2nd September, 2015: Touted as one of the biggest strikes to ever occur in Indian History, over 150 Million workers, as part of 10 Central workers Unions in India are on strike today. The protesters are striking against the ongoing anti-worker policies being adopted by the current government.
The current government starting off with states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have made radical changes, almost all of them anti-worker, to the labor laws in India. By amending the Factories Act it has raised the floor for establishments mandatorily to be registered under this act from 10 to 20 thereby effectively taking 7 out of 10 workers out of its protection. Similarly it also proposes to amend the Small Factories Bill that will cover establishments of workers with less than 40 workers. This bill, if legislated, will take away the right to strike and the right to form trade unions of workers in these establishments. For larger establishments, the BJP is proposing to replace the existing Trade Unions Act, Industrial Disputes Act and the Standing Orders Act with an all-in-one Industrial Relations Code (IRC). The IRC among many other issues seeks to (i) withdraw the existing tripartite mechanism of dispute resolution by taking away the power of the executive to issue reference while not providing an adequate bipartite mechanism in its place; (ii) take away the right of workers in establishments with less than fifty workers to challenge existing standing orders thereby further diminishing the rights of workers in small establishment; (iii) in the case of closure, change the existing provision of government approval in the case of establishments with 100 and more workers to establishments with 300 and more workers. This amendment has already been brought in by the BJP governments in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh; and finally, (iv) impose fines on workers and deregister the trade union in the event of an illegal strike, thereby gravely undermining the right to strike of workers. The IRC further gives government the suo moto right to interfere in the internal affairs of a trade union if it deems, or even apprehends, existence of inter- or intra-trade union disputes, thereby undermining the autonomy of trade unions. These changes in conditions of work if implemented will take us back to the darkness of the 18th century pushing more and more workers to insecure and unsafe contract, casual and irregular jobs.
The trade unions through the nationwide strike seek to protest against these changes among other demands. The 12 point charter of demands include, the government to stop privatization and foreign investment in railways, insurance and defence, banning speculative trade in commodities, Universalization of Public Distribution System as well as policies to address price hike and improve employment opportunities. It also suggested an increase in the bonus ceiling as well as widening the coverage of provident fund and health insurance to include construction as well as workers in schemes such as aanganwadis.
The 10 trade unions who are participating in the strike are: CITU, INTUC, AITUC, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, UTUC and LPF. The BMS, which is affiliated to the ruling party of BJP decided to pull out of the Strike. However, it is expected that this pull out would not impact the strike in a major way,