People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 24, 2006
Historic General Strike Of December 14
The working class all over the country has magnificently responded to the call for general strike on December 14 given by the major central trade unions and industrial federations. It has been the eleventh countrywide general strike since the onset of the Fund-Bank dictated policy of economic liberalisation in the country in 1991. More than 6 crore workers and employees – both from organised and unorganised sector and across all sectors of economy – joined the strike action to cry halt to the blind pursuit of the Fund-Bank dictated economic policies by the UPA government.
The strike call was given by the Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions to press for the 16-point charter of demands covering all sections of the working populace. The strike action was aimed at stopping the UPA government from its blind pursuit of the same neo-liberal economic policy of reckless privatisation and liberalisation as by the NDA regime, much to the detriment of the national interests. It was also to remind the government of its commitments made in their “National Common Minimum Programme” regarding implementing pro-people measures like comprehensive legislation for the unorganised sector and agricultural workers in respect of their social security rights and protection of jobs and service conditions. The strike was also to resist the surreptitious move of the UPA government to make pro-employer changes in the labour laws in order to introduce ‘hire & fire’ regime and dilute the existing social security benefits of the workers and employees. The strike demands focused on the hell bent move of the UPA regime to completely deregulate the financial sector of the economy through a number of legislative initiatives pending before parliament –– all aimed at serving the interests of the international finance capital to the detriment of national developmental interests. And finally, the strike was also to caution those sitting in the governance and their hired philosophers that the toiling people of the country cannot be taken for granted.
The Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions congratulated the working class and toiling people of the country for the magnificent strike action. The committee expressed gratitude for the supportive actions by the fraternal mass organisations of peasants, agricultural workers, women, students and youth etc in the form of demonstration, road-roko, rail-roko and thus converting the general strike into peoples’ action throughout the country. The Sponsoring Committee also urged the UPA government to take lesson from the strike and mend its anti-people policies.
Despite the national leadership of INTUC and BMS staying away from the general strike as usual, it could cast little effect on the massive sweep and depth of the countrywide strike action. At grassroots level many of the BMS and INTUC affiliates and followers joined the strike action in a big way. The BMS and INTUC unions in all the nine units of Bharat Electronics Ltd at different parts of the country joined the strike along with other unions making it a total strike in BEL. In coal mines throughout the country most of the workers from the INTUC and BMS unions have joined the strike action. Complete collapse of port and dock operations all over the country reflected convergence of all the unions irrespective of affiliations and categories in the platform of strike action. The almost total strike in the banking and insurance sector reflects the wholehearted participation of the followers of INTUC and BMS affiliated unions in the strike action. Thus the eleventh countrywide general strike by the working class against the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation and attack on labour rights has reflected much broader unity at the grassroot level.
These are pointers to the urgent need for the working class to further heighten its vigilance and prepare for sustained actions in the coming period. The Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions called upon the working class to prepare for future struggles to force the government to change its anti-people and anti labour policies.
On the strike day, the members of parliament from the Left parties staged demonstration in the portico of parliament building at 10 am in support of the strike. Thereafter the issues of the strike were raised in both the Houses and the government was urged to respond to the 16-point demands of the general strike and retrace its anti-people economic policies. The Left parties MPs were joined by MPs from various other non-congress, non-BJP parties in voicing support to the strike action. Both the Houses of parliament had to be adjourned for a short while. Thereafter Left MPs marched in a procession from parliament and joined the rally held at Jantar Mantar.
The general strike of December 14 got converted into a complete bandh in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and a Bandh like situation has emerged in Assam and Jharkhand owing to massive enmasse-participation by workers across the affiliations and massive support from people from other walks of life. In Punjab and Haryana, roadways workers’ total strike has paralysed the normal traffic in both the states. In Karnataka, more than 50 per cent public transports are off the road due to strike. In Karnataka and a number of other States bandh like situation is witnessed in several districts.
The overwhelming majority of around one crore Govt employees in the country, both in central and state governments staged the biggest ever strike action countrywide in all the state govt offices and establishments in most of the states in the country barring a few. In the central govt sector, overwhelming section of employees in the telecom, postal departments, AG office, Income tax and audit offices joined the strike in a big way throughout the country braving threats and prohibition. More than eighty per cent of the defence sector employees working in around 94 ordinance factories and depots under Army, Navy and Airforce, the MES offices and DRDO laboratories all over the country have joined the strike action at the call of All India Defence Employees Federation.
The massive participation of the employees of Airports and civil aviation sector in the day-long dharna in all the 124 airports in the country has affected air-traffic in a big way.
A RESOUNDING SUCCESS IN BENGAL
The general strike on December 14 was a complete and a sweeping success in Bengal. The strike took the shape of a virtual Bangla bandh as life came to a standstill throughout the urban and rural areas. An intense campaign that preceded the strike action was marked by thousands of marches, rallies, and conventions successfully communicated to the people the 16-point charter of demands based on which the strike was held. The complete spontaneity meant that no picketing was necessary anywhere. There was no violence of any sort.
Industrial belts would not hum with activity. The fields were devoid of kisans. Ports, docks, collieries, tea plantations saw no activities. Cities registered their protest by downing shutters of shops and establishments, schools, colleges, universities, banks, merchant offices, insurance institutions, government institutions, and every kind of office.
Transport, including metro rail did not ply. Railway stations wore a deserted look, as did the airports at Kolkata and Bagdogra. Normal bustle was missing from the villages. The streets and roads wore a deserted look. The para cricket was back in full flow on the streets of the cities and the townships.
Congratulating the working people for the way the general strike was made a grand success, the Bengal CITU noted that the working people were ready to go on to bigger movements against any and all anti-working class and anti-people policies of the UPA government in the days ahead. An afternoon media conference was held at the Shramik Bhavan participated in by Bengal CITU president Shyamal Chakraborty, general secretary Kali Ghosh and others.
TOTAL HARTAL IN KERALA
The December 14 strike evoked good reaction from the people of Kerala leading to a complete hartal in the state. Life came to a standstill on December 14. The protest of workers against the economic policies being pursued by the UPA government was total in the state. Central and state government employees, employees of public and private sector units and staffs in banking and insurance sectors joined the strike. Farmers, agricultural labourers and workers of unorganised sectors also took part in the protest. In the capital city, the seat of government power – the state secretariat – did not function. The International Film Festival at Thiruvananthapuram and the pilgrims’ vehicles to Sabarimala temple were exempted from the strike.
The CITU-AITUC led trade union sponsoring committee spearheaded the strike in the state. Trade unions and the various mass organisations that backed the strike kept a vigil to make the protest peaceful. No act of violence was reported from anywhere in the state. Roads remained almost deserted except for a few private vehicles. The shops and commercial establishments were closed for the entire duration of the protest day.
In postal and telecom sector, employees kept away from work en bloc. Employees of Kerala Water Authority, an essential service sector, went to job without marking their attendance. 51 head post offices, 1800 sub post offices and 3000-odd branch post offices remained closed. Employees of central government offices such as Income Tax offices, Accountant General’s office and ISRO rallied behind the cause of united workers movement.
Cochin, the industrial city of the state, witnessed near total shutdown in all sectors of work. Cochin port, in which around 4000 men are employed, was at a standstill for the entire day. Container ships from abroad did not enter the port. In central public sector enterprises such as FACT, HMT, HIL and IRE, the strike was near total. The prominent public sector enterprises under the state government – TCC at Kalamassery, TELK at Angamali, Kerala Books and Publishing Co at Kakkanad – were completely shut during the day. In almost all major private enterprises including Apollo Tyres and MRF the strike was successful. In MRF, out of the total force of 3000 labourers, only 12 were present for work.
The trade union sponsoring committee had conducted an intense campaign among workers in the run up to the strike in order to propagate the demands of the strike. The workers as well as the public, in turn, responded to the call enthusiastically.
TOTAL STRIKE IN TRIPURA
Sharing the feeling of the whole country, people of Tripura overwhelmingly responded to the general strike call of the Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions and observed a total bandh in the state on December 14. Normal life in every sphere came to a complete standstill. Business centres, market places were shut down and all kinds of vehicles remained off the road. Government offices, courts, schools, colleges, and Tripura University, which are very crowded on normal days, wore a deserted look on the protest day. Private offices also remained closed. No flight could be operated from the Agartala airport on the strike day and all the Agartala bound flights were postponed and rescheduled. Activists of mass organisations like CITU, DYFI, SFI, AIDWA were seen picketing on the road from dawn itself in solidarity with the striking workers.
A huge procession was taken out in Agartala at the call of the Tripura unit of Sponsoring Committee a day earlier to highlight the demands of the strike. The processionists appealed to the people to spontaneously come forward to make the countrywide general strike a historic one. They appealed to the people to register their protest against the anti-people and anti-poor economic policies being pursued by UPA government at the centre. Similar processions were also held in every Sub-Divisional headquarters on December 13.
The organisers of the strike congratulated the people for their spontaneous response to the strike call and expected that they would continue to be with them in the bigger struggle in the days ahead.