GENERAL STRIKE 8th JAN 2020
The Future Is Ours!
Once again the toilers of India, through their collective class action in the form of a General Strike, are struggling to push back so-called “reforms”, introduced to serve the interests of both foreign and domestic capitalist bosses.
The world over and throughout the history of capitalism, industrial general strikes have represented a concentrated expression of anger against the bosses’ system. Even if they are originally organised to win economic gains, they can go further and illustrate the power of the working class to bring an economy to a halt. They reveal the dynamic of class struggle which, through a series of cumulative struggles for fundamental changes can lead on to revolutions of a social and economic nature. Nothing moves without the permission of the workers and their organisations. Then, with a clear-sighted leadership, the question is posed of workers taking power out of the hands of the tiny minority in a society of mega-rich capitalists and landlords, and running the society along collective socialist lines.
In this country, the coming general strike of 8th January 2020 is coinciding with the crucial and unprecedented upheavals in the entire landmass of India. We are currently witnessing spontaneous cross-class mobilisations where all the pent-up anger of past years is being expressed. WE have had drastic falls in living standards, attacks on fundamental rights, agrarian and peasant distress – including hundreds of thousands of farmers committing suicide – youth unemployment hitting a 45 year high.
Even after seven decades of India’s independence from the British, the scourge of casteism and social discrimination is perpetuated. It has even reached new and despicable heights, where Dalits and Adivasis and other oppressed sections of society are being forced to live a life of utter indignity. Their hard-won constitutional rights come under attack incessantly. This is, led by some of the filthiest privileged right-wing feudal elements in society who blatantly mock, despise, rape, burn and kill in order to keep the vast majority of the oppressed cowed and fearful of the ruling layer.
The current tumultuous turn of events around the wanton violation of hitherto guaranteed Citizenship Rights has surprised the ruling classes, many even among the right-wing political parties see this as a major challenge to the edifice of India’s “democracy”. The divisive agenda of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), along with the proposed hideous National Register of Citizens (NRC) throughout the country, culminating in the National Population Register, has exposed the sinister plot of the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) to achieve its long-held objective of a majoritarian “Hindu Rashtra” with vicious repression of all other communities with echoes of the plan of Hitler in pre-war Germany.
This General Strike of 8th January in India is taking place at a time when the entire world is witnessing an upsurge of class struggle in every continent. Two of the most important ones that bear comparison with the current turn of events in India are Chile and Hong Kong. In both these examples, the youth are at the forefront. The capitalist classes have all held Chile up as the model to aspire to, i.e. brutal neo-liberalism with relative stability. The ‘model’ collapsed as millions took to the streets, joined general strikes and confronted the military, forcing the government to retreat.
Hong Kong’s daring youth are fighting a determined struggle against a local proxy government, propped up by the Chinese dictatorship which inaccurately calls itself “communist”. This tremendous movement for democracy is time and again returning. When the behind-the-scenes so-called “red” regime tries to ignore the massive support expressed in recent local elections, the student youth, disregarding the police brutality and the threat of death, have faced up to the challenge in defence of the popular democratic mandate.
The era of fear is over!
The vast majority of India’s population have been forced to suffer abject poverty and been victims of vicious sectarianism, religious strife, and blatant caste discrimination under all the so-called “democratic” and “secular” regimes. But finally, six years of rule by a blatantly majoritarian Hindutva regime, led by the authoritarian Narendra Modi, unabashedly anti-Muslim, anti-non Hindu minorities, anti-Dalit and anti-Adivasi, has made them realise that a fightback is necessary, come what may.
The well-oiled propaganda machinery of the BJP, patronised by the 95-year-old Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with its nearly 6 million members spread out in 60,000 branches around the country, has for decades been systematically instilling fear among the religious minorities through their communal and violent campaigns of ‘Cultural Nationalism’, ‘Integral Humanism’ and ‘Gandhian Socialism’ (sic!). Hitherto it projected itself as pious and moderate and working for the innocuous-sounding “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The World is My Family). But its real intentions were revealed when one of its most ardent members got elected first as Chief Minister of Gujarat and then, in 2014 as Prime Minister of India.
Given the murderous history of Modi in Gujarat – the massacres of thousands of Muslims during the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque and in the aftermath of horrific 2002 Godhra train burning incident – his advent to power as Prime Minister for the second consecutive time in 2019, with his henchman Amit Shah as Home minister, saw the entire parliamentary opposition, including the ‘left’, displaying a sense of powerlessness and suffering political paralysis.
The Modi regime’s economic blunders – the Demonetisation and Goods & Services Tax scandals – went mostly unchallenged. Later, the contemptuous abrogation of all constitutional guarantees in relation to the people of Jammu and Kashmir also passed off with a ‘business as usual’ attitude on the part of the opposition political parties. These scandalous attacks resulted in an enormous build-up of frustration and anger on the part of the majority of the population and particularly among the youth.
But what we have been witnessing in the last three weeks of a mass awakening of the Muslims, student youth and other oppressed minorities, including young women, is that all the frustration and helplessness that was bottled up has been converted into a mass determination to fight back. Like the many millions participating in demonstrations across the country, even at risk to life and limb, have recognised: The era of fear is gone!
As we wrote in our recent statement on the CAA: “The CAA has opened up a Pandora’s box with various nationalities feeling threatened and coming out openly against it, disregarding their political, social or religious affiliations. After a very long time, the people of India – a prison house of nationalities – have found a common cause and a common enemy to fight against.”
The General Strike and the momentous challenge it faces!
Every effort to voice our protest against this authoritarian regime is vital for success. The coming General Strike called by the Central Trade Unions must also echo the ongoing social and political struggle that is being waged by the people in general and by the national minorities in particular. They must not limit themselves to the “business as usual” approach of customary solidarity but actively campaign against the Damocles’ sword that is hanging over the head of all, irrespective of the religion and region they belong to. As many analysts have put it, this has the stench of “partition 2.0” in the making.
The Trade Unions representing the majority of organised workers (who constitute just under 7% of the total workforce) are rightly fighting to defend the economic well-being of their members. But they also have a historical responsibility to extend their organisation to the non-unionised/unorganised proletariat. In fact, the core of the participants in the current anti-CAA mobilisations come from these unorganised sections who feel that their existence as citizens of India is at stake.
It is unfortunate that the leadership of the trade unions are extremely reluctant and wary of the necessity to make common cause with the ongoing and unprecedented protests against Modi’s regime which has failed on all fronts. It would be fundamentally wrong to argue that the issues of mass unemployment, starvation wages, peasant and agrarian distress, rising prices, the privatisation spree of public sector industry and services are all separate from the issue of CAA and NRC which attack the vast majority of the population.
Currently, the cross-class movement against the CAA and NRC is woefully short of leadership that is capable of going beyond the citizenship issue and posing the question of bringing down this regime of Modi. This would be a sure way of scrapping the CAA and NRC.
Only a conscious left force, backed by the organisation of its class forces spread out in the heavy industry, small scale manufacturing, agricultural fields, banking, railways, the health sector, postal services and other key sectors of the economy, has the wherewithal to bring this crucial point on to the agenda of struggle. It can mount a viable challenge against the utterly communal regime of Modi, and begin to win the confidence and trust of the vast majority of the proletariat, who have been forced to remain non-unionised not by their own volition but by default.
India’s Trade Unions and the left, who have an enormous wealth of experience in conducting valiant battles, should utilise their skills of organisation and struggle to bring the entire country to a halt. This perspective is entirely possible given the hundreds of millions who have joined the General Strikes over the years. Last year’s two days General Strike saw the tremendous participation of 220 million workers in the entire length and breadth of the country.
This year, India’s ten mass Trade Union Federations are poised to go on a massive General Strike which is most likely to go beyond 300 million participating. The economic and industrial demands listed below have become life and death issues for working people under the reactionary regime of Modi and the BJP, clearly a lackey of big business and the ever-unscrupulous capitalist class. This economic fight against Modi’s regime is as crucial for the mass of the population as that over the citizenship rights that have come under attack.
These struggles are not separate but entirely linked by the need to bring down this hated regime and ensure the gains of all the hard-won battles of the past are safeguarded, including that of the citizenship of all oppressed castes and classes.
In their call for support for the general strike the Trade Unions have put forward a number of important demands:
• A national minimum wage of ₹21,000 per month
• Pensions for all, the scrapping of the national pension scheme (NPS) and restoration of the old pension scheme
• Control over price rises of essential commodities and a universal public distribution system
• The generation of new jobs and filling up of vacant posts
• Regularisation of contract and scheme and workers
• Equal-pay-for-equal-work and strengthening of welfare boards for unorganised sector workers01/08/2020
• Increased budgetary provision for MNREGA and agriculture
• The scrapping of the present codification of labour laws
• Stopping fixed-term employment and privatisation of Public Sector Units
• Stopping 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment in railways, defence, coal and other sectors and stopping all bank mergers
Alongside the above listed economic demands the fight against the new CAA legislation, with a correct and all-encompassing programme of demands, can develop rapidly into a far-reaching struggle which can shake capitalism and landlordism in India to its roots.
• Scrap the CAA/NRC/NPR!
• Every migrant/refugee should have the right to citizenship.
• Stand against all deportations! Defend constitutional rights and beyond.
• For the freedom to practice any, or no, religion.
• Stand against any oppression of the Muslim population and against Islamophobia.
• Condemn state violence on protesters; for freedom of speech and the right to protest.
• For the right of self-determination for all struggling nationalities.
• For a Socialist Confederation of the Indian sub-continent!