On September 2nd, India’s workers generated a strike involving between 150 and 180 million people. That would make it the biggest general strike in history. There was a strong call-out from many unions, co-ordinated by the Centre of India Trade Unions.
Few in the media reported this enormous move, apart from The Guardian.
Only 4% of the Indian workforce is in unions. If they fought simply to defend their tenuous rights, their power would erode even further. Since 1991, government policy and Supreme Court rulings have cut their power, making unions embrace the labour conditions of workers and peasants in the informal sector. They know that’s the best way to grow, and to involve workers and peasants into the culture of unions and of class struggle.
Communist unions joined with other unions to ensure the widest mobilisation.
Workers in Prime Minister Modi’s home state of Gujarat joined the strike with great enthusiasm. This included over 70,000 crèche and mid-day meal workers, and port workers in Bhamagar. Garment workers in Tamil Naidu and auto workers in Karnataka joined in. Bank and insurance and telco employees, power loom operators, and iron ore miners joined. Transport workers across the country decided to stand outside their bus and truck depots.
The co-operation across sectors, across states, across cities, and across classes, was unprecedented in India.
They wanted, in summary:
– monetary controls to prevent inflation
– universal social security coverage
– a minimum wage rise
– an end to anti-union law amendments
– a pension for every worker
– a ban on the foreign ownership of things like railways, insurance, and defence sectors
The government has ignored their demands. But whether it shifts the Modi government or not, India’s workers remain alive to the class struggle.