All India Strike on September 2, 2016

All India Strike on September 2, 2016
M G WARRIER

There is a call from several organisations including many trade unions for an ‘All India Strike’ on September 2, 2016. The ‘demands’ highlighted include issues relating to wages and job security issues including social security. In all probability, the day will pass with some dislocation of traffic, a few speeches, a claim of majority participation by workers, laments about loss of production from industry with exaggerated figures to support, simultaneously with a sigh of relief from government side that everything was ‘normal’.
Last week, some last minute efforts were there from government to avert the strike, which included an upward revision of minimum wages, which, in any case, was pending somewhere for a decision.
Workers’ side has dubbed some measures like raising minimum wages announced in the context of strike as an ‘eye wash’. The reverse too is true. The trade union leadership which is guided by political parties somewhere ‘in power’ is not allowing workers to comprehend the seriousness of the situation created by wrong prices, wages and income policy pursued by all governments since independence. Some movement like ‘India Against Corruption’ will have to emerge to save workers from their ‘leaders’.
In a democracy, if the systems worked efficiently, there is no justification to give a call for strike. But, unfortunately, in India, democracy and orderly conduct of legislative procedures are still ‘work in progress’. Political parties managing governance are yet to become amenable to democratic processes within themselves and ideologies are compromised to ensure the survival of ruling coalitions. This affects adversely, not only the smooth governance, but also the working of trade unions and other arms like students’ organisations which have a role in protecting the interests of workers and genuine opinion-making. Simply put, there is a conscious effort to stifle thought processes which the political and corporate leadership feel, can go against their interests.
Writing in The Hindu (September 1, 2016) G Sampath raised a relevant question, “Do we need a minimum wage law?”. He went on to explain the concepts of living wage, fair wage and minimum wage and debated the seriousness with which stakeholders are approaching these concepts. It is a farce to retain the concept of minimum wage which does not ensure an income for the worker (who works full-time) which helps him and his dependents survive with some savings left for the family’s social security needs. The present levels of minimum wages ranging from Rs 1, 650 per month (Puduchery, agriculture) to Rs Rs 9,100 per month (The minimum wage of Rs 350 per dium for unskilled non-agricultural worker now announced) do not reach anywhere near the cost of 5 components mandated by the 15th Indian Labour Conference (1957) which were:
i)                   The wage must support three consumption units (individuals)
ii)                 Food requirements of 2,700 calories per day
iii)               Clothing requirements of 72 yards per year per worker’s family
iv)               Rent for housing area similar to that provided under the subsidised housing scheme and
v)                 Fuel, lighting and miscellaneous items of expenditure to constitute 20 per cent of the minimum wage.
It may be recalled that the Seventh Pay Commission had fixed minimum wage for central government employees at Rs 18,000.
Viewed in the above context, GOI will have to consider at some stage the demand for some reasonable relativity for wages of the workers in the unorganised sector with the entitlements of workers in the organised sector. All these will necessitate a revisit of the prices, wages and income policy sooner than later. This need to be done quickly and for making the processes transparent and findings and subsequent action plans acceptable for the stakeholders, there should be meaningful debates in legislatures and with users of services of workers. Strikes like the one on September 2, 2016 can only work as symptoms of unrest or an ‘eye opener’ and should not be evaluated on the basis of success and failure or losses and gains.
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