UPA, Labour and CTU’s call for nationwide strike

The country would not have to face a nationwide strike if the UPA-II Government had not ignored the concerns of workers, migrants, agricultural workers and peasants due to rising food prices and growing unemployment.

It’s not for nothing that nation’s all 11 central trade unions (CTUs) have been forced to overcome their differences and put up a joint front to call for a nationwide strike on February 28, 2012. Even in the past they had resorted to demonstrations/dharnas in front of the Parliament as a wake-up call to the government.

The UPA Government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh is devotedto the corporate sector’s call for liberalization, and privatization and has shown little concern for millions of unemployed workers who are forced to migrate for survival.

In a review of the economic situation of workers, CTUs found that the UPA-II Government had ignored all major concerns of the working class. Instead, Government was seen taking steps which would further aggravate the prices of essential goods, forward trading in food-grains was continued. Labour rights and even the long established right to build trade unions was sought to be curbed, contract workers were being employed in PSUs and were not being paid statutory minimum wages, which are already low.

This was the first time that during a review, CTUs focused on the all-pervasive phenomena of corruption and decided to demand measures, both legislative and administrative, to deal with corruption as well as the black money stashed abroad.

There is an important difference today when the CTUs are planning their nationwide movement. The Government is facing criticism from various quarters, even the national corporate representatives find the Government to be at a dead-end. The same government which was talking of achieving double digit growth rate, a few months ago is today faces the prospects of a declining growth rate. Western, US and Eurozone markets continue to suffer from recessionary trends. And, the UPA-II Government’s globalised market-based liberalisation, privatisation policies don’t seem to have paid off at all.

In this context, deliberations at the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit, held in Mumbai on November 13, 2011, were significant. At the Summit meeting, CII president B. Muthuraman shared that 10 to 12 million new job seekers were entering the labour market every year. According to him, services sector alone could not deliver these jobs. He mentioned that development of manufacturing sector was necessary and that too in labour-intensive sectors. They were critical of Government policies on many counts. And, of course, like other corporates they too spoke of labour reforms.

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has been talking about the “difficult situation” facing the Indian economy. Addressing an Assocham conference on “Global Economic Turmoil & Indian Economy – The Role of Banking Sector” in Kolkata, Finance Minister Mukherjee recognised that “the financial crisis of 2008 created, and the financial crisis of 2011 is likely to create some adverse impact”, and added that the economy would have to “come back to the path of fiscal consolidation” (The Hindu: 14.11.2011). He conceded that the economy was in a difficult situation but cautioned the audience, “we need not think of doomsday or that the whole thing is going to collapse.” To give them confidence, Mukherjee said, “The Government is with you and will stand by firmly to help industry and commerce and to put the economy on the path of high growth trajectory.”

Meanwhile, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) had been constantly warning against the increasing joblessness due to global economic crisis. Recently, on the eve of G-20 leaders’ Summit, ILO issued a special survey which said that global economy was on the verge of a new and deep job recession that is expected to further delay global economic recovery. The ILO survey also points to a “new social unrest index” that showed growing levels of discontent not only over lack of job opportunities but also due to the burden of crisis not being shared fairly. Most importantly, ILO analysis calls for a “comprehensive income-led recovery strategy” on the plea that the assumption that wage moderation leads to job creation was nothing but a myth.

In this backdrop, CTUs’ call for nationwide strike action on February 28 has assumed special significance. They should become the rallying centre for nation’s all unemployed and jobseeker masses so that the UPA Government is made to change its corporate-centric policies. As Finance Minister Mukherjee made it evident at the Assocham conference in Kolkata, the policy-makers are only bothered to help industry and commerce in crisis and are seen least concerned about the suffering of lakhs of workers.

CTUs have come to reject such an economic policy. Rightly so!

– Abha Mishra, Aajeevika Bureau

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