Even as the Parliament in India began its annual budget session, millions of Indians went on strike across the country calling for urgent policy changes. The general strike called by 11 central trade unions and large numbers of sector-based federations and independent trade unions evoked massive response across the country. This was the 15th general strike called by Trade unions in the last two decades when liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation became the religion of India’s ruling elite. But this was the first time when trade unions called for a two-day strike and stuck to it despite the government trying to mislead the unions with empty last-minute gestures. And this was one trade union strike that truly became general with broader social support and all-out involvement of the CPI(ML) and other parties of the Left and a section of the non-Congress non-BJP opposition.
The powerful pan-union strike reflected a growing unity and assertion of the Indian working class. The unity one sees above in the form of all trade union centres including the INTUC and BMS – the trade union wings of the Congress and the BJP, the two parties that must share the biggest responsibility for the pro-corporate pro-imperialist policies that have been proved ruinous for the working people – coming together for a pan-union strike reflects a much more powerful united resolve of the working class at the factory/office/occupation/sector level. It is the growing assertion of the unorganised/contract/honorarium-based workers, of young men and women, who now constitute the overwhelming majority of the Indian working class which has forced all trade unions to join hands even though unions in the railways once again hesitated to join the strike.
The demands raised by the strike reflected the common interests of all sections of workers, of workers as a class cutting across sectors and categories. The strike was as much against privatisation as for regularisation of contract/honorarium-based workers, social security for unorganised workers and a minimum monthly wage of Rs 10,000 for all workers. It is equally significant that workers have come out loud and clear against the government’s decision to open up the lucrative retail sector with an estimated annual volume of 450 billion dollars and the crucial pension fund for the global retail and financial giants, reflecting the common concern of small traders, shop employees, small peasants, low-income consumers and pensioners. And then there has been the most burning issue of rising prices that are making big holes in every pocket.
The strike has sent out a message of warning from the people to the country’s rulers. The people have made it clear that they want the government to act fast and show results, and not deliver empty rhetoric. The aam aadmi wants prices to be checked and all essential goods and services made adequately available and affordable to the common people. The decision to allow FDI in retail sector and pension fund must be scrapped. The land acquisition bill must be discarded and law made to protect agricultural land. And the government will also have to act on the two big issues that have been rocking the whole country – corruption and assault on women. Let the government just take three immediate steps – terminate the chopper contract, blacklist Finmeccanica and Wal-Mart for paying bribes and implement the recommendations of Justice Verma Committee in letter and spirit.
The popular resolve reflected in the strike must now be carried forward towards a greater assertion and awakening of the people. As the Lok Sabha election approaches, let the whole world know that 2014 will not be about making a certain Modi or a certain Gandhi the next PM of this country, but about changing the course of the Indian economy and Indian politics, and saving India from corporate plunder and American domination.