The Voice of the Working Woman was first published in 1980 with Vimal Ranadive as its founder editor. The journal was brought out by the Coordination Committee of Working Women, which was set up in 1979 as a sub-committee of CITU. Its membership largely consisted of working class women and the journal — a bi-monthly then — highlighted their concerns and struggles from different parts of the country. Ranjana Nirula of CITU has been actively associated with the Coordination Committee of Working Women from its inception and later, with bringing out the journal.
As we celebrate May Day this year, we present a few excerpts from the May 2021 issue of the journal.
On this May Day 2021, CITU salutes the working class and all sections of toiling people across the world, who, suffering huge personal losses and risking their own lives, have been striving to bring the economy back on wheels and safeguard the lives of others; and condoles the families and friends of the millions who lost their lives due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
On this May Day, CITU extends fraternal solidarity to the workers and working people all over the world, who are bravely fighting the Covid pandemic on the one hand and the attacks of the ruling classes and their agents in governance on their livelihood, rights and working conditions, on the other.
The Covid pandemic that continues its rampage one and a half years since it first appeared in end 2019 has exposed the ugly, cruel and barbarous face of the capitalist system – a system which despite unprecedented advances in science and technology, fails to meet the basic needs of most of the people and protect their lives; a system where health is not a basic right of citizens but reserved only for those who can buy it. Health, education, housing, food are increasingly going out of the reach of the poor. The number of working poor has increased during the pandemic. Millions have lost their jobs. The richest and most powerful country in the world, the USA, along with the advanced capitalist countries is a glaring example of how neglect of public health care and promotion of private insurance based health care resulted in thousands of preventable deaths due to the pandemic. India today stands in their company.
Today, the Covid vaccines are being controlled and cornered by a few advanced countries. Many poor countries are denied access to the vaccines.
CITU warmly greets the people of the socialist countries for upholding and defending the socialist system in the face of the manifold machinations of subversion by international finance and US imperialism. On this May Day, CITU reiterates its solidarity with the socialist countries.
SOLIDARITY WITH SOCIALIST COUNTRIES
The experience of Covid 19 pandemic has again highlighted the superiority of the socialist system, which prioritises people over capital. The spread of Covid19 was effectively contained in socialist countries by providing universal public health care and prompt government intervention. China, Vietnam and North Korea have shown the way in curtailing the disease and safeguarding the health, lives and livelihoods of the people. China and Vietnam have also been able to bring their economies back on track.
Despite the inhuman blockade and sanctions imposed by US imperialism, Cuba, in an exemplary action of solidarity has sent its teams of doctors and health professionals to assist more than 51 countries across the world, not only in Africa and Latin America but also to advanced capitalist countries in Europe like Italy, in dealing with the pandemic. CITU demands that the Nobel Prize be awarded to the Cuban doctors for their selfless medical services across the world.
STAND AGAINST IMPERIALISM
CITU notes with concern the increasing aggressive manoeuvres by US imperialism to establish its hegemony across the world, particularly targeting Latin America, Palestine, the Middle-east and the Asia Pacific region. It is mounting pressure on developing countries seeking their economic and political subjugation. The most recent happening is the American Seventh Fleet warship’s intrusion into India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters off the coast of Lakshadweep without India’s consent, which is gratuitous challenge to India’s sovereignty. CITU condemns such imperialist arrogance and demands the BJP government to register our country’s strong protest against such US arrogance.
CITU extends its solidarity with the people in various countries, particularly in Latin America fighting against US imperialist interventions in their countries and in defence of popularly elected governments. It conveys solidarity to the people of Venezuela fighting against US machinations to destabilise the democratically elected government of President Maduro.
CITU stands in solidarity with the people of Palestine fighting for their right to their homeland. It strongly condemns Israeli aggression and continuous expansion of its settlements in Palestine and supports Palestinians’ demand for their homeland with the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.
CITU condemns the military coup and the attack unleashed by the military junta in Myanmar on the people protesting with the demand to restore democracy in the country.
STAND AGAINST NEOLIBERAL AGENDA OF THE BJP GOVERNMENT
CITU deplores the manner in which the BJP government in our country has been utilising the pandemic and the related restrictions as a “never before opportunity” to aggressively pursue its neoliberal agenda, to satisfy the lust for profit of the landlord-capitalist class, jeopardising the livelihood and survival of the masses. It is during this period that the BJP government passed the three Farm Bills suspending the MPs who asked for division; passed three Labour Codes when the entire opposition was absent in Parliament. It is going ahead with its plan of wholesale privatisation of the public sector. Under the misleading and deceptive slogan of ‘Atmanirbhar’ (self reliant) Bharat, the BJP government is mortgaging the entire country, its wealth – its natural resources and public sector as well as the real wealth creators – the workers and peasants, to the big corporates, domestic and foreign. The country and its people are being sought to be pushed back into colonial exploitative conditions of 19th century.
The three major public sector vaccine manufacturing units in the country being closed down under the neoliberal regime, vaccine manufacturing is now left to private companies for whom the government of India is one of the buyers. India, once a pioneer in vaccine manufacturing is facing a serious shortage of Covid vaccines today. It has failed in ramping up vaccine production and providing universal access to the vaccines. It has declined the requests from several state governments as well as the Indian Medical Association to expand coverage. Instead, the union health minister resorted to a blame game with the state governments.
The Inter State Migrant Workers’ Act, 1979 that provided the migrant workers with some protection now stands repealed, ostensibly subsumed under the Code on Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions but sans most of the protective provisions. The draft National Policy on Migrant Workers has nothing on their labour rights or on matters related to industrial relations.
The Labour Codes, enacted during the pandemic are toolkits gifted to the big corporates by the BJP government to enable unfettered exploitation of workers, on the pretext of promoting ‘Ease of Doing Business’. On the one hand the labour codes legalise the hitherto illegal violation by the employers of what were the laws of the land; on the other they criminalise the workers collective actions to assert their basic trade union and labour rights. Even the universally accepted right to “eight hours’ working day” synonymous with May Day is being sought to be diluted. They all are meant to denude workers of the only weapon they have – organised trade unions and collective actions.
Unemployment in many countries including India has reached explosive proportions exposing the systematic destruction of the employment-absorption capacity of the economy by the destructive neoliberal capitalist policies.
Not only industry and services; the BJP government led by Modi has also opened up our agriculture to absolute corporate control. The three Farm Acts are meant to facilitate corporate takeover of our agriculture hitherto dominated by small farmers. They promote corporate farming, withdraw regulations including remunerative prices and procurement that protect the farmers and expose them to the vagaries of international food markets. This would lead to the dismantling of the public distribution system, threatening the food security of our people, particularly the poor. Majority of the farmers would face the threat of eviction from lands.
SOLIDARITY WITH THE RESISTING MASSES
CITU congratulates the working class, the farmers and all sections of toiling people for their heroic resistance against these anti-worker, anti-farmer, anti-people and anti-national policies of the BJP government. The farmers’ protests against the ‘black’ Farm Laws at Delhi borders are not only continuing for over four months, and have also gained support from all over the country. Despite exhausting all its toolkits to divide the farmers, maligning them and misleading the countries by spreading lies; the BJP government could not succeed in weakening the struggle. CITU salutes their courage and determination. It is proud to be part of this struggle by mobilising thousands of workers in the entire country in solidarity.
CITU also congratulates the working class for its tenacious and sustained struggle to protect its rights and working conditions from the onslaught of big capital and their present representatives in governance, the BJP government led by Modi. Not to be cowed down by the restrictions to its movements and activities due to the pandemic and the associated lockdown, the working class has utilised every opportunity to raise its voice against the anti worker, anti people policies of the government. Raising its voice from roof tops and balconies at the peak of the lockdown, it gradually stepped out to step up the resistance and went on a successful strike on 26th November, despite the serious constraints due to the ongoing pandemic. CITU is proud of its role in initiating these protests and congratulates the workers for the huge response. The coal workers, the steel workers, the bank and insurance employees, workers of private organised sector, the scheme workers and lakhs of workers from almost all sectors have been on this path of struggle.
The growing solidarity between the two major sections of our toiling people, the workers and the peasants, that produce the wealth of this country, is a matter of great significance. CITU has always been making efforts to develop such solidarity and unity of workers and peasants. In the midst of the pandemic, the workers and peasants not only intensified their struggles on their own demands, but also consciously tried to synchronise and physically participated in each others’ actions. CITU believes that strengthening such unity of workers and peasants and taking joint struggles to a higher level involving broader sections of the masses will provide historic opportunity to advance the fight against not only neoliberal policies but against the exploitative capitalist system itself.
CITU urges the workers all over the country to strengthen unity of workers, peasants and sections of toiling people, and overcome the divisive machinations of the communal and casteist forces bent upon disrupting people’s unity in order to serve the interests of the ruling classes. CITU reiterates its commitment to strive for strengthening unity workers, peasants and all sections of toiling people and intensifying the struggle to protect their interests and save the nation.
CITU strongly condemns the BJP government’s attempts to suppress dissent and opposition to its policies by dubious means. The Constitutional and democratic rights of the people and Parliamentary norms are violated. The BJP government is using draconian laws like the UAPA and NSA; and its machinery in the ED, Income Tax, CBI and the Delhi police under its administration to intimidate, threaten, arrest, imprison and subject to harassment all those who oppose its policies and protest against its actions.
The aggressive attacks of capital and its cronies in the government, on the workers and other toiling people, are not specific to India alone. Changes in labour laws curbing hard won rights of the workers, particularly their right to organise and collective bargaining, attacks on democratic rights are being made in several capitalist countries. The ruling classes are promoting the growth of right wing forces to achieve their goals and divide on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity and region.
As a response to the continuously aggravating economic crisis of this capitalist system, the ruling class are desperately trying to centralise the entire governance of the economy and the political system. They are destroying all the democratic components with a clear fascistic intent. Attack on rights of the working class through Labour Codes, the brutal attacks on the democratic rights, on freedom of expression, dissent, opposition and protest etc, trampling underfoot the Constitutional provisions, bypassing Parliamentary norms, onslaught on the rights of the state governments under the existing federal structure, are all integral to this authoritarian project. Use of communal, divisive issues to disrupt unity of the people and weaken their struggles to serve the interests of a handful of corporates, both domestic and foreign, is also a part of their political agenda with the same purpose.
Workers in our country and all over the world are increasingly realising the failure of the system to protect their interests. The real ‘Corporate-subservient’ character of the BJP government is getting increasingly understood by the people. This understanding has to be widened further. Now is the time to create awareness among the vast masses of workers and other toiling people about the link between their day to day issues and the policies being pursued by successive governments at the centre; to help them identify their friends and foes; mobilise them to unite with their allies and together fight with their enemies.
In view of this comprehensive all-round onslaught on the people, economy, democratic system, societal harmony and national integrity as a whole, the class oriented workers has to fight back but only after a comprehensive understanding of the character of these attacks of the ruling class, in all its expressions, linking one with the other. It has to be the united battle of the working class along with the people to defend the rights and dignity of the workers and the people, their livelihood, defend the democratic system and values, defend the national economy and resources and above all to defend the unity of the people.
This requires consistent and continuous efforts to expose the inherent exploitative character of the capitalist system, its inhuman machinations and the politics that promote it. This May Day let us pledge to take up this task in the right earnest.
On this May Day, CITU appeals to all workers and toiling people in our country and around the world to:
Unite and demand universal free vaccination against Covid 19 as well as universal free public health care.
Unite to fight against the capitalist onslaught on the livelihood and hard won basic rights of the workers and all toiling people.
Unite and fight for a pro-people alternative.
Unite and fight to defeat all attempts of the ruling classes to divide the working class and the people.
Long Live May Day!
Long Live Working Class Solidarity!
Long Live Worker Peasant Alliance!
Long Live Socialism!
Down With Capitalism!
Inter-State Migrant Workers: Deprived of Labour Rights, Targeted as Vote Bank
-J S Majumdar
On Sunday, the 21 February 2021, media across India carried a lead news on NITI Aayog’s proposals in its draft ‘National Policy on Migrant Labour’ ostensibly ‘as a response to the Covid fallout on the migrants’, as reported by the press. The report, submitted in the Parliament by the Union Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar, states that about 1 crore migrant workers began their long journey back home after sudden Covid-19 pandemic countrywide lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister on 24 March 2020.
As a fallout of the lockdown – sudden loss of jobs and income, lack of accommodation and food, total stoppage of rail and road transportation; lakhs of interstate migrant workers started walking on road and rail tracks, some of them with families and infants. Hundreds of them died on way, not due to Covid infection, but because of the unplanned lockdown and the absence of any immediate relief. The reports and visuals in print, electronic and social media stirred the conscience of the people across the country.
FALSE CLAIMS OF THE GOVERNMENT
Utilising this huge public sympathy across India for the migrant workers after their lockdown tragedy, the Union Labour Minister announced in the Parliament on 8 February 2021 that the draft policy on migrant workers is in response to the ‘demands from a cross section of states, experts and civil society.’ This claim of the Government is totally false. The lockdown was announced on 24 March, 2020; the tragedy of migrant workers walking back home was widely reported and the people protested in April-June, 2020 against Government’s insensitivity in arranging transport for them, refusing to provide free ration, cash transfer to the needy despite repeated demand by the trade unions and other sections. Instead, the Modi Govt. removed the existing meagre legal protections of the inter-state migrant workers by repealing the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 (Migrant Workers Act) in September 2020. And, now in February 2021, this Govt. is responding to the migrant workers woes and tragedies!
Along with the three anti-farmer Farm Bills, three antiworker Labour Codes – both in favour of the corporates – were steamrolled in the Parliament, without putting the Bills to vote, in the midst of Opposition’s protest against the Farm Bills and boycott of the Houses. In one go, the three Farm Bills and three Labour Codes were adopted in Lok Sabha on 17 September, in Rajya Sabha on 20 September; and the President gave assent on 27 September 2020. In 10 days, three Farm Bills and three Labour Codes became Acts replacing many (29) existing labour laws, which came into existence pre-Independence and since Independence through years of workers struggles and sacrifices. Through these, crores of the peasants and the workers of the country, the vast majority of Indian population, are being subjugated before the foreign and domestic corporates for Modi government’s project misleadingly named as ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in post-Covid ‘New India’.
LEGAL COVERAGE OF MIGRANT WORKERS REMOVED
One of the three Labour Codes, adopted in September 2020, is the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (OSH Code). Through Section 143(1) of this OSH Code, the Migrant Workers Act has been repealed along with 12 other labour laws for sectorwise workers. With this, the meagre legal protection of migrant workers has been removed. Apart from general application of labour laws, there were certain specific provisions for the migrant workers on mandatory basis in the now repealed Migrant Workers Act which include –
- Ensuring payment of equal wages for similar work by other workers or minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act 1948 whichever is more;
- Displacement allowance;
- Home journey allowance including wages during journey; and
- Suitable residential accommodation and medical facilities free of charge.
Putting responsibility on the contractors, recruiting migrant workers, which includes –
- Compulsory registration in both – source state and destination state;
- To submit within 15 days, detailed particulars to both governments in prescribed forms about the migrant workers and of the appointing establishment;
- Maintaining registers with details of the migrant workers;
- Most importantly, to issue to each migrant worker a pass book in English, Hindi and in state language with his photo giving particulars of (i) name and place of the establishment; (ii) period of employment; (iii) rate of wage and mode of payment; (iv) payable displacement allowance; (v) return fare payable; (vi) deductions made, if any etc;
- Reporting about fatal accident or serious injury of migrant worker to both the governments and to the next of kin; and
- (vi) Liable for the prescribed punishments for violations committed under this Act.
For the employer in the establishment –
- Maintaining registers indicating the details of interstate workers;
- Contractor’s responsibility of payment of wage and allowances under supervision of principal employer and, in case of failure by the contractor, the responsibility of the principal employer; and
- Liable for the prescribed punishments for violations committed under the Act.
WHAT REMAINS IN OSH CODE FOR MIGRANT WORKERS
Part II of OSH Code includes some provisions for the inter-state migrant workers. Ruling dispensation claims that the provisions of the Migrant Workers Act have been subsumed in the Osh Code. This claim is also false. All the above provisions of the nowrepealed Migrant Workers Act have been removed except the following provisions. Migrant workers Act had the provision of a minimum threshold of 5 migrant workers in an establishment / contractor where the Act applied. In the OSH Code the minimum threshold of the migrant workers has been raised to 10 for the establishment / contractor. It means that migrant workers in the vast majority of the small industrial and service establishments will be out of any protection of labour laws. OSH Code retained following revised and diluted provisions of Migrant Workers Act:
- Vague ‘suitable conditions of work’ for migrant workers;
- Similar wage-related and other benefits applicable to other workers;
- Only lumpsum amount for to and from journey to home state;
- OSH Code additionally provides PDS benefit to migrant workers in either of the states; free helpline and arrangement for study of their conditions.
DRAFT NATIONAL POLICY ON MIGRANT WORKERS
Now, the Modi government claims to have responded to the migrant workers miseries in the post-lockdown situation and, accordingly, NITI Aayog drafted the National Policy on Migrant Workers. The policy document has four segments as priority issues –
- ‘Ensuring political inclusion’;
- Setting up inter-state coordination mechanisms;
- A ‘migration wing’ in each state’s labour department;
- Source state and destination state to work with each other.
Actually there are only two segments – one is about ‘political inclusion’ of the migrant workers and the other one is about intergovernmental coordination. Nowhere in the draft policy document, have migrant workers’ labour rights and industrial-relation matters been envisaged.
MIGRANT WORKERS AS BJP VOTE BANK
The whole exercise seems to be ‘ensuring political inclusion’. Other than voting there is no political inclusion for migrants or any other section of the workers. Accordingly, the draft policy document framework noted – to establish mechanisms to ‘enable voting’ so that political inclusion will ‘enhance accountability of political leadership towards welfare of migrant workers in their respective states.’ As per the 2011 census, total number of internal migrants in India is 45.36 crore or 37% of the country’s population including inter-state and intra-state migrants; and the total workforce was of 48.2 crore people of which the Economic Survey pegged the size of the migrant workforce at roughly 20% or over 10 crore in 2016. NSSO surveys and economic survey show that there are a total of about 65 million inter-state migrants, 33% are workers. Add street vendors, not included in the workers data; that would mean, there are 12 to 18 million migrant workers. Prof. Kundu estimated that four states account for 50% of the total migrant workers in the country – Uttar Pradesh – 25%, Bihar – 14%, Rajasthan – 6% and Madhya Pradesh – 5%.
This huge number of migrants is the target of RSSBJP as a potential vote bank; and the NITI Aayog has prepared this draft national policy for providing online voting facilities for them. NITI Aayog’s draft policy document talks only of the voting rights of migrant workers! After these, who would dare to oppose the political empowerment of the migrant workers in exercising their voting rights electronically? The rest has been left to ‘Jio’ to manage.
EMERGING TASKS FOR THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT
The trade union movement cannot allow the Modi government to play with the tragedy of migrant workers. The trade union movement should immediately raise and pursue the following demands for inter-state migrant workers – Union Labour Ministry to hold meeting with trade unions for preparing a National Policy on Migrant Workers; Restore Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979; and Effective implementation of the Act by the governments of both resource and destination states.
There is also an urgent need of organisational initiative by the trade unions for – effective intervention to pursue these demands at the central and state levels; and organising the migrant workers in both – the resource and destination states.