ON 2ND SEPTEMBER 2015 JOINT COUNTRYWIDE GENERAL STRIKE
The working class of India went on a historic countrywide general strike on 2nd September 2015 protesting against the anti worker and anti people policies of the BJP led government at the centre. The workers of the country have responded to the call of the central trade unions and independent industrial federations for general strike in an overwhelming and magnificent manner. This general strike will remain a historic milestone in the history of the trade union movement of the country. BMS, which was part of the decision, withdrew a few days before the strike saying that it was satisfied with the governments’ response. But, obviously, the workers of the country were not.
The special significance of this strike was the massive participation of workers, both from the organised and unorganised sectors, public and private sectors, women and men with great determination and grit. It is estimated that over 15 crore workers participated in the strike all over the country.
Through this massive and magnificent strike the working class of the country effectively rebuffed the attempts of the government to show itself as working for the poor. The success of the strike reflected the anger, discontent and disillusionment of the workers and employees against the brazenly anti worker, anti people, anti national and pro corporate policies of the Modi led BJP government, which came to power with their support a year ago. The working class has totally rejected the fraud being committed on the workers by amending the labour laws intended to push out more than 75% of the workers in the organised sector alone out of the purview of any legal protection. The working class made it clear that it is aware of the evil design of the government proposals in amending the Factories Act, Minimum Wages Act, Payment of Wages Act, Payment of Bonus Act, Industrial Disputes Act, PF Act, ESI Act etc whereby it wants to legalise what was hitherto consider violations of labour laws. Through this strike the workers emphatically asserted that they cannot be cheated by assurances on minimum wages, bonus etc while amending the same set of labour laws to push them out of their coverage. Through this strike the working class warned the government that it was not going to tolerate such fraud.
The government used all sorts of tactics to scuttle the strike. It tried to create confusion and mislead sections of the workers at the same time taking care not to concede any demands raised by the trade unions. It constituted an interministerial group of ministers which made a show of conducting several rounds of discussions with the trade unions, without putting forth any concrete measures. It issued press releases making false claims of acting upon several points raised in the charter of demands. But except BMS, all the central trade unions saw through the game plan and effectively rebuffed these claims. They stood firm upon the call for the general strike reflecting the anger and dissatisfaction of the entire working class at the grass root level. The resentment among the workers was so severe that many grass root level unions affiliated to BMS were also not ready to withdraw the strike notices served earlier despite such instructions from their leadership above. In many places the workers owing allegiance to BMS also participated in the strike.
The government also resorted to threats and issued notices to central government employees about not only of loss of wages but also of loss of service. NTPC Ramagundam threatened of action under ESMA. The BPCL management approached the Kerala High Court which directed that no strike should be called pending the disposal of the petition, which was posted for 4th September. The police conducted a flag march on the eve of the strike in Noida. In Assam, 1000 workers were arrested on the day of the strike. Around 100 workers including CITU leaders were arrested in Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
The TMC government resorted to severe repression on the workers. Chief minister Mamatha Bannerjee threatened to smash the strike at any cost. Workers were attacked even while they were campaigning for the strike. TMC goons attacked CITU activists with lethal weapons. In Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, 175 tea garden workers along with their leaders Zia ul Alam, general secretary of the All India Plantation Workers’ Federation, Sukhomoit Oran, and Manik Sanyal, were arrested. In North 24 Paraganas district, CITU leaders Ramola Chakraborty, Nandalal Bhattacharya and Soumen Chakraborty were brutally beaten up and 125 persons including a septuagenarian bye stander were arrested. 13 persons were injured. Workers on strike were attacked in Durlabhpur of Bankura district; 5 workers were injured and 35 were arrested. CPI (M) offices in Murshidabad and Birbhum districts were attacked and ransacked. Several people including Moinul Hassan, former MP were beaten up and injured. The police arrested the victims while allowing the TMC goons go scotfree. Ashok Bhattacharjee, mayor of Siliguri was also arrested.
But the workers were not deterred by these threats. All over the country including in West Bengal, workers bravely participated in the strike in a massive manner facing thee threats and attacks. They showed their determination not only to fight for the protection of their own rights but also to save the public sector, the self reliance of our country and national sovereignty.
In several states, not only those states where the trade union movement is traditionally strong like Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, but in many others like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Karnataka, the industrial belt of Gurgaon, Manesar, Dharuheda, etc, the strike turned out into a virtual bandh.
Though detailed reports are not available from all the states, the reports that have come from states indicate the magnitude of the 16th country wide general strike since the advent of the neoliberal policies by the government of India.
Road transport in many of the states came to a grinding halt with almost all segments of road transport workers totally participating in the strike. There was near total strike in state road transport corporations in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan etc. Private passenger transport was totally affected in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Himachal Pradesh. Truck operators joined the strike in several states including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and several other states.
Auto rickshaw workers participated in the strike en masse in most of the states including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu etc. In Delhi auto rickshaws & taxis also remained off the roads and extended their support to the strike.
This time the strike was near total in most of the public sector undertakings in different parts of the country with the massive participation of both the permanent workers as well as the contract workers.
An overwhelming 90% of coal workers participated in the strike. Strike was total in Singareni Collieries. It was also total in 7 areas of ECL and 80% – 90% in the remaining. It was total in Talcher in MCL and 80% in the rest of the areas. Strike was near total, 90% – 95% in CCL and BCCL; 85% in WCL, 80% in NCL, 70% - 80% in SECL. In the Kolkata offices strike was 90%.
Strike was very successful in the oil sector as well. It was 100% in all the work locations of ONGC in Tripura, West Bengal and Assam; in other areas including Mumbai offshore locations demonstrations were held with black badges. Strike in Oil India was total throughout the country. More than 50% workers in Digboi refinery in Assam went on strike while in Guwahati the regular workers went on 4 hours strike. All the contract workers in Digboi, Guwahati and Numaligarh refineries were on total strike. In Chennai refinery, protest activities were held by all workers. In BPCL Kochi both the regular and contract workers participate totally in strike. In IOC, strike was total in the southern and north eastern regions; it was successful in the northern region and partial in the eastern region. In HPCL and BPCL marketing, strike took place only in West Bengal. The strike was total in the IOC refilling plants and petrol points all over Tamil Nadu.
The strike also impacted the power sector. The participation of electricity workers in the strike ranged between 30% and 80% in different states and utilities. All the Powergrid employees in the six states in the southern region and all the seven states of north eastern region were on strike.
Strike met with mixed response among the steel workers. It was 100% in Vizag steel, Visweswarayya Iron and Steel (VISL), 55% in Salem Steel, and partial in Bokaro, Bhilai and Rourkela Steel plants among the permanent workers. In Durgapur, Burnpur and ASP, strike had only marginal impact with over 20% participation. However, strike was 100% among the contract workers in all steel plants and near total in all iron ore mines.
In both the units of NALCO in Odisha, the strike was near total.
In BHEL Trichy, Ranipet, Haridwar, Jhansi and Bangalore the strike was near total. 50% permanent workers and all the contract workers joined in the strike in BHEL, Hyderabad.
In Hindustan Aeronautics, Bharat Electronics, BEML (Bharat Earth Movers Limited), ITI in Karnataka, permanent and contract workers are on total strike. BEL executives in Bangalore wore black badges. Altogether 50000 public sector workers in Karnataka participated in the strike.
In Hyderabad, strike was total in NMDC, HAL, BEL, HCL, and HMT Bearings; it was 90% in BHEL R&D and 50% in BHEL and 40% in BDL where all the casual workers went on strike. There was no strike in Midhani, HMT and Praga Tools.
The strike was total in insurance and near total in banks. Lakhs of central government employees including in postal, income tax, audit and accounts, atomic energy and various other departments participated in the strike. The participation of state government employees was also massive. Except in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where they only expressed solidarity, in all the other states, state government employees participated in the strike.
Strike was also total in BSNL with over a lakh telecom employees participating.
Reports show that defence production was seriously affected by the strike. Workers in the defence units all over the country participated in the strike in a big way. It was 85% in Trichy, and 75%-100% in different units in Avadi in Tamil Nadu. Strike was almost total in DRDO Labs in Hyderabad.
Strike was near total in most of the major ports in the country. It was total in Chennai, Tuticorin, Visakhapatnam and near total in Mumbai, Cochin, Paradeep, Marmagoa, Mangalore, Kandla, JNPT and Haldia ports and 60% in Kolkata port.
Private organised sector workers also participated magnificently in the strike.
Gurgaon industrial area witnessed massive strike. All the factories including those of multinational corporations like Maruti and Honda in the entire industrial area Gurgaon, Manesar, Banola and Dharuheda were closed with the workers going on strike and holding massive demonstrations and rallies. Strike was near total in all the industrial areas of Delhi, Ghaziabad, Noida & Hapur. Massive demonstrations were held and effigies of the government were burnt in several industrial centres.
In Tamil Nadu, workers of major industries including multinational companies like Ashok Leyland, Enfield India, Ennore Foundries, MRF, Eveready Industries, Sriram Fibres, ATC Tyres participated in the strike fully. Lakhs of workers in industrial clusters of small and medium factories in different parts of state participated in the strike en masse. The garment manufacturing centre in the state, Tiruppur witnessed a total strike with a bandh like situation prevailing. In the cooperative textile mills, NTC mills, Dalmia cements, the strike was total.
In Karnataka workers of major multinational companies like Toyota, Volvo 2 units, Bosch 1 unit, Kirloskar, Federal Mogul, ITC, joined strike fully.
Manufacturing activity was totally stalled in Telangana with workers in all the 54 industrial clusters in the state fully participating in the strike. The workers in the industrial clusters of small and medium units of Indore and Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh also participated in the strike
The strike was total among the medical and sales representatives. Around 3 lakhs medical and sales representatives all over the country in all the 344 local units including the north eastern region participated in the strike as per the preliminary reports.
Lakhs of plantation workers participated in the strike, including in West Bengal where they had to brave police repression. In the Terai and Doars areas of Jalpaiguri district, only 8 tea gardens functioned normally out of the total 210 gardens. 175 tea workers including 100 women were arrested along with their leaders. In Sonagachi gardens, workers successfully resisted the attempts of the police to apply force. Strike in the plantations of Kerala and Tripura was total. It was successful in Karnataka. It was partial in Assam and Tamil Nadu.
The 2nd September strike crossed past records in the participation of the unorganised workers and scheme workers. Hundreds of lakhs of workers including the head load workers in almost all the states, the mandi workers, the rickshaw pullers, construction workers, brick kiln workers, shop employees, beedi workers etc all over the country participated in the strike on their demands of minimum wages and social security. In most of the states mandis wore a deserted look.
Lakhs of municipal workers, panchayat workers and local body employees participated in the strike including the conservancy workers in major cities like Chennai.
More than 20 lakhs anganwadi employees, an equal number of mid day meal workers, around 4 lakhs ASHAs and lakhs of other scheme workers including the teaching and non teaching staff of NCLP schools, para teachers under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan etc participated in the strike demanding recognition as workers, minimum wages and pension and other social security benefits.
Massive rallies were held at the local and district headquarters in several states in which thousands of workers including large numbers of women workers participated. Rallies though planned could not be held in some states like Himachal Pradesh due to lack of transport.
A very significant aspect of this strike was the total support from the different toiling sections of the society and the common people, the peasants, the agricultural workers, the artisans etc all over the country. The Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan, a broad alliance comprising hundreds of organisations across the country including the All India Kisan Sabha etc, the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union, and the All India Kisan Mahasabha extended their total support to the strike. Crores of people not only expressed their support to the demands raised by the working class but also extended their solidarity by participating in massive demonstrations, rail roko and rasta roko in many parts of the country. A large number of them were women. The Left parties too extended their full support to the strike.