New Delhi, 2 September 2016: Exactly a year after the countrywide General Strike on this day, millions of workers across towns and villages struck work again today to record their strong opposition to BJP government’s continued efforts to undermine workers’ rights and demobilise trade unions. The strike comes after months of struggles against the government’s efforts to, amongst other things, alter provident fund withdrawals, and in many cases sustained struggles to win a higher minimum wage.
As the strike date came closer the BJP government also mounted an enormous effort to appease trade unions. The countrywide rejection of the enhanced central sphere minimum wage and a two year bonus for government employees is a signal to government that it cannot spend a year attacking workers and their rights and on the eve of a strike try to buy them over with change. It may be recalled that on the eve of the general strike last year too government made an offer for a country-wide mechanism for arriving at a minimum wage and never returned to the dialogue on this after the strike. While the current offer is of course limited to public sector employees and hence it will be politically unfeasible for government to renege on it, the government, led by its Finance Minister, was at the very least disingenuous when it left its implementation to the state governments in the case of private sector workers. The framework of the floor level minimum wage (FLMW) is what is meant to provide guidance to state governments. The BJP government has not revised the FLMW since July 2016 and it stands at Rs. 160 per day, much below the poverty line.
The success of the strike reflects the sharp opposition of the working class against the efforts of the government to systematically violate core workers’ rights through the efforts to amend the Factories Act and, without direct reference to the legislature, introduce fixed term contracts and interfere with provident fund and ESI provisions. The strike also comes at the end of months in which the BJP government has presided over attacks on students, on oppressed castes especially dalits and on women and minorities along with a sustained attack on the livelihood rights of all workers including agriculture and forest workers.
As the NTUI took its strike action forward we faced challenges too. In Assam, some 30 members of our affiliate the Majoori Shramik Union were arrested and kept in custody through the day. In Chennai, in response to our strike notice, garment manufacturers in the MEPZ Special Economic Zone, unilaterally declared a holiday today. Carrying forward their protest at the SEZ gate this morning, 57 of the members of our affiliate Garment and Fashion Workers Union were arrested, dragged into police vans and kept in custody for over 10 hours. Similar attacks and attempts to undermine the strike by intimidating workers were faced by other unions too.
The NTUI salutes the entire working class on the success of the strike. In particular the NTUI salutes the courage of workers in the private sector and workers without secure employment be they contract, casual, temporary, apprentice, trainee or ‘honorarium’ workers, who joined the strike, for it is they who face the fiercest attack of employers and government.
Let the BJP government not fail to recognise today’s enormous voice of protest.
And as we go forward taking the next step of our struggle let us not fail to note that it is through greater unity alone can we go forward militantly.
N Vasudevan Gautam Mody
President General Secretary