Tens of thousands of workers take over Parliament street
The joint platform of Central Trade Unions (CTUs) organized two successive national strikes in September 2015 and September 2016. The primary reasons for the strikes were to oppose the rampantly anti-labour policies of the BJP government on one hand and to force the government to accept the twelve-point charter of demands which included demands such as a reset of the Minimum wage to 18,000 a month and a roll back of mass-scale contractualization of the work force. Far from accepting the demands, the BJP government has gone ahead with not only its anti-labour policies in the guise of labour law reforms but has unleashed a brutal economic war on working class and peasantry via demonetization and tax reforms. A third successive national strike of the same kind would have surely been an exercise in symbolism and the CTUs decided to do something different.
A national convention of workers, including federations of state and central government employees at Talkatora Stadium, New Delhi was held in August this year. The convention issued a declaration which stated that “the ruling regime at the centre has been increasing onslaught on the rights and livelihood of the working people of the country” and it was also decided to organize a three-day Dharna (a sit-in protest called Mahapadav) in front of the Parliament in Delhi in November. It was also decided during this convention that massive mobilization campaigns at the level of districts and states will be organized to spread awareness about the protest. In Tamil Nadu, the central trade unions held several street corner meetings, district level public meetings as well as a preparatory meeting in Chennai where senior leaders addressed workers on the demands. The meeting held at the HMS office on 29th October was attended by more than 100 workers. The union leaders spoke about the BJP government’s anti-worker policies and systematic efforts to divide the working class along communal lines. The leadership noted that more than 5000 workers from all over the state were to participate in the protest but acknowledged that there remains much to be done in taking the message to the workers.
It is clear that the mobilization and awareness campaigns were a success as over 70,000 workers from different parts of the country descended on the parliament street of Delhi for what was the first ever mass-scale protest in the capital since RSS backed government with Modi at the helm came to power.
The three day “dharna” (sit-in protest) held from 9th to 11th November had a number of speeches by central trade union leaders. The first day focused mainly on issues of public sector employees, the second day on industrial workers and the third day on informal and unorganized workers which saw participation of over 1 lakhs workers. This day also witnessed such a large-scale protest in front of the parliament where majority of the protesters were women workers. Majority of these were scheme workers who work as health workers, anganwadi workers and mid-day meal cooks. Their primary demand has always been that they be recognized as regular workers.
MASA (Mazadoor Adhikar Sangharsh Abhiyan) which is a joint platform of many revolutionary working-class organizations and trade unions (including Workers Solidarity Center, Gurgaon, Inquilab Mazdoor Kendra, Gurgaon and TUCI, Bombay) campaigned among workers during the protest with pamphlets and banners. It also called on the workers to turn their working class struggles into a revolutionary struggle.
The idea of the Dharna (called Mahapadav) was to show the government the rising anger and frustration of the working class and to serve a warning to the government as to what can the workers do if their demands are not met. In this sense this Dharna was a clear success. Activists on the ground have reported that there was a lot of anger as well as enthusiasm among the workers on all three days to intensify their struggle in the next phase.
At the end of the protest an action plan was laid out by the CTUs. The proposal is to have a sustained working class struggles in a variety of forms. It was proposed that whenever government announces privatization plans there be district level, industry level or sectoral level hunger strikes. Whenever government announces union budget, there be one-day protest actions. The final resolution also called on the workers to prepare for an upcoming indefinite national level strike if the government still does not listen to its demands.
Ideologically as well as economically, this government and its umbrella organization RSS is against the working class. Thus, it is clear that the real demands of the working class, such as stopping the contractualization of the work force, ending rampant privatization and retracting the labour law reforms will not be met. The anger of the workers and their determination to intensity their struggle which was visible on the ground must be channeled towards opposing neo-liberal fascist project of RSS/BJP. Whether CTUs can live up to the responsibilities its cadres have placed on it remains to be seen.
In light of this further defeats of the working class will only resonate with the words of Rosa Luxemburg who said that “Those who declare themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place of and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal’’.