Strike Wave Hits India

Following are major excerpts from a statement by the Inquilabi Communist Sangathan, Indian Section of the Fourth International.

After long years of one-sided bourgeois offensive, punctuated only by sporadic and scattered resistance, the Indian working class has begun to hit back against the new wave of capitalist offensive.

On Jan. 19, the lead news in The Telegraph was about the power workers’ strike in Uttar Pradesh (UP), and it expressed the fear that this might be the turning point, with the working class awakening from a long stupor. On Jan. 20, STAR News led off with statistics on the strike wave engulfing India.

It was pretty impressive, and worrying for the bosses, and for the same reason, encouraging for revolutionaries. On that day, well over a million workers were out on strike, including over half a million employees of various state governments, over 100,000 port and dock workers in 11 ports across India, and a 100,000 power workers in UP.

The specific demands in each case differ. But increasingly, a common thread tying up all the struggles is the liberalization-globalization drive of the Indian bourgeoisie, and standing behind it, international finance capital. The attacks, which have been allowed almost unchecked over the last decade, include the following: cuts in real income through massive cuts in social security spending, job cuts-both directly and indirectly by non-recruitment-[and] cuts in retirement benefits of workers and employees….

In the name of promoting export-oriented production, the labor laws wrested out of the ruling class in course of a century of struggles are being increasingly flouted. The health sector is being gutted and free or cheap medical care almost totally destroyed.

Every struggle is reported in the media not as a struggle by workers for their survival but as a conservative conspiracy against the glorious new policy of liberalization, which is coming as the salvation of the human race.

But what is the truth about this? A decade of liberalization has meant repeated rises in prices. They have meant hikes in gas, kerosene, and petroleum products. They have meant transport fare rises.

Through devaluation of the currency they have meant a higher import bill, a higher debt-servicing charge. Through the beginning of the privatization of the insurance sector, they have meant the transformation of insurance from a minimum of social security to a racket for profiteers.

Bank workers fight back

The clearest case is the bid to privatize banks and to close down a number of banks. Bank employees, not only to increase their security, but also to bring a minimum amount had waged the struggle for bank nationalization. The ultimate act of nationalization reflected a compromise between this struggle and the policies of the Indian bourgeoisie. But certainly, thefts and the abuse of banks as purely private properties were checked.

However, in recent years, while nationalized banks have increased their access and have reached out to ordinary people, they have also brought together immense funds, which the big bourgeoisie has borrowed. Out of the total $70 billion unrecovered on bad debt of the banks some 62 percent are outstanding from big business.

So the proposal by the CII committee to close down three banks should be viewed not as a genuine though harsh proposal to bring about fiscal regulations, but as a plan to eliminate part of the debt by getting rid of the banks, and to use the profit made from that deal to buy up shares in other banks.

This billion-dollar scam was halted in its track only because of the united resistance of all the bank employees, who threatened not only to strike all over India, but also to spill the beans about the exact amounts borrowed by big business, violating their terms of service and risking their jobs in the process.

The gap between the claims of the government and the bourgeoisie and the reality was equally glaringly exposed in the case of the power sector. For years, millions of rupees have been poured into the nuclear power sector, ostensibly to produce clean, safe, cheap energy. In fact the total amount of power produced in this way is quite limited.

Money has not been spent in other areas as lavishly. Instead, the government and the IMF have now come to an agreement whereby in UP the state electricity board will be broken up into three organizations, and in the process 20 percent or more of the employees will lose their jobs.

The supposed reason for this restructuring is that the SEB is a loss-making unit. Yet why is it that so much electricity is stolen (i.e., drawn by illegal lines not properly recorded) or why is it that big shot industrialists do not clear up their dues? By striking in the face of unremitting government hostility, the workers are forcibly posing these questions in public.

Forge a working-class united front!

The workers who are waging these struggles do not always have a revolutionary orientation or even a clear understanding of the complex relations between the Indian government, the Indian big bourgeoisie, and international finance. But the clarity of their actions, in striking out against the class enemy, is in sharp contradistinction to the paralysis of will displayed by the major left parties, who analyze endlessly the nature of fascism and the new stage of the imperialist offensive, but who can propose no better action than combining with the so-called progressive bourgeois forces in and out of parliament.

The port workers and the power workers fought on despite the threat to deploy the armed forces and other paramilitary forces, or despite actual deployment of the same. By doing so, the port workers have already compelled the government to declare a partial victory for the strikers.

Such victories are never final. But they are more serious than paper agreement in the name of an anti-fascist united front. The Indian left has never given up its Stalinist heritage. So the united front that left parties talk about is not a working-class united front. They talk about a front between the working class and the so-called secular, democratic, anti-fascist bourgeoisie.

The working class in India is divided. It is split regionally, it is split in terms of sectors of industry, and in a number of other ways. But if specific struggles can see a unity of all the diverse organizations and currents, the results can be dramatic, as the port workers’ struggles and previously the bank workers’ struggles showed.

The task of communists is not to rein in working-class struggles in the name of not frightening bourgeois allies, but to point out the historic direction of struggle and to take the lead in creating class unity and deepening class struggle.

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[Editor’s note: We reprint this article by the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). In 1989, the Bastille Appeal was launched, inviting popular movements throughout the world to unite in demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of the so-called developing countries. This crushing debt, along with neo-liberal macro-economic reforms imposed on the global South, has led to an explosion of worldwide inequality, mass poverty, flagrant injustice and the destruction of the environment.


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