We want to describe the biggest workers’ strike in history that the world is not very interested in, and reported in just a few news outlets with two or three simple sentences. Unfortunately, most news channels and newspapers do not want to cover important events such as strikes in India, unless there are atrocities, vandalism, political interest or a political agenda. What is happening in many countries, which are considered to be the so-called third world countries, are not cared for by the world’s public eyes. What happened in Yemen, what happened in Nigeria, what happened in Uganda, what happened in Cameroon are easily forgotten. One of the most important tasks of alternative media and global activist teams is to remind the world of these forgotten countries and movements.
Let’s all focus on one of the biggest workers’ strikes in history: The strike in which more than 250 million workers left work.
In India, about 250 million workers and laborers went on strike, saying that the coronavirus epidemic caused great destruction and death among workers and laborers due to lack of action. It wasn’t the only reason why. The danger posed by the coronavirus, the increase in inequality and workload could be shown as a reason. In addition, the government wanted to enact an anti-workers law. With a new law trying to be enacted, the minimum price for farm products is expected to be removed. Workers and peasants participating in the strike demanded the withdrawal of this law proposal the government wanted to implement.
India, as it is known, constitutes a significant part of the world’s population with more than 1.4 billion. More than 250 million people is not a fact to be underestimated. 250 million people means 3 percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of the Indian population.
One of the biggest crises that shook India during Covid-19 was the rising unemployment rate. However, throughout the pandemic process, the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi considered only those groups that fit their interests with laws that fuel ethnic/religious conflicts. The Government amended the citizenship law, paving the way for citizenship for six religious groups from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh but excluding Muslim immigrants in the same situation.
At least 13 people died and 150 were injured in the protest against the law that provides citizenship to immigrants from a religious group except Muslims in India. Actual bullet traces were noted in about 70 people hospitalized. Authorities stated that more than 150 people were injured. It is stated that about 70 people who were hospitalized had real bullet traces. The number of civilians who died in the protests that started in December last year and continued for more than two months rose to 37. In the BBC’s report, it was stated that two journalists working in NDTV were beaten and a reporter working on the local JK24x7 channel was injured during the protests. Police attacked the demonstrators with tear gas. Authorities stated that more than 6,000 security forces have been sent to areas where violence continues. The government did not stop there, but billed all the crises experienced during the pandemic to the workers.
In a month we could tell from the beginning of the pandemic, in April, it was reported that 122 million people lost their jobs due to the curfew and restrictions imposed against the coronavirus epidemic in India. The curfew, which has been implemented since 25 March to prevent the spread of the new type of coronavirus in the country, has caused mass layoffs and serious job losses. According to the BBC’s report, the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) stated that the unemployment rate in the country reached a record level of 27.1 percent. According to CMIE data, the unemployment rate rose to 23.5 in April in the country where most economic activities came to a halt, except for basic services such as hospitals, pharmacies and food supply, as part of the measures taken against COVID-19. In the country, out of 122 million people who were unemployed in April alone, 91 million were tradesmen and workers, while around 18 million self-employed people lost their jobs. This unemployment figure exceeds the total population of most European countries. The government’s disregard for the workers and enacting laws against them was the last straw as the people of India struggled with hunger.
India National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), India Trade Union Center (CITU), All India United Union Center (AIUTUC), Union Coordination Center (TUCC), Self Employment Owner Women’s Association (SEWA), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Workers Progressive Federation (LPF) and United Union Congress (UTUC) did call for strike. A route to New Delhi has been drawn. Workers of all major industries such as steel, coal, construction, transportation, insurance / banking, defense and telecommunications listened to the call by lowering the switches. Accordingly, it is expected that laborers from many segments of the society, such as public employees in central and local government sectors, bank employees, industrial workers in the private sector, domestic workers, construction workers, agricultural workers, rural and urban tradesmen and even peddlers will have been involved in this action. The unions also called on private car owners and taxi drivers to stay out of traffic. The All India Federation of Electrical Engineers (AIPEF) also announced that electrical engineers across the country will protest the central government’s privatization policies. AIPEF wants the withdrawal of the 2020 Electricity Law, enacted to privatize electricity. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued a statement, saying “The working class, peasants and agricultural workers all over the country are anti-national, anti-popular, of the central government; We congratulate them especially for their highly successful protests against large-scale privatization and the looting of national assets, the repeal of labor laws, and the new policies of agriculture law ”. “The general strike called by the trade unions received a strong response all over the country. The public sector strike has been more effective this time than before,” the statement said. It was stated that the protests would continue.
Among the demands of the service sector and industry workers are a raise in minimum wages, structuring in contract work, discounts in the sales price of basic products and termination of privatizations. To make the demands even more concrete, we can count the minimum wage of $283 and a pension of $135 a month, 10 kilograms of grain support for families in need, the strengthening of the public distribution system and the withdrawal of the new labor law. Also among the demands are the abandonment of 5 percent of GNP, the withdrawal of three agricultural laws and the allocation of education.
Let’s list requests item by item:
- Grant of 7,500 rupees (US $101) to all families earning less than the specified Income Tax. 10 kg free food aid every month to needy families.
- Expansion of laws for employment provision in rural areas and this to include cities.
- Removing the regulations against workers and peasants from the Labor Law.
- Stopping the privatization of state-owned enterprises, including the financial sector.
- Halting the privatization of state production and service organizations in railways, ports and similar areas.
- Withdrawal of the decree providing for the early retirement of public employees.
- Paying a salary to every pensioner, developing and re-enacting the old pension plan.
With the laws that were passed quickly due to the pandemic, the agricultural sector has become much more suitable for being the backyard of large companies. Farmers are concerned about possible changes in compensation, as all three draft laws passed by parliament were in favor of big companies. The main expectation of farmers from the government is a remuneration set to exceed at least fifty percent of the cost of growing crops. In the last 25 years, 300,000 farmers have committed suicide because of the inequality of income distribution and the government’s decisions to increase cultural degradation. The farmers who hit the roads were faced with the barricades blocked by the police. Thirty to forty kilometers of convoys are loaded onto the barricades from time to time. From time to time, due to the resistance, they continue to wait in their ‘homes’ that they carry behind the trailer. Food is cooked in mobile kitchens. But no one leaves the roads. Farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been in resistance for months already. Therefore, the voices of “We are not going anywhere from here, even if it is a year” is rising. Another farmer says they ‘kept a six-month stash of food’ and adds that they will not go anywhere. “We will stop here, eat and drink here. It’s a picnic for us.” Some of the insurgents, who say that there are still farmers coming from their villages, express that they continue the strike in shifts.
One of the most shared videos was the dialogue between a resister and a law enforcement in front of the barricades that blocked the road to Delhi. “This is a revolution gentleman,” he warned the police who blocked the young striking path, emphasizing that “if they do not understand the seriousness of this issue, a process that will define the entire geopolitically of the country and the whole of Southeast Asia will be experienced and a ‘sad’ outcome for the authorities.”
Although the focus of the world is not on this massive strike, this strike will affect the whole world both in agriculture, technology and logistics.
Its greatest impact on the world will be: Courage and kindness are contagious.
As the resister said: “This is a revolution gentleman”.