No move to deal with charter of demands
Central Trade Unions are undergoing massive preparations to observe a one-day general strike on September 2 in support of their 12 point charter of demands. The official announcement was made by these Central trade unions from their convention in New Delhi on March 30, 2016. Since then, trade union leaders have repeatedly approached the Narendra Modi government for negotiations so that the strike is avoided. But the NDA government has not cared to start any meaningful discussion on the charter of demands. Rather, the Union Labour Minister has passed on the buck to the states by stating that most of the demands fall under the purview of the state governments.
Earlier this year, the central leadership of eleven national level trade unions indicated that if the NDA government decided not to rush into labour law reforms until there was unanimous agreement between both sides, they would postpone the strike. But the Centre maintained radio silence and the committee of five ministers set up by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to deal with the 12-point charter of demands took no follow-up action.
Just two weeks before the general strike day, there is all round preparation among the organised working class in the country including the staff in banks, insurance companies and Central government and state governments. But there is virtually no response from the PMO. At a time when the economy is struggling and the employment market is sagging, the Centre has taken no initiative in holding negotiations with the leadership of the striking trade unions. The Prime Minister is talking about his pet “Make in India” slogan but he seems to be making India without the participation of the real makers.
As they see it, the Modi government is totally apathetic towards the genuine concerns that have been continuously raised by the national trade unions through their 12-point charter of demands. The government’s practice of bypassing Parliament and implementing pro-management measures through executive orders are continuing and the Centre is totally ignoring the consensus recommendations of the Indian Labour Conference related to contract workers and minimum wages.
At the ground level, the situation is very grim, especially for workers in the unorganised sector. The government has not taken any meaningful steps to curb the rise in prices of essential commodities and generate employment except making tall claims through statements in the media. Instead of expanding the public distribution system, the NDA government is trying to scuttle it through the inherently anti-poor targeting mechanism resulting in the further exclusion of the common man. The huge dose of additional duty on diesel, doubling of cess on coal, and increase in indirect taxes in the latest budget as also hike in the prices of petroproducts, have only added to the woes of the working class.
It’s been a real struggle for the poor and the commoners. The rich are having a field day and the poor are bearing the brunt of the faulty pro-rich economic policies of this government. It is mysteriously inactive on the question of retrieving the black money stashed abroad. Equally, this government is failing to recover more than Rs. 7 lakh crore of bank debts owed by the rich and wealthy while the poor farmers are committing suicide because they are burdened with debts due to crop failures.
In the name of speeding up so-called reforms, the Modi government has been moving fast in demolishing the existing labour laws thereby empowering the employers with unfettered rights to hire and fire and stripping the workers and the trade unions of all their rights and protection so far provided. Though the Centre talks of federalism and the rights of the states in respect of few areas, the PMO has given instructions to the Chief Secretaries of the states recommending labour laws based on the Rajasthan model, which is anti-working class and pro-management.
Central public sector undertakings, the temples of modern India, are under attack by the Modi government. Not only are the profitable PSUs being divested and opened to private sector participation, they are being opened for strategic sale. Valuable land and the assets of blue-chip public sector companies are being grabbed by private sector sharks. Ownership control and management of the leading PSUs are being sought after by the private sector with the government’s support. Allowing 100 percent FDI in a number of strategic sectors of the economy has made the Indian economy vulnerable to the manipulations of foreign investors. American defence companies are being allowed in the Indian defence manufacturing sector for the first time.
For the trade unions and the Indian working class, this is a testing time. Trade unions from all major political parties, including the Congress, are supporting the general strike on the basis of the 12 point charter of demands. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is under tremendous pressure from its common members to support the strike. The BMS leadership is in two minds but they may finally opt out due to pressure from the BJP leadership. But there is every possibility that at the lower level, the BMS supporters will join the strike as the demands are in their own interests. A worried Narendra Modi government is engaged in talks with the BMS to dissuade its leaders not to be part of the strike as it would be a matter of embarrassment.
For the Modi government, there is still time to avoid the strike action which will cost the economy thousands of crores due to loss of industrial production. The ministerial committee of the PMO must take immediate action to start negotiations. The trade unions are ready for a compromise solution but their interests have to be protected. The working class interests are national interests and any positive gesture will only strengthen Modi’s Make in India programme. The nation cannot afford a general strike for a day. Our Prime Minister must address the points made in the charter and arrive at a solution. Modi must act like one who is the protector of the workers also. Time is fast running out. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)