Source: Common Dreams
Indian cities never go silent. Sound is a constant feature—the horns of cars, the chirping of birds, the cries of hawkers, the steady hum of a motorcycle engine. On Tuesday, India is on strike. It is likely that about 150 million workers will stay away from their workplaces. Trade unions of the Left have called for the strike, a general strike in a country exhausted by rising inequality and a mood of dissatisfaction.
The streets of Kerala—a state governed by the Left Democratic Front—are not quiet. Cars and motorcycles go their way. But the roads are quieter. Public transport is off the road, because the transport unions are behind the strike. Thiruvananthapuram sounds like it did about 20 years ago, when traffic was lighter and when the city was calmer. But there is nothing calm in the atmosphere. Workers are angry. The government in Delhi continues to betray them.
Largest Strike in World History
Strikes of this scale are not unusual in India. The largest recorded strike in world history took place in India in 2016, when 180 million workers protested the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The demands of this strike are—as usual—many, but they center around the deterioration of the livelihood of workers, around the demise of work itself for many people and around the political attack on unions.
Modi’s government is eager to amend the trade unions laws. Tapan Sen, the leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said that the new trade union laws would essentially lead to the enslavement of Indian workers. These are strong words. But they are not unbelievable.
Since India won independence in 1947, it has pursued a “mixed” path of national development. Important sections of the economy remained in government hands, with public sector firms formed to deliver essential industrial goods to enhance the development goals of the country. The agricultural sector was also organized so that the government provided credit to farmers at subsidized rates and the government set procurement prices to ensure that farmers continued to grow essential food crops.
All this changed in 1991, when the government began to “liberalize” the economy, privatize the public sector, reduce its role in the agricultural market and welcome foreign investment. Growth was now premised on the rate of return on financial investment and not on the investment in people and their futures. The new policy orientation—liberalization—has grown the middle class and earned the wealthy fabulous amounts of money. But it has also created an agrarian crisis and produced a precarious situation for workers.