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The Biggest General Strike in the World: Over 200 Million Workers and Farmers Paralyzed India

The Biggest General Strike in the World: Over 200 Million Workers and Farmers Paralyzed India

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What is happening:

The nationwide strike called for by central trade unions on Thursday, coupled with the ‘Delhi Chalo’ rallies of farmers in north India, led to a near total shutdown in a few states and protests in others.  Indian trade union leaders issued a clarion call to the government to repeal anti-worker labour codes and anti-farmer farm laws as a massive mobilization of industrial and agricultural workers and farmers across the country disrupted normal life across the country, in rural and urban areas.

More importantly, the general strike also witnessed broad-based alliances with farmers, agricultural workers, students and teachers.

Where is it happening: 

West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have already seen rallies in support amidst what appears to be complete observance of the strike.

Patiala: Members of various farmer organizations on their way to stage a protest against the central government over agriculture related ordinances, in Patiala, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. (PTI Photo)(PTI17-09-2020_000199B)

Protest rallies were taken out in nearly all major towns and cities including New Delhi.

Participating Unions:

The day-long strike has been called for by a joint platform of 10 central trade unions, including Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Trade Union Co-ordination Centre (TUCC) and Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).

Protesters’ Demands:

Delhi police personnel stop farmer activists of the Bhartiya Kisan Union breaking through a barricade at the border with Ghazipur during their march to New Delhi on October 2, 2018. Clashes broke out on the outskirts of Delhi on October 2 as police used water cannon and tear gas to stop thousands of protesting farmers entering the Indian capital, with at least one person reportedly injured. The farmers, marching from adjoining northern states, blocked one of the highways into the city and used tractors to try and break through a police barrier, television pictures showed. Some reportedly threw stones at police. / AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH SINGH

Their demands included:

  • The withdrawal of all “anti-farmer laws and anti-worker labour codes”
  • The payment of 7,500 rupees in the accounts of each non-tax paying family
  • Monthly supply of 10 kg of food to needy families
  • The expansion of the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005) to include 200 work days each year, higher wages, and the Act’s extension to urban industries
  • Stop the “privatisation of the public sector, including the financial sector, and stop corporatisation of government-run manufacturing and service entities like railways, ordnance factories, ports, etc.”
  • The withdrawal of the “draconian forced premature retirement of government and PSU (public sector) employees”
  • Pensions for all, the scrapping of the National Pension System and the reimposition of the earlier pension plan with amendments

The general strike occurred in the context of the devastation brought about by the coronavirus pandemic in India. India has more than 9.2 million people infected with Covid-19, the second highest count in the world. Since the pandemic began, nearly 135,000 have died, according to official data. It is likely the numbers are much higher. Added to this are the millions of people who have lost income and who now face increased poverty and hunger, in a country where even before the pandemic 50 percent of all children suffered malnourishment. 

Small farmers from three major agriculture-based states in India marched all the way to Delhi to protest laws passed by Modi’s government that would allow for larger corporate freedom and industrial farming. They were met with tear gas and brutal repression by the police upon entering Delhi.

Meanwhile, Modi has also escalated his nationalist rhetoric, especially against China, in an effort to capitalize on the trade war between the U.S. and China and deepen its strategic and military cooperation with the United States.

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