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.
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.