Two days ahead of historic strike, Indian trade unionists and farmers’ leaders arrested

Organizers of the historic general strike said the arrest of 31 leaders of trade unions and farmers’ movements in the State of Haryana would not dampen the protests. Over 200 million workers and hundreds of thousands of farmers will take part in the protest

November 24, 2020 by Newsclick
Representational Image: Credit All India Kisan Sabha

Two days ahead of a historic country-wide strike by trade unions and a protest by farmers’ movements, a State government in India arrested leaders from these groups on Tuesday, November 24. The arrest of trade unionists and farmers’ leaders in the State of Haryana has been condemned by multiple organizations. Anywhere between 200-250 million workers are likely to participate in the National Strike on November 26.

Three press conferences held on Tuesday to discuss the preparations being made by the farmers’ and workers’ organizations across the country towards their respective programs termed these arrests as repression by the Haryana State government. The State is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in coalition with Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). The BJP under Narendra Modi is also in power at the Center. The trade unions and farmers’ organizations said the arrests will “only embolden” the agitation.

On Tuesday afternoon, the national working group of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said that 31 leaders – belonging both to farmers groups and trade unions – have been detained or arrested in Haryana. The umbrella body of over 250 farmers’ groups “condemned governments’ attempts to use the excuse of COVID-19 to thwart the democratic right of citizens to protest against anti-people moves.”

While addressing the media at the Press Club of India at the national capital, national leaders of the Central Trade Unions also attacked the Haryana government. They said that such arrests, however, won’t stop the farmers and workers – who are in an “upbeat” mood – from going ahead with their planned programs.

10 Central Trade Unions have given a call to observe a general strike on November 26, to press for their charter of demands. The demands include a minimum wage of Rs.21,000 per month (USD 283.6), 10 kg of foodgrain to all needy families and strengthening of public distribution system and Rs.7,500 (USD 101) per month to all non-income tax paying families. They have also demanded the withdrawal of the labor codes which were passed into law recently. These codes allow employers and the governments to increase the workload on workers, make it more difficult to get fair wages, easily throw out workers, appoint them for a fixed period, reduce the effectiveness of government-run medical insurance and provident fund, and make it more difficult to form trade unions, which are essential to protect workers’ rights

Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) told the media that strike notices have already been served by employees in banking, insurance, and steel sectors, along with coal miners and telecom workers. Railways and Defense employees have decided to go for large mobilizations on the day to express their solidarity with the strike action.

These employees, belonging to the public sector enterprises, will be joined by scheme workers, domestic workers, construction workers, beedi workers, hawkers, vendors, and agriculture workers, among others, who have “decided to come on streets for chakka jam [road blockade],” Kaur added.

Tens of thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other states are expected to converge in India’s capital, Delhi, in vehicle convoys, an AIKSCC press statement said on Tuesday. The farmers are demanding Minimum Support Prices that are at least 50% more than what it costs farmers to produce a crop, a the waiver of debts and the withdrawal of recently-passed laws that will make it easier for corporate to enter agriculture.