People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXVI

No. 10

March 04, 2012

February 28:

Historic General Strike

K Hemalata

 

THE countrywide general strike on February 28, 2012 will be recorded as a milestone in the history of the trade union movement in the country. The working class of the country responded magnificently to the call for the general strike given by all the eleven central trade unions and all India industrial federations in almost all the sectors of the economy. For the first time in the history of our trade union movement, INTUC and BMS both joined the other central trade unions and industrial federations to give the call for an all India general strike. This unprecedented unity evoked massive response from the workers. As per initial estimates, more than ten crore workers all over the country - from Jammu & Kashmir in the north to Tamilnadu in the south, from Assam in the east to Gujarat in the west participated in the strike opposing the anti-worker and anti-people policies of the government.

 

This general strike, the fourteenth after the advent of the neo-liberal economic policies in our country, is significant because of the unprecedented unity of all the central trade unions and the demands raised by them that reflected the concerns not only of the workers but also of all sections of the toiling people. Besides, joint campaigns at the state and lower levels were also conducted this time on a wider scale. The joint campaign undertaken by the central leadership of the trade unions inspired many independent and state level trade unions to join the strike. Thus the February 28 strike will be etched in the annals of our trade union movement as the biggest ever strike action by the working class till date.

 

The major demands included concrete measures to curb price rise and provide some relief to the people, effective implementation of all labour laws and stringent punishment to those who flout them, universal social security for all unorganised workers by creating a National Social Security Fund with adequate financial allocations, stopping contractual labour in permanent jobs and equal wages and benefits to the contract workers as the permanent workers of the establishment, universal coverage by minimum wages Act and statutory minimum wage of not less than Rs 10,000, pension for all, removal of all ceiling on eligibility for bonus, provident fund etc, and compulsory registration of the trade unions within a time frame of 45 days.

 

The expectations of the ruling classes that the defeat of the Left Front in West Bengal and the threats of the present chief minister to instil terror among the workers in the state would dampen the strike were totally belied by the workers of West Bengal who participated in the strike in a big way, facing brutal repression and ignoring all threats and intimidation. The impact of the strike was such that the corporate media, which usually chooses to ignore such actions by the working class, was forced to report about it and highlight the fact that West Bengal along with Kerala was the worst hit by the strike.

 

However, not only in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura but in several other states like Assam, Manipur, most parts of Karnataka, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh etc a bandh like situation prevailed with public transport coming to a grinding halt and shops and markets being completely closed. In many places in West Bengal, police resorted to brutal lathi charge and arrests. Workers peacefully demonstrating in Srinagar in J&K, Bhiwani in Haryana and Guwahati and Numaligarh in Assam were beaten up and arrested by the police. In addition, the striking workers in West Bengal were physically assaulted and injured by the hoodlums let loose by the ruling party to break the strike. Normal activities in many of the industrial areas in the national capital Delhi and the National Capital Region of Faridabad and Gurgaon were hit due to the massive strike action by the workers.

 

The CITU congratulated the working class of the country for the massive response to the strike all over the country and across the sectors.  CITU saluted the heroic resistance by the striking workers to threats and intimidating tactics of the state government and the hoodlums of the ruling party to break the strike in West Bengal and extended all solidarity to them.     

 

The strike encompassed workers and employees from almost all the sectors including the strategic sectors as well as the unorganised sector, as the following reports indicate.

 

     Strike was almost total in the entire financial sector in the country including banks and insurance involving around 20 lakh workers and employees.

     All the central public sector units and major industrial units in the private sector in Bangalore and Mysore were completely paralysed

     Strike was total in all the ports in the country; even in Haldia port, in West Bengal which witnessed the terror unleashed by the ruling party in the state, the strike had visible impact

     Around 6 million state government employees, teachers, employees of state public sector units, boards and corporations covering almost all the states except a few, participated in the strike; even in West Bengal where the government issued threats of break in service and other measures of victimisation for participating in strike, the state government employees responded in a magnificent way.

     More than 2000 workers including CITU leaders Manik Sanyal and Zia ul Alam were arrested in West Bengal.

     Central government employees all over the country participated in the strike in a big way; in the defence production sector, participation in the strike was around 80 per cent.

      In the major defence PSUs viz.,  BEL and HAL, the strike was almost total in all the units throughout the country. Workers in four plants of BHEL in Trichy, Ranipet, Hyderabad and Bangalore were on total strike.

     Majority of the 6 lakhs coal mine workers in nine companies ECL, BCCL, CCL, SECL, NCL, CMPDIL etc joined the strike; strike was partial in Singareni Collieries; strike was near total in the non coal mining belt spread over Jharkhand, Odisha, Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh

     More than 70 per cent of the telecom workers and employees in BSNL participated in the strike

     The strike in the petroleum sector - in the upstream, refineries and marketing - was total in the eastern, north eastern and southern parts of the country while more than 70 per cent workers in this sector in the western and northern India participated in the strike

     In the steel industry, contract workers in eight steel plants participated in the strike en masse; 90 per cent of regular workers in Vizag steel plant, 85 per cent of them in Salem steel plant, and 70 per cent of Alloy steel plant workers in Durgapur participated in the strike. In Durgapur steel plant and IISCO strike was 50 per cent and in Rourkela steel plant it was 40 per cent; strike among regular workers in Bokaro and Bhilai steel plants was however partial.

     The participation of transport workers, particularly of the state road transport corporations in the strike was massive in many states, like Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Chandigarh, etc completely paralysing the public transport; in several states private transport workers too responded to the strike magnificently

     Electricity workers including the contract workers and daily wage workers participated in the strike in large numbers in many states

     Plantation workers in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala participated in the strike en masse; in Tamil Nadu, Assam and Karnataka too strike was massive among the plantation workers

     In all the states, the unorganised sector workers in brick kiln, construction, head load workers, loading and unloading workers, beedi workers, mandi workers, auto rickshaw drivers, etc participated in the strike in a massive way and also in the rallies, demonstrations, rail and rasta rokos in huge numbers.

     Strike was total among the construction workers in the organised sector including in all the Hydel projects in Himachal Pradesh

     Around 15 lakh anganwadi employees and lakhs of ASHAs and mid day meal workers participated in the strike; in several states they held demonstrations and burnt the effigies of the government

     Overwhelming majority of the 1.5 lakh medical and sales representatives all over the country joined the strike

     Lakhs of fishers and fisheries workers all over the country joined the strike

 

The massive participation of workers of all affiliations and irrespective of any affiliations in the strike indicates their anger and resentment at the attacks on their working and living conditions and the determination to resist them. This was also reflected in the wide support the strike received from the common people. While the Left parties firmly supported the strike, in some states some local political parties also extended their support. The reports received from different states illustrate the area and the spread of the strike.