EDITORIAL POSTAL CRUSADER SEPTEMBER-2016
Working Class Resistance in 25 Years of
THE working class is a prime target of attack under the
neo-liberal regime in the country.From the initial days of the policy
pronouncements in 1991, ruling class and policy makers have been targeting the
working people and their hard earned rights.
Even while discussing about more
investments, industrialisation, creation of employment opportunities, those in
the authority could only identify rigidity and multiplicity of labour laws
along with the `mushrooming’ of trade unions as hurdles. Along with this were
the slogans of `flexibility’ and `downsizing’ which were presented as the way out
of the crisis engulfing the country.
The experience of the Indian working
class, during the last 25 years, confirms the apprehensions expressed by the
trade unions in the country, though at that time they were not a united
voice. Only those of the Left spectrum had an understanding of the
catastrophe that would happen if these policies were implemented.
The efforts for implementation of
the `reforms’ had begun in 1991 itself. The labour laws in the country,
product of the long drawn battles of the working people, were targeted.
This included the right to form a union of the workers’ choice. The Trade
Union Act in the country was enacted in 1926. It is also a fact that
despite this legislation being enacted during the British regime, the republic
of India could not even to-day guarantee the right to collective bargaining for
the workers, by making it mandatory at the national level for the
employers to recognise a trade union.
The implementation of the ‘reforms’,
as far as the labour laws were concerned had various components like
non-implementation of existing laws; dismantling of the enforcement machinery
of the government and new amendments to the existing laws against the
interests of workers. But, the resistance movements including the massive
strikes and also the overall political situation in the country and the
coalition governments at the centre with the major party not having majority of
its own were hurdles to these efforts.
While the attacks on the democratic
and trade union rights have been continuing for the last 25 years, major
amendments could not be passed. The right to form unions was denied almost
fully in the new Industries in various parts of the country. Not only the
multinational companies, but the Indian corporates who had to recognise this
right in their establishments earlier, started emulating the MNCs.
In this situation, the employers
could easily get rid of the job security of workers. Casualisation and
contractorisation of regular jobs became the rule. Extreme cases of not
having a single regular worker in factories which went on production schedules
for years came to light when workers came out to form unions to fight the
The result of this was that more
than 60 percent of the work force in the organised sector is denied even
statutory minimum wages and social security benefits like ESI and EPF.
More than 50 percent of workers in the public sector and around 70 percent in
private sector are contract workers. These workers under different
nomenclature are employed in permanent, perennial and continuous jobs in total
violation of Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act and other labour
laws. 12 hours work has become the order of the day in many establishments.
Another aspect of this is that the
share of wages in industrial sector has been continuously declining from around
30 percent in 1982-83 to 12.9 percent in 2012-13. This has been falling
further while the share of profits increased from around 20 percent to 50
percent during the above said period.
The situation from
1991 continued upto 2013 in the same trajectory, though under different
regimes. The situation has changed for the worse with the NDA government
under Narendra Modi coming to power after the general elections in 2014. The
Modi government is moving aggressively, creating a devastating impact on the
lives and livelihood of the working people of the country.
With the employment opportunities
receding, the exploitation has increased manifold. Working people in all
the sectors – organised, unorganised, public, private – are facing a critical
situation. Along with them are those working in the governmental schemes
categorised as volunteers who are paid only an honorarium, and who number more
than ten millions.
A series of amendments have been
proposed by the government of India during the last 26 months. While the
government has announced its decision to convert 44 Labour laws into five
labour codes, removing all the rights and protection clauses for labour, the
drafts of Wage Code Bill and Industrial Relation Code are ready to be
introduced in parliament. The Factories Amendments Bill is already in
parliament and the government has rejected all the recommendations of the standing
committee and is going ahead with more retrograde amendments.
Simultaneously a new Bill – Small Factories Bill – is being readied. The
net result of these two Bills related to factories is that more than 75 percent
of the factory workers will go out of coverage of the Factories Act and also 14
other basic labour laws including Minimum Wages Act, Maternity Act, ESI and EPF
In total, in the name of ending
inspection raj the enforcement machinery has been dismantled, the basic right
to form a union of workers choice is being denied and all the existing labour
laws are being amended to deprive workers even the minimum guarantee, which
existed earlier. The net result is that of increasing the exploitation of
workers and converting them literally to bonded labour.
Not only the central government, but
many of the state governments, especially those under the BJP have gone ahead
and amended the labour laws, mainly on the lines of the central government's
proposals. In fact, with the Rajasthan government taking the lead in enacting
the anti-worker amendments, the Prime Ministers Office had written to all the
state governments to follow the Rajasthan government.
The working people in the country
have been organising resistance against these policies from 1991 itself.
Despite large-scale victimisation, threats of outright dismissals, physical
attacks by police and goondas for making efforts to form unions, there have
been powerful fight backs in almost all the major industrial centres in the
country. These have happened even without formal unions being formed and
sometimes resulting even in violence at work places. There have been strikes
and struggles mainly related to these basic policy related issues at unit,
sectoral and state levels, in addition to the country wide general strikes.
It is to the credit of the organised
trade union movement in the country, that the Central Trade Unions and National
Federations have been on a joint platform to struggle against these neo-liberal
policies. The charter of demands included not only the work related
issues, but demands of all sections of people. Though from 1991 it was
the Left unions – Central Trade Unions and also National Federations – which
went on campaigns and struggles, total unity of Central Trade Unions and
National Federations could be achieved from September 2009. A common
charter of demands, which was developed into a 10 point charter and later to a
12 point charter were submitted to the government of India. None of the
governments at the Centre took up these demands for serious consideration.
From 1991, there were 16 countrywide
general strikes of 17 days in total. In the sixteenth general strike on
September 2, 2015 the BMS withdrew at the last minute, saying that the
government should be given time to implement their assurances. All others went
ahead with the strike in which 15 crores of workers and employees had
participated. It is to be noted that 40 percent of those who had
participated in the strike were not members of any union. This could be
achieved because of the widespread anger among the workers, especially among
sections like road transport workers and workers in the industrial clusters in
After the strike on
September 2, 2015, the Modi government has speeded up the `reforms’ in many
sectors. The latest was to announce the `fixed term employment’, which
the Vajpayee government had introduced and the Left parties and TUs had forced
the UPA government to drop. Fixed term employment will result in the end of job
security of workers, resulting in a situation of hire and fire with a legal
It is in such a situation that the
Central Trade Unions and National Federations are preparing for the seventeenth
country wide strike in the 25th year of neo-liberalism, on September 2, 2016.
It is a fact that the trade unions
still have a long way to go in reaching out to all sections of working
people. But the local, sectoral and national level struggles in India
against neo-liberal policies are an important component of the world wide
struggle of the working people against the offensive of the capitalist class.