Trade unionists say this is the 16th, and by far the largest strike since ’91, and bigger than the 48-hour bandh of February 22-24, 2013.
Protesters being detained by police in West Bengal.
When almost 14 to 15 crore workers from the organised and unorganised sectors went on strike across India, on Wednesday, they ensured this was the biggest strike the country had seen in the post-liberalisation era from 1991 onwards. In a nation-wide strike called by the 11 central trade unions, against the proposed changes to labour laws by the NDA government, unorganised workers, road transport workers, government bank and insurance workers, private transport workers, to name just a few, all refused to turn up for work, sending a strong message of anger to the government.Trade unionists say this is the 16th, and by far the largest strike since ’91, and bigger than the 48-hour bandh of February 22-24, 2013.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”There is much anger among workers with the government not working for a minimum wage and trying to make unionisation and strikes impossible,” said AK Padmanabhan, president of Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the trade union wing of CPM. In a similar vein, DL Sachdev, the national secretary of All India Trade Union Congress, called this the biggest strike, leaving almost no sector untouched, from non coal sector of iron ore and copper mining, to oil and gas, to transport. “It’s bigger than we hoped,” he said, talking about the workers’ anger manifesting.Both Sachdev and Padmanabhan, echoing other trade unionists, pegged this show of numbers and solidarity on the audacity of the NDA government to actually fiddle with labour laws to turn them, according to the unionists, in favour of corporates. Sachdev called this a drive to provide “slave labour” to big corporates, while Padmanabhan referred to the PMO writing to all states to follow Rajasthan’s example in changing labour laws.”Soon after this government came to power, in June 2014, Rajasthan amended its labour laws to favour companies and factories over workers. We wrote to the PMO against this, but soon after other states too started changes without consultation with trade unions. In the 46th Indian Labour Conference, July 2015, the PM did not even touch upon our demands,” said Padmanabhan.Unionists and rights activists have repeatedly said that they are not opposed to simplification and consolidation of labour laws, as long as worker rights are not diluted. However, with proposed changes, such as amendments to the factories Act and the Small Factories Bill – establishments with less than 40 workers are exempt from 14 labour laws – a large number of workers will be removed from legal protection. These laws will also make unionisation and going on strike more difficult.They have also demanded a minimum wage of 15,000 per month and a pension of at least Rs 3,000 for casual workers.The first strike against neo-liberal economic policies took place on November 29, 1991, barely five months after the said policies had been announced. Though it did not see much participation from all trade unions, subsequent strikes only grew in number, directly proportional to anger, discontent among the workforce, and the disinvestment in the public infrastructure. The game-changer according to unionists, came in September 2009, when all the central trade unions came together, including the RSS affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, to form a coordination committee. But it is the accelerated actions of the present government, that has prompted such a massive bandh. The BMS chose to absent itself from this biggest ever strike, wanting to give the government more time, leading to accusations of being co-opted.”We hope the government takes cognisance of these numbers, else our actions will intensify. This is only the first protest strike,” said Sachdev.CII and ASSOCHAM have also put out statements asking for dialogue rather than striking, and saying that India has lost Rs 25,000 crore in one day. However, unionists call striking their fundamental right, crucial to preserving the strength of the workforce.
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