Indian unions launch nationwide protests vs. labour law suspension, privatisation

As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to surge in India, trade union protests are also raging. Heeding the call of Central Trade Unions (CTUs) for a nationwide protest on 3 July, BWI and its affiliates in different Indian states carried out massive protests to oppose the government’s anti-labour and privatisation policies under the guise of responding to COVID-19. 

The trade unions is pushing for a “12-point charter of demands,” which includes universal social security for all workers, a stop on the disinvestment in central and state public sector undertakings,  rejection of foreign direct investment in core sectors and zero labour law amendments in favour of employers.

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson expressed his solidarity to the protesting unions, saying that the Indian government’s complete disregard for workers’ rights and social justice betrays the country’s standing as a democratic nation and a founding member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). “BWI urges the Indian government to address the 12-point charter of demands put forward by the Central Trade Unions and to immediately convene the long-pending Indian Labour Conference,” Yuson said.

BWI trade union affiliates were in the thick of the nationwide protests. In South India, BWI-affiliated SGEU held a protest action in the Salem District and Yercaud participated by more than 1300 union members, including a big number of women workers. In the Tamil Nadu State, AIKTMS, INRLF, TKTMS and TCTU organised meetings and protest actions. TKTMS convened small gatherings across 30 districts and submitted a memorandum to the state’s chief minister. Similarly, UPGMS, AHPWDIPHCWU, HBCMU, APVVU, OKKS and ONMS submitted memorandums and copies of the CTUs’ charter of demands to labour ministers in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.  

Carrying black flags to express their dissatisfaction, BWI-affiliated KSCWCU, BMS, AHBWU, INBCWWF, OFMFPWU, NOBSM, ERCCMU, CLU, MPTSMC, DANMU, DSEWU, NMPS, DNMS, BRWF and CFBWU also took part in CTUs’ actions in Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh. In the Kerala and Bihar States, despite the heavy rains, KKNTC organised protest actions in front of government offices, while HKMP convened workers’ gatherings. Likewise, MBCFWC in Maharashtra organised a protest action amidst lockdown restrictions. 

Rama Chandra Khuntia, BWI India Affiliates Council Chairperson and BWI Asia-Pacific Vice-Chair, said that the nationwide protests aim to show national disapproval to the suspension of labour laws in many Indian states and the government’s move to privatise key industries and sectors.

“We thank BWI and all its affiliates for supporting and joining our struggle to protect the rights of millions of workers across Indian States. We will not stop until our demands are met. We will continue to expose and oppose the government’s failure to effectively response to COVID-19 and the economic crisis affecting countless workers,” Khuntia said, who is also the President of INBCWWF.