Workers Strike Back; 2nd September Strike Demands Explained
On 2 September 2016, crores of workers across the country will go on strike demanding an end to the all-round attack launched by the government against their lives, livelihood and dignity. Representing the interests of the big capitalists, both domestic and foreign, the Modi government has been trying to fool the working people with false promises even as it supports and actively imposes a policy that is snatching away jobs, looting family budgets, disarming workers of their rights and opening the doors to harsher exploitation. Last year’s all India strike saw an incredible 15 crore workers go on strike. This strike on 2 September is bound to surpass that, telling the government and the ruling class that it is not going to back down. Here is a brief explainer of the workers’ demands:
- Urgent measures for containing price-rise through universalisation of public distribution system and banning speculative trade in commodity market
Prices of several essential commodities have steadily risen for the past two years. In some cases, like pulses, the rise has been as high as over 100%. Then, there are periodic spikes in some commodities like onions or potatoes. Net result is that working people’s family budgets have been devastated and they are having to cut down on nutritious food just to survive. Already, over 56% of women in the country and a similar share of children are anemic. The food security act passed in 2013 is yet to be rolled out fully. The Act is itself limited, providing affordable food grains to just two thirds of the country, and not having provision for increasing population. It does not cover many essential commodities. If more commodities, like pulses and oil are included and its coverage is increased to all the people, it will provide much needed food to malnourished families. This will also finish off hoarding and speculative trading which drives up prices. But the government is refusing to pay attention to hungry people across the country and continues to provide concessions to big traders and food companies.
- Containing unemployment through concrete measures for employment generation
According to government estimates, about 1.2 crore Indians join the labour force every year in India. There are already over 10 crore people unemployed and crores more who are called ‘employed’ but are forced to work in very low paying jobs – a hidden kind of unemployment. Women’s employment has hit rock bottom with just 27% women over 15 years of age working – one of the lowest in the world. The situation is explosive but the government is groping about, unable or unwilling to address the tide of joblessness. Its fancy schemes like ‘Make in India’ or ‘Skill India’ or industrial corridors are just pies in the sky, giving profits to industrialists but nothing for the workers. On top of this, govt. policies of privatization and contractualisation are creating more unemployment. Those who have jobs today face an uncertain future while the youth, among whom 25% are unemployed, are hopeless and angry.
- Minimum wages of not less than Rs 18,000 per month with provisions of indexation
Minimum wage rates fixed by state governments are cruelly low in shameless violation of well-settled principles and Supreme Court orders. According to calculations done by experts, for a worker’s family having three members, the minimum amount required for their food, shelter, clothing etc. is about Rs.20,000. This takes into account the principle set down by the Indian Labour Conference of 1957 and those laid down by the Supreme Court in 1992. Last year, the central government had suggested Rs.6098 as minimum wage, without any basis. Their real consideration was and still remains only one – profits of employers should not suffer, so keep the wages as low as possible. The trade union movement has adjusted its demand to Rs.18,000 instead of Rs.20,000 in order to make it more feasible. But the government is refusing to listen. With the way prices are rising, and with the public distribution system not meeting the needs inflation robs working people relentlessly. Hence a minimum wage linked to prices is of utmost importance to crores of workers across the country.
- Stoppage of contractorisation in permanent perennial work and payment of same wage and benefits for contract workers as regular workers for same and similar work
One of the surest ways for industrialists to depress wages, deny various benefits to workers and prevent them for organizing is the contract system that has spread across all sectors. Even in public sector enterprises 22% of the employees/workers are on contract. In private enterprises the situation is worse. Although clear laws exist that workers doing perennial nature of work should not be on contract and that contract workers need to be given the same pay and benefits as regular workers, employers have taken advantage of the govt.’s complicity and court’s indifference to flout these laws. As a result contract workers are to be found working at less wages and for more hours. This also destroys the unity of workers and weakens their striking power. All kinds of contractual labour needs to be ended and a united fight by regular and contract workers for regularization of contract workers has to be launched.
- Strict enforcement of all basic labour laws without any exception or exemption and stringent punitive measures for violation of labour laws
- Against Labour Law Amendments
Labour laws provide some protection to workers and ensure that they can survive under conditions of harsh exploitation. Laws on minimum wages, working hours, job security, medical support, provident fund, maternity benefits, etc. were won by struggles of workers decades ago. But it has always been a dream of capitalists to do away with these laws so that they can suck the last drop of profit from the workers’ labour. Modi government appears to have promised them to make this dream a reality. In many BJP ruled states wholesale changes have been made in labour laws so that employers can hire and fire workers at will and allow changes in service conditions. And, the central govt. is ready with new laws that will dilute existing ones. Already the labour laws enforcement mechanism had been destroyed by previous governments leaving the workers at the mercy of ruthless and greedy industrialists. Now this is being further ground down. Unless the workers step up and fight for their legal rights, they will even snatch away the right to form trade unions. , 80-90% of workers never get wages equal to them.
- Universal social security cover for all workers
- Assured enhanced pension not less than Rs.3,000 p.m. for the entire working population
Social security means ensuring that workers and their families get financial support for illness and for times when they are unable to work after a certain age. This is not some charity or goodwill gesture on the part of employers. It is a right of workers who spend their lives laboring away so that the employers’ earn their profits. But the government, far from acknowledging this universal right is conspiring to dismantle even the existing laws which cover only a fraction of India’s workforce. While refusing to extend ESI and EPF coverage to lakhs of workers in the unorganized sector, it has recently made several attempts to impose ceilings, use accumulated PF monies for investing in volatile stock market speculation, prevent workers from withdrawing from PF etc. It is also committed to converting the whole concept of social security into a profit making enterprise by trying to impose an insurance model (worker pays premium to private company) with no contribution from govt. Its proposal for such a macabre scheme for anganwadi workers/helpers with a premium as high as Rs.250 was defeated recently.
- Removal of all ceilings on payment and eligibility of bonus, provident fund; increase the quantum of gratuity.
Bonus is a small share of the profit that an employer makes from the labour of the workers. Suppose an industrialist makes 40% profit in one year. So, why should the share of workers’ bonus be limited to say 8.33% only? If there is no limit to profit there should not be any limit to the bonus share that a worker gets. Again, this is not some charity being asked for from the employers. It is a just and rightful share that the workers are asking. In fact bonus is actually considered a ‘deferred wage’ by the courts. This means that it is like wages except that it is being paid once at the end of the year. A similar logic applies to gratuity which is a rightful recognition of the years of service put in by the worker during which the employer had surely earned huge profits from the workers’ labour. So, when the worker retires or quits after many laboring years, should he or she not get a share of the wealth created by labour? The government of course is enslaved by the capitalist class and so it is callous to this logic. It only searches for ways to cut down on labour costs by depressing wages, cutting down on various entitlements like bonus and gratuity and snatching away social security rights.
- Compulsory registration of trade unions within a period of 45 days from the date of submitting application; and immediate ratification of ILO Conventions C 87 and C 98
The only way governments listen to workers is when they fight back the attacks. And, the only way workers can effectively fight back is when they are organized around a fighting banner. The government and the capitalist class knows this very well. That is why they are trying their utmost to dismantle the workers’ right to organize and fight. Already many changes had been made by previous governments in the Trade Unions Act which make it difficult for workers to register their trade unions or get recognition from managements. The present government, with its naked hostility to the working class is planning to further restrict this right. This attack is not confined to the government alone. The judiciary and bureaucracy, as well as dominant media and intellectual apologists for the bourgeoisie continue to abuse workers if they so much as stir one finger to get justice. Against this all round attack, workers have to strike back forcefully and retrieve their rights.
- Stoppage of disinvestment in Central/State PSUs
- Against FDI in Railways, Insurance and Defence
The public sector employs over workers in India. It controls many crucial and strategic sectors of the economy, providing a bulwark against private loot. But since the adoption of neo-liberal policies in the country there has been a systematic attempt to privatize the public sector and invite foreign capital in some parts of industry. The purpose of this vile conspiracy is to use national assets to fill the coffers of domestic and foreign companies. The present government is going about this greedily and with haste. It has set a target of raising Rs.56,000 crore from the sale of such profit making PSUs as BHEL, IOC, ONGC, HPCL, BPCL and few others. What will be the result of this? Firstly, the sale is being done at very low prices to ensure that private capitalists gain and the country loses. For example SAIL’s value is estimated at about Rs.5 lakh crore. But by pegging its share value at Rs.200, it could be sold for just Rs.82,600 crore! That’s less than one-fifth the price. But there is a more important aspect. Privatisation, especially if foreign ownership means that the country’s resources will be used for private profit not for the people’s good. Also, it will mean an open attack on the employed workers who will either get thrown out or converted to contract labour. Inviting foreign direct investment in such key sectors as defence and railways means that the country’s backbone will be handed over to foreign interests, who will no longer care for either the country’s sovereignty or for its workers.