The strike of 8-9 January 2019 have been the response of the working class to a failed government. When you have a government that creates fewer jobs than it presides over the loss of; when you have a government that says inflation has come down when people are reeling under the soaring prices of essentials: food, medicines, public transport; when you have a government that has presided over the greatest agrarian distress in living memory, forcing millions to migrate into towns and cities driving down urban wages; when you have a government that has systematically withdrawn public funds from social security and social protection, dangled the carrot of a universal security while doing everything to take apart existing social security provisions including the provident fund and ESIC; when you have a government that has tried every possible way to legislate away hard fought workers’ rights and created rules for fixed term contracts without a legislative mandate; when you have a government that condones sexual harassment at the workplace including in its own ministerial ranks; when you have a government that spreads hatred and bigotry and turns on those historically discriminated against; and when you have a government that attacks the right to freedom of association through wanton arrests, bans on trade unions and other action that is beyond the pale of the law, then a successful general strike is the way to tell this government that enough is enough.
The New Trade Union Initiative salutes all sections of the working class who advanced the working class struggle through the two days of strike and in particular celebrates the participation of irregular, contract, ‘honorary’, daily wage workers mostly in unsafe and insecure jobs who gave up so much in joining such actions. The NTUI’s membership struck from tea plantations of Tripura, Assam and West Bengal to the power lines of Kerala. It struck, as it always does, in large numbers in private sector, including in global firms, where workers face some of the sharpest attacks against the right to freedom of association. Workers at Abott, Ashok Leyland, Bajaj Auto, Blue Star, Cadila, Holcim, Hyundai Earthmovers, Knorr Bremse, Novartis, Sanofi, Sun Pharma, Tenneco, Thermax, Valeo and so many more including in contract manufacturing companies that supply to global garment companies such as Gap, H&M, Marks & Spencer, NorthFace and Timberland, took part in the industrial action. In many places our members faced repression. In some places strikers faced the combined violence of employers and the police. Every one of these attacks, irrespective of which union was involved, must be condemned with the same collective voice and strength with which we struck.
This strike was different for the fact that never has a general strike been resisted, opposed and fought against by a national trade union centre. The RSS adjunct, the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh opposed the strike and expressedly called upon working people to support the policies and actions of the BJP government at the centre. The BMS, which has strung together an anti-working class coalition of trade unions that exist on paper by the name ‘Concent’, has called the strike ‘politically motivated’. Let there be no doubt that general strike is a political action of the working class. A struggle for a just minimum wage and universal social security is and will always be a political struggle – a struggle against rising profits and growing inequality.
This strike reflects the power of the working class against a retrograde government that puts profits of the private sector before people. This is a strike against a government that has sought to alter, undermine and if possible suspend every institution of democracy that exists and has to this end effectively suspended the tripartite labour machinery for whatever it was worth. Let this be a warning to all of us that the advance of the working class movement must include every section and every strand of progressive thought within the working class movement. It is such unity that will allow us to sustain a resistance of the working class that is in permanent opposition to capitalism, irrespective of which political party comes to government, to win gains for the working class and all of society.