General Strike Action: Working Class on the War Path

General Strike Chennai

Workers on strike

Road Rokko in Chennai’s Business District paralyses traffic for over 2 hours

Workers belonging to All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), one of the 11 central trade unions that had given a call for a two day general strike starting 20thFeb, began assembling near Chindadripet MRT Station near Anna Salai. Over 600 workers blocked Anna Salai, the  main road in Chennai’s Business district demanding wage increase, controlling prices of essential commodities and fuel, social security and minimum wage of Rs 10000 for all workers including contract and informal workers and end to FDI, Disinvestment and other anti people policies.   Daily wage earners to blue collar workers to white collar workers, stood shoulder to shoulder in this struggle. As the simmering anger of the working class boiled over, this city which usually is a silent spectator to strikes and bandhs was to have new taste of struggle.

 As the numbers of the workers swelled well beyond the 500 mark, police in good strength moved in with their lathi’s and barricades. They positioned themselves Some 200 meters away from the crowd of protestors and at a critical junction leading to the most important arterial road in Chennai. From their posture it seemed that they were bent upon stopping the workers from carrying out the road rokko. The slogans began to grow loader, and the restlessness increased. As media persons went about collecting sound bytes and interviews, the workers readied themselves for the showdown. This time, they will not be stopped; this time their views will be heard far and wide; their strength tested in the field.

                        Slogans

                      Slogans 2

Even as police were putting up the final touches to their cordon, the mass of human beings began to move, rather flow towards their goal. The Statue of  Periyar (Rationalist leader of South India) beckoned the workers. A worker wearing a red shirt, and wielding two long staffs lead the charge from the workers. As the two opposing forces met in a melee there was confusion for some time and then even as we expected the police to charge the workers and arrest them, the barricades came down. The workers quickly converged on the roads, squatted and began to raise slogans demanding justice from the government and an end to the anti people policies like FDI, disinvestment of PSUs, and unprecedented hike of prices of essentials commodities.

Their demands were simple. They wanted protection from the ballooning costs of essentials, and sought the government take action against inflation rather than appease the animal instincts of profit hungry corporations. They wanted a decent living for their families and those of their brothers and sisters who were contract workers and workers in the informal sector and thus demanded a minimum wage of Rs 10000 a month. They wanted the national assets built by the hard worker of generations of Indian workers to remain in the hands of the people and therefore demanded that the government not sell out these assets in the name of privatization and disinvestment. They wanted their lives to be secure after years of toil and thus sought universal social security. They wanted the hard won labour laws against contractualization of regular jobs, rights to association etc valued and not violated by capitalists. They did want the wealth generated by Indian workers being siphoned off as profits by foreign companies and thus sought an end to FDI in all its forms. The government hoodwinked for discussing their demands for two years forcing them to call for a two day long general strike to gain the attention of the nation and its governors.

As the traffic remained still for over an hour on Anna Salai, the high decibel slogans raising for the floor was sure to echo through the corridors of power both in Chennai as well as in Delhi. The mainstream media might black out the struggle, suppress their views but the workers have made their views loud and clear. It is a wake up call to the government to mend its ways.  Whatever the morrow might hold for the workers, today was a resounding victory

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