India: mass worker protests against government ahead of elections

Trade unions are holding a two-day nationwide general strike 8 - 9 January in opposition to further attacks on working conditions in India. The government is under pressure ahead of elections as ITUC affiliates INTUC, HMS and SEWA with other unions in India mobilise millions of workers to take to the streets to voice their discontent.

Workers from all sectors – farmers, teachers, ports, banks, electricity and transport as well as informal workers such as street vendors and taxi drivers – are taking part in the strike.

An ITUC delegation including ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow and ITUC Asia-Pacific President Felix Anthony are joining a protest action with workers in Gurugram on 8th January.

“Working people have had enough. Enough of being sidelined, enough of low wages and enough of unfulfilled promises of job creation which put at risk India’s economic development. The global trade union movement stands side-by-side with our sisters and brothers in India,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC.

The Modi government has come under heavy criticism from a diverse swathe of national figures ahead of the national elections, which are set to be held in April to May 2019. Trade unions denounce moves to introduce new obstacles to collective bargaining, towards the privatisation of social security, and to make it easier for employers to impose mass retrenchment of workers.

“India’s proud democracy has always sought to bring together its rich diversity of voices and interests and to govern in the interests of the people. This strong tradition is currently being challenged by the actions of a government that has overseen a sustained erosion of labour standards since 2014. Working people cannot continue to be ignored when making decisions that affect them first and foremost.

“Social dialogue is at risk and collective bargaining is being destroyed in India, and without a national minimum wage on which people can live, jobs and social protection for formal and informal workers, people face greater insecurity.

“Over 90% of working people still operate in India’s mammoth informal sector. Many of these workers are joining unions to have their rights recognised and their conditions improved. The government must be a partner in this effort, yet its measures have created new barriers to formalisation and eroded the rights of formal sector workers. Minimum living wages and social protection for all will support working families’ security and build a sustainable economy. The government has left a trail of broken promises in this regard and people have lost hope,” said Ms. Burrow.

“India is a test case for democracy in the Asia-Pacific region. Attacks on workers’ rights and labour laws put at risk democratic rights and freedoms across the whole region,” said Felix Anthony, President ITUC Asia-Pacific and General Secretary FTUC (Fiji).

Trade unions are planning further mobilisations over the coming months.