Thank you, Com Mathew. We will try to stick to the time provided. Each of us will be talking about some issues so that most issues will be covered, and there will be additions by other participants, so that will help in bringing everything on board. You mentioned about struggles of banks, J&K as well as MP electricity workers. Similar movement was held in UP and they had also won their battle. You talked about the agitation of the Singareni mine workers and also the kisaan andolan. I will make some additions: workers, farmers, those who gave lands, those who are still waiting for benefits and the people at large. Everybody in Vishakhapatnam have come together to save the Vizag steel plant. They did not allow the entry of the Niti Aayog Vice President Amitabh Kant. Before that, in Salem, potential bidders were not allowed entry by the workers.
So along with strong agitations, there are efforts to stop people to come to acquire land, to bid, etc. That kind of environment is getting generated in the country. In this background we are already preparing for the 23–24 February strike.
Many agitations are taking place in the country. Defence sector had also prepared to agitate. They conducted a ballot for strike, but the EDSA was introduced and the strike could not happen. So now, in the background of agitations happening everywhere, central trade unions have called for a 2-day strike on 23–24 February.
On 29 November, farm laws were taken back. Before that also, we had talked to Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM). Right from the beginning of the farmers’ agitation, central trade unions gave their unconditional support to SKM at every step and responded to every call of theirs and played their important role in giving the movement a pan India aspect.
Naturally we expected their reciprocal support. This time we asked them to support for the two day strike and they agreed. They said they had also supported our 26th November strike and you have continuously supported our agitation from the beginning. We had also supported when the ordinances were made.
In yesterday’s SKM meeting, they declared that 31 January will be observed as a black day because the government has not taken the steps it had promised along with repealing the farm laws. Along with this, they announced support for the 23–24 February strike. With their support, we hope that the strike will be successful in rural, industrial and urban areas. Yesterday’s statement of the SKM gives a boost to this.
In the joint meeting yesterday, we decided that we will support each other’s programmes and calls; along with that we should also conduct joint action programmes. We identified common issues, such as anti-corporate struggle, anti-privatisation, rising prices, Electricity (Amendment) Bill, unemployment and attacks on democracy.
We told SKM that we have put farm laws in our Charter, they should also talk on Labour Codes. So, they have started this discussion that the four Labour Codes should be repealed and yesterday’s statement mentions them.
We are of course not fond of strikes. Strike is our last weapon, but this government is trying to take it away. We can only strike to show them that they cannot take away our right to strike. We have other demands too. The government is trying to privatise all sectors barring none, whether bauxite, railway, coal, copper, steel, aluminium, air lines, petrol, airports, railway stations, ports and docks, telecom and even atomic science and space! In sector after sector there are agitations going on. Sectoral agitations are going on.
On 11 November, central trade unions held a discussion and finalised the dates of the strike on 25 November. The dates were announced after 3 December.
To prepare for the strike, we took a separate zoom meeting of central and state public sector unions. The Platform of Central Trade Unions wanted to understand from them about how they were preparing and took their opinions on how to make the strike very big and successful.
Our next meeting was with railway and defence federations that are active on how they can support the strike. Defence sector workers cannot strike, but said they have started a campaign to mobilize people in a big way wherever there are defence units. Railways will also mobilize in a different form. This is the preparation we have done. I am telling this to you in this webinar so that those sectors that have not yet come on board will come forward.
Electricity sector workers had announced a strike action on 1 February, but we have asked them to consider how they can join in a visible way and show their participation and support on 23–24 February. Comrades who have joined the meeting today can tell us about this.
When along with disinvestment and privatisation the National Monetisation Policy (NMP) was introduced, we stopped calling it privatisation or disinvestment. We started calling it outright as the sale of the nation. Nation’s resources and assets are being sold, and it is the responsibility of the working class to defend them! Seeing the speed of government, we have taken the decision to strike within this budget session.
There are elections in a few states. Central trade unions are moving in those states and actions will take place there despite the elections. The leaders of the central trade unions are moving in those states. There were two conventions held in Lucknow. Central trade unions have declared that they are supporting and joining the kisan’s Mission UP.
Interestingly, the example of Air India is typical. It was sold for Rs. 18,000 crores. I will not say that it was sold cheaply, but that it has been gifted. The Central Vista project of the parliament was also given to Tatas. The government had invested more than Rs. 1 lakh crore in Air India; that was public money. 111 airplanes that were bought only a few years ago were also given to the Tatas. They cost more than Rs. 50,000 crore! So, this is actually a gift given for Rs. 18,000 crores.
The telecom sector has been left to die saying that there is no money, but the government has purchased more than 35% shares in Vodafone. For whom? In Vajpayeeji’s period Vodafone’s dues of tens of thousands of crores were written off. The CEL Sahibabad factory had not even 1% private shares. Their land in Sahibabad alone is worth Rs. 440 crores, but the company is being sold for Rs. 210 crores.
Further, the labour codes were not debated in the parliament, the Indian labour Conference was not held, and the codes were adopted without discussion. Lots of harm will be caused by these codes. That is also an important issue in the strike of 23-24 February.
Workers’ collective bargaining power is being challenged. It will be more difficult to organise trade unions and register them. Central trade union derecognition is being made easier. The fines on leaders of trade unions have been increased from Rs. 2 lakh to Rs. 10 lakh. Punishments of and fines on employers have been reduced. Wages have been redefined. The concept of Minimum Wages has been destroyed. Wages are being reduced, and only floor-level wages are discussed. The take-home salaries will reduce further because of the new wage structure the government is trying to create.
The case of Occupational Health and Safety is the same. Migrant workers suffered in the pandemic. But the government did not do anything as per the Migrant Act. They merged the Migrant Workers Act with the Occupational Health and Safety Law. Out of its 26 Clauses, only 6 have been included.
We can see how serious they are towards workers. Kisans said that they did not want the farm laws, but the government said the laws are for their own good. We did not ask for these changes in the Labour Laws or their codification, but the government is saying that they are doing it for our good.
We did not want this type of “good”. For 150 years, since the British period onwards, we have struggled to get all labour laws passed. During the British period we were able to legalise the formation of trade unions through the Trade Union Act, 1926. In that period, we were able to get laws about occupational safety and maintenance in the 1923. In 1938 we were able to get the Payment of Wages Act; we were able to get the Factories Act in 1886 itself.
The first national centre, AITUC, was established by the Indian working class in 1920 after a long struggle of 40-50 years. The process of unionisation took place after which AITUC was formed. The history of struggle before that is even longer. In 1827, Indian workers organised the first strike. Workers started to raise their voice against British imperialism and against their exploitation through strikes. Now, the government wants to take this right away through the Code on Industry. For example, EDSA has been applied in defence and a clause says that it can be extended to all related sectors.
In that light we understand that whether Code on Social Security or on Occupational Health and Safety, or on Industry or on Wages, ultimately it amounts to taking away everything that we have achieved through more than 150 years of struggle. Their only wish is to help the corporate houses of our country as well as to help the big corporate investors from abroad. The Modi government is not working for people, workers, farmers, students, youth, etc. They are working for Ambani, Adani other corporate houses and international finance capital.
That is why all sections in the society are angry at the government. The New Education Policy that has been brought will lead to destruction, unemployment is continuously rising as is inequality and people are agitating against the government for reasons like unemployment and rising inequality. The gap between the highest and lowest incomes has reverted back to what was there 80 years ago. The unemployment rate has been the highest in 50 years. When our workers were suffering during the pandemic, our demand was that families who do not pay income tax should get a minimum cash transfer of Rs. 7500 so that they do not have to sleep hungry and would be able to satisfy their needs. But the government did not listen to us. During the same time, when our workers were suffering so much, Mr. Mukesh Ambani’s wealth increased by 128% and Mr. Adani’s wealth increased by 480%. The number of billionaires also increased from 100 to 140 and these billionaires made business of Rs. 12.97 lakh crores.
During the second wave, people were struggling to find oxygen, ventilator beds and Remdesivir was being sold for 2.5 lakh rupees. When people were suffering, when cheap medicines disappeared from the market, Mr. Modi’s friends, almost ten corporate houses out of 150 billionaires, working in the export-import, manufacturing and marketing of medicine were making business of 500 crore rupees every day.
Public sector workers, government sector workers, those working in informal sector, in essential services, agricultural workers, frontline workers, all were working to help people in the pandemic. But where were the corporates, the corporates whom Mr. Modi worries about night and day and in whose hands he wants to hand over everything. The government is only serving domestic and international capital. If the public sector is destroyed like this, if resources are privatised, it will be dangerous for the economy.
Therefore, this strike of 23-24 February is important for the country, for all the people, workers, farmers, and so on. We are also opposing anti-democratic steps, the wrong use of the UAPA, NSA, the Sedition Law, NIA, CBI, ED, and even intimidation of the judiciary. What are they not doing? They are using the police system, they are militarising the whole society. There are attacks on the Constitution, and those in power protect and support hate-spreaders. The country is being sold, it is being divided, a mockery is being made of the diversity of the country, democracy is being destroyed and the right to life of minorities is being questioned.
This strike is not only for the economy, but also for our democratic and human rights, for the defence of the core values of our Constitution. The Government’s moves are to suppress and gag voices and crush organisations that raise these voices. Government policies were challenged in an organised way by the kisans. Central trade unions are doing the same. Government used the Labour Codes to suppress the trade unions and the entire public sector, the government sector is being attacked. Governance has been weakened by the government to slowly establish authoritarianism, fascism, and Nazism.
During the pandemic, the whole world has seen that only governments who stood up for the rights of the people did something for them. But those governments who wanted to work only for corporates and capitalism tried to suppress the people of their own countries and did very little to serve them. In India the packages were only for the corporates, not for the people.
In our country, there is a new discourse on starting a 4-day work week and claiming that this is very revolutionary. But working hours are not being reduced from 48 hours, and fixed-term employment is being brought. That means for 4 days people have to work for 12 hours daily!
We have no other option but to fight, fight and fight and fight more intensely. The working class has to do post-independence what we did pre-independence. Pre-independence, we strengthened the freedom movement and fought for all our rights in the streets, were martyred. We intensified our struggle and won our rights. No one gave them to us on a platter, either before or after independence. We fought in the legislatures as well as on the streets and won those laws. The Modi government thinks that they can roll back our hard-won rights and put us back in the pre-independence era. But we have to tell it – don’t think you are invincible; the kisaan andolan has shown us that you can be challenged and made to bend down.
What about after the strike? We have made those plans and called them Mission India. Mission UP, Mission Uttarakhand and many more will come on the way. They are the different stages. And the 23-24 February strike is a sort of beginning. The count-down has to start till 2024. We will have Mission India in the future. We have to undo what they have done. Correct equitable distribution of wealth has to be ensured. Workers are the real producers of wealth. Those who are service givers and workers should get full justice in our economic system. That is Mission India. That is why we call the 23–24 February strike the first step.
We have asked unions to add their issues in their Charter of demands, in their leaflets and posters; in propaganda there should be our common demands as decided by our Convention as well as sector-wise demands. Carry this out till the ground level.
Kisans understood why the farm laws were bad and would have to go. Similarly, we should ensure that workers understand the harms of government policies, why we are taking every risk and coming on the streets and implementing the strike. We will continue to strengthen our fight even after the strike. This should be explained to everyone.
This webinar is important from that point of view; more than 435 comrades have joined and more are coming in. These are leaders of various sectors. It is our collective responsibility of making the 23-24 February strike not only a memorable one, but of setting the ball rolling. After this, we will not stop. Modi will have to leave. We will be able to save the country and stop the sale of the country. He is trying to gag the voices and destroy the Constitution- we will not allow that to happen. This is our spirit. The strike will be successful, not by one or two unions but only by collective effort. I have full confidence that we will succeed!
Thank you, Comrades.