National Sections of the L5I:

India: striking for workers rights

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Millions of workers are due to strike at the end of February demanding higher wages in what will be a massive general strike


All Trade-union federations of India are preparing for a general-strike on 28 February. They demand a statutory minimum wage of 10 000 rupees, as compared to now - with minimum wages from Rs 5500 to 6500 in different states and industries.

Other demands are:

• National social security fund for unorganized workers
• No subcontracting and outsourcing of permanent work and payment of wages and benefits on a par with regular workers
• Secure pensions for all
• No delay in registration of trade-unions

These demands are certainly justified and it is high time to advance the struggle against the anti-worker government measures and corporate attacks. Also in India the workers have suffered real wage losses to due extremely high increases in food-prices. The everyday cost of living has risen by around 30per cent, with general inflation around 9per cent.

Precarious work is an extremely important issue in the developing industrial sector - keeping in mind that more than two thirds of the working-class are in the so called informal sector. Some large industrial companies have more than twice as many sub-contracted workers as members of the permanent workforce. This problem is increased by a widespread (mis)use of trainees and apprentices offered mostly two-year contracts, who are paid not much more for than sub contracted workers. The pretext that they are being trained is quite ridiculous, as these workers often have practical experience, and also have 2-3 years attendance at vocational schools.

Pensions are also very in low in India and only regular workers, employees and state-officials have an access to them.

There have been several one-day action-days or one-day general strikes in the last years, for instance in Sept 2010. This testifies there is a growing unrest in parts of the working-class which forces the federations to move into action. The left federations as the All-India TUC (connected to the Communist Party of India) and Centre of Indian Trade Unions CITU (CPI-Marxist have been joined by the ruling Congress party’s Indian National Trades Union Congress (INTUC and by the right -wing Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) which is connected to the Hindu-Nationalist BJP.

On the other hand it is clear, that even a massive one day strike will not achieve its demands; specially as most federations will confine this general strike to the public sector or to those private companies, where low levels of repression is to be expected or by deals struck with the employer to move the work to a weekend. The railway workers, the largest single workforce in India, will completely abstain.

So to achieve these demands permanent local action-committees would have to be built, based on the workplaces, but also aiming for the integration of contract-workers, domestic and rural workers and also the large amount of “self-employed” people offering little services or goods on the streets.

The existence of Workers Centres, that take care for the social needs of the working class, housing and education of children show the dire need of these sectors also but a way to draw in the informal sector of the working class, where illiteracy and complete lack of knowledge about rights is still widespread.

Equally necessary a permanent leadership of the struggle would be necessary. On one hand it would have to include the leaders of the traditional federations, on the other hand – given the bureaucratic characters of these leaders – revolutionaries would fight for a representation of local or regional delegates, elected by local and by factory units, who can be replaced democratically anytime.

Nevertheless trade-unionist, socialists and communists all over the world should support the general-strike by spreading the information and sending solidarity notes. The growing Indian working-class needs and deserves more international links and solidarity.