Since the advent of the neoliberal reforms in 1991, there has been an escalation of national level united strike actions by trade unions. Wednesday’s general strike was the 16th in the series. During this period of nearly a quarter century, widely different political combinations led by both Congress, BJP and non-Congress and non-BJP parties have been in power. This alone should be sufficient to lay bare the lie in the allegation that these general strikes are politically motivated.
There is no political party that has not, at one time or the other, supported the general strikes. The working class actions have exhibited growing unity with even independent trade union centres and unions joining the general strikes. The conclusion is inescapable that something fundamentally different from the past has occurred on the industrial relations front, which in turn has created grave disquiet among workers. It is important to understand this fundamental break in the industrial relations paradigm rather than join the middle class chorus on causing inconvenience to the public, national loss, anarchy and so on.
It may be a surprise to many that in the long history of working class from the time of industrial revolution, it is only in the post world-war period that the workers, even in the West, have been guaranteed security of tenure, periodic upward revision of wages, social security and fringe benefits.
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App users, click hereThe Precarious Employment of the past gave way to a new concept of Standard Employment Relations. This transformation of work took place under the aegis of the welfare state within the framework of Keynesian policies, but prodded by militant working class actions. The neoliberal counter-revolution aims to put an end to the welfare state as well as the Keynesian policies.
A major stumbling block before the onward march of neoliberalism is the organised working class that thwarted labour flexibility and any attempt to reduce the wage share. Both, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, launched their neoliberal offensive by breaking the militant unions. Since then, trade union membership and resistance has declined in the West resulting in greater casualisation of employment and demolition of the standard employment contracts. The results for the workers have been disastrous. The average share of wages in national income among 16 developed countries has declined from 75 per cent in the early 1970’s to 65 per cent in 2007. The real wages have stagnated or declined. Inequality has widened.
Broadly, the same trend towards casualisation is evident in India too. In the organised sector, 50 per cent of the public sector workers and 70 per cent of the private sector workers are either temporary or contract workers, with no security of tenure. They are being paid much lower wages and fringe benefits than regular workers. This extent of casualisation has been achieved in violation of the existing labour laws and through violent confrontation with workers, such as in the automobile sector. The share of wages in the organised sector has declined from around 30 per cent in the 1980’s to less than 20 per cent in 2009. Only one third of the workers in the organised sector are unionised. The trade unions have been fighting a losing battle against the forces ushered in by a tacit approval of the central and state governments
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