The country has witnessed a massive two days countrywide general strike on 8-9 January 2019 by the working people against the anti-people, anti-worker and anti-national policies of the BJP-led Government of India. The general strike was called by all in the united platform of 10 central trade unions and almost all independent national federations. The strike by the working class had drawn countrywide support and solidarity, with various forms of protest actions, of the people of other walks of lives, the peasantry and agricultural workers in particular.
The general strike and the countrywide peoples’ massive response to it, demonstrated people’s loud disapproval to BJP government’s policy regime of loot, plunder and onslaught on the lives and livelihood of the toiling people at large; on the self-reliance and the national economy as a whole. It also reflected their anger against the poisonous, divisive and repressive machinations on the entire society by the ruling polity.
Culmination of Series of Agitations
The two days countrywide general strike, by the broadest ever united platform of the trade unions of the country and supported by the organizations of all sections of toiling people in the country, marks the convergence and culmination of last three and half years long consistent and continuous agitations and protest actions by the working class and toiling people at large against the same anti-people and anti-national policies of the Narendra Modi government at the centre. There had been agitations including strikes in various sectors at state and national levels. There were also struggles and strikes on common demands led by the central trade unions, jointly and separately.
This period has witnessed two countrywide general strikes, on 2 September in 2015 and in 2016, joined by over 15 crores workers, both from organized and unorganized sector. There had also been numerous agitations and strike actions in various sectors viz. banks, insurance, telecom, coal, steel, road transport, engineering, electricity, various PSUs, defence-production, central and state government employees; in number of multinational companies and in private sector industries. During this period, the workers in various central government schemes particularly by Anganwadi employees, ASHA and mid-day-meal workers etc had been on consistent struggles, both at national and state levels, including indefinite strike action in some states. Construction workers also resorted to number of agitations and also a massive strike at national level. Also notable had been the three days long Mahapadav before the Parliament in November 2017 with participation of at least 2.8 lakh workers in three days.
Number of such strikes, mostly in states, was for indefinite periods compelling the concerned state governments or authority to retreat and concede to the demands of the workers. Due to strike actions, the Government could not yet privatise any of the 10 PSUs including steel plants, BEML, Bridge and Roof, CEL and others which it had planned in 2014 itself.
Widened United Working Class Battle against Neoliberal Regime
The working class movement is the only social force which has been on the path of united struggle with continuity right from the initiation of the pro-imperialist neoliberal policy regime from 1991 itself. Through such struggles and interventions against the neoliberal policy regime the united platform of trade union movement got continuously widened finally drawing all the central trade unions in 2009. This all-in-united platform of trade unions led country wide struggles and agitations from 2009 to 2015, including the two days countrywide general strike in 2013. Joint struggles continued thereafter even though BMS deserted the joint trade union movement on the eve of the general strike in 2015. These struggles in the organised and unorganised sectors tempered and widened the atmosphere of unrest and anger among the people gradually targeting the pro-corporate pro-landlord neoliberal policy regime and its present operator – the BJP led government at the centre.
Change of Governments, But, No Change of Policies
The grievous impact of the neoliberal policy regime on the lives and livelihood of the people - featured in mass scale informalisation and contractorisation of workforce, increasing unemployment and joblosses, rising prices, deliberate non-implementation and non-enforcement of labour laws, attack on labour rights and desperate move for privatization and disinvestment of PSUs and public utility services - has attracted the toiling people at large in the path of organized struggles and agitation both at sectoral level and at national plane.
But the anger and resentment of the people joining the struggles had been mainly against the sufferings and losses that they were being subjected to. It was not generally directed consciously against the policy regime and the politics behind that policy regime. As a result, despite changes in government at the centre number of times since 1991, the direction of the economic policies continued to remain the same, albeit with different intensities. The intervention of the Left forces played crucial role in containing the intensity of the pursuit of neoliberalism at different spells during this period.
Aggressive Neoliberal Regime with Authoritarian, Divisive and Diversionary Agenda
But assumption of power by BJP government at the centre, has brought about a dramatic change in the situation altogether. Not only are the same anti-people and pro-corporate policies being pursued by the BJP government with much more brutal aggressiveness, but these are being supplemented with increasing authoritarian onslaught to stifle opposition to its misrule, trampling underfoot the basic constitutional values and principles. Simultaneously it has resorting to the poisonous divisive strategy, seeking to sharpen communal and other types of polarisation in the society on the basis of caste, creed and various other parochial routes, which is integral to their aim of sustaining the present rule of the exploiting classes that they represent. Through these they seek to divert the attention of the people from the burning issues of their lives and livelihood in the crisis ridden economy and prevent them from becoming the agenda of political discourse. They want to make people fight within themselves on such divisive lines instead of unitedly fighting against the root cause of their miseries and distress.
It is in this background, we should recall CITU conference’ call to reach the unreached section of the people to further broaden platform and coverage of the struggles; and for conscious and organized effort to identify by the workers their real enemy through linking issues and problems, faced by them, with the ongoing policy regime and the political operators of such retrograde policy regime bringing miseries and destitution on their lives.
Surging Workers – Peasants Unity and United Struggle
During the span of last three years, along with the united and sustained struggles by the workers, farmers struggles came up a in a big way. Their struggle against land acquisition ordinance, for loan waiver and remunerative prices etc exposed the total fraud of the BJP regime before the people. Upsurge of farmers’ struggles in Maharashtra and the long march from Nashik to Mumbai at the initiative of All India Kisan Sabha, farmers struggle in MP and Rajasthan besides in some other states are some of the notable farmers struggles which added momentum to the peoples’ movement against Modi-regime.
Concerted and coordinated joint agitations by workers and peasants also marked a beginning during this phase of struggle which, in sequence, include countrywide 9 August, 2018 ‘Jail Bharo’ on farmers demands by AIKS joined by CITU and AIAWU in around 600 location in 394 districts and participated by more than five lakh peasants and workers; Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally before Parliament on 5 September 2018 with above two lakh participation; Kisan Mukti March on 29-30 November 2018 in New Delhi joined by thousands of farmers and others; 30 November workers staging demonstration in most of the state capitals in solidarity with farmers and in support of their demands; and preparatory countrywide campaigns for all these programmes starting in April focusing on reaching the unreached section of the people exposing the anti-people neoliberal regime.
This momentum was seen in the change in qualitative component of the peoples’ movement bringing the two main productive forces in the society – the workers and peasants – into joint struggles highlighting the bread and butter issues of the people as a counter to the divisive non-issues by the RSS-BJP bandwagon.
It is precisely in this background that the two days countrywide strike action has drawn the active support of the peasants’ organizations through their rural bandh and rail-roko and rasta roko agitation on the strike days.
Positive Indicator in the Defeat
Although at the initial stage, the BJP government’s diversionary, divisive and authoritarian strategy met with some success as reflected in the BJP’s victories in several assembly elections and BJP gaining power in majority state governments, the situation gradually changed thereafter. In the recent assembly elections, BJP’s defeat in the Hindi heartland - Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, its failure to capture power in Karnataka, despite all its dubious efforts, and its defeat in ten Lok Sabha seats that it won in 2014 including in states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh etc where it had state governments; indicates the beginning of such change. Its diversionary and divisive strategy could not meet their expectations. Ram Mandir construction or cow-vigilantism etc could not be made major issues influencing the people in their favour. Instead, severe farmers’ distress, unemployment and loss of livelihood, price-rise etc have shaped the opinion of the people facing the elections and that resulted in the rejection of BJP in these states.
No doubt, to some extent this is a positive development. And massive struggles by the toiling people – the workers, farmers, agricultural workers and other section of the people in sequence and with continuity - have made some contribution in this positive development. Of course there were other factors also.
The Main Tasks before Us
The main task is to maintain the continuity and direction of this positive development and mass struggles and mobilizations. Conscious efforts must be made to orient the peoples’ consciousness in the right direction in the days to come. Nothing is automatic.
This is the path before us. Mass actions and mobilizations on issues of lives and livelihood of the people is the only path before us to sensitise the people and make them identify their real enemy. That alone can make us advance towards reversal of the policy regime. We have to attack at the root and must not get diverted to fringes. This is the way to counter and defeat the philistine ploy of the capitalist-landlord class and their political agent in the governance to divert peoples’ attention from the main issues and divide them towards non-class polarization.
The post strike period must see the continuity of the organized intervention by the working class in coordination of the peasants, agricultural workers and other sections of the people. Workers-peasants joint initiative in action has to be carried forward vigorously and with continuity. The ensuing 19th January Worker Peasant Solidarity Day must be observed with effective planning, campaign and mobilisation. Major responsibility lies with the working class. Such initiative must percolate down to the lowest tier of organisation to make visible a different correlation as well as combination of struggling forces asserting at the grass root level of the entire society.
This period must be conceived as the beginning of another major political battle - the forthcoming Parliament elections. We must expose both the neoliberal order and its present operator in the governance; not one OR the other. We must work and make people respond to the task of ousting this communal-authoritarian combine from the seat of governance in order to save the people and save the country. The principal task of the class movement must be to orient its intervention to bring forth with force the class issues of life and livelihood and unity of the people as the agenda of the political discourse in the forthcoming political battle and that is the only way to counter effectively the ploy of the ruling class and their political agents to divert the attention and divide the people.
We must and shall overcome!