Issued by the Office of Chairperson,
International Coordinating Committee,
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
Ten Indian trade union centers launched a general strike of more than 150 million workers on September 2, 2016. This is one of the biggest strikes in the entire history of human kind. Tens of millions of public sector workers shut down major parts of the Indian economy to protest Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s neoliberal economic plans.
Modi provoked the strike by pushing for increased foreign investment and privatization of some state-run industries and spreading fears that these policies will bring down both wages and employment. Before the strike occurred, the government offered concessions in a futile attempt to dampen it, like raising the minimum wage for some non-skilled workers and unfreezing some public employee bonuses. The unions gave the government a list of demands, including the increase of the minimum wage to 18,000 rupees.
The Indian working class has always opposed the neoliberal policy regime of liberalization, privatization and globalization since its adoption by the government in 1991. The Indians workers have carried out 16 general strikes against it. The 17th general strike was anticipated to be even bigger than the previous in 2015, which saw participation from nearly 150 million workers, in view of the aggravated labour policies of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government.
All central trade unions, except the RSS-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), united with independent national federations of workers in banks, insurance, telecom and state and central government departments to protest what they call the “anti-worker, anti-people policies of the government pushing the lives of the working people at large as well as the national economy to the path of disaster”.
The trade unions and the more than 150 million participants in the general strike demanded the following:
- That the government take urgent measures to contain price rise by making the public distribution system more efficient and banning speculative trade in the commodity market. Prices of essential commodities had been soaring in the country for an already extended period.
- That concrete measures be taken to generate employment. India had failed to deliver a significant increase in the number of jobs in the past few decades, especially during the 25 years of neoliberal economic reforms. The National Sample Survey Office data on jobs in 2011 showed that between 2004 and 2010, only 1 million jobs were added every year, while the economy grew at a record average of 8.43% annually.
- That strict enforcement of all basic labour laws be strictly enforced, without any exception or exemption and stringent measures to punish those who violate these rules. The government had diluted key labor regulations such as the Factories Act of 1948 and the Shops and Establishments Act, giving more powers to employers and making employees vulnerable to exploitation. Universal social security benefits must be adopted an implemented.
- That a minimum wage of not less than Rs.18,000 or USD 271 per month with provisions of indexation (for unskilled workers). The Minimum Wages Act-1948 requires the government to review wages every five years but the is the review is rarely undertaken. The farm sector saw its last review in 2005; sweeping and cleaning in 2008, and construction in 2009. India’s informal work sector is facing a crisis today with hire-and-fire policies making jobs extremely precarious.
- That a pension of not less than Rs.3,000 a month be adopted for the entire working population, including the unorganized sector workers. Hence, the unions demanded the government to initiate policies to stop contractualization in permanent/perennial work and payment of the same wage and benefits for contract workers as that of regular workers for “the same and similar work”. They also demanded removal of all ceilings on payment and eligibility of bonus and provident fund and increase in quantum of gratuity.
- That the government to stop disinvestment in Central and State public sector companies. The government is privatizing even profit-making companies, not just the loss-making ones as promised, endangering the jobs of millions of workers and even undermining the foundations of the economy in favor of “private monopoly capital”. They also demanded that no foreign direct investment in strategic and vitally important sectors such as the Railways, defence and other strategic sectors.
- That no unilateral amendment to labour laws be made.. Most of the critical labour regulations initiated by the NDA in the recent past were taken unilaterally, without the government consulting with any of the trade unions.
The unions declared that it was a ‘make-or-break’ moment in history for them and that the general strike is their effective weapon.