Indian workers and farmers unite for historic strike, besiege far-right gov’t

Indian farmers and allies confront police violence on the outskirts of Delhi, Nov. 26.

Nov. 30 — A political and class struggle of historic proportions is taking place in India, the world’s second most populous country. U.S. corporate media have treated it as invisible.

For the second time in less than a year, more than 250 million Indian workers joined a general strike on Nov. 26, shutting down much of this huge, multinational Asian country. According to the alliance of 10 trade union centers that called the strike, it was even larger than the one on Jan. 8, 2020 — the largest strike in human history.

Of tremendous significance for an oppressed country that combines giant industrial cities and huge swaths of agricultural land, this new workers’ action linked arms with India’s poor farmers — who today are besieging the capital of Delhi from all sides to demand that the far-right, U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdraw three new laws aimed at speeding up the privatization of agriculture and eroding the rights of peasants and agricultural workers.

The fear instilled in the Modi government by the emergence of this worker-peasant alliance was reflected in the brutal repression deployed against strikers across the country — especially the farmers and allies who marched on the capital. Riot police dug trenches, fired tear gas and other chemical agents, sprayed water cannons and beat protesters with truncheons.

But to no avail. The marchers broke through each police blockade until they reached the borders of the Delhi Union Territory. (Like Washington, D.C., the Indian capital has a separate status from the surrounding states.) And there the farmers have remained, for five days and counting.

In other states, workers and farmers blockaded highways and railways. They shut down scab operations that tried to defy the strike call. Though peaceful, in many areas they fought back when attacked by the cops.

The strike even reached the majority Muslim region of Jammu and Kashmir, which has spent more than a year under veritable martial law imposed by the chauvinist regime in Delhi.

Strikers’ demands

India’s impoverished workers and farmers have been hard hit by the global capitalist economic crisis and COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment has soared to 27 percent, while the gross domestic product has collapsed by nearly 24 percent.

As reported by Proletarian Era on Nov. 1, “India has ranked 94 among 107 nations in the Global  Hunger Index 2020 and is in the ‘serious’ hunger category. Experts have blamed poor implementation processes, lack of effective monitoring, a siloed approach in tackling malnutrition and poor performance by large states.” The conclusion: “Malnutrition is endemic in India.”

Since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party took control of India’s national government in 2014, it has imposed a growing list of austerity and privatization measures while slamming civil rights, especially targeting women, Muslims, migrants and Indigenous communities. Modi is part of the global far-right trend that includes figures like Brazil’s President Jair Bolsanaro and, of course, U.S. President Donald Trump.

“It was the tens of millions of migrant workers who had to suffer as the Modi government announced the [COVID] lockdown abruptly. In the name of the pandemic and lockdown almost all the employers have cut the number of workers drastically. In spite of court orders against it, a 12-hour working day is imposed by most managements,” according to a statement by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Red Star.

For the Nov. 26 all-India strike, the alliance of union centers — many affiliated with the country’s diverse leftist parties — issued seven main demands:

  1. Cash aid of Rs7,500 per month (roughly $100) for all unemployed households;
  2. 10 kg of free food monthly to all needy people;
  3. Expansion of the National Rural Employment Act to provide 200 days’ work per year in rural areas at enhanced wages; extension of employment guarantee to urban areas;
  4. Withdraw all anti-farmer laws and anti-worker labor codes;
  5. Stop privatization of the public sector, including the financial sector, and stop corporatization of government-run manufacturing and service entities like railways, ordnance factories and ports; 
  6. Withdraw the circular on forced early retirement of government and public sector employees;
  7. Scrap the current privatized National Pension Service and provide adequate pensions for all.

“Hundreds of our party workers have been arrested in different states along with workers of other organizations,” said Provash Ghosh, general secretary of the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist). “We demand their immediate release.”

96,000 tractors, 12 million farmers

Some 12 million farmers began marching early in the week from northern Indian states near the capital. They were joined by delegations of farmers throughout the country, as well as workers, students, and women’s and other people’s organizations. An estimated 96,000 tractors provided symbolic strength to the massive march.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh (Farmers’ Struggle) Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a coalition of over 200 farmers’ groups, declared it “the longest march in the history of Planet Earth.”

It included a convoy of 10,000 women farmers from the state of Punjab. Its leader, Harinder Bindu from Bhatinda, has been a farmer for 30 years. She was interviewed by the Indian web publication The Wire:

“The large number of women protesters has been a noteworthy aspect of the farmers’ march to Delhi. Bindu feels that the time is ripe for women to come out in large numbers now. She, like others, has brought along cooking essentials and rations to last them for the length of the protest.

“‘The three laws brought by the Modi government will impact women in a very different way,’ said Bindu. She says that even though all Indians will be affected adversely by these three laws, women need to raise their voices more because the kitchen, which is considered their department, will come to a ‘halt with this law.’

“‘If the farmers are affected, they will not be able to earn enough money to sustain their households. This will impact women as they will have to control the portions of meals that they cook,’ she says, adding that children will also be affected ultimately.

“This is not all. She says that when farms stop generating enough income, women will have to go out to work in areas where there are no guarantees for their safety.”

During a Nov. 30 press conference, farmers’ union leaders vowed that protesters will keep sitting at the borders of Delhi until the government revokes the farm laws.

Two representatives of the transport workers’ unions joined the news conference. They announced: “All taxis, buses, trucks will be put on halt. We will go on strike and let nothing run in Delhi.”

“The workers and peasants will not rest till the disastrous and disruptive policies of the BJP government are reversed,” said Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. “The strike today is only a beginning. Much more intense struggles will be following.”