Trade unions have risen like the Phoenix
Trade unions have risen like the Phoenix
By Shivaji Sarkar
Never in the recent history has an all-India strike been as successful as on February 28. Trade unions owing allegiance to Congress, Left parties, the Sangh joined hands.
Eleven central trade unions –BMS, INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, AICCTU, UTUC, LPF, SEWA – backed the strike call (and the strike is supported by 5000 trade union units), posing a challenge to the central government, which had called on the Unions to call off the show of force.
For the first time strike was total in Arunachal and Sikkim – the two states which had remained away from the mainstream. The successful strike by trade unions joined by millions of workers across the country testifies that the workers are uniting against an oppressive system and unresponsive regime. In many states, the governments unleashed repressive measures.
The Sheila Dikshit government imposed provisions of ESMA to thwart the strike. The Delhi government also arrested 200 workers. Haryana police arrested Haryana Road Transport workers at Bhiwani. In Jammu & Kashmir, there were lathicharges and 2000 arrests. In Chhattisgarh, securitymen of a large private group beat up workers. The trade union activists were arrested in Pondicherry.
It calls for the government and all political parties to take stock of the situation. It should not be viewed as retrograde. Trade unionism, of late, is viewed as anti-industry and anti-investment. It is not.
The industry has tried to project that thousands of crore were lost in the strike. That is certainly not correct. Industries have lost little. The workers have lost a day’s wages amounting to at least Rs 10,000 crore. It was the gain for the industrialist apart from savings it caused on energy consumption and other expenses.
It calls for introspection. Why should the workers willingly lose a day’s wages? They never do it unless they are driven to the wall. Inflation, poor quality of jobs and the culture of hire and fire forced them go on strike.
Inclusive growth has become a slogan of the government. Corporate reserves and profits have grown manifold even as public sector bank deposits have become critical and workers are marginalised. How could the nation progress if its 60 crore workers remain out of the growth process?
This is the reality. If the nation’s growth is stunted losing pace every day, it is because the workers have become victims of high inflation, exploitation, low wages, insecurity and have been deprived of purchasing power.
A nation that ignores its workers is destined to lose the growth steam. This nation too has lost that on all sectors be it infrastructure, core sector, banking or now even the services. The deprived workers bugged by high inflation and low wages are not contributing to the country’s growth.
The obsession with foreign direct investment (FDI) does not add to growth unless there is consumption. And the workers have to be enabled to consume. This is not happening. Indian industrialists are too smart. They are sitting quiet over their large deposits because they are aware of this fact. Industrialists’ gain is the loss of the nation.
Industry and the government often call for labour reforms. It only means further curtailing the rights and comforts of the workers, a regime of hire and fire and an unbridled right of the employer to trample on their rightful claims. The global crisis has recoiled down to the sufferings of the working class. The US and Europe are facing it and India has yet to learn from the failings of Europe.
The employers have virtually usurped illegally the right to deny provident fund, gratuity and wage dues. They lay off employees and declare lock out at will without the required statutory permission. The state’s officials ignore the misdeeds of the powerful industry lobbyists. The labour department officials rarely implement the laws except when they have to extort.
The trade union leaders rightly called the strike as a wake-up call for the government.
The Februrary 28 strike is not the end. It is the beginning of a new era of vibrant trade unionism. The government, it was expected, would have shown a pro-worker face at the Indian Labour Conference held two weeks back. It did not.
Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and many other European countries are today seeing a severe backlash from the working class. They are leading the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in the US. These are loud signals for the Central Government.