Today and tomorrow, India will be in the midst of arguably the largest workers’ strike in the history of the republic. In the next 48 hours, all five major trade unions, organized workers in transportation, banking, telecom, postal and traditional industries will go on strike along with unorganized workers. Unorganized workers alone number close to 370 million in India. By participation and representation the events of Feb 20 and Feb 21 st will be one of the largest workers’ strike in history, anywhere in the world. Why are they striking? What are their demands?
Why are they striking? What are their demands? – These are basic questions that a curious mind would have, unless red ink is missing. I spoke to a good number of my friends in India, and then to a good number of people who shared ‘death to bandh’ and ‘youth against hartal’ posts on Facebook. No one knew. Not even the twitter handle against hartal, my M.P. Shashi Tharoor retweeted. Then ‘Tharoor retweeting’ is a popular joke in the parlance of our times.
Now in present day India, you say God created the world in six days, rested on the seventh, but did not give us 8-hour work day on the eighth, you will be hurting sentiments of one or the other religious group or business house, and police will ask you to take down your blog. Yet the fact remains that almost every right that employees and workers have today, ranging from pensions to maternity leave to provident funds to workplace safety were delivered by workers who went before us who paid in blood and starvation, and with very less divine intervention. And strike remains the most potent tool and most sought after right for workers everywhere. Some workers are denied the right to organize and strike, like erstwhile slaves in the Americas, Bangladeshi immigrant workers in India, and employees of Infosys, TCS, Cognizant and Wipro (all IT consulting firms). Why is May 1st celebrated as Labor day?
Figuring out why one of the biggest strikes is happening in our country is not easy. Except for a small infographic in the ‘The Hindu’, I did not see the demands of the strikers, the 10 point agenda or the larger demands of public sector employees mentioned anywhere in the media. One front page read the nation will be losing 20,000 crore rupees in two days. While the figures were mostly pulled out of the editors hind side, a mention of why the workers are striking would have given a semblance of legitimacy to the whorehouses they run in fourth estate street. That didn’t happen. There were even mentions on what the monkey with the garland in Bengal said about defeating the workers strike. No mention of the workers demands. Twitter trends in India as the strike starts.
So here they are. This is what a million men and women are asking for. One of the strikers was crushed to death today morning, so it’s worth a read –
- Ensuring universal Public Distribution System to ensure food security and price control of essential commodities
Now their minimum ask is, please do not screw up the PDS. It is the last remaining supply chain that’s preventing starvation in this country. When over half the country is surviving on less than two dollars a day, it is a good idea to keep market speculation out of daily meals.
- Statutory minimum wage of not less than Rs 10000
A simple napkin calculation says an average household needs to make Rs.1.4 lakh a month to be in middle class in India by global standards of consumption. So if you make less than a lakh a month, you are struggling by global standards. Shouldn’t everybody make at least Rs.10,000 a month?
- Pension for all, removal of all ceiling on eligibility for bonus, provident fund etc and raising minimum pension to Rs. 3,000
Rs.3,000 rupees in pension. If workers are demanding this, it may be because there are pensioners surviving in lot less than Rs.3000 a month. That must be tough.
- Compulsory registration of the trade unions within a time frame of 45 day
Who should have right to organize and demand all the above and below. How about every worker. Including IT workers.
- End to the highly exploitative contract systems and Equal wage for equal work
Less said here, the better. How about starting to pay contract workers some semblance of real wages.
- Effective implementation of all labor laws and stringent punishment to those who flout them
This should include special economic zones, and to nit-pick those vegetarian hotels where ten employees share one bedroom.
- Universal social security for all un-organised workers
There are 370 million unorganized workers in India with no provident fund, no savings, and no security. Exploited day in and out. Some of them migrant labor, living like refugees in so called their own country. The bengalis and biharis that are scoffed at in railway stations and long money order queues in post offices. They deserve better. For that matter, all of us deserve better.
All of us deserve better, and we are better than our collective attention disorder, its just that we are missing the red ink.