I thank the All India Forum Against Privatisation for organising this webinar on the issue of country wide strike by the joint platform of Central Trade Unions and independent federations on 23rd and 24th February 2022.
About the strike declaration, I and Com. Amarjeet Kaur are in the same boat. We jointly drafted the declaration for the strike and she has covered most of the basic demands, so I will not go on repeating them, but will focus on some of the issues, which are the basic issues, which need to be seriously considered for this countrywide strike action.
All the demands which were enlisted in the strike declaration, jointly signed by all the central trade unions and independent federations, can be summarised with the single line slogan “Save the people and Save the Nation”, because the fight is against the very destructive and anti-national policy regime of the present government at the Center who are destroying our national economy. In the midst of the serious systematic crises of the whole economic order, they are trying to squeeze the survival entitlement of the masses of the people, the working class people in particular, to ensure fortuitous gain, unproductive gain, for the handful of corporates, both national and international.
I think the Forum Against Privatisation must comprehend the basic character of the privatisation process they want to adopt which is so destructive. It is just not privatisation; it is a free gift of the country’s national assets to a handful of corporates. During the overall economic slowdown, the areas that have been targeted are used by the people. These are the sectors they are trying to hand over free to the private corporates, for operationalising by them, to mint their fortunes. They are parting with them at a very small part of the share of the revenue. This is what is the latest format of the privatisation process, the National Monetisation Pipeline. It is to be noted it is a pipeline, i.e., there will be a constant flow of assets to corporates. The Niti Aayog Document has listed out some of the sectors which are part of it – Railways, Gas Pipelines, Electricity Grids, the Port and Docks, the Coal Sector, Mineral Sector, Telecom Sector but these are only a part of the whole pipeline. These infrastructural assets will be handed over to these private capitalists WHO HAVE NOT INVESTED A SINGLE PAISA IN BUILDING OF THIS BIG INFRASTRUCTURE.
This is the latest format of privatisation that they are trying to impose on the entire nation, which will no doubt put the entire national economy on the path of disaster and destruction. The whole future of the country, whatever has been built over the last seven decades will be completely destroyed.
So in this kind of a format, against this kind of design, for any fight, any struggle we have to take an approach of Mission India to save the people and country. With this goal the 23rd and 24th February 2022 was planned, and it is just not against these attacks, but also against those who are launching that attack sitting at the seat of governance. In the beginning itself, the Comrade conducting the programme has mentioned some of the struggles, from Jammu Kashmir Electricity workers and so forth; Com. Amarjeet also added.
Second point that I particularly want to make is that we have already arrived at a point, arrived at a stage, where these policies cannot be stalled just by persuasion. The mode of the struggle has to be converted into a mode of defiance and resistance and that has already begun.
The Jammu Kashmir Electricity strike is the latest example of resistance. The electricity workers of the Union Territory of Chandigarh have decided to go on strike from 1st of February 2022 against the decision of the Union Government to privatise and hand over the electricity facilities in Chandigarh to the Goenkas. And they have also taken decision to go on for an indefinite strike. The Electricity Workers’ Joint Platform also decided to go for strike on 1st of February for 1 day and at the same time while asserting that they will also be joining the strike on 23rd and 24th of February.
The Coal workers are planning; they have started campaigning to prepare for a complete shutdown of all the coal mines on 23rd and 24th February. In different areas these struggles are going on and telling the Modi government that we will not allow you to do what you want to. Precisely on that premise, workers are struggling at Vizag Steel Plant for the last 1 year. They have declared that you might have signed a deal of the sale of the Steel Plant at Delhi, but we will not allow that person who is your agency to enter into the plant; workers will physically resist.
Precisely this model was experimented in Salem Steel Plant and the prospective bidders were not allowed into enter the premise. Same thing happened in BEML at Karnataka, where the prospective bidder was not allowed to enter into the premises of Bangalore, Mysore and Palakkad plants. These struggles are going on at different places and precisely because of these resistance struggles, Modi Government, even in its second incarnation could not implement the programme of the of complete privatisation of 48 Public Sectors they had listed in 2014 itself.
Because of the resistance only, the new format of privatisation is being tried out now, that is, to start with the infrastructural sectors. Their plan is to make all the public sectors flow through this pipeline in the days to come if that is not resisted, that is not defeated and that is not forced to backtrack and we are very clear that we can do it. The Farmer’s Struggle has shown -We can Do it. Whatever they want they will not be able to do and we will be able to stall it, and with that mode I think that this 23rd and 24th February has to be planned and executed throughout the country and we are confident that we will be able to do.
All India Forum Against Privatisation comprises of so many organizations, and so through you we want to send our appeal to all of them that this initiative of webinars is welcome, but it is more important to concentrate the heat at the gates of work, at the work place, at the point of work, where this 23rd, 24th strike is to be executed. A complete bandh is to be ensured.
And this is the first stage of struggle; the struggle needs to be further heightened; otherwise the national economy will be completely destroyed. The conspiracy has been hatched by the present government at the centre, at the behest of international finance capital, at the behest of big multinational corporates along with their junior partners in India, the Indian Corporates.
It is not only the question of defending the worker’s own right, the struggle for defending workers’ rights has been totally integrated with the task of decisively defeating the policy of completely putting the entire country on auction. The attack on the democratic setup, attack on the democratic rights, attack on the labour laws, attack against any dissent, the liberal utilisation of the UAPA and the sedition clauses against any dissenters – these are all integral part of the main comprehensive project of putting the entire country on auction.
In order to carry out privatisation and implement NMP, the people and working people in particular are to be put in chains and so the attack on labour codes are coming, so the attack on farmers are coming, so the attack on the constitutional values is coming. So, this has to be understood as a comprehensive project of the authoritarianisation of the entire governance – governance of the economy, the governance of the political system, the governance of the society. They are planning to apply their divisive and disruptive mechanism to bring about divisive polarisation among the people through their communal and other polarisation. So the whole thing is a comprehensive project; it has to be understood. Accordingly the trade unions of the country have to collectively understand this comprehensive attack on the nation itself. It is to be resisted through the unity of the entire working people. Unity has to be ensured for the two- day country wide general strike. It is more important that in the days that are left till 23rd and 24th February, the people must, in their respective work places, in all areas they must carry the message, that this is the struggle to Save the People and Save the Nation. And with that spirit this has to be taken up and has to be taken to people, otherwise nothing can be saved.
And at the same time, with confidence we must go forward. Till this time the country’s trade union movement, which started this battle right on the day when this neoliberal policy was introduced in the country in 1991, has organized 22 general strikes nationwide and in between numerous sectoral struggles have taken place against privatisation, against attacks on workers’ rights and against the attack on onslaught on the national economy. This is going to be the 23rd general strike and this time it is a 2 days general strike and in that process various sectoral struggles will finally culminate into the national general strike.
This is the commentary of the last 3 decades of continuous united struggle by the working class and in the process of that at one particular moment of time, the farmers’ struggle flared throughout the country. The working class movement also took an active physical role to carry that message of the farmers’ struggle throughout the country through numerous solidarity actions to numerous bundh calls given by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha. And we very much welcome the Samyukta Kisan Morcha’s statement of their support and their decision to organise Rural Bandh on those 2 days general strike.
We very much welcome the workers peasantry unity which is basically the unity of the two producing classes of the country. They are the only main producing classes of the country, the working people and the farmers together. They are producing the wealth for the country. Actually they are the only ones contributing to the GDP and others are having a free lunch, earning profit by exploiting those who are contributing to the wealth generation, the working people and the farmers at large.
The demands formulated by the trade unions even during the period of pandemic, were that 7500 Rupees per month should be paid to all non-income tax paying families, curb the price rise, because price rise is not happening on its own but being made to happen, this is a part of these exploitative process. There is basically no reason for fuel price rise at this juncture, when international price of the fuel is coming down; this is being made to happen to squeeze the people for corporate profit.
The defaults of the banks are being legalised through Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. After the banks are being compelled to go in for haircut, they are being capitalised from the National Exchequer and again they are being compelled to give loan to those defaulting corporate houses and again go for the insolvency procedure. Thus unpaid defaulted loans are legalised and banks are forced to accept a haircut. In that way the National Exchequer is going to the corporate kitty.
This is such a perverse economic process under this present neoliberal order. This Modi regime is presiding over this destructive economic process of squeezing the national assets, squeezing the mass of the people in the interest of the handful of corporates, both foreign and domestic.
They are rewriting the trade laws to favour the multinationals. Not only the country’s economic future is being destroyed, but at the same time the country’s security aspect is also greatly compromised. They have taken the decision to corporatize the Ordinance Factories, to corporatize the defence production to pave the way for the full-fledged privatisation. Privatisation of defence production means nothing else but a big bonanza for all foreign armament producers. It is such a dangerous conspiracy against the national interests!
The working class has taken up the struggle and has been inspired by the farmer’s victorious struggle, and the coming struggle is going to be a worker-peasant joint intervention against the anti-national policy regime in order to Save the People and Save the Nation. NMP is a crime being committed on the Nation; if the entire infrastructural sector is gifted away it will affect the entire national economy.
The All India Forum Against Privatisation must expose this nefarious conspiracy against the Nation and definitely the country’s trade union movement welcomes the initiative of the AIFAP. And I request the leading personalities of AIFAP also to enthuse their members, to persuade their members, to concentrate their intervention at the work place, at the factory gate, at the shop floor to make the 23rd and 24th February 2022 strike a total bandh, paving the way to further heightening of the struggle to Save the People and Save the Nation.