Indian workers stepped to the forefront of the global battle against the avarice of predatory elites on Tuesday as more than 40 million participated in one of the largest general strikes in human history.
The 99% sent a message to India’s self-appointed business and political aristocracy as they demanded a minimum wage, permanent jobs for 50 million contract workers with virtually no job security, regulation of runaway living costs, and a halt to the sale of stakes in profitable public companies to the 1%. Commerce ground to a halt in entire regions of the world’s second-most populous nation as organized labor funneled populist anger into a show of support for true democracy.
“This is a historic occasion,” Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, told reporters. “We are fighting for our rights against a government that is anti-people.”
The Indian protest echoed the anger toward the unequal distribution of societal benefits and burdens now being expressed around the world, from the courageous Egyptian protesters of the Arab Spring to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States. It bodes well for workers in more developed nations, who have seen multinational corporations relocate millions of their jobs to low-wage nations where workers are more easily exploited.
“We gave the government ample opportunity to discuss these issues,” Dasgupta said. “Now striking is the only option before us.”
The Indian protest occurred a day before U.S. protesters marched against the subversion of their representative democracy by political and business elites in a national rally called “Shutdown the Corporations.” The Feb. 29 event highlighted the dubious mission of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which pairs elected officials seeking legal bribes with predatory businesses trying to boost profits by hijacking government regulation of their industries.
China and India have helped multinational companies and their investors boost profits the past 20 years by paying less for the same manufacturing and services sector jobs. However, the people of the world’s two most numerous nations have begun to seek a bigger share of those riches as increased access to education, medicine and consumer goods have lifted their focus from basic survival.
Workers in more developed nations have seen their living standards and job security plummet due to the transformation of the world into a white-collar plantation. So-called free-trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement have accelerated the move to a global labor market for multinational corporations, but have done virtually nothing to police their exceeses, which include monopolistic business practices, such as price fixing, child labor and slave labor . And nothing to protect workers, small businesses and retail consumers.
The result has been a flood of wealth to the multinational managers and their shareholders.
“The gap between the haves and the have-nots is rapidly increasing and the race to the bottom is looming large in our faces,” said Milind Nadkarni of the Union Network International – the world’s largest trade union body.
The battle for rule-by-the people democracy in India surged forward Feb. 28 as all 11 major trade unions formed a coalition with 5,000 smaller unions to present an infrangible challenge to the ruling political machine headed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He responded by announcing Feb. 29 that government health spending would rise from 1.4% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) to 2.5% by 2017 – at a cost of $19 billion.
GDP is a measure of the size of a nation’s economy.
The general strike created the kind of deserted scenes norally associated with post-Apocalyptic movies in India, as indvidual pedestrians moved through empty railway terminals and factories normally bustling with people.
“The realization has dawned, albeit a little late, that leaving aside our political ideologies and narrow considerations the time is ripe for all the unions in the country to wage a joint struggle,” Nadkarni said. “We have to fight against the powers to be for the emancipation of the downtrodden and fulfillment of the workers’ rights.”
“The issues (are) common to the entire working class,” Nadkarni said. “Prices, particularly food prices, have been galloping over the past months. Labor is sought to be marginalized and permanent jobs are being replaced with contractual jobs. Wages are not commensurate with the work extracted. Social security for all workers still remains a distant dream.”