People's Democracy

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


No. 18

May 06, 2012

MAY DAY 2012



Challenges Before the Indian Working Class


K Hemalata


THE month of May is doubly significant for the CITU – while May 1 is the day of international working class solidarity, May 30 is its Foundation Day, the day CITU was born with the slogan of ‘Unity and Struggle’; the day when its constitution that was unanimously adopted in its foundation conference, firmly announced that the exploitation of the working class can be ended only under socialism, that it stands for the emancipation of the society from all exploitation.


The roots of May Day lie in the workers’ struggle for eight hour working day, in the massive strike and demonstration at the Hay Market in Chicago in the USA and the martyrdom of August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Albert Parsons. The struggle for shorter working day was a prolonged struggle by the workers all over the world. In India too, there was a struggle, though isolated, by the railway workers at Howrah Railway station for eight hour duty in April – May 1862, even before the May Day episode.


Though eight hour working day is now generally accepted and formally incorporated as a statutory right all over the world, most of the workers in our country are still forced to work for ten to twelve hours a day, even today. The condition has further worsened after the advent of neoliberal policies with the government itself advocating longer working hours. Hundreds of thousands of workers, be it in the textile mills of Panipat in Haryana, in the ceramic tiles factories in Puducherry, in the Pharmaceutical units in Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh, in the garment units in Bangalore in Karnataka or Tiruppur in Tamilnadu, in the various units in the special economic zones in different parts of the country, in fact all over the country, are forced to work for 10 – 12 hours without any overtime payment. This being the situation in the private organised industry, the plight of crores of workers in the unorganised sector can well be imagined.


Increasing the productivity of the workers by stretching the working day, by hastening the production process through better technology etc are among the methods used by the capitalists to maximise their profits and is an integral feature of the capitalist system itself. Hence the struggle of the workers demanding shortening of the working day has to be seen as their resistance to the unrestrained greed of the employers to extract maximum profits from the labour power of the workers.


The struggles all over the world against the attacks on the hard won rights of the workers in the name of austerity measures, even when the share of profits are increasing over the share of the wages, is a manifestation of the increasing readiness of the workers to resist increasing exploitation. Intensification of this struggle means intensification of the class struggle between capital and labour.


However, such struggles do not automatically lead to the end to exploitation unless the capitalist society itself is changed. The historic task of bringing about the end to the capitalist society and establishing a society free from all exploitation, where the ’99 per cent’ can occupy their due space in the economic, political and social life of the society, lies with the working class. The working class will be able to discharge this task only if it is aware of the need to change the society and is in a position to lead the struggle for such a change. The ‘1 per cent’ with their grip over state power and control over the wealth produced by the 99 per cent cannot be dislodged unless the working class is united and conscious of its role in changing the society.


As a revolutionary trade union committed to the task of ending all exploitation, it is the responsibility of the CITU to develop this consciousness in the working class in our country. When we celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the foundation of the CITU at the end of May, it is this question that we must ask ourselves – how far have we been able to develop this consciousness among the working class of our country?


The foundation conference of the CITU emphasised the importance of uniting the entire working class and intensifying struggles to protect the interests of all the toiling sections of the society in the development of such consciousness. The founder president of CITU, B T Ranadive even asserted that ‘only an organisation devoted to the unity of the working class, and pledged to lead its united resistance will be able to defend its daily interests’. The CITU’s struggle, during the last four decades, for unity of the working class and the unity of the trade union movement has led to the unprecedented unity of all the 11 central trade unions including INTUC and BMS which came together to give the call for the countrywide general strike on  February 28 this year.


But unity at the national level is not enough. This unity must be extended to all the workers. Unity of the working class is not for reinforcing the existing illusions about improving the conditions of the working class within the framework of the existing society by bringing pressure and bargaining with the employers but to make the workers conscious of the inherent exploitative character of the present society and bring them into struggles to change it. Approaching the common workers, strengthening their unity at the grass root level and bringing the mass of the workers into struggles on their demands will alone help them understand through their own experience the true character of the capitalist society and the need to change it.


The experience of the last four decades of CITU indicates that though we have been successful to a significant extent in achieving unity at the national level, we have not been able to approach the mass of the workers and strengthen unity at the grass root level. Even in the campaign for the February 28 countrywide general strike, the campaign materials distributed, the meetings or rallies held, either jointly or independently by CITU and the participation of workers in the campaign indicate that we have been able to take the demands to only a small proportion of the CITU members, leave alone the vast sections of the workers beyond our membership and those outside the purview of the trade union movement.


This is a serious shortcoming that needs to be overcome urgently. The struggle to strengthen unity at the grass root level requires a struggle to overcome the shortcomings in our functioning. As BTR pointed out in his concluding speech in the foundation conference of CITU, it is not enough to reject wrong policies and wrong lines; wrong tendencies and wrong practices must also be overcome. Our cadres should approach each and every worker irrespective of their affiliations with the demands and encourage them to come into struggles. Our functioning should be such that ‘every worker must consider that here is my fortress, not the leaders’ fortress, or the leaders’ house, but the ordinary workers’ house’, as he put it.


The February 28 countrywide strike attracted wide support from the common people because the demands raised were not confined to the economic demands of the working class alone; the issues of price rise, employment, social security etc reflected the concerns of vast sections of the common people. This needs to be further taken forward. Today, our agriculture is in crisis. More than two lakh peasants have committed suicides during the last fifteen years. Agricultural workers do not find work for more than 60 – 70 days in a year and are forced to migrate to urban areas. Hundreds of thousands of peasants, fishers, tribals, forest dwellers etc are robbed of their lands and livelihoods; their lands are being handed over to big national and multinational corporates in the name of development. The trade union movement needs to raise all these issues and champion the cause of these different sections of the toiling masses, for the working class to be recognised and accepted as a force that can lead the struggle to end exploitation.


On this May Day, let us extend our solidarity with the working people all over the world struggling to protect their rights and pledge to intensify struggles in our own country. On the occasion of the 42nd foundation day of the CITU, let us vow to strengthen CITU and march ahead to achieve its objectives.