A general strike has been called on the 27th of September by the farmer’s union “Samyukt Kisan Morcha” (United farmer’s front) to protest against the three farm laws which were passed arbitrarily last year. It was exactly on this day in 2020, that the president gave his assent to the three new farm laws and the new labour codes, thus passing the bill into law. These three laws aim at encouraging the growth of corporate monopoly over agricultural trade and production, to the detriment of individual farmers; this will not only impoverish the already marginalized peasantry in India but also push farmworkers employed in these farms further towards poverty.
By Adhiraj Bose – Mazdoor Inqilab – September 27, 2021
The call for a general strike has been supported by all bourgeois opposition parties, as well as several trade unions, who have used this opportunity to put forth their opposition against the equally disastrous new labour law, which will make organizing and agitating at the workplace much harder while making it easier for the bosses to hire and fire workers. It is worth remembering that last year the trade unions conducted a general strike against the new law that coincided with the beginning of the longest-running farmer’s agitation in the recent history of India.
The farm laws
The three farm laws that were passed by the BJP government last year are:
1) Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020
The act is also pejoratively called the ‘APMC bypass law’. APMC or Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees act as intermediaries between the farmer and buyer. The act will override and eventually replace the existence of the APMCs, giving free rein to market forces. Such a law already exists in the state of Bihar where the effects of the law have been the greater marginalization of the farmers of Bihar and migration of the farmers to other states as wage workers. The ostensible justification behind this act is that it will grant the farmer greater opportunity to trade throughout the country, the fact is that most farmers in India don’t have the means to sell their produce outside of their individual state or region, as they don’t have transportation and digital infrastructure that the law presumes. The law will aid corporations that have an all-India infrastructure and the money to compete effectively in the wider market.
2) Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020
The act seeks to provide farmers with a framework for contract farming. This would in theory allow them to interact directly with buyers at predetermined prices, thus cutting out the middleman. However, this law will also provide a means by which agricultural retailing corporations will control the farmer’s livelihood. There will not be an equal exchange between the marginal farmer owning a hectare or half hectare of land and retail companies with massive logistical chains across the country with hundreds of stores across India in towns and cities.
3) Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.
The Essential Commodities Act allows the government to impose limits on trade in agricultural produce and may limit the prices of commodities. The new amended act takes out cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onions and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. In conjunction with the other two laws, and in the context of rising inflation in the country, this could be a potentially disastrous move, as it will allow runaway hoarding and price gouging in some of the most essential food crops in India! This measure yet again will aid agricultural corporations rather than small and marginal farmers, while also directly hurting the consumer.
From their very title, the laws show them to be an exercise in doublespeak. Far from protecting and promoting the cause of the farmer, these acts threaten to marginalize and squeeze out the small farmer in favour of agrarian and retail corporations which will eventually monopolize the market. For the farmer, these laws promise marginalization and misery, for the worker these laws promise hunger and inflation.
The new labour laws
The new labour codes are designed to replace the existing legal framework for labour relations in India where there are 44 different labour laws dealing with several different aspects of labour laws, most notable among the existing acts as the Industrial Disputes Act 1947, the Wages Act, and the Factories Act. The four new codes will override all these laws in favour of four new laws which purports to ‘streamline’ labour laws in India, favouring ‘flexibility’ over security. Such changes in labour laws have been a long-standing demand of the Indian bourgeoisie, who wish to turn back the gains of labour struggles of the last 100 years.
In the same vein as the farm laws, the four new labour codes were passed through parliament without any discussion or consultation with trade unions. The arbitrary voice vote and the speaker’s decision to pass the bill despite clear opposition and uncertainty of a majority belie the undemocratic manner in which this and the farm laws were passed.
No sooner than the laws were passed all trade unions across the country as well as opposition parties joined forces in denouncing the law. Even the BJP affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has come out in opposition against the bill. Its general secretary stated that the new laws would “adversely affect industrial peace”, an unsurprising take from the right-wing trade union. By his own admission, none of the pro-worker recommendations by the union or the parliamentary standing committee were accepted by the government, who wished to push an entirely pro-corporate law.
Among the sweeping changes brought about by the new laws, the companies with up to 300 workers are exempted from standing orders, an increase from 100 workers in the current law. This would allow companies with up to 300 workers flexibility to hire and fire. This would make millions of workers who are employed in the small to medium scale sector in India (the mainstay of employment), vulnerable to mass layoffs and retrenchments. In the words of CITU general secretary Tapan Sen:
“These codes, now passed, will throw more than 74% of the industrial workers and 70% of industrial establishments in ‘hire and fire regime’ at the will of the employers; even formation of a trade union will be extremely difficult; will impose a virtual ban on workers’ right to strike and even collectively agitate on their grievances and demands to mention a few,” he said.
Under the new wages code, allowances are capped at 50 per cent. This means half of the gross pay of an employee would be basic wages. Provident fund contribution is calculated as a percentage of the basic wage, which includes basic pay and dearness allowance. The employers have been splitting wages into numerous allowances to keep basic wages low to reduce provident funds and income tax outgo. The new wages code provides for provident fund contribution as a prescribed proportion of 50 per cent. The effect of this would be to reduce the amount of pay the worker can get in salaries and wages, his ‘take home’ money.
Agitations against the labour laws
While the farmer’s protests have been in focus, and deservedly so, the working class has not been idle in its struggle against the laws either. Soon after the passing of the new labour laws trade unions began their agitation. In April this year, when the laws were to be implemented across the country, the trade unions came out in protest to observe it as ‘Anti-Labour code day’. The fact is, that the new labour laws are deeply unpopular and resented by most workers in India, and there is even more reason to do so now since the economy is still reeling from the devastating effects of the lockdown and the pandemic, which has cost 20 million jobs. For this reason, the government has yet to frame the rules for the laws and bring them into effect. This year, mounting dissent against the BJP found expression in their electoral defeat across several major states in India, and another election is soon to come in the largest state in India, Uttar Pradesh. It is not without reason that the labour laws remain stalled.
Continued agitation is essential in order to ensure the law does not come into effect, and our aim must be it’s repeal, so it lies dead and buried. While this struggle ensues, the fight of the scheme workers (including ASHA workers and Anganwadi workers) continues. It must be remembered that the ASHA workers are the frontline force in dealing with the pandemic, but the government has treated them with contempt and ignored their most pressing demands. On the 24th of September, they staged another nationwide strike, over non-payment of wages, an increase of pay during the pandemic and for the basic right to food and nutrition. Last year over half a million ASHA workers had gone on strike, while the pandemic and lockdown was still in force, to demand basic pay, security and kits which they need for conducting their job. The government was forced to concede.
The situation in India is dire, and the workers have been on the march, all across the country. Together with the farmer’s agitation, the working-class agitation emerging in India presents a golden opportunity for an alliance of forces of peasants and workers. Such a force pitted against the rule of the capitalists would be an unstoppable force, should it be mobilized in the struggle.
Our position on the strike
The call for the strike action has united several bourgeois parties, and leftist parties of various shades across the country; it has also found support among most central trade union bodies, representing tens of millions of workers in various sectors of the economy. Most of the bourgeois opposition, and even some of the leftist opposition, are pledging their support for the strike, more out of short-sighted or selfish reasons. The Congress, for instance, has been the pioneer of neo-liberalism in India, and the dismantling of labour protections, it would be nothing short of hypocritical for them to pledge support to the farmers in this agitation, or to oppose the new labour codes which realized reforms first tabled under their government.
However, this fact alone does not mean, and cannot mean that we won’t support this agitation. We must support the strike actions of the farmers and workers, however flawed their leadership might be. To go against it, would be to distance ourselves from the working masses of the country, and leave the field open for all manner of opportunist leadership to take over. We, revolutionary Marxists, are aware of the shortcomings of a farmer’s led agitation, or the shortcomings of what they demand. The farmer’s agitation has brought in both marginal and large landowning farmers into a common struggle against corporate monopolies, in this, they are also supported to a great extent by rural workers. No doubt then, that pressing questions of land reforms, and landlessness in the countryside has not been raised, nor are the inequalities of land ownership brought up, nor the condition of rural labour in agriculture. The present agitation is focussed only on the aspect of trade in agricultural commodities,
These are shortcomings we know and are aware of, but we are also aware of the fact that conditions will grow infinitely worse, should the hammer of proletarianization fall upon the majority of farmers in the country. The life of a marginalized farmer clinging to his land is still better than the life of an urban poor forced into the reserve army of the unemployed, forced to etch out a living from one of India’s many large urban slums. We can see, that the labour laws on the one hand, and the farm laws on the other, are both like a hammer and anvil of the proletarianization machinery of t Indian capitalism, both designed to squeeze out the life and labour of the toiling masses, for the enrichment of the bourgeoisie. For this, we stand against both!
REPEAL THE FARM LAWS!
REPEAL THE LABOUR CODES!
NO MORE PRIVATIZATIONS!
ALL-OUT SUPPORT TO THE GENERAL STRIKE!
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