By Gautam Modi, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), India
May Day 2014 comes in the midst of the general election to the 16th Lok Sabha. With voting more than half-way through it is more apparent than ever before that the two dominant parties – the Congress and the BJP – and the vast swath of regional parties are not addressing the issues of livelihood, of social justice and democratic rights that concern working people most. The core issues of a living wage, of social security, of the right to join or form unions to voice grievances which goes with the fundamental rights of association and the right to free speech and the right to social equality between men and women and between uppers castes and discriminated castes are not issues before the election. And in fact the rights of those of the majority religion over those the minority religions, especially muslims, are being pressed while the right to dissent or to hold views differing from those of the BJP have come under attack. These actions are aimed at creating a communal divide in society in order to influence the electoral verdict. It must be our paramount task in the coming hours and days to fight this in order to defeat communal and right wing forces and to be able to sustain this struggle in the months and years ahead.
Along with Hindu majoritarianism the BJP offers an ‘alternative’ that in fact seeks to shift the economy further to the right through wider opportunities for private sector expansion and while reducing funds for social security and social protection. This is no alternative but merely a stronger commitment to neo-liberal policies and a stronger dependence on imperialist powers. The economic crisis, we are in, is a product of the very structure of the domestic economy that is dependent on external investment and therefore a persistent compromise with imperialist forces. This has contributed to a political crisis with a greedy capitalist class on whom the dominant section of the polity and bureaucracy are dependent and a restless middle class that is swinging towards majoritarian politics. The period of economic growth has collapsed into a phase of high inflation and declining growth resulting in enormous misery to all working people. Despite this, there is a consensus on economic policybetween the two dominant parties – the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party and almost all regional parties irrespective of whether they are aligned with the United Progressive Alliance or the National Democratic Alliance or not.
Human Needs before Profits
Economic development remains the political rhetoric within the mainstream. Yet, over the last two decades, government supported and subsidised private sector expansion has resulted in a sharp widening of income inequality. In these 20 years both income and asset inequality between the rich and the poor has widened enormously. The profits of the present model of economic growth have been appropriated by capital and a small minority of people while the costs have been borne by the working class. Jobs that earn a living wage and an eight hour working day and access to health care, pensions, education, decent housing, public transport, drinking water and electricity are not a part of the dominant political discussion. The absence of decent jobs and the lack of access to basic civic amenities is the source of enormous deprivation and misery for the vast majority of working people.
Freedom for People, Not Corporations
The inability to grow the home market has resulted in the failure to create jobs while destroying the livelihoods of those dependent on land. This has caused the spread of movements against land acquisition in rural areas especially amongst small and marginal peasants. Correspondingly in urban and new industrial enclaves the increasing employment of contract and other forms of irregular labour has contributed to united trade unions of both regular and contract workers. Increasingly all efforts at collective action and the exercise of right to freedom of association, even in the private sector, are being seen as acts of violence and criminalisation against the state and have been met with the force of the police. Democratic dissent and the assertion by peoples of their fundamental rights, including the freedom of speech, have come to be seen as anti-state and anti-development and are being violently put down. This constitutes a serious attack on fundamental political rights of citizenship.
Build United Front of all Progressive Forces – We Can and We Shall
The NTUI recognises that these challenges will not be addressed in one stroke or in one general election and as we play our part, as we must, in this election the struggle has to go forward beyond it too.
We know that none of the dominant political parties are reflective of the economic, social and political crisis and the necessity for advancing national development rooted in self-reliance and sustainability that can meet the needs and aspirations of the working class. Defending democracy and advancing democratic rights must be our primary task. This is imperative to build a struggle for a just and egalitarian society and advancing the rights of the working class. We cannot influence this outcome or effect change by ourselves alone. This is the time for the widest possible united front of all progressive trade unions and other forces and we commit ourselves to it. As we build our struggles we shall continue to stand in solidarity with struggles against repression and exploitation in other countries and strengthen our alliances with those we share a common purpose with. For it is only through our unity that we can build democratic militant union power.
- Protect Right to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining
- Wage Commission for all to Guarantee a Living Wage
- Equal Wage for Equal Work
- Universal Health care and Indexed Pension for all
- Mandatory Reservation in Private Sector
- Protect Livelihood Rights for all
- Regularise all Contract Workers - Regularise All Honorarium Workers