Six-week strike by Maharashtra public transport workers threatened by union sabotage

Nearly 70,000 workers at the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) are steadfastly continuing their six-week strike, despite threats from the government and fierce retaliation from management. These include the suspension of more than 10,000 workers, the transfer of 2,250 workers to remote locations, the dismissal of at least 2,300 daily paid workers and repeated threats to invoke the draconian law on maintenance of Maharashtra essential services (MESMA).

Some of the MSRTC strikers sought to draw attention to their struggle by camping at Azad Maidan, a sports ground in the heart of Mumbai. (Photo credit: Indian Forum Against Privatization)

Workers at the state-owned bus company of Maharashtra launched their indefinite strike on November 3 at midnight, forcing the entire fleet of 18,500 buses off the road. As they left work, bus drivers, ticket collectors, mechanics and support staff challenged the Bombay High Court, which declared any union action illegal, along with the 28 unions that claim to represent them. The latter even refused to raise the workers’ central demand – that the MSRTC be fully integrated into the state government – when they met with Maharashtra Transport Minister Anil Parab on October 27 and urged workers to comply with the court order prohibiting their strike.

By merging the MSRTC with the state government, the strikers seek to thwart plans by the Maharashtra leadership and government to privatize its operations. State government employees have job security and better wages and benefits than those employed in public sector companies like the MSRTC.

Discredited by their actions, the unions largely fell silent during the strike, displaying both their powerlessness and their role as so-called corporate shepherds of the workers.

The fact that the unions had lost control was deplored by the director general of the MSRTC who told the Indian express, “Everyone claims that this is a spontaneous and voluntary strike by the workers; there seems to be no leadership here. And a responsible leader is needed to solve the problems. Without leadership, it becomes difficult to come out of the strike.

In other words, management cannot rely on bureaucratic union apparatuses to get workers back to work.

In an interview with the Hindustan times, a bus driver expressed the militant mood among the strikers. “Our fight,” he said, “is for justice, and we will continue the strike until (our) merger request is met. We are suffering a lot because of this strike, but it must be understood by the state government: if they want us to die like this protesting, then we are ready for it, but [we] will not resume typing.

While the workers have shown great courage and determination in supporting the strike over the past 43 days, their struggle is in grave danger. Indeed, organizations that claim to speak on behalf of the working class, unions and overt “left” parties, systematically isolate the struggle of MSRTC workers.

As a result, the MSRTC leadership and the government of Maharashtra – a tripartite coalition led by fascist Shiv Sena and comprising the Congress Party, until recently the preferred party of the Indian ruling class in the national government – are free to lead a war of attrition. They are counting on threats, retaliation and growing economic hardship from low-paid workers to pressure growing numbers to return to work and, ultimately, fail the strike.

Management has managed to put more buses on the route in recent days. While its claims are undoubtedly exaggerated, the MSRTC announced earlier this week that 21,370 of the 93,000 workers who left on November 4 have now returned to work and that about half of its 250 bus depots are partially operational.

State Transport Minister Anil Parab has made constant threats against the strikers. On December 10, he issued an ultimatum to workers to return to work by Monday, December 13. After accusing the workers of “preventing public transport workers from returning to work,” he announced that the government “is seriously considering taking action” under the MESMA.

With the invocation of MESMA, the police would be given unlimited powers to summarily arrest and detain striking workers en masse. Although the government led by Shiv Sena has not reacted to the threat from Parab, it is undoubtedly waiting for what it sees as the privileged moment to pounce, stop the most militant strikers and deliver a fatal blow to the strike. .

If he has not done so to date, it is because he recognizes that there is a great well of public sympathy for the strikers and, more generally, a huge social anger within the working class and among rural workers.

As a result of the Indian ruling class’s criminal mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people have died and hundreds of millions more have been pushed deeper into poverty and hunger. Like many workers across India, MSRTC workers went unpaid for months straight during the pandemic. Unable to bear not being able to feed their families or provide them with proper health care during the pandemic, at least 40 MSRTC workers have committed suicide.

If they want to win, the workers must expand their struggle, spearheading a working class industrial and political counteroffensive against the class war agenda pursued by big Indian business and its political representatives.

If the MSRTC strikers called for a common struggle against privatization and the ever-increasing use of precarious contract labor in public sector companies and globally connected industrial enterprises, they would gain support from across the country. mass.

Over the past year, millions of workers have joined strikes and protests against the campaign by the central government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to privatize most of the remaining public sector companies, place huge swathes public sector infrastructure under the leadership of large companies under its control “National Monetization Pipeline” and further promote contract labor as part of its “reform” of labor law.

Yesterday 900,000 bank workers, including 60,000 in Maharashtra, began a two-day strike against the BJP government’s plan to privatize two banks in the coming year. Last week, 68,000 coal miners, including 23,000 contract workers, staged a three-day strike in Telangana to oppose the state-owned Singareni Collieries Company’s sale of four blocks of coal at the behest of the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government BJP.

Meanwhile, in the Punjab, where the Congress Party forms the state government, there has been a wave of strikes and protests by contract workers from public enterprises in the Punjab, including Punjab Roads, Punbus, and PEPSU Road Transport. Corporation. The contract workers are demanding wage increases and the “regularization” of their jobs, that is, they become permanent workers.

The Stalinist parliamentary parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, and their affiliated trade union federations, respectively the Center of India Trade Unions (CITU) and the All-India Trades Union Congress (AITUC) play a particularly important role. reprehensible in the MSRTC strike. They did nothing to publicize the strike, let alone seek to mobilize the working class to support the struggle of the MSRTC workers. Popular democracy, the English-language weekly of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has yet to publish a single article about the strike, which broke out against a government led by Shiv Sena that the Stalinists are supporting as part of their efforts to bring about in power a right-wing government alternative to the current Indian far-right regime of the Bharatiya Janata party.

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