Save Democracy, Save people, Save Nation
By: Ranjan Chowdhury
May Day reminds us the huge sacrifice of the workers and their unions to assert that the workers be treated as human beings and not as animals. Rather one could claim that the discourse of human rights was initiated by the labour movement in the human history. Their cry for fixed working hours, 8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, and 8 hours for recreation and rejuvenation with the family echoed in various parts of the world in 19th century. In India too, the demand of fixed hours of work began from 1866, when the unions were yet to be born sector wise, as till then the collectives for common cause was through community bases. It was in 1886 that the workers in Chicago began their protest strike on 1st May, that followed the bomb explosion by the conspirators to find an excuse to crush the movement. The eight leaders arrested, four of them were given death sentence, two died in jail and two were given life imprisonment.
It was in 1889 that in an international meeting of workers associations where Karl Marx talked of the cry of working class, the incidents of May protest in Chicago and suggested to observe May day for paying tributes to the martyrs of that struggle and to continue the struggle for fixed working hours. It was from 1890 that the day began to be observed with a slogan “Workers of the World Unite”
The struggle continued and the first convention of ILO was on eight hours working day in its foundation conference in 1919.
In India an AITUC union in the leadership of M Singarvelu was the first to observe May Day in 1923 in present day Tamil Nadu.
The working class the world over is facing a severe situation of reversal of various labour rights won over after hard and prolonged battle including the right to fixed working hours and right to strike. The attack on the labour rights and unions is the tool for the pro corporate governments to weaken and stifle the collective bargaining to continue their support to the monopoly Capitalists for super profits overriding the rights of working masses.
May Day 2023 would be observed with more vigour by the working class this year for several pressing reasons. Taking into cognizance of the political developments which are moving at very fast pace on every front in the year before General Elections in 2024, it is utmost important to assess the situation.
In India also we are confronted with a situation when the hard won labour rights after a struggle of 150 years are under threat from the anti labour policies and the codification of labour laws being pursued by PM Narendra Modi led RSS- BJP government. This is in order to weaken and cripple the unions as they are opposed to the economic policies which are pro corporate of foreign and Indian brand and is a reversal of self reliant economic model which India adopted post independence. These policies have been resulting into increased gaps in the living standards of people, bringing in more indebtedness and miseries in their lives.
The economy is further in deterioration. With the ever-rising prices of essential commodities, the cereals, pulses, wheat flour, rice, cooking oil, cooking gas (at about Rs 1200 a cylinder), retail milk prices rose more than 15 percent in last one year, the cost of education and health care rising, whereas the income/wage increase is not taking place, it is becoming very difficult for subsistence of the poor working masses with every passing day.
The last full budget of Modi led BJP Govt. before general elections to Lok Sabha reflects the continued trend of the government leading the pro corporate policies at the cost of the interests of workers, farmers and the poor vulnerable sections in general. The corporates getting more concessions whereas the budget allocations on education, health, civic amenities, SC/ST sub-plan reduced, MGNREGA allocation reduced by 30 percent, relative reduction in the allocation to various social welfare schemes is very much evident. The budget was jugglery of decorated words.
The budget speech of the Finance Minister was laced with falsehood. The estimations presented as achievements were far from truth at the ground level. The seven key priorities as listed in the budget such as the inclusive growth, reaching the last mile, youth power etc. remained empty without any substance. None of the real issues concerning working people were addressed such as the reverse back to Old Pension scheme, Social security to all, Pension to all, regularisation of scheme workers, raise in the minimum wages for the unorganized/informal and agricultural labour, filling of sanctioned posts in the centre and states etc. This budget left behind the interests of the nation, its 94% informal economy work force who contribute 60% of the GDP.
Budget did not address long term employment and creation of quality jobs. 10 million new job seekers enter the job market every year. Unemployment is at its peak of 34%. Budget talks about demand-based skilling. Skilling comes with formal education. Leaving behind the reality of formal education in India, skilling makes no sense. New age courses for Industry 4.0 aims at a very small section of technically educated youth leaving behind a large section of the deserving. The budget mentioned for spending on higher education, in actual it is a blue print already to bring foreign universities. BJP government has only been allocating less than 3% of GDP on education so far. Reduced public spending on health has made poverty accentuate in India. Spending on agriculture is reduced to the extent of paying doles to farmers which is the election gimmick. The relief to women and senior citizens by way of enhancing the limit of deposit does not translate into any big benefit. Widening Gender wage disparity and dwindling women employment rate was not addressed.
The Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) were not adequately addressed. What is given by way of enhancing guarantee is too small for the huge sector, that is the engine of growth and employment generator.
No attempt to increase tax income by taxing the rich and corporates. The borrowings to make up deficit is already visible. India’s debt burden is already heavy and further burden will increase the debt servicing load.
Budget not only failed the common man, it was passed without discussion in the Parliament. It has happened for the first time in the history. Even the pre budget consultations were converted into mockery, and the Central Trade Unions had boycotted it.
With the Hindenburg report out, the downfall of Adani empire, the public sector undertakings which had invested huge amount in Adani companies are in tight position now. About Rs.30000 crores of LIC and Rs 42000 crores of SBI and similarly shipping company-Paradeep, GAIL, IOC, to name a few PSUs were made to invest in Adani companies, and it is understood that the PMO played the role of facilitator. It is worldwide known that the Prime Minister took personal interest and promoted Adani Companies for their business expansion in several countries. In mines in Australia Indian government stood as Guarantee for Adani Company and money arrangement was facilitated through PSU Bank, SBI. Home Minister gave cover for Adani’s Mauritius Company. For Port in Israel to Adani group, Indian government stood for sovereign guarantee. A new story from Sri Lanka also appeared in case of Electricity generation contracts.
This filthy reality explains well why the inequalities in the lives of people are rising to disgusting level.
Oxfam India’s report on inequality in India released on 16th January 2023 finds that just 5 % of Indians own more than 60 % of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 50 % of the population possess only 3 % of the wealth. It is pertinent to mention here that this very 50 percent population possessed 13 % in the previous year 2021. The upper 1 % population which owned 22 percent of the total wealth in 2021 increased its share to 40.3 % in 2022. The report said that if India’s billionaires are taxed once at 2% on their entire wealth, it would support the requirement of Rs 40,423 crore for the nutrition of malnourished in the country for the next three years. It would be important to mention here that in an affidavit to the Supreme Court last year by the counsel of the government, admitted that about 65 % deaths of children below five years is due to malnutrition. The hunger index of India has further gone bad and the country stands at 107 among 122 nations. The daily wager earners are in extreme distress. The crime bureau report this year revealed that about 25 % of suicides reported last year were of the daily wage labour.
The report, “Survival of the Richest: The India story”, also says that between 2012 and 2021, 40 % of the wealth created in India has gone to just 1 % of the population and only a mere 3 % of the wealth has gone to the bottom 50 %, adding that the total number of billionaires in India increased from 102 in 2020 to 166 billionaires in 2022.
The combined wealth of India’s 100 richest has touched $660 billion (Rs 54.12 lakh crore) — an amount that could fund the entire Union Budget for more than 18 months, the report stated.
Before the pandemic, in 2019, the Central Government reduced the corporate tax slabs from 30 % to 22 %, with newly incorporated companies paying a lower percentage (15 %). This new taxation policy resulted in a total loss of INR 1.84 lakh crore. The government adopted a policy of hiking the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and excise duties on diesel and petrol while simultaneously cutting down on exemptions. The indirect nature of both the GST and fuel taxes invariably burdens the most marginalized. The gap between rural and urban inflation has widened.
The government instead of taxing the rich people and corporations resort to taxing the rest of society more. This is regressive in nature because poor people pay a larger share of their incomes.” The bottom 50 % of the population at an All-India level pays six times more on indirect taxation as a percentage of income compared to top 10 %,” the report had said.
The ongoing war situation in Europe is adding to the growing crises of economy. On one side, the armament lobby is pushing USA-NATO proxy war against Russia with Ukraine as Pawn in their hands, the imperialist lobby simultaneously is looking forward to bring the war conflicts to Asia. At the cost of working masses, the war mongering lobbies are in their comfort zones. This is adding to the miseries of working people in war conflict countries, Russia and Ukraine but is also the cause for overall adverse impact on the economy of various countries.
The aggressive postures of the imperialists continue against Cuba and similarly denial of rights to the Palestinian people to their homeland continues with the policies of US backed Israeli government. AITUC have always firmly stood with the people of Cuba and Palestine and all those who have dared not to give up their sovereign rights and have taken principled positions against imperialist forces.
The worldwide situation of recession and economic crises is being responded by the pro capitalist regimes in various countries and the attack on the social security, the pension systems, and the job and wage protection are increased. The rights to protest and strike are under attack. This is being responded by the trade unions and other sections of the society by massive protests. We are witnessing in the recent time the ongoing struggles in France, Great Britain, Greece, Spain, USA, and Australia to name a few countries. The governments are resorting to repression and changes in the laws to contain unions.
We are already under attack in our country with regressive labour law changes and codification, which we have been protesting and resisting through united opposition by the platform of Trade unions. The central govt has made rules centrally, and also through the state governments ruled by its own party or where they are ruling in coalition. In union territories, they are imposing central rules. Many of the governments are yet to frame the rules in states. The state trade union chapters have to develop bigger resistance not to let the rules framed or where these are framed, not to be allowed to notify and implement.
The PM Office is directly intervening, by passing the labour ministry and state governments and directing to make changes to suit the demands of the international Corporates with whom the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is directly negotiating and making promises for changes in law as per their conditions for investments. This fact has come to forth in the recent amendments brought into the Factory Act through legislative amendments bill in the state of Karnataka. The unions organized very successful strike against it on 23rd march, the day of martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. Similar bill was moved in the state of Tamil Nadu which led to united protest by the trade unions and some political parties allies in the state government. The bill is put in abeyance after the protest.
Having failed on all counts the ruling RSS BJP dispensation depends on the politics of hatred, communal divide, louder on “Hindu Rashtra” slogan. The statement of RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat that Hindus have woken up after a thousand year is indication for the communal fanatics to be more emboldened in their activities of violence.
The communally charged violent groups are getting boost. Horrifying details from Haryana in this regards that police is allowing such groups to carry forward the activities of the vigilante groups in the name of cow safety/cow protection force. It is an example of state apparatus allowing private persons to take law in their own hands.
The recent instances of communal violence on Ramnavami day are indicators enough for the future events to unfold if the government continues to shelter these groups under the garb of religious activities.
The regressive approach in the field of education under the guise of making needed changes in the syllabus, it continues to make its aggressive efforts that the next generations to be kept blinded of realities. Then these forces would find it easier to spread myths and communal violence on emotive issues.
The attack on public sector undertaking continues openly and tacitly, which would damage the pillars of economy to carry forward developments process and more over it would be regressive in regard to better jobs for the Youth.
The misuse of govt. institutions has been fast paced and the instances of the use of ED, CBI, and UAPA etc are more common to shut the opposition voices. Rahul Gandhi case is typical to explain the designs of this govt, how the decision were taken in quick succession to nullify his Lok Sabha seat after pronouncement of judgement by the lower court in Gujarat.
The govt. institutions are further being tamed to tow the line of the ruling party despite being in contravention to Indian constitution. The speed of making mockery of the parliamentary democracy was visible, when during this budget session it was the treasury benches which were not allowing the Parliament to function.
The system of informations in closed envelopes to the courts was another practice rampantly, used by the govt to gag media as well as the citizens specially those with whom the govt is uncomfortable. The judgement which was delivered by the bench of Chief Justice along with another judge on 5th April 2023 has tried to put an end to this procedure terming it against natural justice.
The attack on constitution from the ruling regime is well known, but now we find how the Vice President of India Dhankar and the law minister Rijiju have been attempting to subvert constitution with their statements time and again.
The trade unionism in India evolved in democratic assertion of Indian masses against the oppression and suppression of the local exploiters and the colonial masters. Trade unions, the collectives of workers to fight for their rights, for present and future is the basic tenets of a democracy. AITUC played its role in establishing right to unionise and collective bargaining, right to democracy, right to freedom of expression and right to dissent and these rights find place in Indian constitution. These rights are under attack in various garbs.
It is the paramount duty of the working class to protect these rights for themselves and for the whole society.
Our commitment to carry forward the decisions of 30th January 2023 National Convention of Workers, its message to fight the anti-worker, anti-farmer, anti-people and anti-national policies of the RSS-BJP government, to carry the message to all nook and corner of the country, to expose the real face of the government for the people to decide to give marching orders to this ruthless tyrant regime.
Long Live May Day
Workers of the World Unite.
(The author can be reached at email@example.com)