Tens of millions of Indian workers, youth and rural toilers joined a one-day nationwide general strike yesterday to protest the Bharatiya Jananta Party (BJP) government’s pro-investor and communalist policies.
Since winning re-election last May, with massive big business and corporate media support, the BJP government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dramatically escalated its assault on the working class. Through changes to the country’s labour laws, it is promoting the proliferation of precarious contract-labour jobs and further limiting workers’ right to strike and organise. It has also dramatically accelerated the privatisation of public sector enterprises, moving forward with plans to sell off India’s railways, open up the coal industry to private investors, and privatise Air India and Bharat Petroleum. It has also provided big business with another bonanza by slashing the corporate tax rate by 8 percentage points, or more than a quarter.
At the same time, with the aim of splitting the working class and mobilising its Hindu-supremacist base as a battering ram against mounting social opposition, the Modi government has taken a series of provocative steps targeting the country’s Muslim minority. These include illegally abolishing the special, semi-autonomous constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, hitherto India’s only Muslim-majority state, and, last month, rushing into law a discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Yesterday’s strike was called by 10 central union federations, and had the explicit support of the Stalinist parliamentary parties—the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM and the Communist Party of India (CPI)—and the implicit support of the big business Congress Party, with whom the Stalinists are closely aligned.
Key union demands—formulated in a 12-point charter—include measures to provide jobs for the unemployed, now estimated to number 73 million or almost 8 percent of the workforce; basic social protections for all workers; and increases in pensions and the derisory minimum wage. The strike also demanded the repeal of the CAA and the scrapping of the government’s plan to force all of the country’s 1.3 billion residents to prove their entitlement to Indian citizenship, a scheme transparently aimed at intimidating and harassing the Muslim minority.
The corporate media, big business, and the Modi government are all trying to downplay the impact of yesterday’s protest strike.