Migrant workers across the big industrial cities, since the past few weeks, have been defying government diktats and demanding that they be allowed to go back to their homes and villages, despite facing widespread humiliation, oppression and even death. The time is ripe that the workers, with all their courage, should step into direct negotiations with the government and industry while clearly keeping in front of them, their demands in regard to their class interests and their lives. The debates on the television, newspapers and social media regarding the workers’ ghar wapsi or exodus to their homes, and faceoffs with the relentless efforts by the government and capitalists to prevent them from leaving the industrial cities, must have at least made them realize their importance and indispensability to the industry. No industry is in a position to operate without the role of migrant workers, and hence, witnessing the exodus and the bleak chances of a quick return of the tormented, humiliated and oppressed migrant workers has put the government as well as the capitalists in a state of alarm and panic. So much so that various state governments are even considering to penalize those workers who refuse to rejoin factories through pay cuts and disciplinary action, thereby virtually turning factory workers into bonded labourers.
To put it starkly, this situation provides an opportunity for the workers to put their imperative demands before the capitalists and the government through which, by stepping into a hard bargain, the workers can compel them to agree to their demands. Few of such demands, for instances, can be for the immediate roll back of the diktat of 12-hour workday by various state governments, the abrogation of all wage cuts, social security cuts like in bonus, DA, DR and pay increment halts, providing improved conditions of accommodation and food keeping in mind the physical distancing norms and importance of immunity for protection against Covid-19, along with providing adequate quantities of face masks, hand gloves and sanitizer to prevent infection, providing free and proper testing and healthcare facilities to all workers without exception, providing free transportation facilities to and from the workplace keeping in mind physical distancing and sanitization norms. Even the demand of rolling back all anti-worker reforms in labour laws, abolition of the process of almost complete suspension of labour laws by various (BJP as well as Congress-ruled) state governments, and abandoning all such proposed reforms for the future ought to be made by the workers.
Similarly, there are some other demands that can be formulated at the appropriate time and in an appropriate way and along with which, some intermediate political demands, such as the demand for government’s takeover of the private healthcare sector along with some select industrial sectors, and government’s expropriation of the enormous yet idle accumulated capital stock for its utilization in public welfare measures, can be included to ensure the well-being and better conditions of the common and toiling masses in the incumbent pandemic as well as its future waves, the occurrence of which is highly probable.
The workers can collectively and sternly demand that in the drowning narrative of saving the “nation’s economy”, they won’t further risk their survival by putting their lives on the line, and that they will not accept the government’s plans of using the vast numbers of workers as live bait during the Covid-19 pandemic. They ought to declare that despite giving the last drop of their blood and sweat for the progress and development of the country and society, they were not only denied even basic respectable means of survival, while the enormous wealth created by them were appropriated by the capitalists, its agents and its governments. Now that a pandemic is wreaking havoc on humanity itself, as is the duty of any real democracy worth its name, the government ought to utilize the enormous wealth, even though created by the workers, piled up with the capitalists and the immense capital wound up in a handful of private entities.
Comrades, it’s important that we concretely analyse the situations closely. These dark and downhearted days can be overturned in an instant. The hitherto veiled strength and determination exhibited by the workers in times of such adverse conditions created by the Corona pandemic greatly encourages us to think upon this seemingly impossible task as something which ought to and can be fulfilled. Absolutely no task seems big enough for the workers who did the unthinkable by walking for thousands of kilometres on foot for their homes while refusing to back down against the relentless measures by the capitalist state to prevent their exodus. While the panic during this pandemic has given the capitalist class and its government an opportunity to thrust its dictatorship, the working class is equipped with the counter to demolish all such efforts. Despite the situations thrust upon the working class through the unceasing attacks in the name of fighting the Corona pandemic, the empire of fear will ultimately not be able to stand its ground for long in front of the mettle of the working class. In light of these situations, they will also soon receive the support of those classes who are hitherto silently facing devastation and ruin if the required courage is mustered up for the great task before the working class. Even though this task requires indomitable courage and valour, the workers have, in spite of all odds, proved that they possess it thoroughly.
Originally published in Scientific Socialism: PRC’s Theoretical & Political Weekly Commentary on Current Issues (Issue 2/ 7-14 May ’20)