Historic General Strike on February 20-21

The working class of India is all set for the momentous 48 hours general strike on February 20 and 21, 2013. The notable fact in this regard is that the call given by eleven central trade union organisations and national federations of various professionals has found more support from various regional level organisations and also from a number of independent, plant level trade unions and other organisations.

Reports received from all over the country show that this phase of the united trade union movement will be the so far largest working class action in the country, one which will be protesting against the anti-worker and anti-people policies of the government and will also be putting forward an alternative policy line.

Tradition of struggle

One may recall that the struggle against the neo-liberal policies by the trade unions had begun in 1991 itself, the year in which these policy declarations were made by the central government led by P V Narasimha Rao.

In fact, trade unions had begun to put forward policy alternatives by the early 1980s when the IMF dictated policies were thrust upon the people by the then government led by late Smt Indira Gandhi. The countrywide general strike and hartal on January 19, 1982 was a great success, when the National Campaign Committee of Trade Unions raised the demands concerning the workers, peasants, agricultural workers and unemployed youth.

Thus what began in 1991 was in reality the second phase of the united trade union movement. The struggles from 1991 onward were at the call of joint platforms like the Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions (SCTU) and the National Platform of Mass Organisations (NPMO). There were twelve countrywide one day general strikes till 2008, demanding justice to the workers and other toiling masses.

The year 2009 saw a new upsurge and more of united struggles. With the national convention that took place in September 2009, began the third phase of struggles against the neo-liberal policies.

The general strike of September 7, 2010 and the massive campaigns and court arrest programmes preceding the strike saw mobilisation of more and more workers. The massive and unprecedented March to Parliament on February 23, 2011 and other campaigns resulted in further strengthening the joint platform with the participation of all the eleven central trade union organisations and almost all the national federations as well. This resulted in yet another general strike on February 28, 2012, in which more than 10 crores of workers from all sectors participated. Many sections of workers, who had never participated in any such struggle earlier, came forward to participate in this massive action of the working people.

And now, again, within a year of that strike, workers and other working masses are all prepared for a 48 hour general strike. This is, moreover, the first time when the trade unions have jointly given a call for two days’ strike action.

Charter of demands & wide-ranging unity

The charter of demands put forward by the trade unions includes the demands concerning an overwhelming majority of the Indian people. These include - control of the prices of essential commodities and universalisation of the public distribution system in order to ensure food security. Then there are some immediate demands of workers - like a minimum wages of at least Rs 10,000 per month for unskilled workers and corresponding rates of wages for semi-skilled, skilled and highly skilled workers; equal wage for equal work; and an end to the highly exploitative contract systems. The charter or demands also includes some pressing demand of the workers - the right to form a union and the ensure right to collective bargaining. The charter of demands has, no wonder, evoked a huge response from various sections of the common people.

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Hectic preparations began immediately after the national level joint convention of the trade unions in September 2012, where the call for the 48 hour strike was given.

Since then, all the state units of the central trade union organisations and federations have organised joint state level conventions; district and area level conventions were also organised in many states. These conventions at the state level were attended by senior leaders of the central trade unions, calling upon the cadres to reach out to the workers at the grassroots level.

This time, sectoral level united conventions and campaign programmes also reached a new high. The National Convention of Central Public Sector Unions, which took place in Chennai on December 15, had had participants from all the central public sector undertakings (PSUs). They belonged to the BMS, INTUC, CITU, AITUC, HMS and LPF, along with independent unions and their Joint Action Committees from Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Joint conventions were then held at the sectoral level - of workers in the steel, coal and petroleum industries, in the NTPC, Power Grid and State Electricity Boards, in public and private transport undertakings. In all these conventions and joint meetings could one see unprecedented unity and also energetic participation of many new organisations, even from the north-eastern states. In the central PSUs, all the participative unions have conducted joint campaigns and have served strike notices jointly.

In the banking sector, which had seen a countrywide strike on December 20, 2012 against the Banking Law Amendment Bill, all in unity for the 48 hours strike has been ensured by the call given by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) which has all unions of employees and officers as its constituents. The insurance sector workers too will, as usual, have full participation in the strike.

The telecom sector also will see a complete strike - with 13 unions of workers coming together to participate in the strike.

The likely scenario

In a similar manner, all the major ports in the county will come to a grinding halt on these two days, with all the national federations having given a joint call. Various organisations of state and central government employees and also teachers have come forward to participate in the struggle and have taken a lead in the campaign in many states.

In the defence sector, civilian employees in all the production centres and offices are set to join the two day strike. All the three federations - AIDEF, BPMS and INDWF - have jointly decided to go on strike.

Millions of scheme workers like the Anganwadi employees, ASHA workers and mid-day meal workers will also participate in the strike. The national federations of Anganwadi employees, affiliated to the CITU, AITUC, INTUC, HMS and BMS, have jointly served the strike notice on the central government.

In all the major industrial centres in the country, private sector industries too will see complete participation in the strike. Even in centres like Gurgaon, Manesar, and Ghaziabad in the National Capital Region (NCR) as well as in Sriperumpudur (Tamilnadu), Bangalore and surrounding areas in Karnataka and in the Greater Hyderabad area in Andhra Pradesh, full scale preparations have been made for the ensuing countrywide general strike. As many as 22 major unions in Gurgaon area, including those in some major multinational corporations in the automobile sector, have jointly served the strike notice.

Similarly, the medical and sales representatives all over the country have also decided to participate in the strike en masse.

Unorganised sector workers in the construction and beedi industries, in handloom and powerloom units, in the loading and unloading jobs, etc, have also been in the forefront of the campaigns.

In addition to the conventions, largely attended public meetings have been held in various states, in which top level leaders addressed the workers.

Various regional trade union organisations in Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Kerala and Tamilnadu and traders’ organisations in different parts of the country have decided to support the struggle and make the general strike a success.

The positive impact of the campaign and the increased support was reflected in the countrywide Rasta Roko and Court Arrest programmes on December 18-19, 2012 and the March to Parliament on December 20, with massive participation of men and women from nearby states.

CITU’S initiative

Along with the active participation in the joint activities and campaigns, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has been, on its own, conducting campaigns and preparations in all the states and sectors.

A booklet published by the CITU in English and Hindi has been reprinted and also translated in different languages by its state committees. The Andhra Pradesh state committee of the CITU sold more than 4.5 lakhs of the booklet, reaching a new height in the educative campaign. Many other state committees and also the national federations affiliated to the CITU brought out lakhs of copies of the booklet, apart from millions of handbills and posters.

Preparations for the successful strike were discussed in detail in all the district and state conferences of the CITU, now being held all over the country, as a prelude to its 14th all-India conference scheduled to take place in April 2013.

Now the campaign is in its last lap, striving to reach out to every section of workers in all the states and sectors. The CITU has repeatedly emphasised the need to approach each and every worker with the demands charter and the call for the strike.

In another major development this time, organisations of peasants and agriculture workers --- like the All India Kisan Sabha and All India Agricultural Workers Union, along with others --- have also called for countrywide strike and mobilisation on February 20 and 21 in solidarity with the trade unions’ struggle. For this purpose, they have also added their specific demands to the demands charter.

Thus the two days of general strike, i.e. February 20 and 21, will witness massive rallies, demonstrations, dharnas, padavs, rasta roko and rail roko by striking workers, peasants and agricultural workers.

We are thus expecting that the 48 hours general strike - an unprecedented action by the Indian working class at the national level - will turn out to be the largest strike action at the international level as well.

Even after 14 one day strikes and innumerable sectoral strikes and struggles, the government at the centre has not found it necessary to talk to the unions or listen to their demands; rather it wants to speed up the process of so called ‘reforms’ with the declared determination “to fight even if they go down.” While this is the government that has enough time to hear to the handful of big national and multinational corporates, the so called ‘captains’ of industry, and to obey their orders, it has no time to take note of the genuine grievances of the crores of workers and common people who toil day and night for the economic, social and human development of the country. In these circumstances, this general strike will be an eminently patriotic action to save the country from the anti-people policies and move ahead towards an alternative set of policies. This general strike, which is by all means going to be unprecedented, should act as a powerful warning to the ruling classes to desist from their anti-national and anti-people policies.

With the deepening crisis of capitalism and with the economic situation in the country causing concern to everybody, the struggle for alternative policies is crucial. This united struggle of the working class will surely rouse all other deprived sections to come forward and join similar struggles in future.