How Workers Are Mobilizing to Confront India’s Neoliberal Agenda

Protesters at the Workers’ Mahapadaav (Mass Sit-in) called by the Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions. New Delhi, November 2017. Photo credits: Subin Dennis

India — Over the past three decades, Indian workers have faced the crushing blows of neo-liberal policies that have been instrumental in pushing workers to the margins. In India — a nation of 1.3 billion people –, only 7 percent of the workforce is in the formal sector. The remaining 93 percent of workers in the informal sector are not covered by labor laws that would provide for a living wage or social security benefits like pensions and health care.

In the face of these attacks, our eighteenth dossier — an interview with K. Hemalata, President of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions — discusses tactics used by trade federations in India to organise the working class, as well as the structure of the Indian workforce, worker militancy, and the challenges before the trade union movement.

This document provides a window into the ways that people are pushed to the margins — from manual labour to IT workers –, how they are robbed of their rights, and the battles that they are waging to make life better for themselves and the majority of the people around them.

“Platforms must be created to strengthen the confidence of oppressed sections, but the general orientation is to create broad class unity out of this process — not to fragment the working class on the lines of social oppression. The only answer is to mobilise the workers.” — K. Hemalata, President of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions

Fruit vendor in Fatehabad, Haryana. July 2018. Photo credits: Celina della Croce

“This dossier provides a grounded and honest perspective from one of the prominent left unions in India and shines a light on the multiple challenges confronting labour today: rise in precarious work, social and political marginalisation, increase in distress migration and disruptions due to the incredible power of digital monopolies. This dossier underlines that only a united and militant labour movement can respond to these formidable challenges.”

– Susana Barria, Asia Pacific Trade Campaigner, Public Services International

BACKGROUND: The interview with Hemalata is timely in an environment where Indian workers face a heightened attack on their rights that has taken on many different forms, as well as an economic and political landscape that poses tremendous challenges to organising. A spatially fragmented production process in which home-based labour and contract labour dominate poses a challenge to organising, as does the proliferation of Special Economic Zones in which migrant labourers are brought in from different regions to work in factories from which union organisers are banned. The linguistic, regional, and caste differences between the workers and the surrounding community have provided an opportunity for the ruling class to divide the working class. Further, the re-labelling of workers as ‘helpers’ or ‘friends’ rather than full-time or permanent workers deprives them of rights to which they would otherwise be guaranteed. The government has created loopholes that corporations eagerly exploit, enabling gross abuses of workers’ rights that are further reinforced by severe repression.

Red Flags at the camping site for participants of the Mazdoor-Kisan Sangharsh Rally (Worker-Peasant Struggle Rally) organised jointly by CITU, AIKS and AIAWU. New Delhi, September 2018. Photo credits: Subin Dennis

Read our 18th dossier — The Only Answer is to Mobilise the Workers, An Interview with K. Hemalata, President of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research is an international, movement- driven institution that carries out empirically based research guided by political movements. They seek to bridge gaps in knowledge about the political economy as well as social hierarchy that will facilitate the work of their political movements and involve themselves in the “battle of ideas” to fight against the bourgeois ideology that has swept through intellectual institutions from the academy to the media.

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Tricontinental Institute for Social Research

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