Millions of workers took to the streets in India today as part of a two-day general strike. The strike, which has shut down much of the country, was called in opposition to the government of Narendra Modi, an ultra-right wing Hindu nationalist who is currently attempting to privatize many of India’s publicly held assets. The strike, which is planned to continue until tomorrow, includes workers at India’s publicly held banks (a main target of Modi’s privatization), transport workers, and dozens of other workers in both private and public industries.
The strike was called by a joint forum that includes twelve country’s largest trade union federations, including the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), representing various sectors such as coal, steel, transportation, banking, postal, and telecommunications, to name a few. According to officials from AITUC, over 200 million workers, both in the formal and informal sectors, are expected to join the strike.
The strikers’ main demands are wide-reaching and include scrapping privatization plans and raising the minimum wage. The strikers are also protesting a new law that would give bosses more power over wages and hours and allow contract work, making the Indian working class even more precarious. Other factors spurring workers to take to the streets include rising fuel prices (in large part a result of the war in Ukraine) and growing poverty — over 100 million people are estimated to have fallen into poverty in India in 2021. Strikers are also demanding income support from the government.
This is not the first time workers have revolted against the Modi government. There were also general strikes in 2016, 2019, and 2020, with hundreds of millions of workers participating. Throughout 2020 and 2021, farmers across India waged a strike against new agricultural “reforms” from the Modi government. After almost a year on strike, the farmers won their key demands.
The workers on strike today in India show both the level of public opposition to the far-right regime of Modi and the power of the united working class. Whole areas of India, including cities in the south and east of the country, have ground to a halt, especially due to disruptions in railways, public transit, and banking services.
While the Indian economy has “bounced back” after two years of the pandemic, a number of jobs have completely disappeared and unemployment exceeded 8 percent in December — a large number given the country’s population of 1.4 billion. The pandemic, however, didn’t bring about the current crisis — it only exacerbated the decaying conditions brought about by decades of attacks by neoliberalism, especially on public goods and services. The solution to the worsening conditions for the Modi regime, however, has not been to invest in and improve public goods and labor conditions. Instead, as servants of capital, they have used this as an opportunity to privatize national industries and deregulate all labor protections in order to guarantee the profits and prosperity of the big capitalists.
But as this strike in India shows, workers make the capitalist economy function, and it’s inspiring to see them grind the wheels of capitalism to a halt. To win their demands, they need to take the example of striking farmers and extend the strike indefinitely until they succeed. Their fight should moralize workers around the world.