Highlights of the Speech by Shri Ashok Singh Senior National Vice President, Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and Member, International Labour Organization (ILO) Governing Body in the All India webinar on “Nationwide General Strike on 23rd and 24th February against Anti-Worker, Anti-People Policies of the Government and Way Forward” organized by AIFAP on 16 January 2022

First, thank you Mathew ji for calling this meeting and inviting everyone. This is not only about saving the public sector but also about saving the country. After a long and hard struggle, we won independence. Workers, farmers, youth, people of the country gave us freedom and showed us the way to live, about what is meant by winning our rights. The first Prime Minister brought our country to its feet after Independence.

Since the last 7 years, we have a new government in one of the most populated countries. It came to power by fooling the people. It got Janadesh, for what? Janadesh is given to take the country forward and to strengthen it, to strengthen the peasants, the workers, the public sector, the factories, and everything and not to destroy everything. Things are getting destroyed because power has gone to those who are playing into the hands of the capitalists. The real rule is with capitalists. They tell the government what laws and rules to make, and the government does so. They are trying to destroy the country, not to save it. That is why we have to talk less and act more.

This is the first time that central trade unions have come together; we sit together and discuss, and we listen to each other and take decisions in the interest of everyone, of the public sector, the public and the nation.

On 11 November, when we sat in Jantar Mantar, the farmers also came and we took a collective decision that if we want to save the country, we have to work together. We have been supporting the Kisan Andolan for long, all the trade unions together. We told the farmers that we support you, not just morally, but in action. We will come out on the streets with you. Only then will it happen.

And it did. After that meeting, the government took back the farm laws. But the struggle was not over, there were other demands like MSP and removing the Minister responsible for Lakhimpur Kheri, compensation for those who lost their lives. That is why farmer leaders have decided to restart the movement and start Mission UP and Mission Uttarakhand on 21 January.

UP was the first state in the country where electricity privatisation was attempted but workers opposed it. They organised strike and were put in jails. But due to their opposition, the CM did not dare to continue and took back the law.

Unity is our strength! Like you have brought everyone together here.

Why were farmers successful? They stepped out in the streets. They sat on the roads for a year. 700 people sacrificed their lives. But the struggle is not over even now as the promised demands have not been fulfilled.

As Gandhi said, Labour laws are for the government (policymakers), capitalists and worker who invest their lives in working. But the government is making policies in favour of the capitalists to finish the workers!

During COVID, migrant workers died on the streets, losing their jobs, without money or food. Even now they have no jobs. At the same time, 11 capitalists earned much more than the country could earn even in 10,000 years. Here, workers have no money. The entire country has gone into the hands of 10-11 capitalists.

It is our responsibility to save the workers, the peasants and to save the country. The country belongs to workers, farmers, youth and women. Anganwadi workers and ASHA workers are not getting their salaries for the past six months. Contract workers are getting only 25% of the salaries that other workers are getting. 65 lakh vacancies are there in the country. Why are they not filling them? Outsourcing and contractualisation are the policies that are in the favour of capitalists. Work that costs Rs. 1 is being done by contract workers in 25 paise. The aim is to finish their fighting capacity! But all the trade unions will not allow that to happen.

If banking nationalisation was not done by Indira Gandhi, would Modi have been able to introduce zero-balance accounts? Would any private bank do that? No! Losses are made not by common people but by capitalists. 3-4 capitalists take loans without security and then go abroad. The banks go in loss. Banks belong to the people, to serve them, to serve the country. But the government wants to finish that, and not just that sector but all sectors. They want to sell the whole country.

If the country is sold to a few capitalists, they are the ones ruling the country, not us. We have to end this. Until we step out into the streets, we cannot do this. We, all the trade unions together have written letters to the PM, to other ministers, to the ILO, etc. Nobody is seeing or replying to them. If after all this, we don’t go strongly to the street, nothing is possible. We have to think and make a program; that is important.

There are crores of workers in the country represented by the trade unions. We are a bridge between the government and workers. If a policy is not good, we have to intervene. Gandhi said Labour law is for labourers. But there is no place for workers in the government’s laws. You cannot make a union, cannot register it, cannot raise your voice, you cannot strike. The Indian Labour Conference that used to be held every year after independence, has not been held by the government since the last 7 years, though we keep writing to him about it. Committee meetings do not occur. Nobody wants to listen to us, they only listen to capitalists.

We have understood their agenda. Now, we have to act to stop them. Otherwise, they will continue their work. With Mission UP, they won’t be there in UP and Uttarakhand. That means they will not win in 2024 either.

But we must not assume this and stay put. They will be defeated if we get on the streets and oppose them. We have to oppose the policy and not the person. These policies are not in the national, public, workers’, women’s or youth’s interest. They take everyone’s name, however.

If railways are privatised, people won’t be able to buy even a platform ticket. We think that railway won’t be privatised, but they have already started. This is the first time in the history of the country that we are all sitting together, the central trade unions are sitting together. We are working with one voice and one agenda on which we have to work.

We have done strikes everywhere – in coal, oil, steel, but now the public sector had a National Convention. Everyone has understood that their plan is to end us. They have introduced four Labour Codes to finish all the workers and trade unions in the country. That is why we have to oppose them. If we don’t, we are not doing justice to workers. But we are not quiet. We sit together, discuss and create a plan. We request you to support the 23–24 strike as much as you can. A message should go – you cannot fight with us. We are ready. They have to be scared away.

Union meetings are ongoing. Committee meetings are going on. The message is going everywhere.

In Defence we held a meeting. There we said they have declared ESMA. That’s okay. They say no one is allowed to hold gate meeting. However we have decided to go ahead and hold gate meetings in support of the strike. We will see what happens.

What is your duty towards workers and the country? We are representing workers, it is our duty to save the nation, save them. We are opposing policies and organising strikes since a long time. The government will not understand by itself, we have to take them to the right path. It was only after a long struggle of leaders, workers, farmers and youth that we achieved independence. How can we let them take back our independence? When I visited some villages, I saw youth who were degree-holders without jobs. They are waiting for you. If we go, they will stand with us.

We have to get out, we have to step out in the streets despite COVID. All of us should get together. It is our duty to unite everyone because there is no personal interest. We will exist only if the country exists. That is why personal interest is along with national interest. If country is sold to capitalists, we will not be here. They have even sold their citizenship! But we are citizens of this country and we have to live here.

Our mission is to save people, save nation, and finish the people who are making wrong policies against the interest of the nation, workers, people, and farmers. People should enjoy their lives! We should unite to save the nation and save people of the country and finish the policies and policymakers in interest of the nation. I am grateful to you.

Jai Hind.


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