By: Amarjeet Kaur
May Day this year would be observed with more vigour by the working class 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 in2024, it is of utmost importance to assess the situation. The economy is further deteriorating and the prices are rising high, especially of the essentials like the cereals, pulses, wheat flour, rice, cooking oil, cooking gas (at about Rs 1,200 a cylinder), 15 per cent rise in milk prices in last one year, the cost of education and health care rising making it out of reach of the common man as the income/wage increase is not taking place.
May Day reminds us of 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 inhuman history. Their cry for fixed working hours, eight hours of work, eight hours of rest, and eight hours of 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 on May 1 in 1886 that the workers in Chicago began their protest strike that followed the bomb explosion by the conspirators to find an excuse to crush the movement. 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 one of the AITUC union was the first to observe May day in 1920s in present day Tamil Nadu.
Today we face a situation when the hard won labour rights after 150 years are under threat from the anti-labour policies and the codification of labour laws.
Let us have a look at the last full budget of Modi led BJP government 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 are getting more concessions whereas the budget allocations on education, health, civic amenities, SC/ST sub-plan got reduced, MGNREGA allocation was 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. Anna Rishi is the term used for the produce by farmers, but nothing has been suggested for improvement in the support price for their produce.
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 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 Old Pension Scheme, social security to all, pension to all, regularisation of scheme workers, minimum wages for the unorganised and agricultural labour, filling of sanctioned posts in the Centre and states, etc. This budget left behind the interests of the nation, its 94 per cent unorganised work force who contribute 60 per cent of the GDP.
Budget did not address long-term employment and creation of quality jobs. Ten million new jobseekers enter the job market every year. Unemployment is at its peak of 34 per cent. 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 has only been allocating less than three per cent 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 were not addressed.
GST exemption on selected items only reduced prices of nonessential commodities. No relief to common man who pays indirect taxes.
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.
Budget was silent on where the revenue is generated from. No attempt to increase tax income by taxing the rich and corporates. The borrowings to make up deficit are 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 CTUs had boycotted it. This ‘amrit kaal’ budget as named by the finance minister is the true face of the government.
Further worsening of unemployment situation in the country is a matter of serious concern. Every day the news of job cuts and lockouts are received not only from industrial hubs but also from the IT sector where highly qualified youth is in employment.
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 30,000 crores of LIC and Rs 42,000 crores of SBI and 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 January 16, 2023 finds that just five percent of Indians own more than 60 per cent of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 50 per cent of the population possess only three percent of the wealth. It is pertinent to mention here that this very 50 percent population possessed 13 percent in the previous year 2021. The upper one percent population which owned 22 percent of the total wealth in 2021 increased its share to 40.3 percent in 2022. The report said that if India’s billionaires are taxed once at two per cent 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 percent deaths of children below five years are due to malnutrition. The hunger index of India has further gone bad and the country stands at 107 among 122 nations. The daily wagers are in extreme distress. The crime bureau report this year revealed that about 25percent 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 percent of the wealth created in India has gone to just one per cent of the population and only a mere three per cent of the wealth has gone to the bottom 50 per cent, 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 dollars (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 per cent to 22 per cent, with newly incorporated companies paying a lower percentage (15 per cent). This new taxation policy resulted in a total loss of Rs 1.84 lakh crore. The government adopted a policy of hiking the 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 resorts 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 per cent of the population at an All-India level pays six times more on indirect taxation as a percentage of income compared to top 10 percent”, the report had said.
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, the job and wage protection has 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 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 government 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 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 system of information in closed envelopes to the courts was another practice rampantly, used by the government to gag media as well as the citizens especially those with whom the government is uncomfortable. The judgement which was delivered by the bench of Chief Justice along with another judge on 5th April 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.
We are committed to carry forward the decisions of January 30 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 (IPA Service)