Third World workers reveal power to hit back
"STRIKE FEVER" is gripping India, said the country's prime minister last week. Some 125,000 dockers were on strike demanding higher pay. A strike by 100,000 power workers against privatisation is leading to power cuts across swathes of northern India. Civil servants in Jammu and Kashmir have been on strike for the last month. Rajasthan civil servants are also on strike, as are doctors in Hyderabad. Telecom, postal and local government workers are threatening action. The ruling coalition, led by the Hindu chauvinist BJP, is in turmoil.
The strikes are a direct challenge to its policies of opening the economy to the global market. The government called in the army and the navy to run the ports and power installations last week. Union leaders have been arrested, as have thousands of striking power workers. Prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is also desperate to divide the strike wave. Negotiations with union leaders halted the dock workers' strike at the end of last week.
It had paralysed 11 ports, including Bombay, Calcutta, Kandia, Cochin and Madras. The navy and army were running only a skeleton operation. So grain, fertiliser, sugar and steel piled up in the docks. The dockers wanted a 100 percent pay rise. They are also worried about the government's plans to "modernise" the ports by using private capital, which may eventually lead to privatisation. They know the pressures of global capitalism threaten their jobs and living standards A dock workers' leader told a 10,000 strong mass rally in Bombay last week that the World Bank today is just like the East India Company that originally colonised India. Dock workers in Bombay were in mililtant mood. The docks were decked out with red flags and manned by pickets while jeeps and cars with red flags cruised up and down the dock area.
Even workers in the BMS union joined the strike. It is affiliated to the Shiv Sena party, which uses racist scapegoating against Muslims. The BMS has 900 members on the Bombay docks out of a total workforce of 30,000. It opposed the strike for the first two days, but this opposition soon crumbled. Some Shiv Sena members even played a leading part in the strike, although their party supports free market policies. The details of the deal are not clear, but a decision on pay has been postponed. The power workers' strike in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 140 million people, continued at the beginning of this week.
The workers are angry that the state plans to reorganise and privatise electricity distribution. The state government has declared the strike illegal, arrested four union leaders, and sacked 400 workers. But with solidarity the power workers could win. And that would be a brilliant example of hope and resistance to the horror of the free market and privatisation.