Labour “reforms” – India goes back in time

Given the COVID-19 situation, though not with the same enthusiasm, nevertheless the entire world celebrated workers May Day recently. Ironically, here in India in the same month of May, antithetical to the ideal of May Day the major states of India moved to destroy the hard-won gains of the working class. The states ruled by BJP have amended the labour laws heavily favouring the capitalist class. The other state governments in India are also planning to implement these draconian changes in labour laws.

Ever since the lockdown began the plight of all the sections of working-class increased drastically. The anti-poor Modi government started to use the corona crisis as a trump card to cover its inefficiencies.

The New Socialist Alternative has already come up with articles explaining as to how the migrant labourers suffered because of the mismanagement of the Modi regime. It took a toll on the workers of other sections as well. The sanitation workers were forced to work without proper protective equipment. The public sector workers were forced to sacrifice a part of their salary for the “PM Cares” fund. Many private and IT sector workers had to take a wage cut. Employers took extreme lay off measures in order to save their profits.

Though this is a global scenario the authoritarian BJP government has taken a greater step in order to take the society backwards. After having ideological debates one may have clarity that the change in the “production method” will only lay the foundations for a societal change. i.e when the productive force reaches a certain level it will come into conflicts with the relations of production which will lead to new economic condition & societal change (when the production ceases the workers will come in conflict with the owners which will lead to a change in society). But the dilution of the labour law has paved the way for a backward societal change.

Failure of the Modi’s regime

The severe violation of workers’ rights is euphemistically termed as “labour law reforms”. Reform for the benefit of whom? The amendment of the labour laws in the pretext of attracting investments will push the workers to sub-human levels & it’ll bring back the slavery officially.

The Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996; The Workmen Compensation Act, 1923; The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 and Section 5 of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 (the right to receive timely wages) are the only major labour laws that will remain undiluted while others will be suspended for 3 years.

The term “employer” in the BOCW Act is defined to include both contractors and owners. So, the owners and the contractors pass the responsibility to one another. Similarly, other laws are not being implemented properly. If we don’t fight for our rights now this will not be revoked even after 3 years.

That is to say, the workers will be deprived of their rights. The employers can hire and fire workers as per their wish without paying any compensation. The workers will not have any association with the trade unions and they’ll not have a say in their wage and working conditions.

Though the health crisis was unpredicted, the economic crisis is man-made. Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman announced that all PSUs in non-strategic sectors will be privatized, while in the strategic sector, there will be only one PSU, at the minimum and four PSUs, at the maximum, fully owned by the Govt. This move, instead of promoting self-reliance, will destroy the Indian economy.

At a time when money should be used to protect the workers (the real wealth creators), Modi plans to rebuild the parliament. More than Rs 600 crore is spent on dropping flower petals as a gesture of gratitude to doctors, nurses, and other workers on the frontline fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic. Even this was an utter flop. Around 150 medical professionals of the Government Medical College and ESI Hospital, Coimbatore, were forced to assemble in front of the hospital. After waiting for half an hour they realized that the fighter jets didn’t turn up for honouring them.

The Union government special COVID relief fund wasn’t used for transporting the migrant labourers. The hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers who were stranded in cities without wages or access to food had to pay their train fares. They weren’t just charged for these trips, they had to pay higher fares than usual. Ironically, even the Indian Railways had donated Rs 151 crore to the fund. Despite all this, the Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal has the audacity to claim that “nobody starved in the last 3 months”.

The so-called Rs “20-lakh-crore stimulus package” is being widely criticized by famous economists and radical thinkers. It is nothing but an imaginary number. The jobless migrant workers need money to buy milk, vegetables, and cooking oil and to pay rent. In the name of relief, the government is giving loans to the already economically burdened working people and it continues its bailout packages for the rich.

How to build a fight back?
Mere sloganeering of workers unity, opposition to Modi and lampooning of the regime will not suffice. Challenging the rabid right-wing regime of Modi needs a combative programme which is methodical in its approach taking into account the consciousness of the working class, especially of the advanced and combative layers. Such a programme should be clearly linked to fighting for a socialist alternative with transitional demands.
* Reject changes in working hours duration, must remain 8 hours only.
* Stop all changes to labour laws and legislations.
* Say no to all attacks on workers’ rights.
* Minimum Wages must be raised to Rs.25,000 per month, with ₹100/ an hour minimum for all workers
* Stop all privatization plans; we demand renationalization of all public sector industries and services.
* Trade Unions must organise a robust resistance against these draconian changes.
This is a do or die battle for the working class of India. While the 3rd July All India Protest by the Central Trade Unions is welcome, nothing short of an all-out political General Strike will deter the right-wing capitalist regime of Modi.

Workers of all sections, including public, private and other migrant workers, must unite as one class to fight back against this onslaught by the Modi regime.

We shall fight & we will win – Workers’ unity zindabad.

Rashme Madhavan, New Socialist Alternative-Chennai

Originally published in Socialism.in


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