On the General strike of 2nd September 2015

Background of current strike  –

In May 2014, the general elections brought the right wing BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party/Indian people’s party) led coalition to power. The previous government was not defeated because of a defeat of struggles, it was not reaction that brought down a supposedly progressive government, but public anger at the relentless attacks on the working poor. Rampant inflation, privatization, increased contractorization and casualization of labor, increased exploitation, land grabbing, deprivation, corruption, all reached their zenith under the previous administration, as did the people’s anger at it.

Modi came to power promising “Achhe din” (Good days), it was hoped that corruption, inflation, unemployment, and exploitation would end. Those who voted for the BJP, voted with the hope that the new government would at least lessen the suffering they endured in the past regime, but more importantly, to vent out their anger and choosing to punish the last government for following pro-capitalist policies.

It has been 16 months since the Modi regime came into power, in this time, the one thing it has proved more than anything else, is that it is in every way just as bad and in some ways worse than the preceding government. This government has been more brazenly pro-capitalist, more reactionary in its attacks on democratic values (like secularism and gender equality), and just as hopeless in its ability to provide for the masses. If Modi  and the BJP has proven one thing it is that in India’s so-called democracy, democracy stops dead the moment the ruling party wins the elections.

Within a short while of coming to power, three very noticeable changes happened in India. The first change, was that there was an increase in communalism (religion-based politics), with riots and communal polarization on religious lines happening throughout the country. Discrimination against Muslims and other non-Hindu minorities was bad enough earlier, but grew much worse under the BJP and this too in a very short span of time ! It has barely been a year since the BJP came to power and Modi became Prime Minister and communal (Hindu-Muslim) violence has increased exponentially !

The second change, was that in a very brief time, a slurry of anti-peasant enactments were attempted. Most notably, the Land Ordinance which sought to reverse the Land Act and all the safeguards conceded to the peasantry by the previous government. Of course, these concessions were achieved through relentless struggle forcing the government to amend the original Land Acquisition Act which was formulated in colonial times.

The third change, which has also caused much agitation in recent months, was an accumulation of anti-worker legislation which sought to increase work hours, take away welfarist concessions and give employers unprecedented power over their employees. It is these anti-worker enactments, which are now being protested in the general strike of 2nd September. Nearly all central trade union federations  and their affiliated bodies have backed the strike call. At the very last moment however, the right wing affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (Indian worker’s association) walked out of the strike action.

The Indian bourgeoisie was euphoric about the coming of the new Modi government, they celebrated Modi and his unabashedly exploitative pro-capitalist model in Gujarat, today the bourgeoisie is beginning to bewail the ‘lost sheen’ of the Modi government.

Demands raised –

The leading union federations at their national conference in July agreed on a 12 point charter of demands and a strategy for building the general strike. The 12 points in the charter are –

1. Urgent measures for containing price-rise through universalization of the public distribution system and a ban on speculative trading in the commodity market.

2. Containing unemployment through concrete measures for employment generation.

3. Strict enforcement of all basic labour laws without any exceptions or exemptions and stringent punitive measures for any violations of labour laws.

4. Universal social security cover for all workers.

5. Minimum wages of not less than Rs. 15,000/- per month with indexation.

6. Assured enhanced pension not less than Rs. 3000/- p.m. for the entire working population.

7. Stopping disinvestment in Central/State PSUs.

8. Stopping contractorization of permanent perennial work and payment of the same wages and benefits for contract workers as regular workers for the same and similar work.

9. Removal of all ceilings on payment and eligibility for bonuses or provident funds.

10. Compulsory registration of trade unions within a period of 45 days from the date of submitting applications; and immediate ratification of ILO Conventions C 87 and C 98.

11. Against Labour Law Amendments.

12. Against FDI in Railways, Insurance and Defence.

What stands out in this charter, is that the demands this time around are more radical and transitional in nature than in previous strikes. They can serve as a foundation to further the struggle in a socialist direction and challenge the rule of capital. Beneath all the surface confusion and bureaucratic reformism, the workers are seeking an alternative to the system that exists now and the unions are feeling the pressure of this desire for change.

Of course, such a change will not come from union action alone, that goes without saying. A change in a socialist direction necessarily requires political leadership. This means we must build a revolutionary party able to take the reins in the class struggle and lead the wave of mobilizations towards a socialist change and the abolition of the capitalist system.

Who is participating ? –

Eleven central trade union federations are participating in the strike action. The organization and build up of the strike has been in much the same vein as earlier general strikes last year and the years before. In other words, it was done by bureaucratic means. While mass meetings were held, strike committees at the local level haven’t been formed.

Central Trade Union Federations
Almost all central trade union federations are participating in the strike including unions linked with bourgeois parties. The INTUC for instance, the second largest union is participating in the strike, is linked with the Congress party. CITU and AITUC (with different CP links) as well as other leading leftist trade unions, such as HMS and NTUI are taking a leading role in the organization of the strike.

Initially, the BMS, aligned with the governing party, was supportive of the strike action, but on the 30th of August the union backed out on receiving government assurances of an increase in bonuses and a wage hike. This shows the fickle backstabbing nature of the union and the shallowness of its commitment. This action of the BMS will make government repression of the striking workers much easier now that their own affiliate union isn’t participating.

Public Sector Unions

The public sector is the bastion of regular employment in India. It is the area in which workers have won the greatest concessions. Together all public sector state owned corporations employ almost 20 million workers. While this may be only a small section of the Indian working class, it is a very  powerful one, running industries as vital as rail transport, coal mining and power. They are also the best organized among the workers.

In the last several general strikes the public sector workers have been among the most enthusiastic participants, and this time too, we can expect the same high level of participation.

The public sector has a lot to fight for with this strike action. Since the “liberalization” of the economy, the public sector has come under one vicious attack after another. The bourgeoisie have been busy withering away every gain the working class has won over the six decades since Independence. Nowhere more is this attack more evident than in the treatment of contract workers and of the process of contractorization of the workforce in the public sector. Partial privatizations and the rise of so-called ‘public private partnerships’ have made it even easier to attack the public sector workers.

In the realm of the public sector the fight for improved working conditions goes hand in hand with the fight against privatization and the need to secure welfare.

Port and DockWorkers

Port and dock workers are known for their militant history. They constitute one of the most vital and internationalist sectors of the working class. They have been at the forefront of the sharpest struggles in Indian history, and played a splendid part in the great naval uprising of 1946.

Port workers have suffered from the corporatization of ports which has led to massive job losses and increasingly precarious employment. In the last ten years alone, the number of dock workers has declined from over 100,000 to 60,000.

Contractorization, privatization, impoverishment and marginalization is what the dockers are fighting against and this strike will give them an opportunity to link with the struggles of other transportation workers who have been facing similar problems.

Road Transport Workers

Road transport workers will be participating in the strike. After the very successful countrywide strike of road transport workers on 30th April, when workers from state government enterprises, the private sector and even self employed sections participated, this is already yet another large scale strike action by road transport workers.

The problems facing the road transport workers are not uncommon in other transport sectors. Here too there is contractorization leading to increased exploitation. The pressures of rapidly changing oil prices have caused a domino effect where the burden of costs are being shifted to the road transport workers and they have to bear the disproportionate burden of road taxation and harassing enforcement measures.

Petroleum Workers

Refined Petroleum in India is provided chiefly by state corporations and a handful of private mega-corporations. As such they hold the reins to a key industry. If they go on strike, the most vital source of fuel runs out.

Telecom Workers

Since the corporatization of BSNL arising from the de-merger of Department of Telecom, it has suffered in various ways under successive neo-liberal regimes. To begin with, its sister company MTNL, was privatized and bought out by the giant capitalist Tata group, reversing most safeguards which public sector workers enjoyed. Thereafter, successive managements have overseen the decline of BSNL as the leading telecom company in India. It has been losing out progressively to private companies, mainly Idea mobile, Vodafone, Tata and especially Airtel and Reliance.

Along with corporatization came discrimination. BSNL has always been treated like a foster child by the government which was more than eager to roll the red carpet for the leading private capitalist firms in the telecom sector. The continuance of these attacks on BSNL has resulted in the company declining and becoming a loss-making company. It has suffered from both contractorization of its workforce and massive retrenchments. The number of employees in the company has declined from nearly 600,000 to around 200,000 today of which more than half (almost 100,000) are employed as contract workers.

The contract workers of BSNL who perform a range of tasks from office maintenance to line maintenance are denied most rights which accrue to regular workers, be it minimum wage, fixed working hours, or provident fund payments. A long and brilliant struggle has been waged by contract workers in BSNL which provide a stellar example for other contract workers to follow. Especially good example of struggles are how the fight against the management at BSNL’s Kerala branch was conducted.

Electricity Workers
The National Co-ordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEE) has been mounting country wide campaigns against the new Electricity Bill, which will in effect sound a death knell for the demands for electricity as a human right. Affordable and quality energy to domestic consumers will come to an end if the new bill is passed. NCCOEEE had decided to go on a countrywide strike if the new Bill is introduced in parliament. Though it was listed, it could not be introduced in the Monsoon Session. Now, the unions have decided to concentrate on the 2nd September strike.

Other vital sectors
Also participating in the strike are defence sector employees and government scheme workers. The workers employed in the defence sector have to deal with governmental restrictions and high-handedness, while scheme workers have suffered the worst sort of discrimination and exploitation.

Anganwadi employment scheme workers who have shown the greatest enthusiasm for participating in the strike are also among the most exploited layer of the workforce. Theirs is a fight for respect and recognition as much as improved conditions.

Potential impact

Among other things, the strike will be potentially crippling to Indian capital. Practically every sector of the Indian economy is affected by the strike and as has been seen before, the scale and sheer numbers of workers involved makes such general strikes a dangerous affair for the bourgeoisie concerned above all else with its profits. The more absolute the strike is, the greater will be its destructive potential against the interests of the capitalists.

As important as the immediate impact of the strike may be, its longer-term subjective impact will be even more significant. This strike will boost the confidence of the working class and it ought to be a learning experience and a preparation for future confrontations. It will also bring together different sections of workers and give an opportunity to further cooperation and coordination among them. Most significantly, it gives an opportunity to bring together different public sector workers and transport workers together.

Preceding the strike action there have been huge mobilizations in Kolkata by peasants’ organizations involving nearly 200,000 participants. Very recently, the peasantry has won an important political victory by defeating the anti-peasant Land Ordinance Bill, forcing the government to let it lapse. The general strike organizers have reached out to the peasantry, and the solidarity emerging from this could have a tremendous long term impact for the future of the class struggle in India.

Lessons of previous strikes

Between 1991 and 2015 there have been nearly 16 general strikes at a rate of nearly one a year. Between 2010 and 2014 there have been 5 such strikes organized and led chiefly by central trade union federations. They were organized around demands which were reformist in nature, but they brought vital questions facing the working class to the fore. The strikes between 2010 and 2013 were among the largest strikes in history mobilizing up to 100 million workers! Whilst these mobilizations showed the strength and enthusiasm of the working class, and served to increase militant consciousness, they failed to extract the concessions that were aimed for. The bourgeoisie recovered rapidly after the initial shocks and brushed off the impact of the strike quite easily returning to business as usual.

The experience of these strikes must be assimilated to prepare for this strike as well as the planned indefinite strike for November 23rd. The objective of the strike after all, is to force the government to withdraw its anti-worker labor law amendments and to bring in much needed changes in the interests of the working class. The class must make the bourgeoisie feel its strength to win its demands, it would be a mistake to expect the enemy to be “reasonable” and compromise with them hoping for them to act in a rational or humane manner. Calls to do so are only traps to keep the working class exploited and perhaps increasing its exploitation. Let us not forget how in colonial times the British used the Round Table Conferences to repeatedly stymie the great mass mobilizations of Indians, and how Gandhi repeatedly swallowed this bait and let entire nation-wide mobilizations fizzle out into nothing. The Indian bourgeoisie uses the same tactics to deceive and pacify the Indian masses in our time.

Need for solidarity

The working class in India is now marching ahead, and it is coming face to face with the machinations of the Indian bourgeois-capitalist state. The Indian working class is huge and powerful, but so is its enemy. The key to success against the Indian bourgeoisie is to win the support of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie which together are more numerous than the working class in India today. Numbers won’t win this struggle, political energy and good leadership of the masses in India will.

Added to this must be international solidarity. Appeals must be made to trade unions across South Asia, the gulf region and South East Asia to support and align their struggles with those of the Indian working class to concentrate and amplify the energy of the struggles of the workers in this region. Support from workers of every major nation, the US, the UK too must be achieved.

Now is a most critical time in the trajectory of class struggle in India and decisive struggles are about to be waged.

DOWN WITH CAPITALISM ! DOWN WITH MODI !

THE WORKERS UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED !

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Report on the General strike

The All India General strike of the 20th and 21st was the third such strike in the last 3 years. The strike evoked a massive response much in the same manner as the last two strikes preceding it. In each instance over a 100 million workers affiliated to the 11 central trade unions and supporting regional and local unions joined in the strike actions. This time as well, the strike garnered the support of roughly 120 million workers across the country in practically every sector of industry and service. Despite a greater intensity, and larger turnout, we can’t ignore the shortcomings of the perspectives of the trade unions and the shortcomings in organizing for the strike.

 
The context of the strike :

 

While dealing with the instant strike action, we can’t ignore the political, economical and social context in which the strike has occurred. The past year had been a year of worldwide upheavals and India was not immune from this wave. The mobilizations first around the anti-corruption issue, then around the anti-rape agitations each left it’s mark on the social spectrum of the country. Added to this, we have been witness to an upswing in the worker’s movement. The inspiring struggle in Maruti for union recognition, the successes of public sector workers at preventing privatization in telecom and banking sectors, are all indicators of a rise in class struggle in india and the strengthening of the working class. Together with this we find a deepening of the world crisis and a concerted effort by the ruling classes to preserve the rule of capital at all costs.

The burden of this crisis is being transferred onto the shoulders of the workers and peasants of India. Whilst in europe the attacks have assumed the form of austerity, in india they have assumed the form of deliberate inflation, and aggressive investment policies along with concerted attacks on public sector companies. Indeed in some parts of the country the attacks on the peasantry have assumed near warlike conditions. The response to these attacks while strong have not been decisive. The chief factor behind this had been the role of the political leadership behind the strike, blunting it’s edge and reducing it’s impact.

The organization of the strike and demands :

The 2013 general strike can be distinguished from both the 2012 and 2010 strikes in terms of length and care put behind propaganda and organization. The call for strike was made on the 4th of September, where all the central trade union bodies came together in a national conference and adopted the charter of 10 demands. From that time till the days of action, the central trade unions and their local and regional allies undertook several mass efforts at propagating the demands for the strike, and raising awareness. One of the high points of this preparatory phase was the mass mobilization of the workers in a ‘jail bharo’ action where workers courted arrest for supporting the 10 charter demands. The mobilizations did not stop there, till the 19th of February, one day before the days of strike, there were mobilizations carried out especially by leftist trade unions in the major cities of Kolkata and Mumbai in which hundreds of thousands of workers and activists participated.

With these preparations the strike itself was expected to be one which would be met with enthusiasm and it would have a big impact. Whilst the turnout was indeed substantial on the days of the strike, the impact of the strike was in fact uneven. Not every segment of the working class joined the strike due to various reasons. Workers of the transport sector for instance were conspicuous by their absence in the strike, with a few notable exceptions in Bangalore and Delhi where taxis and busses did not ply the roads. The rail workers as usual did not go on strike along with other workers. Their concerns too were not incorporated into the charter demands. Along similar lines the workers at Pune municipal corporation did not go on strike with the industrial and service sector workers who responded well in Pune.

In the state of Haryana, the strike had a particularly intense response with workers going on the aggressive. In Noida there were clashes between workers and policemen who attempted to prevent the marches through the city, while in Ambala tensions arose when a transport worker was killed by a moving bus while attempting to stop traffic. No doubt, this aggressive stance is the direct result of the radicalization of workers in that region as a result of the Maruti struggle. However, the biggest impact of the strike was expectedly in the states of Kerala and West Bengal where the unions have strong political support in the Stalinist parties present in these states. Here the strike call was supported by a total closure of all economical activity in a ‘bandh’.

The rallying point of the strike was the charter of 10 demands which the trade unions had jointly developed for the agitation. The 10 demands were :

1) Take Concrete measures for price rise

2) Take concrete measures for linkage of employment protection with the concession/incentive package offered to the entrepreneurs.

3) Ensure strict enforcement of all basic labor laws without any exception or exemption and stringent punitive measures for violation of any labor laws.

4) Universal social security coverage for the unorganized sector workers without any restriction and the creation of a national social security fund with adequate resources in line with the recommendation of the NCEUS and parliamentary standing committee on labor.

5) Stoppage of disinvestment in Central and State PSUs.

6) No contractorisation of work of permanent nature and payment of wages and benefits to the contract workers at the same rate as available to the regular workers of the industry / establishment.

7) Amendment of the minimum wages act to ensure universal coverage irrespective of the schedules and fixation of statutory minimum wage of not less than 10,000 rupees.

8) Remove all ceilings on payment and eligibility of bonus payment, provident fund and increase the quantum of gratuity.

9) Assured statutory pension for all.

10) Compulsory registration of trade unions within a period of 45 days and immediate ratification of ILO conventions no. 87 and 98 on the right to organize.

When we begin to analyze these demands, we understand that firstly they are pegged to the a compromise with the existing ruling structure. To the extent that many of the aforesaid demands point towards the bourgeoisie’s own laws and simply call for their more effective implementation, be it in calling for implementation of ILO conventions or implementing governmental committee recommendations. Where the charter does challenge the interests of the capitalists it only does so in a defensive manner for example, “no contractorization” or “stoppage of divestment” instead of Nationalize the major private companies or abolish contractorization of work. In general, these demands reflect the trend in worker’s consciousness at the present level and are reflective of most if not all struggles they are presently involved in. The main factor in creating these conditions have been the leadership of the worker’s movement itself which has taken every care to dim the strength of the struggle in India. Of particular importance has been the dominating role of Stalinism and it’s progressive degeneration in the left movement in India and the world.

These deformities reflect not only in the charter of demands, but also in the tactics of organization which were used throughout the preparations. Though the organization of this strike showed a decisive improvement over the preceding strikes, thanks largely to greater care taken to mass propaganda activity before the days of strike, the methods of organizing the rank and file retained it’s bureaucratic approach. There was still no fundamental difference in approach towards mobilizing rank and file. The strike was still following a bureaucratic method of mobilization which drew success only because of the worker’s own weakened consciousness and the anger which every average worker has towards the system of capitalism generally and in particular the ruling class.

The choice of dates for the strike itself showed a strong streak of opportunism in it. The 21st of February was international language day, and in order to placate a rising trend of bengali linguistic chauvinism, the trade unions in west bengal refused to go on strike. This as well as the nature of mobilizations contributed to blunting the impact of the strike. After the massive mobilizations which preceded the strike, one would expect that the strike itself would have lived up to radical expectations. It is outright criminal in our opinion for the trade unions to have weakened the strike action so.

 

Lessons to be learnt :

 

We acknowledge the role of the present general strike as well as the strikes preceding this one in the larger picture of class struggle in india. There is no denying the change in the condition the repeated mass mobilizations of workers have achieved in india. That being said, we must also caution ourselves with the realization that a way forward must emerge from here. The re-emergence of the working class in the centre of indian political and social life has deep consequences and demands deep and profound questions.

Firstly, we must pose directly the question of leadership in the worker’s movement. It is the direction shown by the leadership of the working class in india, which is chiefly dominated by Stalinism, which has led the working class to it’s present situation. If we consider the framework in which this strike was conducted and the organizational tactics adopted, we see some clear signs of Stalinism at work. The opportunism in deciding the date of strikes, the dilution of the potential impact it could have had and the bureaucratic methods adopted in directing the rank and file of the union all contributed to weakening the potentially greater impact of the strike action. To mention nothing of the purely economical nature of the demands made despite the strike action having clear potential to make a strong political impact !

What lay at the roots of this compromising approach of the political and trade union leadership in the working class? The Stalinist parties and the trade unions under their influence, both share a capitulationist attitude towards the bourgeoisie as a whole. This is particularly true in parliamentary democracies like India. The major Stalinist formations in India, namely the CPIM and CPM have long since made peace with the bourgeoisie in power and they would not dare take any measure which would unsettle this balance. The working class in advance of course, forces them to take up a more militant stance against the bourgeoisie. However, such actions are carefully conducted so as to retain the dominating positions of the party and trade union bureaucracy. The prime motivation of the leadership is not to struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeois state, but simply to to carve out a stronger position for themselves within the existing framework of social and political relations. Having made peace with the Indian bourgeoisie the leaders of Stalinism have by extension made a pact with democratic reaction. They effectively drain the militant potential of the working class and it’s allies into the dead end of parliamentary politics. The fate of the strike actions in the long term would remain bound to defeat and capitulation at the gates of parliament, as long as Stalinism continues to excersize it’s hold over the working class. But this in itself is not the end.

The answer to democratic reaction is permanent mobilization. We have only begun to see the faint flickers of this in the form of ‘sangharsh jathas’ conducted in various parts of the country in support of the strike demands. Whether this will succeed in forcing the government to accede to the demands of the striking workers or not, is a question that can only be answered after the budget session on the 28th of February. What is needed are more militant actions conducted with a view to push forward ever higher levels of actions with a clear view towards seizure of power by the working class. This means adopting a transitional approach which stems from the present level of consciousness of the masses and moves towards a higher level of socialist consciousness. This reflects in the form of transitional demands made by a revolutionary force. Of course, we cannot hope for the present political leadership of the working class to adopt such views, neither the from the Stalinist ‘left’ parties and definitely not the right wing bourgeois formations. What is needed is an independent revolutionary party of the working class with a perspective towards seizure of power and the establishment of a worker’s state in India.

Conclusion :

The strike has shown both the power of the working class and the weaknesses plaguing it. The complex dialectic attached to this has created conditions where a revolutionary party can emerge. This party must build itself in class struggle and on the rock solid foundation of a Bolshevik Leninist programme. We understand that the struggle of the workers may be national in form but international in essence. International solidarity around the fight of the Indian working class is more necessary now than ever before especially in this critical period where the class is in revival of it’s strength. Building the revolutionary leadership in the form of the 4th international and the Bolshevik Leninist Party has become a most necessary task of our time.

 

ALL OUT SUPPORT TO THE GENERAL STRIKE !

Rising inflation ! Rationing of LPG cylinders ! Price hikes in essentials ! Divestments in public sector companies ! Mass arrests and repression on worker’s organizations!
These are the reasons why all the major trade-union bodies and even smaller trade unions throughout India are coming in a general strike on 20th and 21st February.

We want to express our unconditional support for the General Strike. Only the uninterrupted and permanent mobilization of millions can bring a real change in India. A General Strike is great weapon in the hands of working class. Even a two day strike shows everyone who really runs this world! It shows what will happen once the entire proletariat arises in indefinite general strike against the intolerable exploitation of the capitalist bosses and government. The only thing a boss can keep moving is a whip… For the third time in three years that workers of India are rising against inflation, for defense of worker’s rights and social security !

A charter of ten demands has been drawn up to rally the workers in struggle. We fully support to these ten charter demands, but to really improve our lives we must mobilize behind a more aggressive programme with the following demands :

1) A sliding scale of wages :

To fight inflation, worker’s wages must be compulsorily increased along with the price levels of essential commodities starting from a minimum living wage of Rs.15000. All wage agreements signed between workers and management and the statutory minimum wage of a state must be subjected to regular increases based on rising inflation in essential commodities. This sliding scale would be more valuable than gold in our fight against inflation. We would no longer helplessly watch our wages drain away. We must fight to win real wage security!

2) Price controls pegged to average minimum wages :

The government is fully capable of controlling the prices of essentials, if it wishes to. It fails to do so because it is not interested in our needs, and only caters to the needs of the Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis and Mittals. These corporate interests pressure the government to deregulate prices so that ‘market’ forces will boost their profits. We must teach them the lesson that our needs are more important than their profits!


3) No privatizations ! No to FDI! Nationalize the Big Private Companies !

The cause of our present misery from inflation to corruption have been the corporate interests (both indian and foreign) and their lackey politicians who loot us. They hold all the wealth and power. Public Sector Companies are built by our toil and effort, and we resolve to never let them be sold off to fatten these bourgeois scoundrels! We demand an immediate moratorium on all divestments in public sector companies and a plan to nationalize WITHOUT COMPENSATION the major conglomerates of the Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis to be placed under control of democratic councils of workers. We must nationalize them and bring back to the people the wealth they have looted.

4) Right to organize must be a Fundamental Right !

The class enemy knows the danger a mobilized and militant working class presents, that is why they try their best to suppress us and take away our right to organize. The Honda and Suzuki motor workers set us a proud example of a principled fight for organizational rights and the right to union recognition. When we are starved by inflation, beaten by repression and pauperized by privatizations, struggle is our only hope of surviving the attacks of capitalism. We therefore demand that the right to strike and to organize be made a fundamental right!

These demands are the core needs of the working masses of India today. The bourgeoisie and their lackey accountants and intellectual ‘experts’ will try to convince us our demands are wrong. But we must not waver. They sow fear, and doubt to intimidate us and stop us fighting. But we refuse to pay for their crisis and their failures. The workers on the move are a huge force which can change history, but no struggle will be successful without a revolutionary party to channel the energy it generates. The problems traumatizing India can only be resolved by throwing the bourgeoisie from power and replacing the capitalist ruling class! We need a workers’ state. We can only do this if we build a revolutionary Bolshevik- Leninist Party and build the Fourth International as a party of world revolution! 

 

Statement on General strike


Report on the General Strike of the 7th of Spetember

The 7th of September proved itself to be a landmark day in many ways in the history of worker’s struggles in India. For the first time in the history of independent India all major central trade union bodies united in action for a one day general strike. The action brought together 100 million workers across the country in unison to fight against the forces of capitalism. In most major metros across India and particularly in the states ruled by the left front parties (whose unions called for the general strike) the strike was overwhelmingly successful. Primary among the support for the strike were workers in the lower levels of employment in service sectors and industrial workers. To some degree unorganized sector workers also joined in support particularly so in the left front governed states. The Strikes in other parts of India were no less muted with Mumbai and Delhi practically shut down by the strike which included in its fold the unions of taxi drivers and auto rickshaw drivers. However, a few key observations were evinced during the course of struggle from its inception to its execution.

1) The faulty and jagged leaderships of the unions:

Initially the strike action was called by the left unions affiliated with the leading Stalinist parties of the CPI, CPM, SUCI and those of petty bourgeois radical formations like the Forward Bloc. This call was supported from the BMS which is affiliated with the BJP initially. The INTUC which is a union affiliated with the Congress party, opposed the strike call on account of it’s mother party being in government in the centre. Both of these unions presented a show of confusion for the working class where the BMS withdrew their support midway and only after they withdrew did the INTUC support the strike. Whatever are the reasons behind this action the withdrawal of support by the BMS and the entrance of the INTUC in support sowed in the minds of the workers a feeling of utter confusion. The left unions led by the various left parties in India along with a large independent body (namely the HMS) were the only ones consistent in supporting the strike action. However, low awareness among the masses and bureaucratized control and limitations imposed by the Stalinist apparatus of the CPI, CPIM and most of the left parties in the lead served to skew the impact of the strike, ensuring that although it would be a big mobilization of the working class it would not be a “death dealing blow”. The bureaucratizations of the union bodies remain a bane of the Indian trade union movement.

2) Minimalist demands and reformist perspectives:

Though our support for the strike action was unconditional it can never be uncritical. The leadership of the strike action fell squarely to the hands of the major bourgeois parties and Stalinist oriented left. The end result of this scheme of things was a compromised approach which incorporated within the demands of the striking workers support to dying private sector enterprises through a stimulus package as a measure to protect jobs. This among other demands presents the reformist perspectives of the leadership of the strike action. The four basic demands of the strike action were:

a) The halting of ongoing divestment from the public sector.

b) The strict implementation of labor laws for workers in the unorganized sector.

c) The expansion of the social security safety net for the workers in the unorganized sector by removing restrictions in the Workers Social Security Act 2008

d) A stimulus package for private sector companies to ensure employment.

e) The universalization of the PDS system.

Along side these aforementioned demands the unions also demanded a package of 50000 crore rupees for distribution into the unorganized sector for the benefit of the workers employed therein. Till date the central government in power has committed itself to none of the aforementioned demands and of the 50000 crore demanded by the unions only 1000 crore has so far been distributed and there is no guarantee thus far that the government will commit itself to the remaining 49000crore rupees. The issue of the Public Distribution system was addressed by the government where they felt the need for “improving the PDS”. No word on whether the government will move to universalize the Public Distribution system which is an essential component in the chain of distribution of agricultural products. It is in the inefficiency of the distribution process (hijacked as it is by the bureaucrats of the government on the one hand and sabotaged by the forces of the market on the other) that has been one of the factors leading to the rising inflation of food prices. The complications of the inflationary situation was deepened by the manner in which inflation is calculated in India which is unique in the world in which the general inflationary level is calculated taking consumer product prices and clubbing them together with capital goods’ prices. What this means for the working majority in the country is that the general rise in prices is not reflective of the actual burden on the shoulders of the working class. It also means that wage levels decided by the state and central authorities do not take into consideration the general inflation level for fixing wage levels. Strangely enough this was never raised in the gamut of demands by the unions in their strike action.

3) Token nature of the Strike:

The strike albeit large in quantitative terms was qualitatively weakened first by the jagged leadership and fluidity of the union leaderships in its commitment and then by the diminishing of its impact by containing it to a one day strike. A one day strike was yet again a product of the minimalist perspectives of the leadership of the strike action which albeit had the potential to advance into one for an indefinite period and take into its fold strategic sectors like that of transportation. (The leading railway unions supported the strike). However, the essential significance of the strike is in no way undone by these limitations but merely bring into relief the myriad weaknesses of the trade union in the lead of the struggles of the working class.

Conclusion: –

A combination of the aforementioned factors in the agitation had led to a relatively low level of awareness and enthusiasm among the working populace who came out in support of the strike. It was not as though the issues called for were in any way alienated from the masses or that they had no interest in participating in an agitation addressing these issues. What was at fault in the execution of the action was the bureaucratization of the union bodies which has served to act as a burden upon the advanced vanguard of the Indian proletariat. What we must thus aim for in our work within the unions is to constantly and uncompromisingly fight to democratize the unions and convert them from the existing tools of oppression at the hand of the bourgeois into schools for revolution creating conditions for the further advancement of the working class organized in them.

Finally the core reason for the arousal of the working class into militant struggles is the incessant assault of the bourgeois state upon the rights and conditions of living of the working class and its class allies which has reached climactic proportions.

The present Indian government and its Corporationist agenda, that aims at unbridled and unrestrained development of capitalism at the cost of human lives, has brought upon the people of the country unprecedented levels of suffering and misery. Not in the last 63 years of capitalism in post-independent India have the brute force of the state and the devastating destructive power of capitalism be combined in so sinister a manner and undemocratically at that. The present government of the Congress and its allies are undertaking policies which are but keeping with the policy of unfettered and reckless expansion of capitalist forces operating in India and almost certainly at the expense of the working class and its allies in the countryside. Whilst the previous UPA government of the Congress had to undertake some important concessions notably schemes like NREGA under pressure from the centrist forces lead by the Stalinists in the Left Front, the present alliance has no such burden to hinder its intentions to effect the unbridled expansion of capitalism and do so more freely and brutally. The previous elections in the year 2009 in many ways can be said to be a watershed in the recent history of Indian democracy and of the Congress party which saw the return of the Congress with a sizable majority and the complete subjugation of opposition forces both to the left and the right ( namely of the CPI & Left front parties in the left and the BJP in the right ) . It should be remembered in this context that the Congress party has been and will remain as long as Indian capitalism remains the most concrete political expression of the India bourgeois class, one cannot expect any kind of reconciliation because in the ultimate their policies are aimed not at the benefit of the masses but of their hated ruling class that of the Indian bourgeois class organized in giant oligarchies like those of the Tatas and Birlas.

Under conditions of a world crisis the political relations within Indian capitalism had merely come into greater relief as did the intensity of the social upheaval caused by proletarianization of the rural masses in the form of an intensification of the civil war in the countryside. It is the policies of the incumbent government combined with the negative effects of a world wide economic crisis is what has caused the situation of social, economic and political upheaval. Whilst, the contradictions of Indian capitalism show themselves in the most tragic comic way in the ill preparedness and corruption plaguing the Commonwealth games creating a massive waste of public resources, we find millions of tons of precious grain rotting away in government godowns. For the petty greed of a few government bureaucrats, foods for 50 million Indians are going to waste.

This scheme of things makes the reformist oriented calls of the trade unions even more out of motion with the movement of the masses. This presents a case for a struggle on more advanced lines along transitional demands aiming at the conquest of power by the proletariat and the establishment of a revolutionary socialist regime in place of the existing Capitalist bourgeois state. The task of revolutionaries in India is to orient the emerging militant struggles of the working class and its class allies in the countryside towards the revolutionary seizure of power. An integral part of this task is to penetrate the rank and file of the organized proletariat to undertake the fight to orient unions in a revolutionary direction. The recent strike of the organized workers in India securing the support of 100 million workers all over the country, with all its weaknesses and shortcomings, shows in great degree the absolute urgency of this task.

Lessons from the strike: –

The general strike among other things has showed us the tremendous potential of the masses in India but in equal measure revealed weaknesses in the existing workers movement and in the organizations of the working class. The bureaucratization of the trade union bodies and their flawed orientation which emerges from either the flawed orientation of their affiliate parties or in the orientation of their mother organizations ( in case of the HMS the international trade union body of the ICFTU which is notorious for its pro capitalist liberal stance ) has served to cap the advance of the working class despite the enthusiasm of the working masses to the strike action. Thus, a movement which could have gained greater momentum and evolved from a limited struggle along economic lines into a more advanced political general strike was nipped in the bud by the leadership of the strike. It reveals thus, the negative influence of the trade union bureaucracy and of the bourgeois and Stalinist parties which have nothing to offer to the working class apart from a roadblock on the path to greater advance of militant consciousness and the evolution of the consciousness of the working class from its present stage to one of revolutionary consciousness. Struggles such as these can form the groundwork for such advancement however, in the presence of the counter revolutionary dead weight of Stalinism which only serves to ensure the continued dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in India such advancement cannot be achieved. Being a mass mobilization of the working class with an embryonic tendency towards further advancement of militancy we support the movement of the workers. But we as revolutionary Bolsheviks recognize the need to save this movement from the clutches of the trade union bureaucracy and from the ideological dead weight of Stalinism and equally important from the iron grip of the bourgeois parties by relentlessly fighting to overturn the bureaucracy within the trade union and of constantly exposing the treacherous role of the bourgeois parties in India and their allies in Stalinism in India. The strike action has revealed to us the path of future struggle which we must undertake. Namely, one of consistent struggle within the masses aimed against the bureaucratization of the trade union structure and resilient struggle against all forms of opportunism which aim at protecting the bourgeois and shield its political organs in the form of the bourgeois parties.

On the General Strike of the 7th September in India

This 7th of September 2010 most major trade unions have called a strike action protesting against incessant price rise and attacks on living standards of the Indian working class. Thus far, 8 major trade union bodies representing in excess of 10 million unionized workers have declared their support for the proposed strike action including :

1) The INTUC [affiliated with the Congress Party.]

2) The CITU [affiliated with the CPI (M)]

3) The AITUC [affiliated with the CPI]

4) The HMS [an *independent* trade union body affiliated with the International federation of independent trade unions].

5) The AIUTUC [affiliated with the SUCI]

6) The LPF [affiliated with the DMK]

7) The UTUC [affiliated with the RSP]

8 ) The TUCC [affiliated with the Forward Bloc]

Thus, we see the leadership of this strike falling squarely largely to either the forces of counter revolutionary Stalinism or reactionary trade unionism under the aegis of the INTUC affiliated with the bourgeois Indian Congress, and to regional parties like the DMK. What is however noteworthy here is the united action of the organized vanguard of Indian proletariat on the plank of a common cause, namely, protesting against the ongoing price rise and the attacks of Indian capitalism upon the working class. In so far as this is an action of the class we support the strike. However, we cannot do so uncritically. Herein lay a dialectical approach to the strike action.

What is our attitude towards trade unions?

For revolutionary Marxists there are two precedents towards the approach on trade unions, One which was summed up by Lenin in the book “left wing communism: An infantile disorder” and the other in a different context in the transitional programme. What is common to both approaches is the recognition of the trade union as an organization of the working class and at the same time a more or less minimalist organization of the working class. In other words, in themselves trade unions do not represent an end in themselves nor the completion of the revolutionary aspirations of the working class. One may also conclude that they do not represent any substitution for the revolutionary party. In the example before us we find the masses of workers responding to the call of the strike action lead by trade unions both reactionary and counter revolutionary in character. The ultra left “radical” would have us say that such an action by virtue of it’s leadership in the hands of counter revolutionary forces would be rendered in itself a counter revolutionary act. They are quick to forget both the nature of the action, the context of the action and more importantly, the class dialectics operating in a trade union. Historically, we as revolutionary Bolsheviks are posed the same questions in this century, which were posed earlier to the revolutionaries of the last century, namely that of the question of our attitudes towards trade unions. As Bolshevik Leninists we stand firms by the principles of Marxism and by the core principles of Bolshevik praxis, we are steadfast in our commitment towards the same. The dialectical understanding of a trade union as a body of the working class yet one that is necessarily bridled in a myriad historical weaknesses is essential in this and this understanding will help us in developing the correct tactics for the upcoming strike.

Tactical line towards the unions and the movement:

The core issues raised by the striking unions is centered on price rise and incessantly rising inflation in the country which has lead to greater suffering of the Indian working class and their class allies. Corollary to this a host of other issues pertaining to the attacks of Indian capitalism upon the working class including privatizations in Public Sector Units and a critical view of the lax nature of implementation of labor laws in India are also in the range of this agitation. However, few things emerge from an overview on the agitation. 1) Though issues pertaining to the working class are being raised there is no perspective on furthering the agitation in a more radical direction. In other words, the strategy of the unions appears to be limited to making a show of political strength and air out frustrations of the class without any real goal in mind or intention to make a focused attack against the capitalist assault upon the Indian working class. Furthermore, whatever concrete demands are being made are with a most limited reformist perspective, namely, limited to the proper implementation of Labor laws and the universalization of the Public Distribution System ( PDS ). 2) With a strengthening of the Indian bourgeois state and an greater expansion of India’s sub-imperialist development democratic rights of workers have been challenged like never before and the state is assuming an increasingly undemocratic form. One of the fallouts of this has been concerted attacks upon the right to agitate of the working class. The general strike, whose call has evoked popular support, would have been the best possible occasion to raise this issue. Here again we see the union bureaucrats failing to raise this most pertinent issue and fight for expanding the democratic space for struggle. 3) In the last one and a half month period since the proclamation of the strike action by the major unions what has been evinced is certain fluidity in terms of support for the strike. Now, the unions themselves claim in their respective manifestos and programs to represent the interests of the working class. The HMS goes so far as to suggest that the union is in fact the only true vehicle for the realization of the aspirations of the working class. However, a major union like the BMS has pulled out of the strike after stating their support thus, weakening the assault of the workers. Paradoxically the Congress affiliated union the INTUC has just joined in. Paradoxical considering the present government in India is a Congress led government. What both of these actions suggest is the reformist nature of typically bureaucratized trade unions. Whilst on the one hand being organs of struggle of the working class their bureaucratization makes them assume the form of a burden upon the very people they purport to represent. Thus, the leadership of the strike falling upon the shoulders of Stalinism or reformist leaders hampers the sharpness of the assault of the strike whereas the agitation itself marks a distinct advance in class militancy in India. The scale of the strike itself is noteworthy which threatens shut down 75% of the organized sector nationwide. In so far as this is a struggle of the class for raising class demands we support the agitation and work towards strengthening it and orienting it in a revolutionary direction. However, in so far as the leadership of the agitation is concerned we voice our opposition to their orientation which works towards capping the militancy of the proletariat.

Minimalist approaches and our transitional approach:

In the transitional program, Trotsky wrote: “..The Fourth International does not discard the program of the old “minimal” demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective. Insofar as the old, partial, “minimal” demands of the masses clash with the destructive and degrading tendencies of decadent capitalism – and this occurs at each step – the Fourth International advances a system of transitional demands, the essence of which is contained in the fact that ever more openly and decisively they will be directed against the very bases of the bourgeois regime. The old “minimal program” is superseded by the transitional program, the task of which lies in systematic mobilization of the masses for the proletarian revolution.” In this approach lies the dialectic of the transitional program, transitional demands and minimum demands. The present action is not per se wrong in defending to whatever limited extent and whatever jagged manner the existing conquests of the class and in raising the issues of the class, what is however wrong is the manner in which the minimalist perspective is capping the rising militancy with this minimalist approach. The minimum demands worth noting here include:

1) Proper and strict implementation of labor laws

2) Halting disinvestment of state owned industries

3) An expansion of the social security net for unorganized workers by removing the restrictions within the Workers Social Security Act of 2008.

4) Greater regulations of prices of food products by implementing universal PDS system.

5) A call for stimulus packages for ailing private sector corporations in order to secure jobs for those employed there.

All of these demands reflect in toto all that is jagged and faulty about minimalist approaches. They are limited, partial and oriented from a sectoral perspective with the only exceptions of the stricter implementation of labor laws and the call for implementing the PDS system. The world crisis has affected India like any other nation however the impact of the crisis in India has thus far been felt less in economic terms and more in social and political terms with a growing intensification of the civil war in the countryside which goes hand in hand with the greedy expansion of the sub imperialist bourgeois in its competition with world imperialism. In this context it is equally necessary for the peasant worker of the cities and every other section of the urban working class to extend a hand of solidarity to their class allies in the countryside who are seeing first hand the brunt of negative effects economic expansion and proletarianization. The bureaucrat (mis)leaders of the working class have only one thing to offer for the class allies of the proletariat in the countryside which only remotely touches upon the issues of the countryside, that of the implementation of a universal Public Distribution System. It is a pertinent demand and we support any move to control rising prices of goods however, the same can have gotten a far sharper response from the agitation especially since, India’s sub-imperialist expansion is a double edged sword which at once effects the proletarianization of the rural masses as well as the intensification of wage slavery for the working class and more dangerously the retraction of democratic rights for agitation. It is thus, imperative that demands pertaining to the democratic space for agitation of the working class be raised. This however, has fallen out of the view of our union bureaucrats. The most detestable amongst the aforementioned demands is the call for a stimulus package for private sector corporations affected by the crisis. Ironically, the unions propose this as an aim to secure the employment of the working class against the attacks of capitalism which include laying-off or retrenching of workers from employment as a cost cutting measure. We propose that such reformist Keynesian tactics are in no way a sustainable means to secure job security for the workers. The bourgeoisie has no interest to defend the rights and social welfare of the working masses and are only interested in securing their own profits and wealth by whatever means at their disposal including the most concerted and harsh attacks on the working class. To fight against it the class must orient itself towards fighting in a more radical direction aiming at securing the right to full employment as a fundamental right, in other words the right to employment to become an absolute and unconditional right of the working class.

In response to the above minimum demands of the unions we present our list of transitional demands:

1) Full and unfettered right to strike:

The class has nothing to receive from the bosses but slavery and assault to plead mercy is a wasteful endeavor. For the class to gain hold of even the most basic demands of welfare and sustenance the working class must fight tooth and nail against the machinations of the capitalist system. Bourgeois democracy despite being nothing more than a jagged “democracy” for the rich offers only a limited space for agitation for the working class. We must utilize every opportunity offered by the enemy class to fight against them. For this we must strive to constantly expand the scope for agitation and fight for making the right to strike a *fundamental right*, in other words a right which is unfettered and unrestrained and inalienable.

2) Sliding scale of wages:

Under the conditions of disintegrating capitalism, the masses continue to live the meagerized life of the oppressed, threatened now more than at any other time with the danger of being cast into the pit of pauperism. They must defend their mouthful of bread, if they cannot increase or better it. There is neither the need nor the opportunity to enumerate here those separate, partial demands which time and again arise on the basis of concrete circumstances – national, local, trade union. But two basic economic afflictions, in which is summarized the increasing absurdity of the capitalist system, that is, unemployment and high prices, demand generalized slogans and methods of struggle. The Fourth International declares uncompromising war on the politics of the capitalists which, to a considerable degree, like the politics of their agents, the reformists, aims to place the whole burden of militarism, the crisis, the disorganization of the monetary system and all other scourges stemming from capitalism’s death agony upon the backs of the toilers. Neither monetary inflation nor stabilization can serve as slogans for the proletariat because these are but two ends of the same stick. Against a bounding rise in prices, which with the advance of imperialism will assume an ever more unbridled character, one can fight only under the slogan of a sliding scale of wages. This means that collective agreements should assure an automatic rise in wages in relation to the increase in price of consumer goods.

3) Employment must be transformed into a full and fundamental right:

One of the most concerted attacks of the crisis ridden system of imperialism is focused on the employment of the working class. For the capitalist who knows only the language of profit the priority of the bourgeois is not to augment welfare and social security of the masses but to augment through whatever means available the accumulation of profit for the bourgeois. For this it may from time to time endanger the employment of the working masses and create a reserve army of the unemployed to push down wages and production costs. The best defense here as well is an offence against the system in the form of a transitional demand for making the right to employment a fundamental right. This must go hand in hand with a genuine respect for the rights of workers which already existing serve to defend albeit limitedly the social security and safety of the working class.

4) Complete nationalization of all industries:

The strike has called into attention the issue of disinvestments and privatizations. One of the demands of the striking unions being a reversal of the policy towards divestment in public sector corporations and the privatization of state owned enterprises. These demands oriented towards the defense of the hard won rights of workers and their social security, though work towards the defense of workers rights are yet limited in nature. The only realistic solution for the sustainable defense of worker’s rights is the full nationalization of all industries in the nation. Privatizations attack workers rights and in the ultimate analysis work towards putting profits above the needs of the masses. One of the consequences of privatizations is the relaxing of enforcement of labor rights and the strengthening of bourgeois management. Ultimately this reduces the workers to the position of becoming hostages of the anarchic forces of capitalism. The logic of competition between public sector companies and the private sector serve, not to augment the conditions of the people at large but instead to the detriment of their general welfare. We stand for the complete nationalization of all branches of industries in full measure. Furthermore, it is imperative that such nationalizations not be left to the whims of the government bureaucrats but pass on to the effective control of the workers over the industry. We demand by nationalization of industry, the nationalization of industry under worker’s control!

Revolutionary seizure of power as our ultimate goal:

Even the most humble demands for bread, clothing and shelter cannot be achieved under the aegis of capitalism through reforms. These demands which pertain to the most basic needs of the working masses must be fought for tooth and nail with the ultimate perspective of the revolutionary seizure of power. The present bourgeois – capitalist state facilitates not the general welfare of the people nor tends to the needs of the people but to the needs of the ruling strata of Indian society i.e. the bourgeois class. In place of this bourgeois state, enforcing the dictatorship of the bourgeois the proletarian masses must struggle for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat by the revolutionary seizure of power and the creation of the workers state over the ashes of the old bourgeois republic. But this dictatorship of the proletariat is in no measure a dictatorship of one man or one party as Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China had become but the dictatorship of the working masses themselves, in other words the achievement of the highest level of democratic control over the means of production and distribution and of the most advanced political conquest of worker’s democracy. Whilst our struggles in the immediate instance may be national in form it is International in substance. This revolutionary struggle of the working class can only conclude in the completion of the world revolution where the world working class seizes power in every country of the world.