Thursday, February 21, 2013

General Strike Rolls Through India.

In the United States the general strike has been all but a myth for decades... In India, there is a 1 day general strike at least once a year.  However, some Indian trade unionists have felt the yearly general strike has become more of a predictable tradition than an ineffective action that leverages economic power to meet the demands of Indian workers.  This years general strike is a shift from those of recent history for a number of reasons:

1) All of the Indian Trade Unions (from left to right on the political spectrum) have come together to participate.
2) This will be a two day strike.

This unity amongst the Indian trade union movement is a big step and is sorely needed to confront the aggressive neoliberal shifts pushed by powerful corporate interests and Indian government over the past 20 years.  The concept is that all trade union federations - regardless of political affiliation or orientation, must prioritize their class interests.  This massive strike of over 100 million Indian workers is a manifestation of this concept.

Our contingent met at the CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) office in Delhi yesterday morning (the first day of the strike), to meet with Indian workers participating in the strike and to understand the main demands of the strike.  It was a whirlwind of activity as workers flowed in and out of the union office, building up numbers before the march.

At about 10:30 am we left the CITU building and began marching throughout the street in two lines wearing CITU visors, hoisting banners and carrying the 10 Point demands of the strike:
10 Point Demands of the Strike
A summary of the main demands include: 1) Protect the right to organize (end retaliation against organizing workers) 2) Stop using contract labor 3) Raise the minimum wage 4) Stop outsourcing labor

We marched for about half a mile before encountering a police barricade.  Some unionists sat down in this area to guarantee that the transportation flow was disrupted.  Others continued on and encountered a line of police at a busy intersection... The CITU members seemed to have a shared unspoken agenda and marched directly up to the police line taking the space so that traffic could not flow through the intersections controlled by us.  Protesters were peaceful and intentional and the police seemed wary of confronting the marchers with force - although there was certainly pushing and shoving at the tip of the line.
We rushed to a meeting after the march and ended up at the wrong location...  The driver of our vehicle informed us that it would not be possible to drive us any further at that time because many intersections and streets were flooded with trade unionists and supporters.  We were still trying to gauge the effectiveness of the strike, but we took this matter of fact statement from our driver as a good sign.