On March 30, India saw yet another earth shattering general strike. The strike was called against the anti-people, anti-worker and the destructive policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government.
The strike was organized by some of the largest communist and socialist-led mass organizations and trade unions, such as Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Labor Progressive Federation (LPF) and United Trade Union Congress (UTUC).
The general demands of the organizations are:
- The Four New Labor Codes and the Essential Defense Services Act (EDSA) be scrapped. These new labor codes, which are to replace the previous 29 laws, call for reducing the rights of workers, especially defense production units, from protesting against privatization of public sector units. These codes also increase contractual work, reduce fixed wages and increase working hours. They also reduce the effectiveness of agencies that monitor the structure of companies and that report on the exploitation of workers.
- Acceptance of the demands of the farmers’ organizations. In the last months of 2021, farmers won a major victory against the BJP government to repeal the anti-farmer laws. Their demands now are that the Minimum Support Price be raised the Electricity Amendments Bill be withdrawn, as well the general attacks on farmers discontinue.
- The proposal for the National Monetization Pipeline (NMP) be abandoned. The NMP seeks to privatize most public sector units such as electricity, railways, and other infrastructural organizations. The privatization of these units will make basic necessities more unaffordable and alienate the working population of India.
- A minimum of Rs. 7500 per month for low-income families. COVID-19 and its delta variant destroyed the local economies of India, and increased poverty, as well as increased starvation. Poor planning from the BJP government furthered the destruction of these communities. This demand will help people temporarily escape from this extreme situation.
- Larger allocation of rural and urban sector jobs.
- Social guarantees for informal sector workers. These guarantees will help nearly 400 million workers who work in the informal sector of India, and this help them get allowances, health care benefits etc.
- Minimum wages and social security coverage for 6 million Anganwadi [village child care] workers, ASHA [accredited social health activists], mid-day meal and other scheme workers who work in child and infant care sectors, whose lives and incomes have been destroyed during the pandemic.
- Provide full protection, and insurance coverage, for frontline workers serving the people in the midst of the pandemic.
- Larger spending on health, education agriculture and other public sector utilities, as well as increased resource allocation to revive the economy.
- Heavy reduction of excise duty on petroleum products and take concrete steps to arrest price rise. The BJP government has been allowing the rise in petrol price, affecting the daily lives of workers and urban members of the society.
- Regularize all contract workers and scheme workers and ensure equal pay for equal work for all. Regular posts for workers aren’t being filled and contract workers aren’t being paid even half their wages. This needs to change because laws are skirted around and minimum wage workers need to be paid.
- Cancel the New Pension Scheme (NPS) and restore the old scheme; increase minimum pension under the Employees’ Pension Scheme. The New Pension scheme is being utilized to fund share market-based speculation. This in turn also reduces certain securities for workers as well.
The General strike was carried out very successfully in Kerala while there was major impact in the industrial hubs of West Bengal, Tamilnadu, Haryana, Telangana, Karnataka, Assam and Tripura.
Bank and Insurance workers saw the highest participation in the strike while other job sectors such as energy, transportation, government employees also participated largely in the strike. Anganwadi and ASHA workers had huge numbers in the strike as well.
The BJP government has roundly failed to protect the citizens of India during the time of the pandemic. The imposition of these new laws has deteriorated the lives of common people to a point they are barely subsisting. The general strike was a reflection of the growing anger of the working people of India towards the incumbent party.
The deterioration of conditions ever since the BJP came into power is reflected in the participation of protests in India. In early 2019 there was the 180 million-person protest, followed by the 250 million protesting in 2021. Reported numbers of the countrywide strike were estimated around the 200 million mark. These numbers were largely underreported by publications based in the United States and Europe. Some publications went to extent of reporting 50 million as a standard estimate. This number is untrue because the size of CITU is 6 to 8 million and AITUC is around 15 million. These members also organize local people and workers.
The BJP government must hear the people’s demands and act according to the needs of the people and not a few individuals and corporations who exist to profiteer off the backs of the working populace.