Indian Trade Unions Go On Strike

A few hours ago workers across India went on strike against the government’s punitive trade union legislation that will unilaterally change workers’ rights. The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) has led the opposition to the government’s proposals and have organised rallies across the country to protest these changes in the law. Banks, local government offices, and factories have been forced to close and solidarity strikes by some trade unions in specific states have also shut down telecommunications and public transport networks. Today millions of workers will be on strike.

Trade union disputes are never because of trivial disagreements and this general strike is no different. The workers’ demands are outlined in the AITUC’s 12 Point Charter, which were widely reported in Indian newspapers. These demands are:
  • Minimum wage of no less than ₹18,000 ($270 USD) per month with provisions of indexation for unskilled workers.
  • Assured enhanced pension of no less than ₹3,000 per month for the entire working population including unorganised sector workers.
  • Restart investment in central and state public sector undertaking.
  • No foreign investment in railways, defence, and other strategic sectors.
  • End contractorisation in permanent work with equal pay and benefits for contract and regular workers.
  • Universal social security cover for all workers.
  • Urgent measures for containing food price rises and banning speculative food commodity trading.
  • Reducing unemployment.
  • Enforcing of labour laws without exception and stringent punishments for employers caught in violation of these laws.
  • Removing ceilings on payment and bonuses, and increase quantum of gratuity.
  • Compulsory registration of trade unions within 45 days of submitted application, and immediate ratification of ILO conventions C-87 and C-98.
  • No unilateral amendment to labour laws.
These proposals are not controversial. For the sake of brevity I’m not going to go through all of these but I’ll touch on a few of these proposals. In India most employees work six days a week, so in a month the average number of work days is around 25. The minimum wage the protesters are asking for is about $10.80 per day. That is not unreasonable.
all india bank strike.gif
Bank workers and other employees are on strike to safeguard wages and conditions. (India Live Today)
Another example is the case of investment in public services. India’s current account deficit is $300 million or about 0.1% of GDP. Even if we discount the economic benefits that an increased minimum wage would bring, the Indian government could easily borrow $300 million for capital investment in infrastructure. This would boost employment in the public and private sectors and stimulate economic growth.
The third and final example I watch to touch upon is point 11. C-87 guarantees the rights of people to organise and go on strike, and C-98 guarantees rights of people to collectively bargain and form labour unions. These conventions were written in 1948 and 1949 respectively. These two things are not controversial and the fact that the Indian government hasn’t ratified these conventions is shameful. India wants to be an influential nation, in terms of international politics and economic power, but if the Indian government refuses to recognise these basic rights then the rest of the world doesn’t have to respect you.
The disruption from today’s general strike will be extensive but nobody goes on strike with a faint heart. The only way to get the government to recognise the struggles of workers is to hold them to ransom. Modi’s government is trying to reduce the limited work safety laws that exist in India and make it easier for employers to sack members of staff. Undercutting workers’ rights should always be resisted, but in country with so many people in poverty or on the verge of destitution such a move in unjustifiable. The AITUC were right to organise this general strike, and hopefully it will force the government’s hand.
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