In India, 20-21 February 2013, 100 million workers, represented by 11 trade unions and federations, participated in a 48-hour strike, called to protest the anti-labor policies of the “center-left,” United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. In some sectors of the Indian economy, such as ordinance, petroleum, finance and telecoms, the strike was almost 100% solid. Significantly, for the first time since the Independence of India in 1948, unions affiliated to different political parties came together for the protest, including the Indian National Trade Union Congress, which is affiliated to the Congress Party – the largest party of the UPA Coalition.
The following strike-flyer, from Workers Journal, Parivartan ki Disha, Nagpur, is a critical analysis of the shortcomings of the union leaderships in the face of the attacks on workers right and conditions by the ruling coalition. It calls for unionized workers to act jointly with the unorganised workers, especially women, and for the Indian working class as a whole to act through committees independently of bourgeois politicans and self-serving union bureaucrats. –Editors
Central Trade Unions have called for a countrywide general strike on 20-21 February. Workers from all central institutions and industries like Banking, Coal, Transportation, Postal, Shipping, Ordinance (Defense), Steel will observe this two-day all India level strike by organizing rallies against anti-worker policies of the government. Unions have demanded that the price-hikes should be controlled and concrete measures should be taken towards employment generation, contract workers should get wages and benefits equal to permanent workers, every citizen should get pension, and minimum wages should be at least Rs 10,000 per month. We support these demands of the unions and appeal to the workers and common masses to give the strike a massive support. However, we would like to underline the fact that there is an established opinion among union leaders and workers that a general strike of unionized workers in the organized sectors is enough to ensure a 100% success of the strike. But is this understanding correct? Without the participation of millions of unorganized workers (those who are not members of unions) in our struggle, in our movement and in our strikes, can our movement attain its aims and objectives? We the workers should give serious thoughts to this question.
The Call for a Strike and Today’s Situation
Last year on Feb 28 there was another one-day countrywide strike on the call of the unions. What did we achieve from that strike? There was a hope among union leadership that the strike would pressurize the government to agree to bring the unions to table to discuss their demands, but this hope proved to be false. Whether the government is that of United Progressive Alliance or National Democratic Alliance, or any other party or alliance,the Indian government itself is a big capitalist, an investor which sells capital to foreign capitalists by extracting it from public sector industries, for investment in other countries for more profit. In this situation, for unions to think that workers’ interests would be protected if their mother parties form or join the government is very far from the reality. Today, throughout the globe, the slowdown of capitalist production and distribution has plunged the system into a deep crisis because of its own contradictions. The efforts of the G-8 and G-20 countries to come out of this crisis have taken the forms of new economic policies, new labour policies through the establishment of the contract system, outsourcing, foreign investment, divestment, privatisation, multinationalisation etc. Capitalist governments everywhere are indulging in deception and fraudulent practices and measures, in order to provide oxygen to their respective economies. In this situation, to differentiate between the American and Indian governments and support the latter is purely a bourgeois point of view. In the same manner to differentiate between foreign capital and national capital and take the side of national capital against foreign capital is anti-working class; the colour and character of both the foreign as well as national capital is the same—to exploit workers in every possible way. On the contrary, we must adopt a working class position and advance on the basis of a long-term working class understanding. Today to say that the working class should follow the ideals of Gandhi, Vivekananda or other saints (as some unions have said this in their leaflets) will amount to a gross neglect of the specificities of the changed reality, which no one could have imagined 100 years back: that India would attain such a high level of production, through the capitalist mode of production?
The need for a new approach to the question of Struggle, Movement and Organisation
What did we achieve from the 28 Feb 2012 strike? If nothing, then why not? How are we being deprived of even the minimum that we had? Are the tactics that we are adopting to regain them correct? What are the new means that need to be invented to attain our objectives? There is a growing need to give priority to a discussion on these questions.
Today, union leaders are formulating our demands and calling for strikes. When we formulate our own demands in a collective manner and take our own measures to attain them, then, whether the strikes will be for one or two days or indefinite will not be decided beforehand. Then, our struggle and movement will not be limited to slogan shouting at factory gates or street-corners. Then, our struggle could generate a massive workers unity, long-term movements and revolutionary organisations. The beginning – to “Take your own initiatives – be organised – implement on your own” — must be made at our own workplaces. We will have to start thinking of struggles and movements on the basis of our self-activities regardinh the everyday questions.
False Unity, Real Unity
As long as we accept the present relationship between capital and labour, we will have to deal with the problems generated by their contradictions. More and more exploitation, attacks on workers to gain profits – all these are necessary for capital, they are its compulsions. The capitalist production process has itself arrived at its final stage. Worldwide depression, inflation, unemployment, outsourcing, contractualisation, increase in the amount of work, increase in the working hours, shutdown of the newer companies before they could attain their maximum capacity, are all symptoms of a moribund capitalism. In order to save ourselves from destructive wars, to save the environment, humanity and all other species it has become extremely necessary to remove this inhuman capitalist production system by establishing a collective production-distribution system or socialism that is based on associative collectivity of workers-producers – under their control and management. Present organisations and unions are associated with political parties who are entrenched within the capitalist parliamentary system. These organisations and unions do talk about workers but they are ever ready to establish secured positions for the leaders in the present society and within their own organisations – they reproduce the distance between leaders and general workers. The unity among today’s unions and organisations is enforced from above, and is thus unstable and illusory. On the other hand, struggles and movements initiated by workers themselves would generate workers organisations (factory committees, workers councils etc) promoting a true unity with a commitment towards revolutionary transformation. A strong, long-term unity is possible only on the initiatives of the workers themselves.
The need for a struggle based on the unity between permanent and temporary workers
The capitalist class in India has achieved two goals in the general interest of capital by implementing the new economic policy. By employing cheap contractual labour in place of permanent workers, they have, on the one hand, subsidised production costs, and on the other, intensified intra-class competition and discrimination on the basis of permanent and temporary categories. Permanent workers look down upon temporary contract workers instead of recognising them as equals, thus fragmenting the workers unity. Hence, in order to intensify the struggle against the exploitation and oppression by capital through their own initiatives, establishment of a unity between permanent and temporary workers is extremely necessary. In this regard, permanent workers will have to take the initiative. In 2011-12, workers of Maruti Suzuki Manesar led a heroic struggle on the basis of such unity between permanent and temporary workers and despite an intensive crackdown by the management, government and police on the workers after the July 18 incident the struggle is still on – on the basis of this unity.
Learning from the struggle of Maruti Suzuki workers, during the upcoming Feb 20-21 strike, let us build workers committees uniting workers across all segmentations and divisions – permanent-temporary, men-women etc. Let us build our struggle on our own initiatives on the principle of “Do not demand, but implement’, and continue it even after the strike! Only then we will be able to pressure the government and the capitalist class to concede. Only by a continuous struggle based on our own initiatives beyond any ritualistic confines can we make this two-day strike successful.
Workers Journal, Parivartan ki Disha, Nagpur