WORKERS and trade unions all over India are preparing for the all-India Strike on 2 September this year, and are in fact preparing to turn it into a General Strike, a Bharat Bandh.
The Modi Government has repackaged the policies of the previous UPA government nd given it a bright new “Make in India” label. But what is the reality of this most-touted project of the Modi government?
In order to give foreign capital and corporate houses free license to loot profits under “Make in India” in the name of “development”, the first act of the Modi Government was to attack the hard-earned rights of workers and labour laws. Anti-worker amendments are being made in labour laws. These amendments will put 90% workers out of the ambit of labour laws and they will no longer be considered part of the “worker category”. For example, the amendments in the Factory Act, a separate Act for micro, small and medium industries, along with the amendments in the “Apprentice Act” ensure that factories with up to 40 workers will not come under the current labour laws.
Amendments in all the labour laws will end the system of independent unions, collective bargaining, and consultation with workers’ unions. They will encourage more oppression and sexual harassment of women workers. Further, the Modi Government, throwing democracy to the winds, is accomplishing labour law amendments through administrative directives (without tabling them in Parliament). No labour law, including that of fixed minimum wages, is being implemented anywhere. 12 hours’ work has become the rule. The police and administration are being given a free hand in ruthlessly crushing workers’ attempts to form trade unions. “Islands” of foreign companies have been made at various places which are being developed as trade union-free zones. At the same time, the big promises of generating 2 crore jobs every year through “Make in India” have proved to be thoroughly hollow (the employment development index during the Modi government is at its lowest since 2009 and unemployment has actually increased).
On the other hand, the Modi Government has announced 100% FDI along with many concessions in 15 major and strategically important sectors including defence, pharmaceuticals, and single brand retail trading (100% FDI in railways has already been announced earlier). It is noteworthy that Modi made this announcement just after his latest US trip, in order to please his American masters. Moreover, Modi has signed an agreement with US President Obama to make India a US Army base. Catering to the interest of the US and dependence on foreign capital—this is Modi’s entire policy in a nutshell.
State governments of different hues, especially BJP-NDA ruled governments, are competing with each other to erode and end labour laws for the purpose of luring private capital; the pack is led by the BJP government in Rajasthan. All these State governments are bent upon establishing the system of privatization and contractualization. Even the Kejriwal government in Delhi, going back on its electoral promise, is taking rapid steps in this direction; this is the government which came to power against established parties like the Congress and BJP through the votes of the working class by promising regularization of contract workers in the sanitation department, DTC and other sectors, and equal pay for equal work.
All in all, the Central and all State governments are giving workers a clear message that if they talk of forming a union, if they raise their voices for implementation of labour laws, it will be considered a crime. The recent attack on AICCTU leader KK Bora by the management-police-administration nexus in SIDCUL (Rudrapur Industrial Area, Uttarakhand) the earlier unprecedented punishment of double life imprisonment for 8 Pricol workers in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, and the brutal oppression of workers of the Honda Motorcycle and Scooter factory at Alwar, Rajasthan, are some of many in a series of incidents of oppression of workers which can be seen in the country.
The government is washing its hands of the responsibility of crores of people living in miserable conditions, and this is the truth of Modi’s slogan of “minimum government”. The Modi government has launched an attack on health, education, and the entire social sector and social security. Some of the social welfare schemes such as Anganwadi (ICDS), ASHA (National Rural Health Mission), and the midday meal scheme are being weakened through fund cuts, privatization, and handing over to NGOs. The interests of the main pillars of these schemes—honorarium/incentive workers--ASHA, Anganwadi and midday meal workers, para teachers and the veritable army of various honorarium workers are being grossly neglected. Far from fulfilling the long-standing demand to give these workers the status of government employees, the Modi government has even brushed aside the recommendations passed unanimously by the last 3 Indian Labour Conferences to give them the status of worker, and minimum wages. Old age social security schemes such as PF and Pension are being snatched away from workers and given over to the market for the benefit of capitalists and private insurance companies. Construction workers are being deprived of the cess from billions of rupees deposited in their welfare board, and this cess is being looted by the government.
In large parts of the country people are groaning under conditions of severe drought and famine (and now floods), and dozens of farmers, bowed down by debt and the agrarian crisis, are forced to commit suicide on a daily basis; the response of the insensitive and indifferent Modi government is to serve them the “jumla” that farmers’ incomes will be doubled by 2022. Tea estate workers and their families are dying of malnutrition, starvation, and poverty. In such conditions the government is ending PDS (Public Distribution System) and promoting PPP (Public Private Partnership). PDS and other subsidies are being systematically weakened and crores of unorganized workers and farm workers bowed down by the agrarian crisis are being pushed into dire distress; subsidies are being distributed to corporate houses under the so-called “development” model of PPP.
The government is not introducing the much-needed raise in minimum wages in spite of spiraling inflation and rising prices. Further, attempts are being made to convert one of the chief means of employment, the MNREGA Act, into a scheme and MNREGA workers are not being paid for months together, for which even the Supreme Court has pulled up the government. In the meanwhile, the Modi government has accepted the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission which is said to be the worst so far from the point of view of workers’ interests. While this pay commission is going to benefit officers and bureaucrats, it recommends the lowest increment in minimum wages. This is a pay commission which strengthens the direction towards neo-liberalized reconstitution, contractualization, and corporatization of the government sector (including railways).
In a nutshell, the government has nothing but “jumlas” for lifting the people out of their present distress, but it is working hard to facilitate the loot of the country’s wealth and resources by corporate houses. This government allows Vijay Mallya, embezzler of 9,000 crores from the country’s banks, to flee to London, and is busy giving loan waivers of lakhs of crores to corporate houses—loans worth 1.14 lakh crores were written off between 2013 and 2015. 10 big corporate houses are battening on over 10 lakh crore loans taken from Indian banks. This is one of the instances of huge corruption flourishing under the Modi government which had chanted slogans of a “corruption-free India”, where recently a 45 thousand crore scam by telecom companies with the connivance of the Modi government has come to light. In Madhya Pradesh, the Chief Minister has been given a clean chit in the Vyapam scam which has claimed the lives of several people.
A CAG report on LPG Subsidy has proved the Government’s boast of Rs 22,000 crore savings in two years thanks to the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme and appeals to give up subsidy, to be a lie. The CAG audit has found that the actual savings on LPG subsidy owing to DBT and giving up of subsidised connections, is less than Rs 2,000 crore.
Farmers fought tooth and nail to have the Land Acquisition Ordinance revoked. Last year’s historic general strike on 2 September and the continuing workers’ protests across the country have succeeded to a certain extent in pushing the government back in the matter of amendments to labour laws. Workers have organized big strikes in the coal, transport, public and government sectors. In many States including Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Assam, ASHA, Anganwadi, midday meal workers and contract/honorarium workers in government departments are organizing huge struggles and fighting for their rights with some success. Workers, especially the women workers in Bengaluru’s garment industry, opposed the Modi government’s assaults on their hard-earned PF money so strongly that the government was forced to step back. The flood of protests which surged forth after the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula and the witch hunt in JNU turned into a student-youth uprising.
The working class fight today is not only against the cuts in workers’ rights and social security and the attempts to loot the workers’ hard-earned money through savings and pensions; but also to defend democracy and stand united in protest with every struggling section of the people. Workers are preparing for a countrywide general strike on 2 September and a Protest Day on 9 August (Quit India Anniversary).
• Labour law amendments by the government aimed at keeping the majority of workers out of the scope of the safety of labour laws and unchecked license to “hire and fire” should be curbed. All existing labour laws should be adhered to strictly.
• Effective measures should be taken to control spiraling prices, especially of food stuffs; PDS system should be made strong and universal; ending of forward trading and hoarding of essential goods should be guaranteed.
• Minimum wages should be related to Consumer Price Index and minimum wage of Rs 18000 per month for every worker should be ensured.
• The huge number of fixed honorarium/incentive-based workers in ICDS, ASHA, midday meal scheme, education volunteers, guest teachers, Shiksha Mitra and other schemes should be made regular. Privatization of government schemes should be ended and their budget should be sufficiently increased. Until regularization, these workers should be given status of worker as per the recommendations of the 45th Labour Conference and they should get minimum wages.
• Until such time as contractual/casual workers are regularized, they should be given equal work for equal pay and other facilities like regular workers.
• All organized workers including contractual, casual, farm, and migrant workers should be given social security and brought under the scope of the “Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act 2008”. Construction workers should be ensured full benefits from the cess deposited in their Welfare Board.
• Substantial increase should be made in public investment in the infrastructural framework to generate employment and the social sector.
• The scope of MNREGA should be extended to urban areas along with agrarian works; a minimum of 200 days’ employment and statutory wages should be ensured as per the unanimous recommendations of the 45th Labour Conference. Fund cuts in MNREGA should be revoked.
• Public sector units should be strengthened and expanded. Disinvestment should be stoppd without delay. Necessary budgetary assistance to recoup sick public sector units should be provided.
• Entry of FDI in defence production, telecom, railways, finance, retail and other important sectors should be ended.
• The limit of 20 workers under the EPF scheme should be reduced to 10 workers; compulsion limits of payment of PF and bonus should be removed; Rs 300 per month minimum pension should be ensured under the EPS scheme; the proposal to implement options in EPF and ESI should be revoked.
• The new pension scheme should be revoked and newly appointed workers in Central and State governments from 01.01.2004 should be included in the old pension scheme. New appointments in all the vacant posts in government departments, public sector units and autonomous institutions should be ensured.
• Registration of trade unions within 45 days should be made compulsory and the government should give approval to the ILO conventions 87 and 98 related to freedom of formation of unions and other matters.