The Bharat bandh canvas got enlarged, and unexpected support!

By Vijaya Pushkarna

 Ten central trade unions  had called for a national general strike to protest against the Modi government's anti-labour policies, disinvestment and privatisation of public sector units. But, things turned out pretty differently !

Individual causes and grouses , whether it is violence by masked mobs at the JNU, or police excess in Jamia Milia campus , or near the Mandi House in Lutyens’ Delhi , have  merged whenever  people have gathered  in this season of protest, into one common sentiment: they were opposed to everything about the BJP led NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They used the Bharat Bandh too to protest against all that, and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act , 2019 and the  proposed National Register of Citizens.

The Bharat Bandh – a national general strike – today in response to a call given by ten central trade unions—was a countrywide display of that shared sentiment. More organisations and more people and more causes, spread  across the states, grabbed the opportunity. And almost all the non-BJP parties -- with the exception of the Trinamool Congress-- supported the strike.

“The anguish of various sectors of the society against the misrule of Modi Government has added into their support to this General Strike of workers” said a press release issued by the trade unions jointly.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been meeting various groups over the last few weeks, analysts believe he may be doing his homework ahead of the budget session  that begins later this month. It is however not clear if he has heard the protestors out on the roads today.

All sections wanted jobs; if they had jobs they wanted job security, and if they had job security, they wanted more money. There was total distrust in the way the government was handling the economy, as well as the agriculture sectors. The government had amended laws in a way that workers found anti-labour. Crony capitalism , some participants said, was what the government was promoting.

Suhasini Ali, president of the the All India Democratic Women’s Association pointed out that women had joined in because they felt unsafe, students had come because college fees were being hiked, private sector employees were there because they were not getting a raise, and everyone who was opposed to the CAA and NRC had also joined in. Clearly, the trade unions need not have worked that hard to mobilise people.

Ironically,  as the trade unions were protesting against disinvestment and privatisation,  the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by the Prime Minister, gave 'in principle' approval for strategic disinvestment of equity shareholding of Minerals & Metals Trading Corporation Limited (MMTC) (49.78%), National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) (10.10%), MECON (0.68%) and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (BHEL) (0.68%) and two Odisha State Government PSUs namely; Industrial Promotion and Investment Corporation of Odisha Ltd.(IPICOL) (12.00%) and Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) (20.47%) in Neelachal Ispat Nigam Limited (NINL) to a strategic buyer, identified through a two-stage auction procedure. NINL is a Joint Venture company, in which four CPSEs namely MMTC, NMDC, BHEL and MECON and 2 State PSUs of Odisha Government, namely IPICOL and OMC are shareholders.
The government said, the proposed strategic disinvestment of NINL "would unlock resources to be used to finance the social sector/developmental programmes of the Government benefiting the public."
The CCEA also expected the successful strategic buyer to bring in new management/technology/investment for the growth of the company and may use innovative methods for the development of the business operations of the company, which may generate more employment opportunities.

It is another matter that such expectations of private players will remain,  at best,  hopes. Primarily because we are in a " lean and mean" phase where robots driven by artificial intelligence are also seeking employment.
According to C H Venkatachalam, the secretary of the All India Bank Employees’ Association, members were apprehensive about the merger of 10 public sector banks into four. While the bank employees did not see any sense in merging the strong and healthy banks with the sick ones with unmanageable NPAs, Venkatachalam  feared the merger would affect their jobs and hit the recovery of bad loans.
The students and  teaching community came out in support of the workers strike with their demands of roll back of hike in fees in various universities, end to commercialization of education and against brutal attacks by the police and goons on students and teachers in some universities. Workers in schemes like the Anganwadi, Asha, Mid-day meal etc came out on streets for a hike in wages. Even hawkers and  vendors unions, those of construction, beedi and home based workers as well as domestic workers unions participated in the bandh with grievances to air.



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