India’s workers put Modi on notice

Pensive Modi (photo: Creative Commons)

Undoubtedly India’s recent 48 hour General Strike in January 2019, when nearly 220 million workers, peasants, agricultural labourers, street vendors etc. struck work will go down in history as a record-breaking one. Interestingly the previous record for largest general strike was also held by India’s working class, when 180 million participated in a General Strike in September 2016, against the disastrous economic policies of the current Modi regime. 

The general strike across India on 8-9 January 2019 did bring the entire economy to a virtual standstill; workers in government, banking, transit, manufacturing, transportation, education, agriculture and the informal economy were among those walking out. Every sector of the economy experienced slowdowns and in most cases total shutdowns.
The 48-hour strike was supported by the All India Kisan Sabha (CPI(M)’s Peasant wing), Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch, Bhumi Adhikar Andolan and several other peasant and tribal rights organisations.

Presently India’s population hovers around 1.34 billion people, which means one in six people in the world live in India. Of those 1.34 billion, at a bare minimum more than 1 in 9 took part in this strike, or about one striker for every 50 people in the entire world! Workers throughout India participated, from the largest cities of Mumbai (12 million plus) and Delhi (11 million plus) to the 67 percent of the country that remains rural.

As New Socialist Alternative wrote in its pre-strike statement:“Since the arrival of the disastrous policies of neo-liberalism in 1991, the working class of India have embarked upon a General Strike 17 times”. Here again this was a strike at the disastrous policies of the BJP – led, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which has failed the working people in all spheres.

Development Sloganeering stands exposed!

Modi who rode on the populist slogans of Development, Achche Din (good days), ending corruption, promising 2 crore (20 million) jobs every year etc., has achieved virtually zero after four and half years. His only “achievement” (if it can be said so) is the blatant transfer of wealth from poor to the rich.

Under Modi’s regime, the neo-liberal offensive is going at a breakneck speed. India’s 1 per centers – its super-rich – have been getting richer even faster. India’s top 1% holds close to half of the country’s total wealth. Although named “emerging markets”, 21st-century capitalism is brutally impoverishing the peoples of the underdeveloped economies. Seventy percent of India’s population or more – around 900 million people – languish under poverty with less than $2 per day.

But, the growth of dollar millionaires in India is exponential. From 196,000 in 2013 it rose to 250,000 in 2014 and it is expected that number will rise to 9 lakh (900,000) millionaires by 2023.
It is now more than evident that Demonetisation – the blunder that it was – cost India not only a fall in its growth rate, but, more importantly for the youth and workers, it cost precious jobs. A recent estimate puts that India lost 20 million jobs!

And yet the finance minister, Mr.Jaitley, had the temerity to ask the working class and the trade unions, “Are there any real issues before them or is it a part of the strategy of the Left political organisations to organise a symbolic unrest to ensure that they are not wiped out from the political map of India?”.

The ten Central Trade Unions calling for the strike published a 12 point charter of demands. It stresses the urgency to generate decent employment and stop contractualisation, to establish minimum wages of not less than ₹18,000 per month for all workers, establish compulsory registration, to guarantee the right to organise and the right of collective bargaining, the strict implementation of all labour laws and the need to stop anti-worker labour law amendments.

The leaders of the ten national unions claimed that more than 20 crore (200 Million) people participated in the strike. While there was a “complete bandh” (Total Stoppage) in seven states on January 8, an additional four states observed a similar total bandh on Wednesday the 9th of January.

The strike was 100 per cent successful in the industrial sectors including manufacturing, government, banking and insurance and the retail trade. Both state and private educational institutions were shut and public transport came to a halt in most states. 

The trade unions over the years have fought and got 44 laws enacted that are genuine pro-labour reforms. The Modi government started the reversal by undoing all the beneficial features by reducing them to four. Particularly what angered the workers was the fixed-term employment notification which adversely affects job security in the country.

Though the two-day strike was in general peaceful, there were incidents of pitched battles in some states such as Rajasthan, West Bengal and even in northern Karnataka. The first day of the strike saw protestors stopping buses and trains, pelting stones and clashing with the police. In Rajasthan, at least 22 police personnel and 50 civilians were wounded in clashes. On the second day, four people were injured in West Bengal.

The ire of the working class of India has to be understood in the context of the desperate situation they “live” in. Nearly two thirds of the population ekes out an existence in sub-human conditions of living, with a majority of them earning less than ½ dollar a day and no social security provisions whatsoever. India has been a time-bomb waiting to explode into a thousand plus bleeding pieces.  

India’s jobs crisis: 25 million applicants for 90,000 vacancies!

One million Indians enter the workforce each month, but the number of jobs being created is a fraction of that number. More than 25 million people have applied for 90,000 vacancies in India’s state-owned railways – an imbalance that illustrates the country’s struggle to find jobs for its employable millions.

The desperation for these jobs highlights a long-standing criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four years in power: that his government has failed to create employment. When he was elected in 2014, Mr Modi promised an economic revival that would create many avenues for employment. Vowing to build up the manufacturing sector, for example, he said that his “Make in India” initiative would create 100 million jobs by 2022.

In February of last year, India’s unemployment rate hovered around 6.1 per cent, the highest in 15 months, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, a think tank based in Mumbai. About two thirds of India’s population of 1.34 billion is under the age of 35, and around one million Indians enter the workforce each month.

Yet government data showed that in India’s eight biggest sectors – manufacturing, construction, trade, transport, IT, education, health care, and hotels and restaurants – just 155,000 new jobs were added in 2015 and 231,000 in 2016. (The figures for 2017 have not yet been published.)

‘Forum against Free Trade Agreement’, a pro-labour Network, wrote: “We believe that over two decades of neoliberalism pursued through the agenda of trade openness, de-regulation and privatisation has failed the Indian masses. As the striking unions point out – today, there has been a deepening of the crisis of decent jobs. Free trade rules, whether of the multilateral World Trade Organisation (WTO) or the new-age regional free trade agreements (FTAs) and bilateral investment treaties (BITs), all have serious implications for workers and the economy”.

What next?

India, being such a populous country (second only to China) has relative “democratic norms” still in place and mass class action and strikes can keep happening, But the question is, leading to what conclusions? As mentioned earlier, there have been 17 General Strikes since 1991 against the neo-liberal offensive of both the Congress and BJP varieties. The radical layers and the most militant sections among the working people are frustrated that time and again they are being used as cannon fodder to bargain a few chips from this or that coalition of bourgeois political parties.

Though the participation in the two days of strike was tremendous and unprecedented by all counts, the political impact of this working class action, supported by peasants, students and youth, was lost in the volume of calculations and permutations in relation to alternatives to the current hated regime of Modi and BJP. Already off the stage, back-room manoeuvers are being made to cobble-up a coalition or alliance of sorts to bring in the so-called “secular” Congress as the alternative to the communal Modi regime that even resorts to ‘fascistic’ methods. The brand tag of secularism is what the Communist/Stalinist left has historically used to peddle its disastrous strategy of searching for ‘progressive’ supporters among the capitalist representatives.

But this time round, owing to their own ideological disagreements, there is a clear division emerging among the two dominant ‘Communist’ parties. This is particularly so in the CPI(M). One wing – the Yechuhry wing – takes shelter under the false premise of India under Modi being “Fascist”. Hence it advocates a no-holds barred alliance with all and sundry. The other wing, under Karat, puts forward a slightly different concoction of a “secular-democratic” coalition against the communal BJP excluding Congress.

The irony is, both these so-called opposing wings are steeped in political opportunism and are betraying the working people who are seething with anger against the whole system of capitalism, which has failed to deliver on any of the fundamental and crucial problems faced by the majority of the population.

Yet, the left led by the CPI(M) and CPI have no clue as to how to take the fight forward. Just as an example, Modi in a desperate attempt to divert the attention of the media and scuttle the positive effect of the two days General Strike, without any warning announced a 10% job and education quota for the economically weaker sections among the ‘forward castes’. And even hurriedly got it passed in both the houses of the parliament, not just from the votes of the BJP but also getting votes from the opposition including the CPM.  

But the devil is in the detail. It is yet another white lie on all counts from the BJP ‘think tank’ to divert the attention of the struggling masses just 10 or 12 weeks before the elections. Even if, hypothetically, we accept this “reform” as pro-people, there are numerous holes in it. First and foremost is the decline of jobs. Last year alone more than 11 lakh (1.1 million) jobs were lost. Secondly, in the Public/Government sector to which this new law applies, there has been no employment increase in the last two decades at least. With the onset of privatisation and disinvestment since 1991, jobs in the Central Govt. and State governments are shrinking.

Most importantly, this move is to create confusion and disaffection among the struggling people who have begun to see through the divisive communal and casteist machinations of the BJP and RSS. But instead of calling this latest fraudulent move of  Modi by its right name, and leading a mass revolt against the regime, the left are engaged in mere sophistry.

Clearly, this move of Modi for what it’s worth is unconstitutional and blatantly sectarian in favouring the relatively well-to-do sections among the socially privileged  castes. The criterion to qualify for these non-available jobs has been fixed to those with an income below ₹800,000 annually ($1= ₹71) or owning less than five acres of land. That is to say anyone among the socially privileged caste elite earning just less than ₹ 66,000 income a month would qualify! Needless to point out that it would be a gross violation of basic human rights when 900 million are fighting for a mere existence.

Instead of seeing the writing on the wall, where there is a crying need for Modi to be ousted, and making preparations to effect it, the left is still scavenging for alliances with the bourgeois parties to put together an alternative Capitalist government. Whereas, in fact, every section of the population, however divided they are under various identities, have begun to converge their militant energies to force fundamental change.

The loud necessity flowing from that is a programme to unite those combative forces to not only throw Modi’s regime into the dustbin of history, but to make Capitalism and Landlordism itself history and usher in a Socialist Alternative that can become a harbinger of Socialist Revolution in the entire sub-continent.

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