National Sections of the L5I:

General strike will bring India to a halt

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A massive general strike for January 8 and 9 has been called by India's “National Convention of Workers”. More than 180 million workers are expected to answer the call, which has been issued by 10 trade union federations (INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, AICCTU, SEWA, LPF, UTUC) in association with independent associations.

All the larger trade union federations support the call, apart from “Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh”, BMS, which is the “labour wing” of the rightwing, Hindu-chauvinist “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh”, which itself is at the heart of the ruling BJP, it has denounced the strike as a “political action” against the government. Indeed it is, and so it should be!

No growth for the working class
This is the third general strike, coming after those in 2015 and 2016, and is aimed against the massive neo-liberal attacks and legislation, which have hit the working class, the peasantry and urban poor. The growth of Indian capitalism under the Modi government has brought no economic benefits for the popular masses.

Workers from all sectors of the Indian economy, organised and unorganised, are expected to answer the call covering such diverse sectors as railways, defence industries, health, education, water, banks, insurance, telecom, oil, coal, public transport and construction. In addition to organised workers from the public and private sectors, from “old” industries and IT, millions of unorganised workers, rickshaw, auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers, agricultural workers, beedi and textile workers, including migrant labourers, home-based and domestic workers will all rally against the politics of the neo-liberal, anti-working and repressive Modi government, the state government and the large scale capitalists, Indian as well as international, that it serves.

What is at stake?
The convention, held in September 2018, highlighted some of the issues concerning a labour force of about 500 million.
Some 82 per cent of male, and 92 per cent of female, workers earn less than 10,000 Indian rupees (about 125 Euro) a month, far below the minimum salary of 18,000 recommended by India's Central Pay Commission. “This suggests that a large majority of Indians are not being paid what may be termed a living wage, and it explains the intense hunger for government jobs,” trade unionists have pointed out.

For several years, underemployment and low wages have been key problems facing the mass of the Indian working class but, recently, even unemployment has increased significantly. It is now above 5 per cent overall, but for the youth it is much worse, 16 per cent, and the higher educated are also hard hit, a clear sign that Indian capitalist growth fails to absorb an even faster growing working class.

The government has ignored all calls for a minimum wage and other basic demands of workers such as universal social security, workers’ rights, including pay and conditions, and demands against privatisation including the financial sector. It has also refused to ratify international labour regulations like the ILO Convention 177 on Home Work and 189 on Domestic Work. Indeed, it has scrapped 44 Central Labour Laws and introduced new, even more employer-friendly, regulations and a new pension scheme.

Furthermore, both the BJP led central government and various state governments have been using the repressive apparatus and reactionary forces to intimidate, repress and attack working class protests, student actions, women’s marches and peasants' mobilisations.

Clearly, such a government must be fought by an all out mobilisation of the working class, the peasants and the poor since, as the call for the strike points out, it does not rule just for reactionary Hindu-chauvinists, but also serves the interests of the whole Indian capitalist class and monopolies from the imperialist countries.

“In order to serve the interests of the multinational companies with Indian corporates, the present government is pursuing blatantly anti-people, anti-workers and anti-national policies at the cost of severely damaging the national economy and destroying its indigenous productive and manufacturing capabilities. Such a regime must be defeated squarely to force the pro-people changes in policies on all fronts.”

Obviously, it is not only the wage labourers who are hit by this policy. The Kisan Mukti March, which rallied peasants and agricultural workers in the capital on November 29th and 30th, came in the wake of increasingly frequent and intensifying protests by farming communities across the country over the past few years. This led to the formation of a single umbrella organisation, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, based on over 200 local and nation-wide farmers’ organisations. Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan, a powerful platform of farmers’ groups, has lent support to the general strike and already the CPI (M) affiliated AIKS organised a two day rural Indian shutdown.

In the last four years, there has been a 2.3 percent annual decline in real investment in agriculture and the rate of growth of agricultural credit has slowed to 12 percent, compared to 21 percent in the previous decade. These figures reflect the long term trend towards abandonment of the agricultural sector by successive governments.

India’s export of agricultural products dipped, while imports increased fivefold, in less than 10 years. Two-thirds of India’s population depends on farming for their livelihood but agriculture constitutes only 14 percent of the country’s total economic output. Despite the surge in migration to cities over the past two decades, more than half of the population still lives in rural areas.

Even before the general strike, we have already seen not only impressive strike actions by sectors of the working class, as in Rajasthan since September 2018, but also massive student protests and recently an important mass mobilisation by women against reactionary Hindu chauvinism: the Kerala "women’s wall" for gender equality. On January 1, some 5 million women joined hands to form a 620 kilometre long “wall” from the northern to the southern border of Kerala to demand their right, supported by a recent Supreme Court ruling, to enter the Lord Ayyappa temple, from which they are traditionally excluded.

The potential of the general strike
Therefore, not only the massive numbers of workers who will be mobilised, but also the rise of these mass movements of peasants, women and students, demonstrate that the arch-reactionary Mode regime could be put on the defensive and indeed be ousted.

The ruling BJP has recently lost state assembly elections in five key states. Rural voters and farmers showed their anger against the ruling government for not supporting them in their time of need by punishing the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. The neoliberal and pro-big business economic policies espoused by the Modi government are the main cause of the BJP’s defeat.

However, in order to defeat the Modi government, one also needs to learn the lessons of the past one day general strikes. Whilst the trade unions and the peasants' organisations proved able to bring out numbers on a truly historic scale, 150 million! what has become clear is that one day strikes are not enough to stop the government or the capitalists. They have proven insufficient to press through the demands for a minimum wage, social provision, a new pension scheme etc.

If the strike is to be a success, it needs to be made indefinite, a strike until the demands are met.

Clearly such a strike would be faced with even more severe repression, harrassment, the mobilisation of both the repressive apparatus and the reactionary Hindu-chauvinist forces, right wing or even fascist gangs and militias close to the BJP.

Nonetheless, the “National Convention of Workers” as well as the support of mass peasants' organisations and the backing by the Communist Parties all have started to created a united front of the workers, the peasants and the oppressed for their social and political demands. Now, all unions, all workers' organisations, should join the national convention, they should ally with the peasants' movements, the students' and women’s organisations in order to combine the struggle against exploitation with those for democratic rights and equality for women, the rights of oppressed nationalities and against religious sectarianism and for the real abolition of the caste system.

Such a united front must not be only an agreement between the leaders. In order to organise, defend and expand a general strike, in order to make it indefinite or to build for an indefinite one in the near future, councils of action should be created in all workplaces, in all working class estates, in the mega-cities, the towns and in the countryside. The leaders of the strike should be elected, be accountable and recallable to those bodies, which then need to be centralised to ensure national coordination so that they can reach out to even larger masses and also organise their own self-defence.

Such a movement could stop Modi and the Hindu-chauvinist movement. However, history also shows that, within such a movement, revolutionaries also need to address the question of political strategy and programme. In 2019, there will be general elections in India. One does not need to be a political genius to realise that most of the trade union leaders and even more so the leaders of the so-called “Communist Parties” will try to direct the movement in an electoralist direction. They will focus on how to oust Modi and the BJP and bring in the “left” bourgeois alternative, the Congress Party with some backing from the CPs at the state level or even nationally. This would not be a solution. It would only mean handing over governmental power from one faction of the bourgeoisie to another, and would inevitably lead to mass disillusionment rather than empowerment of the masses.

The Left needs to combine the call for making the general strike indefinite and democratic with the need to break from the policy of political alliances with Congress. Such alliances can only lead to the subordination of the workers' movement. Therefore, revolutionaries also need to use the current political crisis and ferment to raise the need for a revolutionary working class party in India, a party which could lead the working class not only to overthrow the Modi-regime, but to challenge the capitalist system and replace it by a workers' and peasants' government, based on councils and the armed people, which would expropriate the large scale capitals and introduce a democratic plan to address the need of the hundreds of millions of workers, peasants and the poor.