6 August, 2020India’s central trade unions jointly called on workers across the country to take action on 9 August and intensify protests against the anti-worker policies of the Modi government.
The unions chose 9 August to draw parallels between the present government’s attitude and that of a colonial ruler. On this day in 1942, a mass civil disobedience movement - the Quit India movement - was launched, demanding the end to colonial rule.
In a joint statement issued on 22 July, unions underlined that during Covid-19 containment measures, workers’ rights came under severe attack, while the government remained a spectator. The government imposed an ill-planned lockdown for months, with severe economic losses for ordinary people, while failing to augment health infrastructure, causing immense misery.
After the lockdown, as many industrial units reopened, workers faced retrenchments, wage reductions and lost pay for the lockdown period. Millions of daily wage workers and contract workers lost their jobs, while the self-employed lost their livelihoods.
About 30 to 35 per cent of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises who provide employment to a great number of workers reported they are not in a position to restart their activities. Unions expressed concern that the situation pushes people into deeper poverty and hunger. Experts warned that resulting the depression might lead to suicide among workers.
Instead of focusing on these critical problems, the government has pushed the privatization of premium public sector enterprises, including Indian Railways and Air India, and in sectors including coal, space science and atomic energy, banking, insurance and other sectors. Many state governments have amended labour laws to the detriment to workers.
Dr G Sanjeeva Reddy, president of INTUC and IndustriALL affiliate INMF, said:
“The united union struggle has become necessary as the Modi government on numerous fronts failed in addressing workers’ problems and instead announced slew of anti-worker policies including sweeping changes to labour laws since it came to power. During the time of Covid -19 it left workers to fend for themselves. The government, which has no respect and concern, towards the rights and basic survival-entitlements of workers and the people, does not deserve any co-operation. The united struggle will intensify in coming days”.
The central unions extended solidarity to ongoing struggles in different sectors. Coal sector unions organized a massive three-day strike 2-4 July to protest privatization. The coala unions will hold joint actions on 18 August to intensify their protest against the bidding for coal blocks for private commercial mining. The defence sector federations will take joint strike action in mid-September. The social sector workers, consisting of many women care workers, will take strike action on 7 and 8 August. The railway federations are also planning actions.
Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary said:
“Various reports, including that of ILO, on the impacts of Covid-19 on the world of work in India call for active state intervention to provide relief and support to working people.
“In this critical period, we call upon the government of India to engage in meaningful and constructive social dialogue with trade unions to find solutions to urgent problems faced by workers. IndustriALL Global Union stands in solidarity with the Indian trade union movement in this just struggle to protect workers’ and people’s interests.”
Millions of workers across India are expected to take part in the action on 9 August. Earlier global unions launched a campaign against sweeping anti-worker labour law changes announced by many state governments in India.