Class Struggle in India: Report to the ICC Pan Asian Conference
As the working class in India is an important regiment of the international working class, the situation, conditions and problems of the class struggle here cannot be fundamentally different from the international class struggle. The situation, conditions, problems, difficulties and perspectives of the international class struggle have been presented and discussed in detail in reports to our International Congress. The purpose of this report is to analyse and understand the development of class struggle in India in the light of our global framework.
The last international congress of the ICC correctly asserted that the struggle of the working class in India, China, Brazil and other ‘emerging economies' will play a very significant role in the process of development of the next upsurge of the world proletarian revolution. These countries have a very large working class population and working class concentrations. Moreover the struggles in these countries will accelerate the process of development of the international unity and solidarity of the working class, making the various sorts of divisive, concerted efforts of the world bourgeoisie ineffective. Thus it has become a very important task of the ICC as a whole and Communist Internationalist in particular to understand as profoundly as possible the conditions of the working class struggle, the fermentation going on in its ranks, its strength, weaknesses, difficulties, problems, possibilities, perspectives, and the attacks and manoeuvres of the class enemy to derail the class.
As in the countries in the heartland of capitalism the working class in India has also quite a long history of heroic class struggle, both against direct imperialist exploitation and repression and against the intensified exploitation and oppression by the ‘independent' native bourgeoisie since 1947. Thousands of working class people have been killed; more have been injured, repressed and imprisoned in very inhuman conditions for years at a time. But this has failed to crush the militant spirit of the working class. This history of heroic struggle has to be profoundly understood as an indispensable task. We are not going into this detail in this report. We are only focusing on some important struggles in the recent period. These struggles are perfectly in line with the important struggles mentioned in the report on the international class struggle and their significant characteristics.
The struggles of the diamond workers in Gujarat, the struggles of the Hyundai workers in Chennai, auto part workers in Coimbatore, struggles of the auto and auto parts industry workers very near to the Indian capital region are some of the most important struggles that have taken place in spite of the lofty claims of the Indian bourgeoisie about successfully overcoming the worst effects of the crisis and being well set up on the way to recovery. In Gujarat, unorganised contract workers spearheaded the struggle. In Gurgaon these were workers of the auto companies. In Gujarat the diamond workers went on wildcat strike. This strike spread very rapidly to many other cities where diamond polishing is done. All these struggles have been violently crushed by the ‘democratic' state machinery. Other struggles of the working class in various forms have taken place in various parts of India: There have been important strikes in the public sector - bank workers' strike, Air India pilots' strike, all India strike by oil workers in January 2009, and a strike by government employees in January 2009 in Bihar. Some of these have been the expression of bitter conflicts where the state tried to hit the workers very hard and crush them. This was the case with the oil workers' strike in January 2009 when the state used ESMA [Essential Services Maintenance Act] and other laws to crush the workers and resorted to various repressive actions. This was also the case with the strike of government employees in Bihar where the government wanted to teach the employees a lesson. In the case of the oil workers' strike the government later backed off from further repression as there was a threat of the strike spreading to other public sector undertakings.
BSNL employees went on strike on 27 August 2008; on 24 September of the same year bank employees went on strike. On 1 October2008 there was a strike by cine workers. On 7 January 2009 oil workers of IOC, BPCL, HPCL and GAIL went on strike for higher wages. Airport workers went on strike on 30 April, 2009. On May 20/21 there was a strike by mine workers in the Bailadilla mines. On 25 May PWD workers in Goa struck for higher wages. On 12 June 2009 bank employees again went on strike. Workers of MRF Tires and Nokia factories in Tamilnadu were also engaged in struggles on 22 September 2009 against their bosses around the same time. In addition to these there have been important struggles of the dock workers and jute mill workers in West Bengal. In a suburb of Kolkata jute mill workers were so enraged against the management staff that they pounced upon and killed some of them. Tea garden workers have also gone on strike several times
Struggles of the new generation (PTTI)
We have seen in other parts of the world a new generation of workers or would-be workers entering struggles on a proletarian terrain to defend their future against the capitalist states. The struggles of the students in France and Greece are very important, significant and inspiring. The efforts at self-organisation, general assembly, extension, openness to discussion, attitude o learning from the past experience of the working class, solidarity and unity, questioning capitalism, expressing strong indignation against its very existence any further are the precursor of the new evolving situation of the class struggle.
In this context, the struggle of the PTTI (Primary Teachers' Training Institute) students in West Bengal is quite significant. These students have either passed the training course from government recognised training institutes or were in the way of completing the course. But these institutes have now been declared to be unrecognised by the central educational authority (NCTE). So the degree certificates they got after successfully completing the course have now become illegal and valueless in the employment market. Thus these students have suddenly become unemployable. Even thousands of teachers who are already serving as teachers in government Primary schools are also victims of this declaration because their degree certificates have also been made illegal at the stroke of a pen by the same educational authority controlled by the central government. These students have spent a lot of money in undergoing the training course. Some of these students were so frustrated that they committed suicide.
This precarious situation pushed students to launch struggle for getting employment as teachers. Seventy six thousand such students have been involved in this struggle. For those who have already been serving as teachers, the threat of losing their job stares them in the face because of this completely irrational political game of ruling parties both in central and state government. In the beginning there was an element of self-organisation and mistrust against all the political parties and trade unions of the left and right of capital. They asserted that they will not allow themselves to be pawns in the political chess game of various political parties. Very often there have been violent confrontations with the police force, repression by the state and imprisonment of the students. In spite of this, the struggle of these PTTI students points to the evolving state of class struggle of not only the new generation of workers or would-be workers but also other sectors of the working class in the near future.
Some of the very important characteristics of these struggles are given below.
Simultaneity of Struggles
Simultaneity of attacks means greater potential for simultaneity of struggles. There will be an increasing likelihood that workers from different sectors under attack will start to go beyond ‘their' sector, beyond ‘their' union and aim to seek solidarity from other workers as a first step towards pushing back the attacks.
What we see today is that more and more workers are willing to take up the struggle against the attacks of the bosses. While the struggles are more numerous in many parts of the country, there is a tendency toward simultaneity of struggle in the same geographic areas as well. This opens the possibility of linking up and extension of struggles. It can be seen in the struggle of diamond workers in Gujarat who went on wildcat strikes simultaneously in several cities. This can be seen in strikes of auto workers in Tamilnadu and Pune and Nasik where several strikes in the same geographic area broke out at the same time. The bourgeoisie could sense this threat and scaled back its repression. This simultaneity is the result of identical attacks that all sectors of workers are facing today. The most significant strike was the struggle of diamond workers in Surat which seemed to have some elements of the mass strike, since workers in Rajkot and Amreli districts also went on strike in support of their demands.
In Ahmedabad district, hundreds of diamond workers pelted stones and tried to enforce closure in Bapunagar area. The strike in the diamond industry over wages spread to Palanpur and Mehsana in north Gujarat. Workers in a number of factories in Gurgaon-Manesar have been waging struggle against their bosses. In Honda Motorcycles, workers had been agitating for several months for better wages and against the practice of increasing casualisation of permanent jobs. Workers of other factories actively agitated in their support. This opened the possibility of extension and unification of the struggles, the only way in which workers can fight and push back the attacks of the bosses. This the bourgeoisie fear most and the unions want to avert
Class solidarity and extension
No doubt there is a dynamic for possible extension, self-organisation, control and development of class solidarity in the recent struggles. But for the realisation of this dynamic, it is important for the workers to understand the evolving machinations of the capitalist state, the role of the unions and to take the struggles more and more in their own hands. The situation is developing in a direction in which it is crucial for revolutionaries to profoundly understand this dynamic and properly intervene so that the struggling workers are able to realise both the potential and strength of the struggles and steer clear of the union traps.
In the struggles at Gurgaon, in the face of working class outrage at the killing of a worker at RICO Auto Industries and the injuring of several others, the role of the unions has been to pre-empt and block this tendency toward extension and unification. By calling a one day general strike, unions tried to sterilise workers' militancy and their will to come together and strengthen class solidarity. Despite this, the strike on 20 October was a demonstration of class solidarity by nearly 100,000 workers. It also expressed their enthusiasm and will to fight and confront the bourgeoisie.
Difficulties in the way of development of struggles
Though there has been passionate involvement of the working class masses in all the struggles mentioned above, almost all these were led by and under the control of the trade unions. In many cases the unions have been compelled to pre-empt the development of struggles on the class terrain through self-organisation and extension by acting first with a radical image. But the fact is that in spite of increasing distrust towards the unions, the working class has not yet been able to go beyond the unions and develop its self-organisation. We should focus on understanding the dynamics of the development of class struggle toward the mass strike and the role played by the revolutionary organisations in this dynamic.
As in other parts of the world here also there is fear and hesitation in the class to jump into immediate struggle against the increasing attacks on living and working conditions. There is a fear of job loss as there are increasing attacks on job security and the replacement of permanent jobs by very low paid temporary contract jobs without any social security. Moreover the conventional methods of struggle in the trade union way are proving to be more and more futile and the real alternative is also not immediately clear. But there is fermentation going on in the class, an urge to understand the stakes of history and to develop its struggles against the bourgeoisie.
The impact of the NGO propaganda and activity, and that of the extreme leftist forces, also put obstacles in the way of development of struggles on a class terrain. The mystification of democracy is also a strong negative factor. All sorts of union based, region based, religion and caste based divisions and sentiments are also important hindrances. All these are temporary; permanent are capitalist relations and crisis, its inherent antagonism and increasing attacks and repression which can not but lead to reflection, fermentation and development of class consciousness, self-organisation and class struggles. But the intervention of revolutionaries is also a very crucial factor in this dynamic.
The world bourgeoisie has also learned from its experience in controlling, repressing, defeating and crushing the working class. Its aim is intensifying the competition, division and mystification in the class so that the class fails to organise massive, united struggles on a class terrain in a more combative and conscious way. The world bourgeoisie, its economists, scholars, researchers, politicians, trade unionists, business and political executives, are meeting regularly to devise ways and means to achieve this objective. The Indian bourgeoisie is not lagging behind in this task. It is a life and death question to all sectors of the bourgeoisie.
The economic policies of the bourgeoisie have led to rising inflation. As per official statistics food inflation is 18% but in reality it much higher. In the face of this, the majority of the working class is finding it very difficult to make both ends meet. Sensing the danger of mass revolts and to avert this, different factions of the bourgeoisie have been posturing against price rises and carrying out ritualistic ‘struggles'. Given the continuous acceleration of the crisis, the bourgeoisie cannot continue to contain the class struggle for long. The present relative difficulty of the class contains within itself the violent storms of massive outbursts of class struggle in the coming period.
Like in all other parts of the world here also the bourgeoisie and its ‘specialists' are all working overtime to bring home to the working class the message that the crisis is temporary and part of life of the system, that it can be overcome sooner or later, that the worst impact of the crisis is over, that there is quite an encouraging growth in the GDP and exports have already been picking up, that better days are coming soon.
Another tried and tested trap of the bourgeoisie is nationalism. The bourgeoisie and its print and electronic media never tire of reminding the working class of the imperialist designs of China, the dragon, against India, its military expansion, and policy of encirclement. Almost everyday there are news stories of hostile designs and activities of the Pakistani state against the interest of India. Any terrorist activity in any part of India is declared to be the perpetration of elements aided and abetted by the Pakistani state. They are trying their best to rally the working class in its imperialist war on terror. Thus the working class is always being fed with high doses of nationalist fervour. The working class is always being told that India is going to be an important global power economically, politically and militarily and its status in the ‘international community' is being elevated more and more.
Further, the bourgeoisie is leaving no stone unturned to convince the working class that the thought of socialism, communism, and proletarian revolution is utopian. The working class is always being told that the democratic alternative is best alternative and the best method for resolving all problems.
Parties of the extreme left of capital are also trying their best to involve the working class in their ‘new democratic revolution' as the only alternative to the increasing problems of life and livelihood.
But the bourgeoisie has realised that in spite of all their well concerted efforts of mystification, the process of questioning capitalism and coming to consciousness is unstoppable. To derail this process of coming to consciousness and search for a communist alternative, factions of the bourgeoisie distort the essence of marxism while proclaiming that Marx was a great thinker and telling us that marxism is still relevant even today. The ruling class will do all it can to block workers coming to the realisation that only the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of a new society can solve the problems posed by this decomposing system.