Feb 25 2013
Last week, a hundred million workers in India conducted a General Strike. Eleven trade unions with divergent political traditions and programs came together to bring out their members for two days (never before in India’s modern history have all the unions joined together, and never has the working-class held a two day strike of this magnitude). They were united by a ten-point list of demands, including checks on inflation, creation of a jobs program and of strengthened protections for trade unions, implementation of equal pay for equal work, and restrictions on contract work and casual work. The Financial Times saw the demand sheet in terms of a fight against inflation. But the real issues are about building working-class power. The powerful response by the people indicates that they are truly angry about price increases of goods to satisfy their bare needs; but what was also clear is that the demands for an end to contract labor, for the right to join unions and the right for women to be paid as much as men would go a long way toward strengthening the bloc of the People against the bloc of Money. The Strike was as much about power, therefore, as survival.
The intensity of the strike was not clear in the heart of the cities or in My Town. Industrial areas, ports, coal mines and oil refineries – here the battle-lines were drawn, such that in Ambala (Haryana), a cashier at a bus depot and a trade union leader, Narender Singh was killed when he tried to stop some buses from leaving the depot. From Assam’s Amingaon Bottling Plant to Tamil Nadu’s Kalpakkam Atomic power project, the machines sat idle as workers clashed with the police. Contract workers refused to enter the Rourkela steel plant in Odhisha and the anganwadi (day care) workers in Uttar Pradesh refused their charges. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had begged the unions to call off the strike to no avail. Trade union leader Gurudas Dasgupta pointed out that the cabinet ministers deputed to speak to the unions did not include the Finance Minister – Neo-liberalism’s Myrmidon.