Striking for Their Right

General strikes are important political interventions allowing for workers' voices to be heard.

The general strike of 2 September, called by all major trade unions barring the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) that is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was dismissed by mainstream media as a “failure” for its inability to cause widespread disruption. Little, if anything, was reported about the demands of the workers or of the sly attempts by the central government to undermine the strike. A few days before the strike, for instance, Union Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya’s office sent out bulk text messages to people registered with the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation announcing a 43% hike in the minimum wages of unskilled non-agricultural workers to ₹350 a day and promoting it as a “pro-worker initiative.” Not surprisingly, the BMS spoke of this as a “historic victory for workers.” The so-called “victory” was nothing more than a charade. For the promised “hike” in minimum wages will not be even ₹10,000 per month, a demand trade unions last made three and a half years ago in the general strike of February 2013. Furthermore, Dattatreya’s meaningless statement that the government “agreed to address” seven of the eight “labour-related” demands of the strike only reiterates this government’s eagerness to posture as “pro-worker” while instituting policies that undercut the rights of workers.

The coverage of the general strike in the media in the days leading up to 2 September was sparse, with no mention of the purpose of the strike, or what participating unions were demanding. This has unfortunately been a common feature of labour news coverage in recent decades, with an emphasis either on violence as in the coverage of the February 2013 strike and industry-specific strikes such as Maruti–Suzuki workers’ strikes in Manesar, or the consistent emphasis on whether “normalcy” of life was affected. The loss of work hours and the resultant “loss” to the economy is the other way labour struggles feature in news coverage. These “losses” are simply estimates by industry associations calculated without considering inventories built up through increased production in anticipation of such work stoppages. Such narratives blame the working class for stalling the “engine of growth,” while detracting from their substantive demands.

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Biden’s policy of the “return to the normal” would be inadequate to decisively defeat Trumpism.