Skip to main content

India's striking 20 crore urban, rural workers seek guaranteed jobs, better wages

By Bharat Dogra* 

The call for a two day national level strike by workers given by 10 central trade unions and other supporting organizations in India drew a strong response by over 20 crore workers on March 28 and 29, according to organizers.
These workers included those from ports and mines, railways and transport, banking and insurance, refineries and telecom, public as well as private sector (including multinational companies). There was a significant presence of women in the strike, particularly those employed in various development schemes, often at very low wages.
The strike was in addition supported by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella organization of 40 farmers’ organizations which had spearheaded a massive and successful farmers’ protest movement last year.
This strike call was given at a time of increasing reports of the twin burdens of unemployment and inflation. Rates of urban unemployment have been at high levels, while the price of essential goods has been increasing.
In the process most worker households have faced increasing difficulties in making basic needs. Reports of workers being made to work for longer hours in more difficult conditions have appeared increasingly, resulting in several industrial and construction site accidents.
The demands voiced by these workers include the protection of labour rights won by years of struggle as several of these rights are likely to get diluted or pushed back in the course of the government’s insistence on ‘consolidating’ them in four labour codes.
For example there has been increasing uncertainty that important gains achieved by construction workers from two laws made specifically for them may be diluted even though efforts made in recent years for their better implementation have resulted in favorable decisions even from the Supreme Court.
Just when they were thinking that the proper implementation of the directives of the Supreme Court of India will provide them significant, overdue gains resulting from the two existing laws, construction workers are faced with the uncertainty of the new labor codes. As several labour activists point out, the uncertainties at the ground level are much more compared to what the government cares to admit.
There are increasing apprehensions of workers losing jobs and rights in the course of policies of relentlessly increasing privatization under different names and schemes. Instead of striving to rapidly increasing social security cover to unorganized sector workers who are largely deprived of this, the policies of the government are widely seen to be creating more uncertain and difficult conditions for workers.
Millions of unorganized works including women in recent years have been devastated in recent years by the combined impact of prolonged lockdowns as well as arbitrary, adverse government policy decisions like the one on demonetization which suddenly put out of circulation 86% of the currency at one blow.
This strike call was also accompanied by demands for increasing allocation for rural employment guarantee scheme (MGNREGA). This is seen as a very helpful scheme, started by the previous UPA government, which has attracted much attention outside India as well. However, those monitoring the scheme have pointed out repeatedly that its budget needs to be increased significantly beyond the present allocation to cope with compelling needs of recent times.
An urban employment guarantee scheme has also been demanded in recent years and in fact has already been initiated by some state governments in smaller ways, more particularly by the Rajasthan government very recently. However a bigger initiative by the central government regarding this is still awaited.
Much higher allocations for social sector including health, nutrition and education are widely regarded as long overdue, with a strong prioritization for meeting the needs of weaker sections. 
This should include significant increase in the allocations for important schemes which should also include provision for increasing the wages of workers employed in these schemes, most of whom are women and have toiled for long hours daily at less than the legal minimum wage rate.
In remote villages I have met cooks, often elderly women, who have been preparing meals for around 100 or more school children while getting around Rs 40 a day on average (about half a dollar), and even this payment often gets delayed.
All these demands have been raised in the course of this strike call. These demands include old demands like those relating to regularization of contract workers but also involve relatively new ones like those relating to the much better protection and remuneration of those health and sanitation workers who have been in the forefront of the COVID-19 efforts.
There are also much debated issues relating to the restoration of the old pension scheme. Reforms which can protect worker and employee interests while also accommodating fiscal concerns have also been proposed. In such contexts perhaps a middle path can be explored with broad-based consultations.
However, most of the demands of the workers voiced at the time of this recent strike call are well-justified and it is heartening to see that workers are agitating not just for protecting their own interests but also for protecting the wider interests of people in such crucial areas as banking, insurance and health.
There should be adequate follow-up efforts after the strike to reach out to more people so that with greater public education on these significant issues, a broader base of support around these important demands can be created.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Man Over Machine’ and ‘Planet in Peril'

Comments

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

How GMOs would destroy non-GMO crops: Aruna Rodrigues' key submissions in SC

Counterview Desk The introduction of Bt and HT crops will harm the health of 1 billion Indians and their animals, believes Aruna Rodrigues, who has made some 60 submissions to the Supreme Court (SC) during the last 20 years. As lead petitioner who filed Public Interest Litigation in 2005, during a spate of intense hearings, which ended on 18 January 2024, she fought in the Apex Court to prevent the commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture. 

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

Corporatizing Indian agriculture 'to enhance' farmer efficiency, market competitiveness

By Shashank Shukla*  Today, amidst the ongoing farmers' protest, one of the key demands raised is for India to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO). Let us delve into the feasibility of such a move and explore its historical context within India's globalization trajectory.

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .

A 'distorted narrative' of Indian politics: Congress failing to look beyond LS polls

By Prem Singh*  About 15 days ago, I told a senior journalist friend that there are not even two   months left for the Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi is roaming around on a delectation (tafreeh). The friend probably found my comment exasperating and replied that he is not on a delectation trip. The conversation between us on this topic ended there. 

Interpreting UAPA bail provisions: Is Supreme Court setting the clock back?

By Kavita Srivastava*, Dr V Suresh** The Supreme Court in its ruling on 7th February, 2024 in   `Gurvinder Singh v State of Punjab’ held that its own well-developed jurisprudence that "Bail is the rule and jail the exception" will not apply to those charged under the UAPA.

Livelihood issues return to national agenda ahead of LS polls: SKM on Bharat Bandh

Counterview Desk  Top farmers' network, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has claimed big success of Grameen Bharat Bandh and industrial /sectoral strikes, stating, the “struggle reflected anger of farmers, workers and rural people across India”, adding, the move on February 16 succeeded in bringing back peoples’ livelihood issues in the national agenda just ahead of the general election to the Lok Sabha.