10 million workers strike across India

CHENNAI, India – Ten million workers, including workers from the banks, ports and mines were in the frontline of a nationwide general strike, April 16. The general strike, called by most of the leading trade unions of India, was against privatization and the disinvestments of Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs).

The strike brought the entire nation to a standstill for 24 hours. Kerala, one of the Indian states, was exempted from the general strike as there was a month-long strike by its government employees in February.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the national government coalition, is already under pressure over its handling of communal riots in Gujarat state in which more than 2,000 people have died.

The opposition and the National Human Rights Commission have charged the Hindu-nationalist BJP with instigating and organizing the violence which has claimed many Muslim lives. Many, including the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have pressed for the resignation of the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Hailing the strike as a great success, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) General Secretary Gurudas Dasgupta and several other trade union leaders told a press conference in Delhi that millions of workers had displayed their militancy by observing the strike.

The late Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of India, once said “Our PSUs are the holy shrines of this nation.”

Yet the right-wing BJP-led government is “corporatizing” the public sector, including ports, which would make them independent companies instead of government trusts.

The strike was a clear-cut warning to India’s government, which is implementing new economic policies in the country, and also for the multinational corporations. The strike showed the unity and strength of the trade union movement here in the struggles against liberalization, privatization and globalization policies.

The BJP administration created the Ministry for Disinvestments, headed by Arun Shourie, which is aimed at privatizing PSUs. Major Indian PSUs have huge capital investment and profit-making capabilities.

Some PSUs, like Balco and Modern Foods, have already been sold. Now they are trying to sell off Air India, Indian Oil Corporation, Cochin Port, Hindustan Latex, FACT, etc.

The government says that privatization of vital sections are the only way to stabilize the economy and to create an investor-friendly environment.

Yet, in India thousands of workers have lost their jobs due to the “liberalization, privatization and globalization” process.

Economic recession is in its high peak. Yet the government is making the false claims that there will be job security in the private sector.

The Vajpayee administration introduced the “Hire and Fire Scheme” in the Indian private sector, which is seen as a way to destroy trade unions. Many of the state governments are also doing the same.

Some of them, not only by the ruling BJP or its allies but also by the Congress Party, categorically stated that getting a job in government or in public sector will be a dream for the younger generation.

The central government is downsizing its operations by cutting 10 percent of the total employees every year. The result will be disappointment for jobseekers after completing their education. Compulsory and voluntary retirement schemes are hanging like Damocles’ sword on government employees and workers in PSUs.

Another example of the disastrous privatization policies is in food distribution. Since the destruction of the public distribution, millions of tons of grain have rotted in the Food Corporation of India’s godowns.

The BJP government and the Prime Minister are deliberately working overtime to increase the profit of the private sector, and the BJP is rolling back taxes for the rich and middle classes.

India’s Finance minister Yashwant Sinha announced new tax deductions for corporations and big business while cutting subsidies for food grains, sugar, kerosene and cooking gas, which will make the common man’s and woman’s life miserable.

Electricity tariffs as well as public transportation charges were hiked twice in the last year by state governments, which are under pressure from central government.

Bharathiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the trade union wing of the BJP, also took part in the strike, illustrating differences between BMS and BJP.

Besides BMS, left-linked trade unions like AITUC, Center for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), were in the strike and led mass rallies. Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), which is affiliated with Indian National Congress, did not participate in the strike.

The World would like to welcome M.K.N Moorthy as a regular correspondent from India.

Moorthy is the editor of a progressive Malayalam-language magazine, Janayugom Monthly, and lives in Kerala. He can be reached at pww@pww.org.