Speech delivered by Shri Girish, Joint Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) at the All India Webinar on “Oppose anti-worker legislations by state governments”, organized by AIFAP on 21 May 2023
While today we are discussing how various State governments are passing various anti-working class Labour Law amendments, we should take a quick look at what happened in the last 3-4 years regarding such changes.
The biggest capitalists of India and of the world have been shouting from the roof tops that India needs to be more “business friendly” and that the Index of “ease of doing business” in India needs to be raised. They have been demanding changes in Labour laws.
In its first year after taking charge, the Modi government had declared that it will combine 44 laws related to industrial relations and rights of workers, into just four laws, called the Labour Codes. The four proposed Codes relate to (i) industrial relations; (ii) wages; (iii) social security; and (iv) safety, health and working conditions. The declared aim is to “simplify” labour laws, allegedly for the benefit of both capitalists and workers.
However, the enactment of the central labour codes was being blocked due to the united opposition of workers’ unions all over the country. Even the central trade union federation affiliated to the BJP has expressed opposition to the proposed Codes, pointing out that they are all pro-capitalist and anti-worker in content.
But finally, taking advantage of the Covid situation, three laws, called Labour Codes on Industrial Disputes, Occupational Safety and Social Security, were all passed by the Lok Sabha on 22nd and by the Rajya Sabha on 23rd September 2020, the concluding day of the monsoon session of parliament. They were passed without any debate and without heeding the voices of crores of workers who were protesting against these proposed laws all over the country since many years before that. The Labour Code on Wages had been enacted in 2019.
However, intense fightback by the working class including many demonstrations under the leadership of the Central Trade Unions and militant and vocal opposition by Public sector and Central / State government department employees, across the country has forced the Central government to go slow on this front. We are very happy and proud that KEC/MEC/ Thoyilalar Ottrumayi Iyakkam and AIFAP as well contributed our bit in this struggle in many parts of the country
But the capitalist class decided to use other tactics and pressurized various State governments to frame laws and rules on the lines of the four Labour Codes, since in any case Labour is a subject on the concurrent list of the Constitution.
As of 13 December 2022, 31 States have pre-published the draft rules under the Code on Wages, 28 States under Industrial Relations Code, 28 States under Code on Social Security, and 26 States under Occupational Safety Health and Working Conditions Code. Obviously, not only BJP but many other major political parties of our country have acted as per the dictate of the big capitalists.
Those political parties have thus proven that we working people cannot rely on them for working in our interests.
Other speakers have already explained the anti-worker nature of these amendments. But it is important for us to see the response of the capitalist class to these amendments.
Capitalist associations, one after the other, so also many head honchos of Indian and foreign companies have hailed these amendments. For example, the President of FIEO (Federation of Indian Export Organisations) has reportedly praised especially the provisions related with flexible working hours. The president of Tirupur Exporters Association (TEA) has reportedly expressed his support for the amendment which will enable the factory owners to make workers put in more overtime in peak periods, to meet the faster delivery schedules! Of course, they will not pay OT and the fact that in non-peak periods, the contracts of the workers can be terminated, ensures greater profits for capitalists.
Indian and foreign capitalists want to establish India as a supply chain base as an alternative to China. Many companies having manufacturing bases in China, are keen to establish manufacturing facilities in India either on their own or in collaboration with Indian big capitalists like Tata, Ambani, Adani, Birla, etc.
In recent years, Tamil Nadu (TN) has emerged as a hub of major manufacturing companies, both Indian and foreign. It has attracted billions of dollars of investments from global monopolies. The state now has units of 16 top electronics manufacturers, including global giants such as Nokia, Samsung, Dell, Motorola, HP, etc. More recent entrants are Foxconn and Pegatron, with huge contracts for assembling premium Apple phones. Many of these companies are reported to have been lobbying strongly for such an amendment.
The developments in Karnataka and TN should be looked at in this background.
Increased working hours is the most important and detrimental provision of these amendments. The successful united struggle by TN workers, on this important political issue is hence very significant. Why is this issue a very important political issue? That is because, it hits at the very source of capitalist exploitation. As Karl Marx has very elaborately explained more than 150 years ago, the source of capitalist exploitation is “unpaid labour”: during a work day a worker produces much more wealth than what he / she needs for his / her survival and reproducing the next generation of workers, but the capitalist pays back only a small part of it as remuneration to the worker. This means that if a worker is forced to work more working hours, the capitalist pockets more unpaid labour. Thus, a struggle against increased working hours hits at this source of capitalist exploitation, and hence is a very important political demand.
Let us not forget that long ago in 1866, the International Workingmen’s Association, founded by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, called for the workers of all countries to fight for an eight- hour working day at its Geneva Congress in 1866.
On August 20, 1866, delegates from over 50 trade unions in the US, formed the National Labour Union. At its founding convention the following resolution dealt with the demand for a shorter workday: “The first and great necessity of the present, to free labour of this country from capitalist slavery, is the passing of a law by which, 8 hours shall be the normal working day in all states in the American union. We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this glorious result is attained.”
Workers in many cities and different trades began to unite around the demand “8 hours work, 8 hours recreation and 8 hours rest”.
The 8-hour movement in the US, culminating in the strike on May 1, 1886, is a glorious chapter in the fighting history of the working class.
On July 14, 1889, the hundredth anniversary of the fall of the Bastille during the French Revolution, leaders from organized revolutionary proletarian movements of many lands assembled in Paris, to form once more an international organization of workers. Inspired by the example of the American workers, the Paris Congress adopted the following resolution:
“The Congress decides to organize a great international demonstration, so that in all countries and in all cities on one appointed day the toiling masses shall demand of the state authorities the legal reduction of the working day to eight hours, as well as the carrying out of other decisions of the Paris Congress. Since a similar demonstration has already been decided upon for May 1, 1890, by the American Federation of Labour at its Convention in St. Louis, December, 1888, this day is accepted for the international demonstration. The workers of the various countries must organize this demonstration according to conditions prevailing in each country”.
This marked the origin of May Day on 1st May 1890.
8 hours working day thus became a resounding call of May Day, all over the world. It is in the same spirit, that the joint statement recently issued in TN by unions of private and public sector workers, recalled the history of the struggle of workers, to establish their right to an 8-hour working day. It reminded the workers, that the 8-hour limit to the working day was implemented in 1936 in Puducherry and in 1947 across the country; this was won by our forefathers who sacrificed their lives and blood for the cause.
Both the Acts also have some provisions which are serious attack to women workers. As it is, women workers feel extremely unsafe and are at the receiving end of sexual attacks at their work places or while commuting to and from work even during broad day light. Some of the provisions are allowing women to work in all 3 shifts! This blatant disregard for women’s safety is being cloaked as “a boon for women workers giving them flexibility to work whenever they want”! It is well known that constant shift change is not good for health! But these provisions will enable capitalists to force women to work in shifts, thus adversely affecting not only their own health but also the health and well being of future generations.
The fight against all such anti-worker and anti-people amendments is a very important political fight which hits hardest against the capitalist class.
While the militant opposition by workers in Tamil Nadu has succeeded in forcing the government to withdraw the anti-worker amendments, let us also not forget the fact that even in Karnataka, the Congress which has won the assembly election recently, has not declared that their government will nullify the amendments which were enacted by the earlier government in February of this year.
Don’t we workers know from our experience that various governments take a step back when they experience a determined united opposition from working people, and wait for an opportune moment to push their agenda? So, workers will have to be vigilant. The withdrawal of the amendment in TN no way means that the government has changed its aim, which remains that of enabling the Indian and foreign capitalists to make bigger profits out of the increased exploitation of the workers.
We workers should use this period as a breather, to further strengthen our unity across sectors. It is a very good development that public sector workers joined hands with private sector workers, though the amendments do not adversely affect them immediately. We workers cannot forget, that, the opposition to attacks on labour rights in the form of such labour law amendments and opposition to privatisation of public sector enterprises are part of the same struggle, our struggle against increased exploitation of working people.
Experience since 1947 have repeatedly shown that we cannot get rid of our exploitation unless we establish rule of the working people in place of rule of the capitalist class.
We have to strengthen our unity, putting aside differences of political and trade union affiliation, and step up the struggle not only in the defence of our rights but for establishing the rule of the working people!
Kamgar Ekta Zindabad!