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Farmers’ protests in India pile on pressure

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Issue 2735
The mood amongst farmer protesters remains buoyant
The mood amongst farmer protesters remains buoyant (Pic: Mayank Makhija/NurPhoto/PA Images)

Farmers’ protests in India continue to put the hard right government of Narendra Modi under extreme pressure.

Modi wants to push through free market reforms in agriculture that will allow big business to squeeze the poor for profit. Farmers know that this will push many of them over the edge and have pledged a fight to the death.

Tens of thousands of protesters have blocked main roads into the capital New Delhi since the beginning of December. 

The mood of the farmers on the outskirts of Delhi remains upbeat. 

Donations of food, medicines and other supplies were pouring in from across India and from the Indian diaspora in Britain, the US and Canada.

“At various protest sites, different types of rebellious songs, poems and lectures of legendary heroes are sung and recited,” say researchers Deepinder Kaur and Atinder Panday. “In the peasants’ struggle, women feel that they are in a terrible situation now, but in future their sons and daughters can be liberated from shackles of debt.”

But Modi’s new laws threaten to turn an already grave situation even more deadly.

Indian farmers join mass action after Modi government attacks 
Indian farmers join mass action after Modi government attacks 
  Read More

“My husband and son killed themselves due to debt and crop failure,” said one 80 year old protester.

Now I am here with other women for the prospect of our survival. After the laws are implemented, we will be landless.”

Another protester said her husband killed himself in 2015.

“After the demise of my husband, I was left alone to deal with family responsibilities and conflicts, just struggling with the pain and pushing the remaining life,” she said.

The Modi government has been desperately trying to negotiate a settlement with the farmers, but only on its own terms.

The Indian economy is in a nosedive, with inflation, low growth rates and massive unemployment. Ministers hope that agricultural “reform” will see big investment and the potential for exporting more foodstuffs.

The price of reform, however, will be the destruction of millions of small farmers and landless labourers.

It is vital that all those affected by Modi’s attacks on the poor and religious minorities get behind the farmers and help take a Scythe to his government.

Meanwhile, Indian police have arrested over 100 workers at an iPhone factory who went on a “rampage” after not being paid.

Social media footage showed workers from the firm in India’s technology capital, Bangalore. 

They ransacked senior management offices and smashed CCTV cameras furniture, assembly units and glass panels.

Workers said they have not been fully paid for four months.

Meanwhile in Britain a car cavalcade protest in support of the farmers this weekend brought the centre of Birmingham to a standstill. Hundreds of mostly Sikh protesters joined the procession, which was warmly greeted by passers-by.

There were also protests in London, and more are being planned elsewhere in Britain.

Thanks to Deepinder Kaur and Atinder Panday of Punjabi University, India, for sending their report

Italian workers stage strike over pay, pensions and outsourcing

Public sector workers struck across Italy last week.

The strike was over the renewal of the public sector national agreement—it expired in 2019. 

It is supposed to be an ongoing three-year deal. 

It covers wages but also pensions and the scale of outsourcing.

“This public employment strike was declared by the government alone,” said the secretary general of UIL federation, Pierpaolo Bombardieri. 

“It has turned its back on the requests of three million of workers who have worked this year putting their own health at risk to safeguard ours.”

The government claimed, “Participation in the public sector strike, proclaimed by trade unions for the renewal of contracts, was around 4 percent.”

This was certainly a gross underestimate, but the real figure is hard to ascertain for certain.

The unions are demanding that precarious workers are brought into the agreement. 

There are currently 350,000 public sector workers on casual contracts without job security, including 60,000 health workers. 

Unions deliberately limited rallies for the sake of social distancing. So for instance there were 60 people in Trieste. 

Health workers, while part of the campaign, largely didn’t join the strike. They wore badges to work saying, “I don’t stop but I protest.”

What counted as necessary cover to deal with the pandemic went beyond the health service to include sections of local government. 

Civil service workers are mostly working from home, so had to email to say they were on strike. 

The government offered last ditch talks, but the strike wasn’t called off. 

Scheduled talks have now begun over the deal. 

This strike and a previous one involving different groups of workers at the end of November had a feeling of sabre-rattling.

The Italian government is weak, particularly over its handling of the Covid-19 crisis. 

But while the current government includes right wingers, the union leaders are fearful of pushing too hard in case forces further to the right re-enter office. 

That is one reason why they are only for token action.

Simon Basketter

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