Workers of India Declare Their Determination to Protect Not Just Their Rights but the Entire Economy as Well


If policies of crony capitalism, plunder of people and imperialist exploitation dominate the economic regime of a country, then along with the overall decline of the economy it is inevitable that workers of that country will have to suffer a lot. In such a situation workers and their unions will also have to assert themselves to protect their rights but a question arises regarding whether the workers will only take a narrow view of their interests, or whether they will also reach out to protect the economy in a wider context. The second option may be more difficult, but taking a longer-term and wider view this is definitely the correct option and this is also very much needed to protect livelihoods of all people. In India at a time when farmers are also rising in protest, it becomes all the more important to take this wider view.

Therefore it should be widely welcomed that in the second week of November the National Convention of Workers held at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, at the initiative of Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions and independent sectoral All India Federations and Associations, stated very clearly that the struggle now is not only to save the rights and livelihood of people but also save the country’s economy and the entire democratic system and the society as a whole from disaster and destruction being engineered by the authoritarian forces in governance with the active support of private corporate interests, both domestic and foreign.

This declaration of workers has stated that in midst of such widespread impoverishment and hunger, pushing almost half of the population below the destitution level poverty line, prices of essential commodities are skyrocketing to unbearable level. Price rise is not just happening, this dec;aration has stated, it is being made to happen by the Govt’s atrocious discriminatory taxation and other policies, only to benefit the small big-business/trader/corporate section of society. High indirect tax-rates through GST mechanism on essential daily requirements, increasing user charges of public utilities are contributing to hunger and distress among the mass of the people.

Simultaneously, this declaration has stated, the government of the day has been continuously lowering the corporate tax rates, abolished wealth tax, declaring moratorium on payment of charges/taxes payable by corporate and also moratorium on debt repayments by the same willful defaulter corporate/big-business community, who actually gained a fortune during this crisis ridden pandemic period by way of increasing their wealth by more than 40 per cent—all at the cost of distress being suffered by majority of working population. While the government has aggravated inequalities greatly with its policies, its arrogant refusal to meet at least the basic human survival requirement of the common people by way of free ration and a bare minimum income support of Rs 7500/- per month to all non-income-tax paying households as demanded by the joint trade union movement has been deeply regretted in this declaration.

In the midst of this alarming situation for the country and the people, this declaration asserts, the government at the centre has been hastily pushing through its project of all out reckless privatization through multi-pronged routes of all national productive assets and pub;ic sector undertakings( PSUs) including mineral resources, financial institutions like banks and insurance, security sensitive sectors like defence production and major Ports, petroleum and natural gas, Railways, Airlines & Airports, Electricity, Steel, Engineering, Highways, telecom and postal services, selling 500 coal blocks and more. To facilitate privatization and at the same time to benefit the debt-defaulting corporates, this declaration alleges, the government has legalized pilferage of banks fund by them through debt-route by enacting Insolvency Bankruptcy Code, 2016 and further amending it which allow the debt defaulter to move free without repayment of large part of their debt and compel the banks to forego the amount in the name of “haircut”. It is to be noted, the declaration says, that the workers involved in such cases are not allowed any representation in the decision-making process. The latest move is the amendment of the Bank Nationalisation Acts for privatizing the banks in favour of the same defaulter-corporate community for which the Bills are going to be introducedsoon, this declartion informs.

This declaration uses strong words to criticize latest privatization trends. It alleges that that in its latest move, the government has decided to extensively hand over infrastructural assets, built by public funds over past seven and half decades, to private hands, virtually free of cost, for making money out of the same, in lieu of its minority shares to Govt. It is called the National Asset Monetisation Pipeline project (NMP). Besides loss and destruction of these infrastructural assets, this will inevitably increase the burden on the people through reckless increase in user charges by those private corporates for easy profit without any investment. In this process the constitutional right of reservation in government jobs for dalits, tribals and other downtrodden sections of society will also suffer, this declaration points out.
What is more, this declaration assrts, the ongoing efforts of the government are for privatizing the vasr areas of the government machinery and establish the absolute grip of the corporate class on the entire governance.The employees movement in central government and state governments and also the municipal administrations in most of the states are facing this onslaught. And the pension/social security savings of the people and employees are not being spared, this declaration alleges. The Govt employees, both in central and states have been subjected to tremendous loss through the National Pension System (NPS). This was also made applicable to common people through contributory mechanism. Now the entire fund with NPS, both for the Govt employees and people are being taken out of the supervision and regulatory control of Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority(PFRDA) by amending PFRDA Act in order to put the entire NPS fund under a corporate entity or a Society registered under Societies Act with virtually no Govt control, thereby leaving the huge amount of pension/social security savings of the employees and the people for boundless speculation, endangering even the meagre pension available under NPS, this declaration alleges.

In its critique of policies relating to farm policies, this declaration states that the country’s agricultural sector, providing livelihood to more than 60% of our population is being sought to be plundered in favour of handful of corporates through enactment of three Farm Laws- designed for ultimate corporate take-over of land and entire agricultural sector. The Food security of the people is going to be a big casualty, besides promoting essential commodity speculation to an atrocious extent, contributing to unmanageable inflation and price rise terribly affecting the entire population, not merely the agricultural community which will be the first victim.

This declaration says that the working class movement is fully aware of this atrocious and destructive policy regime and has been struggling against it continuously since the very beginning. Extending support to prolonged struggle of farmers this statement says that farmers’ organizations and their joint platform have also been fighting against these policies; and their almost year-long historic struggle around the borders of Delhi demanding repeal of the Farm Laws, the Electricity (Amendment) Bill and enactment of statutory MSP and other issues with simultaneous joint agitations and actions throughout the country along with the workers and trade unions have changed the dimension of the united struggle of the entire people against the anti-national destructive policy regime to a new height. The Govt has remained arrogantly unresponsive. Farmers struggle is going on combating all offensive by the Govt and its agents, latest being the killing of farmers at Lakhimpur Kheriallegedly by a Minister’s son against which the workers and peasants of entire country have registered strong countrywide protest. Voicing solidarity, this declaration states that we, the workers and peasants’ movement together, must carry forward this struggle to its logical conclusion of decisive defeat of this retrograde policy regime, their perpetrator corporate class and their agents in governance. “To Save the People and Save the Nation” must be the battle cry of our Mission India, this declaration asserts.

A struggle to protect democracy is also needed. As this declaration of workers explains–along with the destructive authoritarian measures on economic policy front, the Govt has been overactive in gradually demolishing the democratic governance structure, trampling underfoot all constitutional norms, including basic parliamentary provisions as well. Most retrogradelwa of UAPA has been enacted and any opposition and dissent to their policies is sought to be suppressed by the Govt through arrests, detention under sedition clause, and reckless abuse of CBI, ED, NIA etc, thereby creating a reign of terror. Simultaneously the machinations by Govt sponsored communal divisive forces have been acting overtime to divert peoples’ attention to non-issues and divide and polarize the people on communal-casteist-divisive lines.

This declaration has stated that Labour Codes are being enacted by way of repealing 29 existing labour laws and the Codes are aimed at completely demolishing and altering working conditions, rights at workplace and trade union rights in favour of the employers’ class. The Govt. has further gone ahead in enacting Essential Defence Service Act in further curbing and over-riding the provisions on right to collective agitations and strikes in defence production while empowering Govt. to extend such prohibitory curb to any segment of industry and service on the plea of its linkage with defence sector production.The rules of labour codes which have in many cases gone further beyond the provisions of Codes in curbing labour rights, are being unilaterally finalized ignoring the opposition and pointers by trade unions by the central govt and also in many states, the declaration informs.

Pointing out the task ahead, this declaration states that in such a situation of ongoing authoritarian machinations of the entire governance, the governance of the economy, political system and the entire society as such, Working People must heighten their united intervention to demand a halt to this process of assault on lives and livelihood, employment, alarming intensity of impoverishment and hunger, assault on democracy and also unity of the people and thereby save our dear nation from disaster. The Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions have to take the frontline and decisive role to build towering resistance to this destructive and disastrous corporate driven regime. We have to demand from all political parties of the nation to incorporate “protection of right to work, living wage, free quality health and education to all citizens and all legitimate constitutional rights” in their political manifestos for the coming assembly elections in 2022 and for the elections scheduled for 2024 and take oath publicly to fulfill their assurances and to support the demands of workers, farmers and all people of the country if they come to power.

More specifically this declaration has drawn out a charter of 10 specific demands–

1. Scrapping the Labour Codes;
2. Repeal of Farm Laws and Electricity (Amendment) Bill,
3. No to Privatisation in any form and scrap the NMP;
4. Food and Income Support of Rs 7500 per month to non-income tax paying households;
5. Increased allocation for MNREGA and extension of Employment guarantee Scheme to urban areas;
6. Universal social security for all informal sector workers;
7. Statutory Minimum wage and social security for Anganwadi, ASHA, Mid-day-meal and other Scheme workers;
8. Proper protection and insurance facilities for frontline workers serving the people in the midst of pandemic;
9. Increase in public investment in agriculture, education, health and other crucial public utilities by taxing the rich through wealth tax etc in order to revive and revamp the national economy;
10. Reduction in Central Excise duty on petroleum product and concrete remedial measure to arrest price rise.

These demands have been asserted along with other demands already formulated and being pressed for by the Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions and Federations/Associations. The declaration has also announced a program of action for coming months.

This must be seen as an important declarationof workers to not only protect their rights but also to call for a wider solidarity with other sections of society, particularly farmers, to initiate much broader actions for protecting livelihoods and economy from the onslaught of forces of plunder and exploitation.

Bharat Dogra has been close to several social movenmets. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine (Gandhian ideas for our times).

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