All India General Strike
“It was an unprecedented and inconceivable strike all over the country. It is the unity (of the trade unions) that inspired workers to join the stir and its impact was massive”, said AITUC general secretary and CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta in New Delhi.
As usual, most of the print and electronic media screamed at the general strike, saying it was a futile, wasteful exercise, and the Trade Unions and their struggles are a drain on the buoyant Indian economy, yet the general strike took place involving millions of workers.
In each of the state capitals around India and in major cities, tens of thousands of working-class poor demonstrated their anger, primarily against the central government ruled by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) under the leadership of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi of the Congress Party.
In many states their frustration was very evident against the so-called opposition governments, which follow the same anti-poor, neo-liberal economic offensive against the organised and the unorganised sections of the working people.
Given the vastness of the land mass of India, it will be difficult to put a number, to say how many took part in the general strike on 7 September, but the statement of G Sanjeeva Reddy, president of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) who said: “Around 100 million (10 crore) workers and employees from sectors including banks, insurance, aviation, coal, power, Telecom, defence, port and dock, road transport and petroleum, and unorganised sectors such as construction had joined the strike”, gives a glimpse of what happened on the day.
Ten crores and more!
“Around 10 crore workers, both from organised and unorganised sectors participated in the shutdown. Several unions did not openly come but they are with us,” H Mahadevan, deputy general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC – linked to the Communist Party of India – CPI) commented on the success of the strike.
A joint statement issued by the unions said the strike had affected all the metropolitan cities. West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, even Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and other states responded to the strike call.
Contrary to the biased media reports limiting the participation of the workers to the customary three states – West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura where traditionally the left parties have a substantial working class base, the 7th September General Strike (thirteenth since the economic liberalisation of 1991 ) was historic at least on two counts: it was the biggest in the past few decades, and it was the first time since independence from the British that INTUC – the Congress-controlled union officially joined the strike.
Crocodile tears of Sonia Gandhi !
Many on the left thought that INTUC would be pressurised to withdraw from the strike. In fact, a section of the INTUC leadership, hailing from Andhra Pradesh, did issue misleading press releases to the effect that the union had withdrawn from the strike.
But even the top leadership of the union could not have deterred the workers from participating in the strike, because the underlying economic reasons were far more convincing to lead the workers to join the strike and express their anger.
The last-minute statement of Sonia Gandhi (president of the Congress Party), extensively flashed by the media, to the effect that she sympathises with the plight of the workers and would speak to the prime minister to look into the workers’ demands, was an attempt to distract the attention and to blunt the edge of the strike. It is not the strike that the establishment feared, but the domino effect that a united struggle would have on the consciousness of workers in the coming period.
BJP Union’s farce
Though underplayed by the leadership of the Joint Committee of the Trade Unions (JCTU) as a strategy, the decision of the union, controlled by the right-wing opposition BJP; Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) – to stay away from this historic strike shows that the empty sloganeering of the BJP against the economic hardship of the people was a farce.
The BJP knows very well inside and outside parliament, that its free market ideology completely coincides with that of Congress and it has been directly supporting the neo-liberal policies of Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukharjee and Chidambaram combined.
Their regimes in Gujarat, Karnataka, Chattisgarh are in competition with the Congress-ruled states and with the centre as to which state is most conducive for maximum exploitation of labour and resources by foreign and national companies.
In spite of the global economic crisis, the 7% to 9% growth rate of the Indian economy in the past four years has undoubtedly been achieved by the super exploitation of the workers and poor in India.
It is true that a very thin layer of educated middle class has benefited from the much heralded boom and growth, nevertheless the startling revelation of the deprivation of the majority of the population comes from the statistics of the government itself shows the growing gulf in the society. Apart from the government-acknowledged fact that 77% of India’s population (836 Million) earns a meagre income of Rs.20 (less than half a US dollar), the great land grab that is going on in the name of “development” has displaced more than 60 million people from their land and livelihoods across India.
After the phenomenal success of the Bharat Bandh on the 5th of July which was organised very shabbily & hurriedly, by the left parties and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP to protest against the steep hike in the petroleum products by the UPA government. The Communist parties suddenly realising their “left” credentials got their act together. The spontaneous response of the poor people reeling under double digit food inflation which has hovered around 15% to 16% and the rising costs of living in India, pushed the left-backed union federations to flex their muscles and take advantage of the situation to boost the sagging morale of their membership, hence a joint call for the General Strike was given.
Keeping to the traditional & classical style of the Stalinist left’s minimum and maximum demands a five point charter of demands were placed, they are;
- Urgent steps to curb the continuous price-rise through universalisation of Public Distribution System (Food Rationing) and banning speculation in commodity market.
- Strict enforcement of all basic labour laws without any exception or exemption and stringent punitive measures for violation of labour laws
- Concrete proactive measures to be taken for linkage of employment protection in the recession stricken sectors as a condition for the stimulus package being offered to the concerned entrepreneurs and for concrete steps against retrenchment, lay-off, contractorisation (Casual labour contracting) and outsourcing
- Removal of all restrictive provisions based on poverty line in respect of eligibility of coverage of the schemes under the unorganised workers social security act 2008 and creation of national fund for the unorganised sector to provide for a national floor level social security to all unorganised workers including the contract/casual workers
- Disinvestment of shares of Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSEs) is not resorted to for meeting budgetary deficit and instead their growing reserve and surplus is used for expansion and modernisation purposes and also for revival of sick public sector undertakings.
The trade unions also demanded rehabilitation of the workers and employees who lost their jobs due to the economic recession and for Rs.50,000 crore for an unorganised workers’ social security fund, while the government has only allocated Rs.1,000 crore for 40 crore (400 Millions) unorganised workers in the country. It must be noted Finance Minister Pranab Mukharjee in his Union Budget gifted over Rs 5 lakh crore (Rs 5 trillion) to business enterprises, which is around 8 per cent of the GDP.
Given the extreme poverty and injustice, even the mild reformist minimum demands put forward by the JCTU (predominantly led by left-wing trade unions such as Confederation of Indian Trade Union, CITU, and AITUC) found a welcoming and enthusiastic response from the vast majority of the organised and unorganised working population.
But apart from cheering the overwhelming participation of the workers in the general strike, if one critically looks at the pre-strike preparations, it was very much wanting.
Except in the three left-ruled states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura where Bandhs, Gheraos and strikes have become routine, most of the times officially supported by the ruling party/front, there was hardly any preparation and mobilisation for the strike. In the rest of the country among the major metropolitan cities such as Bombay, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore, the leadership did hardly anything extra to mobilise for success of the strike.
The top leadership of the left and the trade unions suffered enormously from a crisis of confidence, because their claims to be the custodians and leaders of the working-class movement had taken a severe beating in the recent years. When the class collaborationist politics of the left parties practised during the late 1980s at the time of the National Front Government, led by the early neo-liberal V P Singh’s regime, was receding from the memory of the class, they again plunged into the same treacherous exercise of joining the Congress-led government of United Progressive Alliance (UPA), albeit this time to keep the BJP from coming to power.
Their stint with the UPA not only gave enormous leverage to Manmohan Singh to unleash his aggressive neo-liberalism, while engaging the “comrades” to memorise and read by heart the different clauses of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP). This was a programme drafted by the left parties as the minimum to go about in economic and social governance of the country during the UPA regime. It also made them practise capitalist economics and politics more forcefully and successfully than the capitalists themselves in the rest of the country.
Communist management of capitalism
West Bengal’s CPI (M) regime, for a time at least, was showered with accolades and by the capitalists nationally and internationally, for its “pragmatism” in practising capitalist-friendly communism. The famous quotes of CPI (M) leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, such as “Reform or Perish”, and “There is no alternative to Capitalism” became subjects for theses in many management institutions.
The way the CPI (M) and the rest of the Left Front eroded its own base among the rural poor by sending their goons and police to rape, harass and shoot down villagers protesting at the land grab of Tata’s and Indonesia’s Salim Group of companies at Nandigram and Singur did, above all, show up the fundamental contradictions of these Stalinist parties who are increasingly behaving like other bourgeois parties.
What is the writing on the walls of Kolkata?
Many analysts, including some of the left, have started predicting the rout of CPI(M)-led Left Front in West Bengal in the coming assembly elections in 2011. Even in the last few local elections and by-elections, the CPI(M) has lost heavily and has conceded defeat in many of its strongholds.
The more than routine success of the general strike, as claimed by the left leaders, especially in the left-ruled states, does produce a contradictory picture of the whole objective situation.
The general strike has brought many issues to the fore. While the leadership of the left parties will try their best to bolster their sagging image among their own rank and file and try to win the next elections in West Bengal and Kerala, the working class in general will get an enormous boost to their confidence in struggle and direct action. There will be increasing demands for unity and militancy among trade unions in future. Already there are indications that A “Parliament of Trade Unions” will be held this winter as an alternative forum for workers to address their concerns.
Get united & militant now!
One of the AITUC (CPI-led) leaders, Gurudas Dasgupta, considered a militant, speaking to the press after the successful strike, rebuked the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, for criticising the tendency of the trade unions to call for strikes by saying: “Before Buddhadeb was born, before I was born, the workers have protested through strikes. And this will continue.”
Dasgupta asserted: “The all-India strike called by nine trade unions on September 7 is a new wave and initiative in the trade union movement”.
“If the government does not heed our demands after the strike the movement will be intensified. We will march to the parliament to lay siege to it.”
Regardless of what happens on the ground in the coming weeks and months, a psychological burden has been lifted from the most militant sections A new search for ideas will begin as to whether there is scope for reform within the system of captalism or that the system must be changed.
A press release during the general strike by a less well-known Trade union Centre of Manipur from the remote corner of the North East of India speaks volumes of the churning that is taking place. It commented:
“As the crisis of imperialism grows more severe all over the world, in spite of bourgeois economists trying to persuade us that the situation is improving, the only possible answer for imperialism is to burden the working class and the consumer.
“Indian governments, whether the UPA in its present or past edition or the NDA or any other, have been following the neo-liberal credo of allowing the free market to solve all problems. Actually, this has meant allowing the greatest leeway and concessions and help to big industry – the removal of all obstacles in its path – while burdening the working class with closures, retrenchments, contract system, casualisation, privatisation and price rises.
While fully supporting this strike on 7 September, we also call upon the working class not to let this strike, like the scores that have preceded it, become a mere flash in the pan.
“This strike must signal the start of a continuous movement to take up the demands of the workers in a sustained and systematic fashion. We have to fight the system itself. It is not the workers who are to blame for the lack of politicisation in the working-class movement, it is the leadership.
“Unions like the INTUC, CITU and AITUC, while calling upon the working class to support such strikes, end up also exhorting the workers to support the Congress, the CPM and CPI respectively.
“This is no answer for the working class. We call upon the workers to unite with all like-minded unions and politicise this struggle and to take it on towards a struggle for real democracy and for socialism”.
Azaadi from Capitalism!
The general strike has surely heralded a new wave, it is bound to radicalise the new generations of workers and youth who for the first time were drawn into struggle. It is no accident that the visiting Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) supporters from Europe along with the New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) got an enthusiastic response for their intervention during and before the strike in Bangalore and Chennai.
It will be no exaggeration to use the the phrase ‘land of million mutinies’ to the present day conflicting situation of India. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself openly acknowledges the Maoist rebellion as the single largest security threat to the state.
The youth uprising in the valley of Kashmir is another very important factor that will decide the shape of things to come. An ‘Intifada’ type of mass, youth resistance involving kids as young as 7 or 8 years is gripping the valley which is shouting slogans ” Indian Dogs go back”. Braving the bullets and other modern ammunition,these heroic youngsters and women defend themselves by mere stones throwing and have reached the conclusion that nothing less than ‘Azaadi’ (freedom) from Indian occupation can get them the necessary right answers.
Indian ruling classes are already contemplating some sort of diluted version of AFSPA (Army Forces Special Powers Act) if not a total repeal of the law from the Kashmir and the North East, but the top brass of the Armed Forces have openly stepped in to record their disapproval.
Looking for greener pastures for more profits, mineral resources, the India land-grab offensive of the multi-national and national capitalist companies across India is met with unprecedented militant resistance. Movements against POSCO (South Korean Steel giant), VEDANTA, TATA, Mittal and Zindal have posed a serious challenge to the capitalist globalisation itself, though the worries of the government are deliberately played down, it is a fact that it will have a bearing on the future FDI in India.
Though the election to the Indian Parliament is forty two months away, any of the above issues and the radicalisation of the organised working class demanding not just economic share but posing political questions to the failing system could very speedily alter the balance of forces.
Socialist way forward!
There is no denying the fact that there is a definite vacuum of a mass political alternative which can bring together all the militant sections engaged in various land & livelihood struggles. Formation of a mass workers party with a genuine socialist programme is the urgent need.
Many challenging tasks lies ahead for the forces of genuine Marxism and socialism grouped around New Socialist Alternative (CWI, India), to reach out to the new young layers looking for socialist solutions to the present day capitalist anarchy. The fighting programme of the New Socialist Alternative includes;
- A campaign to demand a living wage and jobs for all.
- Elected committees of workers and poor people to decide on price and subsidy levels.
- An end to all ‘reforms’ in the interests of capitalists and the rich.
- An end to cuts and ‘austerity’ programmes; there is enough poverty in India!
- Cancel the debts of the poor! Genuine nationalisation of all the banks, to be run under the democratic control and management of working people.
- Stop the rape of India’s resources and the destruction of Adivasi, Dalith and others livelihoods!
- Take over the monopolies – foreign and Indian – and run them through democratically elected representatives of workers and poor people!
- For a mass workers’ party to fight for a government of workers and poor with a socialist programme.
- For a Socialist Confederation of the sub-continent and for socialism in Asia and internationally.
Working Class on the War path
General Strike report, Chennai.
September 7th of 2010 marked an important day for the working class of India. The continuous barrage against workers rights, loss of jobs in the formal sector, high levels of informalization, significant reduction of real wages because of high levels of inflation (especially in essential commodities) and the blatant actions of Indian State to placate world capitalist has resulted in a very grave situation for the workers and poor people.
The growing unrest and frustration within the ranks of the workers forced the docile and reformist trade unions into action and in a rare show of unity called for an All India General Strike on the 7th of September. Though it was apparent that the single symbolic gesture would procure no tangible results for the workers, it was significant in revealing the deep rooted anger, the increased consciousness, and the willingness of the workers to take to the streets and struggle for their rights. The New Socialist Alternative (NSA) decided to participate in fraternal solidarity with the mass movements while intervening to highlight the need for a new direction to the struggling masses.
In Chennai, comrades from NSA, boosted by the presence of visiting CWI comrades from England and Wales as well as Belgium, participated in protest demonstrations held by two leading trade unions. We distributed our leaflets that called for immediate action by the government to control price rise, protect workers rights and provide fair living wages. The leaflet while highlighting the fundamental reason behind the present crisis called for a new independent workers movement for creating an alternative to capitalism.
The police cracked down on CITU demonstration, detaining hundreds of comrades within minutes of sloganeering. At the ULF demonstrations (which had prior permission of the police) more than 400 workers from different unions congregated. The protest went on for more than 3 hrs. Here, we distributed our leaflets while CWI comrades from UK and Belgium interacted with the workers. Our members were received with warmth and expectation. Our views were well accepted with a number of workers seeking to meet us and discuss with us further.
As the tempo of the protest increased, the ULF members requested the visiting CWI comrade to speak on behalf of the European working class. CWI comrade while greeting the workers and congratulating them for their bold and decisive action, brought the message of fraternal solidarity of the striking European workers. She informed the workers about the numerous struggles being waged across Europe and Britain against the capitalist and their governments. She highlighted the need for a united struggle by the workers of the world. She declared that the working class cannot let itself divide on grounds of region, religion, caste, gender and sexuality and as the torch bearers for a radical free future, we cannot tolerate any form of discrimination. She concluded her speech to a roaring applause.
The State government’s attempts to intimidate and quell any form of dissent were evidently visible. The Intelligence wing (Q Branch) of Tamilnadu Police swept into action and wanted to know who we are, why we are here and who had invited us. They quizzed a CWI comrade for information. But the meeting closed without any serious action by the police.
While it is clear that there is anger on the streets we should record that there is also a significant hopelessness among the workers, and a growing frustration with workers unions and political parties. The strong arm tactics of the Central and State government also means that many workers remain silent and endure their suffering in the absence of a credible alternative to lead them. The General Strike of 7th September though a momentous event was a failure in large parts of India including Chennai. It is from failures we should learn.
To say that we remain in non revolutionary times or that the objective conditions are not ripe enough is to excuse ourselves from radical action. But it is also necessary to record that workers have become increasingly ‘class less’, as they have been subjected to reformism and worst – used as bargaining chips by trade unions and its leadership. The political parties have no real programme for change, leave alone socialist change. They thrive through patronage relationships. By successfully thwarting any form of independent workers unions, the political parties (including the left) have tied the interests of the party before the mass of working class.
Only a new independent workers organization and a new workers party can provide real change.
New Socialist Alternative, Chennai
Not massive but Militant!
General Strike Report, Bangalore.
Though it is true, that the turn out in the General Strike was not massive in Bangalore, but it can not be claimed that the workers especially in the non-unionised or poorly unionised sectors did not agree with the issues of Price Rise, Unemployment , Low wages, Job Security etc. Some of the activists including myself who went round the industrial areas organising the strike will tell you, the kind of seething anger and frustration among the most low paid workers, women in particular.
It must be noted that there was no effective countering of the propaganda that goes on in the name “growth and GDP”, workers are made powerless by the leadership at the top (CITU,AITUC Central leaderships) without giving them the necessary arguments to go on strike or against the bosses who indulge in extreme exploitation. But the conclaves of the bosses; Chambers & Associations have learnt the tricks to put in place certain attractive media savvy measures such as Human Resources personnel,Corporate responsibility and other make believe mechanisms to hoodwink, depoliticise and deactivate the workers.
The NGOisation of the union movement has put a further dampener on the combativity of the workers, instead of workers direct action against injustices such as bad working conditions, low pay, sexual harassment, safety regulations. implementation of labour laws etc., they are now taken up with the ‘Brand people’ of different MNCs who are basically exploiting the workers for dirt cheap labour. It is now they who insist on the factory managements to adhere to the laws because it would be a bad publicity for their Brands abroad, workers rights have become a mere PR & HR exercise, which is pathetic, this has taken the power out of the hands of the workers for collective direct action and struggle.
While there are many NGO workers, very motivated activists and fighters among the NGO sponsored unions who sincerely believe that they are engaged in alternative radical politics, but the dominant ideology of most of the these ‘fund guzzlers’ is ” conflict management”. CITU and AITUC who have their base among the salaried, permanent and organised sectors do not have the vision to reach out to the low paid workers.
Imagine the impact if the rally that was held near Mysore Bank circle and went round the city agitating and motivating the workers to join the strike, the numbers would have swollen to lakhs if not tens of lakhs. Where was the propaganda directed to wards the teachers,health workers, sex workers,women workers, migrant workers, child labour, rag pickers and the lakhs and lakhs working in the various sections of ‘service industry’ such as Hotels and Eateries, workshops, construction workers, Poura Karmikas, Domestic Workers mobile & communication workers, couriers, transport (lorry and vans), News and Media workers including ‘news paper boys’? Last but not the least (and it should not be the last) what was done to bring out the student youth from the schools and the colleges?
It was criminal on the part of the leadership of the trade unions and the established “left” that there was hardly any publicity and propaganda for the strike, leaflets with just a list of demands were seen (with no explanation on the system of profit) getting distributed in the last 48 hours, no preparatory gate meetings! There was hardly any poster in the city announcing and motivating the workers for the strike from Joint Committee of Trade Unions. (JCTU)
In spite of the drawbacks, the strike did bring out thousands of workers in Bangalore and major towns of the state. Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) and Karnataka Garment Workers Union though smaller unions did exemplary participation in the strike. The ‘New Socialist Alternative’ which brought out leaflets in both English and Kannada languages did its best to campaign for the strike. In collaboration with the Garment Workers it was instrumental in motivating at least 6000 garment workers from 7 factories on Mysore Road to join the strike.
Women workers were the most militant among the strikers, a new generation of radicalised young working women have started to build unions not just on economic demands but on larger political issues such as who runs the society and for whom. It is not too distant that they will find their way into the ranks of Socialists fighting for a fundamental change to the capitalist system itself.
New Socialist Alternative-Bangalore