The workers of the country are all set for the two days’ General Strike on February 20–21, 2013 called by the 11 Central Trade Unions for the first time after independence.
This is the fifteenth joint countrywide General Strike after the inception of the neoliberal policies. The strike has been called jointly by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh (BMS), Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and other trade unions.
The independent federations of workers and employees too have joined the protest. More than 10 crores of workers are expected to participate in the General Strike.
The major demands raised by the trade unions in this strike are:
The trade unions have demanded concrete measures to arrest the spiralling prices, universalisation of the public distribution system and a complete ban on speculation and futures trading in the commodity market. They have categorically and unambiguously rejected the spurious arguments put forth by the government that prices were going up because of the increase in the Minimum Support Price to farmers and because people were consuming more.
In stead of taking effective measures to curtail price rise, the government has been taking policy measures that fuel price rise like deregulation of petrol and partial deregulation of diesel prices, electricity tariffs, reduction in fertiliser subsidy, reduction of subsidised cooking gas cylinders etc. It is taking measures that endanger food security.
Another important demand raised by the trade unions is the amendment to the Minimum Wages Act to ensure universal coverage by the Minimum Wages Act, irrespective of the schedules as per the recommendation of the 44th session of Indian Labour Conference and fixing of the statutory minimum wage at not less than Rs 10,000 per month.
Under the neoliberal regime, the share of wages in net value added has registered a sharp decline from 30% in late eighties to a mere 9.5% in 2009 while the share of profits has increased from 15% to 55% during the same period. Many sectors are not covered under the Minimum Wages Act. In addition, the Government of India and several state governments are resorting to the dubious method of employing millions of workers, large number of them women, calling them ‘social workers’, ‘activists’, ‘volunteers’, ‘friends’, ‘guests’ etc in the various ‘schemes’/ ‘programmes’ being implemented through their departments, just to deny them minimum wages and other benefits.
Universal social security for the unorganised sector workers
94% of the workforce in our country in the unorganised sector does not have any social security despite contributing more than 60% of the country’s GDP.
Most of the schemes made applicable to the unorganised workers under the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 are meant only for BPL category excluding majority of the unorganised sector workers due to the ridiculous income criteria fixed by the Planning Commission. No measures have been taken to ensure universal coverage of the Act and to guarantee floor level social security benefits within a specific time frame. The ‘Swavalamban’ scheme, is nothing but a crude attempt to utilise the hard earned money of the unorganised workers to boost up the share market and the profits of the foreign financial companies.
The central trade unions have strongly countered the government’s arguments in support of disinvestment – of expanding people’s ownership, mobilising resources for modernisation and for social sector expenditure as fraudulent. Disinvestment leads to cornering of public wealth by private corporates including multinational corporations, and private mutual funds.
Today, the PSUs have huge reserves and surpluses and are all carrying on their modernisation projects with their own resources besides contributing huge amounts to the exchequer by way of dividends and taxes.
The argument of mobilising resources for social security expenditure only indicates the government’s intention to abandon its responsibility to provide social security to its citizens. Disinvestment is nothing but an attempt to hand over huge national assets and natural resources to private corporates.
Employment protection is one of the major demands of the general strike. The huge tax concessions worth more than Rs 5 lakh crores to the corporates and the big business on an average every year during the last more than 5 years, have helped these corporates to tide over their crisis but have not resulted in employment generation.
According to the National Sample Survey (66th round) data, the annual rate of employment growth decelerated from 2.7% in 2000–05 to 0.8% in 2005-10. Growth of non-agricultural employment declined from 4.65% to 2.53% during the same period despite the high GDP growth of above 8%.
FDI in retail, displacement of lakhs of tribals, fishers and peasants from their land in the name of development are compounding the problem of unemployment.
Effective implementation of labour laws, equal wages and benefits to contract workers and stopping rampant contractorisation, pension for all etc are the other demands raised by the trade unions in this strike, which has evoked massive response from all sections of workers in the country.
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