Historic general strike brings India to standstill

12 January 2019 09:40


A general strike across India on 8-9 January 2019 has brought the economy to a virtual standstill, with organisers estimating that around 200 million workers have participated in the historical action. That would make this the largest industrial action in world history, rivalled only by a general strike called by the same national centres in September 2016.

Affected industries included banking, insurance, coal and other mining operations, petroleum, post, telecommunications, engineering, manufacturing, water and power, road transport, state employees and the sectors BWI represent. Based on current reports received, close to 87,000 members of BWI affiliated unions were involved, including 35,000 women members.

“The mobilization of millions of workers in the two-day general strike demonstrates the power that trade unions still possess today to protect and fight for workers’ rights” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “Indian workers have proved that the politics of anti-worker neoliberalism do not represent the interests of Indian workers and their families.”

The general strike was called by ten of India’s thirteen national centres, in response to the proposed Trade Unions Amendment Bill, which would grant the Government new discretionary powers to reject trade union recognition. However, the unions are also pushing for the implementation of a 12-point charter that includes increasing minimum wage, ending the use of contract work, ratifying ILO core conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and no foreign direct investment in industries such as railways and insurance. Many of BWI’s Indian affiliates actively participated in the general strike in cities across the country including, in Delhi, Rajasthan, Odisha, Punjab, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharasthra, Karnataka and Bihar States. Some of the actions that BWI affiliates include:

  • In Tamil Nadu, rallies were held in 19 Districts with participation of affiliated unions including TKTMS, SGEU, TCTU, UNIFRONT, RWO and INRLF. The TKTMS also submitted Charter of Demands to the District Labour Commissioners in Thirupur and Nagapattinam districts.

  • In Kerala, the KKNTC covered all districts and organised workers’ meetings, rallies and mobilizations.

  • The BWI affiliate in Karnataka State i.e. KSCWCU lent support to the CTUs joint rally in Bangalore apart from union actions in six other districts.

  • In Odisha State, five affiliated unions (INBCWWF, OKKS, NOBSM, OFMFPWU and ONMS) especially targeted industrial areas and held rallies in front of Public Sector Companies’ office(s) apart from Central and District Labour Offices. In addition, members of NOBSM union rallied outside the office of the local electricity regulator in Bhubaneswar, demanding an end to the policies of privatisation that have driven down workers’ wages and safety.

  • In Himachal Pradesh – the AHPWDIPHCWU submitted the 12-point Joint Charter of Demands to the District Commissioner in Kullu and Sirmaur districts.

  • In Punjab – the BMS held a massive rally on the Bhandari Railway Overbridge in Amritsar submitted petition to the Department of Labour on recent policy changes in the brick kiln industry that have adversely impacted union members in the State.

  • In Rajasthan, the AHBWU organised public meeting in front of the District Magistrate’s Office, Kota district whereas in Jodhpur district, the RPKNMS joined CTUs protest.

  • In Delhi, four unions – NMPS, DNMS, MAMU and DANMU organised rallies, sit-in protests specifically highlighting construction workers concerns across Delhi and the National Capital Region. Thousands of SEWA members also joined protests in Delhi.

  • In Bihar, CLU and HKMP organised rallies in respective organizing areas and CLU joined the united Central Trade Unions mobilisation and press meeting in the State Capital, Patna.

  • SGEU members protested in front of District Collector Office in Salem district and about 1200 workers (including 1000 women) were arrested by the police and were later released in the evening. 

“Policies like demonetisation and GST have hit workers hard, and the Modi Government has suffered defeat in State elections in BJP strongholds like Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and was barely able to win re-election in his home state of Gujarat,” said INBCFWWF President RC Khuntia. “The challenge now for Indian workers is to convert the success achieved from the general strike into a movement for real change.”