Indian workers held the world’s largest general strike in history on 8 January 2020. It mobilized nearly 250 million workers, farmers, rural labourers and students. The general strike, launched by 10 national centres, brought the economy to a standstill in many States across India. More than 45 BWI affiliated unions participated in the strike.
“This enormous strike has sent a strong message to the Indian central Government to stop pursuing anti-labour and anti-people policies,” said R. C. Khuntia, Vice Chair of the BWI Asia Pacific Regional Committee. “BWI affiliates will continue our struggle to uphold workers and human rights in response to neoliberal economic policies and divisive politics.”
BWI Affiliates were at the forefront of the action, and many leaders were placed in preventive custody and later released. Protests, demonstrations and blockades in major States including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana, Odisha, Bihar, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab were widely reported in the media.
The immediate cause of the strike was the weakening of the industrial relations framework; however, other proposed labour law changes, a deep disregard for social dialogue, growing unemployment and concerns of economic crisis also produced this massive reaction by workers and their trade unions,
The BWI stands firmly with its affiliates and supports the 12-point Charter of Demands of the 10 Central Trade Unions. Demands include:
· Raising the minimum wage to Rs. 21,000 per month;
· Job creation;
· Curbing inflation;
· Strict enforcement of existing labour laws;
· Universal social security coverage;
· A monthly pension of Rs. 6,000;
· Immediate ratification of ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association, and the rights to organise and bargain collectively; and
· Banning Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in in key strategic sectors such as railways, insurance, coal and defense.
Despite warning by the Government to dissuade public sector workers from participating in industrial action, the strike closed down steel, coal, defence, electricity, transport, and hydrocarbon operations across the country. Students from more than 60 Universities and Colleges across India also joined strike.