strike.

Crores of workers are growing poorer year after year, Wages do not keep with the soaring prices. Workers do not know when they may lose their jobs. Crores of daily wage earners do not know if they will remain employed tomorrow.

Crores of peasants are sinking deeper and deeper into debt. Thousands commit suicide every year.

At the other pole, the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and other monopoly capitalists are pocketing enormous profits year after year. They are counted among the richest persons in the world.

The Central Government does not fulfil toilers' just demands. It is doing everything possible to fulfil the greed of monopoly capitalists for maximum profits.

For the past 70 years and more, workers have been demanding a law to ensure that all workers are paid at least a living wage, which should cover the cost of all essential needs for a worker's family a dignified human life. Soon after independence in 1947, the elites claimed that Indian capitalists are too poor to guarantee a living wage. Instead, a Minimum Wage was recommended by the 15th Labour Conference held in 1957, at a level which was just enough to keep body and soul together and come to work every day.

Today, when Indian capitalists are boasting about how rich and big they have become, the Central Government is making the absurd claim that Indian capitalists cannot even afford to pay all workers the Minimum Wage set in 1957, adjusted for the rise in cost of living!

Workers' wages are being kept as low as possible, so that capitalists can pocket maximum profits and foreign companies will find it attractive to invest in India.

One of the main ways in which average wages are being pushed down is through rampant use of temporary contracts instead of regular jobs.

From factory workers to school and college teachers, from workers in the automobile manufacturing factories to drivers of public transport buses, the majority of workers are being forced to work on contract. They are paid much lower wages than regular workers for doing the same work. They have neither job security nor social security.

Women workers are paid much less than their male colleagues.

Regular positions which fall vacant are not being filled in government schools and public health institutions. Lakhs of women and men are being hired on contract at lower than wages paid to permanent workers and deprived of the rights which belong to all workers.

Crores of agricultural workers and daily wage workers in industry and services have no legal protection for any of their rights.

Peasant brothers and sisters who toil hard to feed the whole country face extreme insecurity of livelihood.
Under the banner of globalisation and liberalisation, successive governments have enacted laws and adopted policies to expand the space for Indian and foreign capitalist companies in agricultural trade. Public crop procurement and the public distribution system have been cut back in the interests of capitalist profiteers.

Peasants are ruined not only when their crops fail due to bad weather. They are ruined even when there is a bumper crop, because the prices they receive fall below their cost of production.

When there is shortage and prices rise, it is not the peasants who benefit. It is the middlemen, headed by the big capitilist companies, who pocket exorbitant profits. For example, onion prices in the cities reached 90/100 rupees per kg in October 2019. Yet the price paid to the onion growers did not rise to even 10 rupees per kg.

The cost of agricultural production keeps rising because the capitalist companies which sell fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs are charging exorbitant prices. Peasants are getting squeezed between rising costs and tailing prices of their produce.

Workers are being robbed by the soaring retail prices of food and other needs.

Through long years of struggle, workers in various sectors have gained legal recognition of many of their rights. In the name of simplification, 44 labour laws are being replaced by four Labour Codes, with the aim of depriving workers of their hard won rights and fulfilling the greed of Indian and foreign capitalists.

Rights that have been won by coal miners, construction workers and others through years of persistent struggle are being withdrawn.

The Trade Unions Act is being amended to make it extremely difficult for workers to form unions of their choice.

In the automobile, chemicals and other industries which have grown rapidly over the past 10 to 20 years, workers who are forming unions to fight for their rights are being brutally attacked. Union leaders have been thrown out of their jobs. Some have been imprisoned for life.

Women workers face sexual harassment at the work place. They are not even free to walk in the streets without the danger of physical attacks. The Constitution proclaims equal rights for women, and their liberation from all forms of oppression. However, there is no real guarantee for the rights of women, which are violated on a daily basis.

Instead of fulfilling the longstanding demand of workers for strict implementation of labour laws, the Central Government wants to allow capitalists to "self-certify" that they are being implemented.

Capitalist can now super-exploit young skilled workers as "apprentices" and "trainees", without having to hire them at the end of their training period. Fixed term employment has been allowed in various sectors including the garment export sector, as another way to deprive workers of job security and super-exploit them.

Laws are being amended to further expand the use of contract labour instead of providing regular employment. Contractors who hire less than 50 workers are to be exempted from the purview of labour laws. This means that a factory with 500 workers can be run entirely on contract labour, by using a number of contractors, each employing less than 50 workers.

Factories with less than 40 workers on their payroll are to be removed from the purview of the Factories Act, which means no labour law will apply to them.

Privatisation has been promoted by successive governments as a programme to allegedly increase efficiency and benefit all sections of society.

All over the country, workers and people at large have been opposing the handing over of public assets to private capitalists.

Without any regard for our views, the Central Government has announced that it will raise over one lakh crore rupees through the sale of public sector units. This target includes profit making public sector companies such as Indian Oil Corporation, National Thermal Power Corporation, Power Grid, Oil India, Gas Authority of India Limited, National Aluminum Company, Bharat Petro-Chemicals Limited, Engineers India Limited, Bharat Earth Movers and Air India.

Indian Railways is being privatised, despite promises to the contrary made by PM Modi, and former PM Manmohan Singh earlier. The Container Corporation of India, rail-way workshops producing engines and coaches, as well as the operation of trains on selected profitable routes are being handed over to private profiteers.

Ordinance factories and the others engaged in production for the defence sector are to be privatised.

Ports and docks and six more international airports are being privatised.

BSNL and MTNL are being deliberately ruined, as part of preparing conditions to justify their privatization. Nearly 80,000 workers have been asked to take "voluntary retirement".

Public sector banks are being forcibly merged. In the course of these mergers, many branches are being closed down, particularly in the rural areas, declaring them to be "not profitable". The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code has been used to legalise the loot of the money of banks by corporate loan defaulters. Public sector banks are being deliberately liquidated to open the way to big Indian and foreign private banks to dominate the vital banking sector.

Education, health care, water supply; sanitation, electricity supply, public transport and all other public services have been opened up to Indian and foreign capitalists to make maximum profits.

The expansion of e-commerce is leading to the domination of trade by American multinationals including Amazon and Wal-Mart. It is driving lakhs of small traders out of businesses.

Global multinational giants, including Monsanto, are establishing their domination over agricultural trade, driving the peasantry to ruin.

Privatisation and liberalisation are therefore not only anti-worker, anti-peasant and anti-social, but also anti-national.

Various tactics of "Divide and Rule" are being used to prevent the toiling majority, from uniting against their common exploiters.

A major barrier to the unity of the working class is the rivalry between different political parties and between the trade union federations affiliated to them. The fact that 10 central federations have come together is a step forward towards overcoming this barrier.

Workers and peasants want red flag on the Red Fort!

[Courtesy : Mazdoor Ekta Committee]

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Vol. 52, No. 28, Jan 12 - 18, 2020