‘Working class hardest hit by demonetisation, GST’

The Hindu Business Line By AM JIGEESH November 10

New Delhi, November 10:
A massive rally in Delhi preluded a three-day agitation programme by central trade unions (CTUs), who are clamouring for basic labour laws, universal social security, and like demands. Only the RSS’ labour wing, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), stayed away. But even they are planning a rally next week with the same set of demands.

But besides voicing their concerns over structural and institutional oppression of the working class, the rallyists were particularly agitated over the impact of demonetisation and the GST on their economic life. A key organiser of the event, CITU General Secretary and CPI(M) MP Tapan Sen, spoke to BusinessLine on the GST, the absence of expectations from the government, and the possibility of an indefinite strike. Excerpts from the interview:

The CTUs have been on ‘protest mode’ for the last six-seven years. Has the Centre reached out to you this time?

The government called a meeting on November 7 because they are under pressure. Initially, we refused to attend the meeting because they did not call the INTUC (the trade union wing of the Congress). Later, they invited the INTUC, too. But they have nothing to discuss or offer. We have no expectations from this government. This government is not being operated even by the Council of Ministers...[but by] the Prime Minister’s Office and some corporate houses. They decide the policies and are imposing their agenda on the ministries. In any authoritarian regime, the ministries have no voice.

What is the main theme of the three-day protests?

The main issue is that the economy is being thrown into bankruptcy. Many factories have closed down and the employment generation is negative. Ultimately, it will impact on the GDP too. This vindicates our decision to hold protests based on a 12-point programme. Our charter of demands is directly linked to the policy regime of the Centre. This policy regime will have to be revised for the interests of workers and the common people.

What if the Centre does not accept your demands?

This rally is a preparatory for the next phase of struggles. Till now, we have been in protest mode. We have to go to ‘resistance mode’ from now on. The national convention of CTUs, which charted this three-day rally, had also given a call for preparing for an indefinite strike. We will announce it [our decision] on Saturday, the last day of struggle.

Isn't it a fact that the absence of the BMS has impacted the mobilisation of workers?

No. The absence of BMS is not affecting the protests. Rather, there is a pressure on the BMS because of our rallies to hold a rally on November 17, with the same set of slogans, against the anti-worker policies of the Narendra Modi government. They walked out of the strike last year saying that some policies of Modi government were pro-worker. Now they have done a volte face.

How do you assess the impact of GST and demonetisation on workers?

The impact of these two policies on workers and industries is utterly negative. The MSMEs, in particular, and the unorganised sector workers are under severe problems. The government itself claimed that 1.5 million workers lost their jobs due to demonetisation within 2-3 months.

A number of MSMEs are closing down because they are not able to handle the GST. The prices have increased abnormally. It has had an impact on the industries. They are unable to sell their products in the markets. If the prices are not competitive, the industries are forced to close down. This is affecting the workers in a big way. It is pulling down growth.

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