Let us work for the success of the All India General Strike!
Call of Mazdoor Ekta Committee, 18th November, 2020
On 26th November, crores of workers all across the country will go on strike. This General Strike is in opposition to the wholesale attacks on workers’ rights and against the privatisation program.
The BJP government headed by Narendra Modi has used its majority in Parliament to pass four labour codes which deprive us workers of the rights we have won through many years of struggle and sacrifice. It is accelerating the process of selling the priceless assets of our country to Indian and foreign capitalist monopolies.
Workers in coal mines, railways, ports and docks, petroleum, electricity, banks, insurance, telecom, airlines, defence production and other industries are vigorously opposing the privatisation program.
Seventeen organisations of rail workers, representing more than 10 lakh rail workers, have come together to oppose the privatisation of the Indian Railways. They have re-established the National Coordination Committee of Railwaymen’s Struggle (NCCRS). It was under the leadership of the NCCRS that the historic railway strike of 1974 took place. Cutting across party affiliation, these organisations have taken the decision to fight in unison to save Indian Railways.
Five lakh coal mine workers have repeatedly gone on strike to oppose the liquidation of Coal India and the auction of coal mines to Indian and foreign capitalist companies. Seventy thousand workers of 41 ordinance factories have organised strikes and protests against privatisation of defence production. In both these industries, all the major unions have come together under one banner, overcoming party and union divisions.
In industrial belts such as Manesar and Sriperambudur, whenever workers of one factory are attacked by the management, workers from other factories have come forward in support. Workers’ unity committees have come up in many such industrial areas. They have united around the principle: “An attack on one is an attack on all!”
Nurses, doctors, sanitation workers, AASHA and Anganwadi workers are on the streets demanding their rights as workers. Uber and Ola cab drivers, and delivery workers employed by App based services have begun to organise themselves into unions. Workers of the auto, chemical and IT industries have been waging heroic struggles to form the unions of their choice. Teachers across the country are fighting for security of employment and for their rights and dignity, as educators and nurturers of the new generation.
All these facts show that a major class conflict is building up in our country. On one side are the exploited workers, the most numerous and most productive class. On the other side is the minority of capitalist exploiters and the government which is in their service.
Ever since India became independent, our rulers have fed us with one lie after another. The Bombay Plan developed by the Tatas and Birlas was presented by the Congress Government of Nehru as a plan to build a socialistic pattern of society. In reality, it was a plan to develop capitalism and enrich the big industrial houses. The business houses wanted the government to restrict imports and foreign investments, so that they can dominate the domestic market. As they did not have enough capital at that time to develop heavy industry and infrastructure, they wanted the Central Government to spend from its budget to create public enterprises in such sectors.
By the decade of the 1980s, this course of capitalist enrichment by looting public funds and protecting the home market from foreign competition had exhausted its potential. It had resulted in a crisis of government finances and a foreign exchange crisis. Using the occasion of the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Indian capitalist class and its politicians started blaming all the problems of the economy on the public sector and the restrictive import and foreign investment policies. They started promoting the program of globalisation, through privatisation and liberalisation. Having accumulated enormous wealth, the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and other monopoly houses wanted to grab public assets and turn them into sources of maximum private profit. They wanted to open up all markets to foreign investors, so as to collaborate with them and achieve their own global expansionist aims.
Since 1991, successive governments headed by Congress Party and BJP have argued that if capitalists are allowed to grow rich at the fastest possible pace, then some of their wealth would trickle down to the workers. In reality, nothing has trickled down. The concentration of wealth has reached a very high level. The gap between the rich and the poor has kept on widening, more rapidly than before.
The first case of wholesale privatisation through strategic sale was Modern Foods, which was sold to Hindustan Lever in the year 2000. The then Minister of Disinvestment justified it by saying, It is not the business of the government to make bread.” Workers of Modern Foods raised the legitimate question, “What then is the business of the government?”
Successive governments have lied about the aim of the privatisation program. They asserted that only companies which were loss making and which were not of strategic importance would be considered for sale. Now, everything is up for sale to private profiteers. The private owners invariably cut down the work force, increase working hours and take numerous measures to intensify the exploitation of labour in order to maximise profits,
Petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, and other natural resources belong to the whole of society. Handing them over to Indian or foreign capitalists is not only anti-worker but also against the general interests of society. When electricity and rail transport are handed over to private parties, it is bound to increase in the cost of living for the working people. Private operators of trains will not only raise the fares but also compromise on safety measures. Privatisation of strategic sectors such as defence production, telecom, ports and energy will compromise national sovereignty. Privatisation of education and health care will make the essential services unaffordable for crores of our people. Thus, privatisation is not only anti-worker but also anti-social and anti-national.
The BJP claims to be upholding the best of Indian traditions. One of the fundamental principles of Indian Raj Dharma is that the State is duty bound to ensure prosperity and protection for all members of society. By claiming that the government has no business to be in business, the BJP Government headed by Modi is violating this principle. It is repeating the western bourgeois notion that the main responsibility of the State is to create a favourable climate for capitalists to reap maximum profits.
Selling public property to private profiteers is in complete violation of Raj Dharma. So is depriving workers of their rights in the name of improving the “ease of doing business”. It is the height of Adharma.
Throughout this period of liberalisation and privatisation, the capitalists in our country have been demanding that labour laws must be changed to enable more intense exploitation of workers. They have demanded freedom to hire and fire workers at their pleasure. They have demanded that the right of workers to form unions of their choice be curtailed. Strikes and other forms of protest must be declared illegal. The restrictions on the use of contract labour must be eliminated so that capitalists can hire as many workers as they please on contract. Factory inspectors must stop inspecting factory premises for violation of rights of workers, including safety measures. Towards this end, the capitalist associations have been demanding changes to the Trade Unions Act, the Industrial Disputes Act, the Factories Act, the Contract Labour Act and other laws dealing with the rights of workers.
The Congress-led Government headed by Manmohan Singh tried but could not fulfil these demands. Faced with the united opposition of workers’ unions, and lacking majority support in Parliament, it encourages state governments to carry out such changes. Now the BJP Government headed by Modi has fulfilled all these demands of the capitalist class, using its majority support in Parliament. It has replaced 44 labour laws with 4 labour codes.
The code on wages completely negates the long standing demand of workers that the minimum wage must be a living wage, so that a worker and his or her family can live a life fit for human beings. The Code on Social Security denies pension, provident fund and health insurance to the majority of workers. The Code on Occupational Safety exempts most owners from the necessity of ensuring safe working conditions. The code on industrial relations attempts to turn workers into slaves with no rights whatsoever.
The capitalist class makes out that existing labour laws have been restricting economic growth and hence the new labour codes are in the national interest. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The new labour codes will only enable the biggest Indian and foreign monopoly capitalists to enrich themselves further by intensifying the exploitation and oppression of the working class.
The capitalist class is callous and does not care about the interests of the country. It cares only about its own profits and global ambitions.
A few months ago, when the lockdown was suddenly announced, crores of workers and their family members were forced to walk for thousands of miles, left to fend for themselves without any government assistance. Now, instead of ensuring social security for all workers, the central government wants to reduce all workers to this miserable condition. It wants to reverse everything we have won through struggle and sacrifice, deprive us of our rights and dignity as workers, and as human beings. This is the meaning of passing the anti-worker labour codes. We workers are going on strike to declare to the whole world that we refuse to be slaves.
Not only are the rights of workers under attack today but also the rights of peasants, women and youth. There is an all-round offensive against democratic rights and human rights. The right to conscience is under attack. All those who raise their voices against injustice are being thrown into jail, charged with Sedition or branded as a terrorist. Draconian laws such as NSA and UAPA are being used to suppress all forms of dissent. These are signs that the ruling capitalist class is unable to rule without resorting to fascist methods.
The situation demands that all organisations of the working class must take up the task of politicizing their members. To become politicized means to recognise our real enemy. It means to clearly define both our strategic aim and our immediate tasks.
The source of the fascist attacks on our rights does not lie in one particular party. It lies in the desperation of the capitalist monopoly houses to pursue their imperialist aims in spite of the economic crisis and the growing struggles of the working people. Our real enemy is the capitalist class, headed by the monopoly houses. BJP and Congress Party are only alternative management teams of this class in power.
Our strategic aim is to replace the rule of the capitalist class by workers’ and peasants’ rule, so as to carry out the transformation from capitalism to socialism. With political power in our hands, we can convert the principal means of production into social property and reorient the economy to fulfill human needs instead of fulfilling capitalist greed.
Our immediate task is to build and strengthen workers’ unity committees in factories, work places and residential areas, in industrial areas and townships, rising above all differences in union and party affiliation. We workers must become a powerful political force, united around one single program to empower the working people and reorient the economy to fulfill human needs.
A hundred years ago, on 31st October, 1920, the workers of our country came together to build the first All India central organisation of our class — the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). Since then, the capitalist class and its parties have done everything possible to split us into rival trade union federations and break our fighting unity. Today, we are witnessing a growing trend towards united struggles of workers in numerous industries, cutting across union and party affiliation. We have to further strengthen this trend and defeat all attempts to divide us.
Let us fight under one banner for our rights and the rights of all members of society! Let us fight with the aim of ushering in workers’ and peasants’ rule and a bright new socialist India! Victory belongs to us, who are fighting for a just cause!
An Attack on One is an Attack on All!
Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad!