Fighting the Assault on the Working Class - Comrade Clifton Greets the CITU 17th Conference
Fighting the Assault on the Working Class
(The speech delivered by Clifton D’ Rozario, All India Secretary, AICCTU greeting the 17th All India Conference of CITU Held at Bangalore on 18 January 2023)
Dear comrades of presidium, my colleagues of all central trade unions, the General Secretary of WFTU, and importantly, all delegates who are not only delegates of the 17th All India Conference of CITU, but also representatives of the working class of the country, I extend my revolutionary greetings to all of you, on behalf of AICCTU, the All India Central Council of Trade Unions.
The onslaught of Liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation and withdrawal of the welfare state – the neoliberal prescriptions to the global economic crisis has decimated the lives of working people, pushing them into poverty, debt-traps, hunger and destitution. Majority of working people live precarious lives with insecure jobs, lack of social security, exploitative working conditions, low wages, and union-busting. The reality is that over 90% of the workers are in unorganised sector and 60% workers earn less than Rs. 375/- per day. At the same time, caste-feudal and patriarchal structures continue to dominate in several sectors. For instance, sanitation workers and manual scavengers are mostly Dalit, scheme workers and domestic workers are predominantly women. The proportion of women workers remains low and the gender wage-gap continues to grow. Not only has the Modi government’s promise of 2 crore jobs been all but forgotten, its economic policies snatch existing jobs and exacerbate unemployment.
The entire Indian economy is fully opened to foreign capital now. Various names are floated - ‘Make in India’, ‘National Monetisation Pipeline’, ‘National Land Monetization Corporation’ – for systematic privatisation and handing over of all infrastructures and wealth of the country like land, railways, roads, minerals, and natural resources to corporates. Demonetisation, GST, tax holidays and rebates, corporate write-offs, loan waivers in the name of NPAs are some of the innumerable policies of the Modi government to service corporates.
The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few corporates as a result of transferring public assets and resources to the corporates, enabling monopolies in all sectors, is the result of the most brazen variety of crony capitalism.
We bear witness today to the dismantling of existing labour law protections.
Previous regimes used two strategies to deny workers the benefits of existing labour laws.
- Dedicated to the capitalist economic model, these regimes have consciously ensured that these legislations were not being fully implemented.
- The second is the gradual whittling away of labour protections through judicial interpretation. The locus classicus (among many others) in this hall of constitutional shame is the judgment in SAIL, which has effectively gutted the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.
Now, with the enactment of the four Labour Codes, the Union government has declared a veritable war on the working class.
These Labour Codes take away the most hard-won rights of the workers. They have increased the thresholds for applicability, thereby, placing workers outside the protection of law.
Trade union rights, particularly the right to strike is snatched away. Registration of trade unions is made cumbersome, penal provisions for labour right violations are diluted. Provisions are introduced that penalise workers and unions for going on strike. Contract labour, which is nothing but modern day slavery, is legalised.
The “labour conference” held at Tirupati in August 2022 with state labour ministers and officials and without any labour representatives, is part of an elaborate effort to create a political consensus for the Labour Codes. Speaking at its inaugural, Modi revealed that the Labour Ministry was preparing its vision for the year 2047, and reiterated that the future needs flexible workplaces, a work-from-home ecosystem and flexible work hours, basically pushing the anti-worker policies embodied in the Labour Codes.
The Labour Codes represent a blatant defence of capital by the Modi government and the contempt it has for workers and working class consciousness.
In fact, this attitude towards workers is epitomised by demonetisation and the Covid lockdown. Demonetisation forced on the country overnight, caused untold devastation with workers struggling to meet expenses of basic needs. Compelled to stand in long queues for days on end, workers lost their livelihood and wages. The Covid lockdown imposed after a mere 4-hour notice enabled wage-theft and caused impoverishment, starvation and destitution of the working people. Migrant workers were compelled to walk back to their homes thousands of kilometres and many hundreds lost their lives.
We witness increasing criminalisation of working class struggles. The migrant workers in Surat, who during the Covid lockdown, protested demanding that they be allowed to return to their homes, were tear-gassed, lathi-charged and then arrested. Five contract workers working at Reliance Energy Ltd., Mumbai, fighting against the precarious working conditions and for the basic rights of workers, were implicated in false cases and charged under UAPA.
The police and the courts are used as tools for prohibiting working class struggles, protests and strikes. Injunctions are granted by courts against terminated workers from carrying out peaceful sit-ins at the gates of their factories. Criminal cases are filed against union leaders for protests against exploitation by the managements.
With the coming of the new Labour Codes, the union government has made clear, not only its intent of destroying even the most basic rights of workers, but to unleash brutal force against working class struggles.
The open defence of capital by the Modi government is not merely a quid pro quo offered to corporates for fund-rolling the BJP’s election campaigns, but derives from an ideology that is inherently anti-worker. At its core, Hindutva fascism has sheer contempt for workers as rights-bearing, militant, organised section demanding their due, as a step towards the capture of state power. On the contrary, it patronises a relationship between the employers and the workers, premised on gratitude, servility and subservience, which it has encoded into law in the form of the Labour Codes.
Resisting this assault:
The neoliberal economic order and the resultant destitution of working people, has provided a base for fascist and authoritarian regimes to come to power across the world. In this overall global climate of rise in reactionary bourgeois regimes, in India, Hindutva returns in the unconditional defence of a crisis-ridden capitalism. Indeed, informalisation of labour and poverty, coupled with communal riots in previous decades, and a fascist ideological onslaught now, make working people a prey to these fascist political influences.
This is to blunt the revolutionary potential of the working class and simultaneously manufacture consent for Hindutva. The neoliberal project necessarily requires the crushing of the organising and fighting capacity of the working class and their trade unions. This has now coalesced with Hindutva, an ideology that eschews a class-conscious militant working class.
The working class has a history, and the subjective necessity to fight this assault. During the Indian freedom struggle, workers repeatedly rebuffed divisive communal politics and stood united to deliver spirited blows to the colonial powers. Even a fascist Nazi rule faced a fight-back from the working class from within Germany.
Today, against the backdrop of the implementation of neo-liberal policies, we witness the growing fight of the working class, whether it is the scheme workers – anganwadi, midday meals, ASHA workers or industrial workers, sanitation workers, etc. Today, in our midst are workers of Indian Telephone Industries, the first PSU in India, who have been fighting a valiant fight against their illegal termination for the past 13 months. Many others in our midst are waging numerous such battles.
We draw inspiration from the heroic struggle of the farmers, one of the largest protests in independent India. The union government bulldozed its way in Parliament to pass the three anti-farmer pro-corporate laws, yet the unprecedented farmers’ movement brought this tyrannical regime to its knees. A defeated union government was compelled to finally repeal the farm laws.
Workers, desirous of a life of dignity, have no choice but to fight this assault. Lenin understood that one of the most fundamental problems facing the proletariat is that of “spontaneity” and “consciousness” in the workers’ movement.
Militant struggles, without falling into the trap of economism, have to be the guiding norm. Economic struggle i.e. the struggle for immediate and direct improvement of conditions, cannot, as Lenin said, be exaggerated or underestimated. It is capable of rousing the most exploited sections of workers and has to be closely linked with the political struggle.
The ongoing joint central trade union protests and strikes are necessary but insufficient. Much more needs to be done to ensure sectoral-level and state-level unity. The platform of Central Trade Unions has proposed an All-India Workers Convention in Delhi on 30th January 2023, where workers across the country will assemble to devise a strategy for class solidarity and joint struggles, to fight the attacks by the Modi government.
Fighting caste and communal divisions among workers is essential in itself, and for building working class consciousness, expressed in the unity of, and fraternity amongst, the working class. These divisions hinder the working people from seeing the essence of the system, which oppresses them and prevents them from becoming conscious of class solidarity. Bhagat Singh, who saw revolutionary Marxism as the answer to communalism, said that: “To prevent people from fighting each other, “class consciousness” is the need of the day. The poor labourers and the farmers must be clearly taught that their real enemies are the capitalists.” The struggle of the working class against the capitalist class is a struggle against all exploiters and all exploitation, which is the working class consciousness.
We see repeated raging spontaneous outbursts by workers outside the purview of established trade unionism. For instance, the garment workers in Bengaluru taking to the streets against the proposed amendments to the PF Act or more recently the Wistron workers in nearby Kolar. These spontaneous struggles develop narrow consciousness and also reveal the challenge before the organised trade union movement to build working class organisations and struggles amongst all sections of workers.
The task today is to revive the militancy of the trade union struggles, and build a working class consciousness that inspires them to fight for their emancipation from the clutches of the ruling classes and their cruel exploitation, and from the vagaries of the labour market.
I, on behalf of AICCTU, once again greet the 17th All India Conference of CITU a grand success!