Crores of workers across India defy ban orders to participate in strike called by trade unions, BMS stays away

Published : November 26, 2020 23:39 IST

The Punjab National Bank branch at Fort in Mumbai is deserted following the strike on November 26 called by workers’ unions. Photo: Emmanual Yogini

On November 26, undeterred by water cannons and prohibitory orders, thousands of workers struck work responding to a call by 10 central trade unions comprising the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), the Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC), the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), the Labour Progressive Federation (LPF) and the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC). The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the trade union wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), stayed away from the strike and issued a statement to the effect.

The strike received huge support by peasant and farmer organisations who had themselves called for a two-day protest on November 26-27 which coincided with the one-day industrial workers’ protest. In several parts of the country, the government came down heavily on the protesters, using water cannons and making mass arrests. In at least two States, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) was invoked. Some senior peasant leaders were also arrested while protesting in Delhi.

The call for the one-day nationwide strike was given a month ago. On November 25, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a detailed set of guidelines on containment zones and prohibitory orders, ostensibly to control the spread of COVID. These prohibitory orders were deployed in several States to prevent workers and peasants from protesting. While borders were sealed in Haryana, Delhi and Punjab, many midnight arrests were made in BJP-ruled states.

As the unorganised sector also participated in the strike, many among them especially Anganwadi workers, courted arrest. In Delhi, the police arrested around a hundred persons on the grounds that they had violated prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Veena, a journalist of the news portal Jan Chowk, was arrested at Jantar Mantar despite presenting her press credentials.

Demands

The demands of the workers include giving cash transfer of Rs.7,500 per month to families whose income is below the limit for payment of income tax; 10 kilograms of foodgrain per person per month to all the needy; universalisation of the public distribution system; minimum wages of not less than Rs.21,000 a month with price indexation provisions; enhanced pension of Rs.10,000 per month for the entire working population; immediate halting of disinvestment of State and Central PSUs; rejection of contract labour and fixed term employment; removal of all ceilings on payment and eligibility of bonus, provident fund and payment of gratuity; withdrawal of the Dearness Allowance freeze and the circular on early retirement of government employees, scrapping of the New Pension Scheme and restoration of the old Employees’ Pension Scheme-95; expansion of MGNREGA work for 200 days in a year in rural areas and extension of employment guarantees in urban areas as well.

According to a statement by the CITU, the strike was total in the industrial clusters of many States like Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Punjab and Delhi. Port workers in all the major ports, coal workers in all the coal-producing states, steel and iron ore workers including contract workers, participated. Employees in the banking and insurance sector and other public sector units responded to the call by their respective federations. In Palghar Maharashtra, the Mumbai-Delhi national highway was blocked by over 6,000 workers of the CPI (M), the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the CITU and the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) and youth workers. According to a release by the AITUC, there was a complete shut down in Kerala, Puducherry, Odisha, Assam and Telangana and in 13 districts of Tamil Nadu. In several places workers formed human chains. Auto and taxi drivers stayed off the streets as did transport workers. The all India transport workers’ federations demanded the withdrawal of the Motor Vehicles Act, 2019.

Worker-peasant unity

What was distinct about the one-day general strike was that it was supported by peasants and agricultural workers as well. Led by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (AIKSS), a broad front of over 100 peasant and farmer organisations and peasants and agricultural workers have been protesting peacefully over the past five months against the recently enacted farm legislations and the electricity Bill. Many of the AIKSS leaders in BJP-ruled States were detained on November 26 itself, the first day of the two-day protest even as farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh appear determined to march on to Delhi tomorrow.

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