A Call of the Times

Lal Johar Comrades!

The entire world is in the grips of the Corona virus pandemic. We have been witness to its devastating effects in countries like Italy, USA, France and China. The death toll is frightening. India too is now having to battle the virus and it’s effects are being felt on all forms of life. The sudden declaration of lockdown on the 23rd of March, 2020 rendered millions of workers without work, farmers lost their crop, small industries are in bad shape and several workers haven’t even been paid their due. Migrant workers are stranded in industrial areas without proper access to basic food and shelter. There are some who are stranded inside factory premises with only the contractors, and not factory owners to ask after them. The State government has ordered that for the duration of the lockdown, all workers should be given rations, that they are paid their wages in full even if their factories are shut and that no worker shall be laid off after the lockdown.

The health and safety of sanitation workers employed by municipal bodies and panchayats who continue to be on duty in the time of this crisis should be a priority, but instead it has been completely overlooked by the government. They risk their lives everyday to clean the dirt that the rest of society generates. While health workers who are also risking their lives to save the country from this pandemic have been insured, why haven’t the sanitation workers been given health insurance?

Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti) conducted a survey and found that most industrial workers are in fact not being paid wages, that contractors and supervisors are almost never reachable, and as a result several workers don’t even have enough money to purchase rations, and are also not receiving any government aid. Several local workers too do not have ration cards and are therefore in a state of hunger. Complaints of this have been continually made to the labour department but they are unable even to secure the wages earned by workers. The current situation of workers is a matter of grave concern because there is no guarantee of even a secure return to work once the lockdown is called off. The lockdown has forced 12 crore people out of work. Daily wage workers, construction workers, street vendors, those working in shops are all unemployed. What about the upkeep and nutrition of their families?Government schemes never reach the bottom of society.

According to an article that appeared in the Hindustan Times, the Central government is contemplating an amendment to the Factories Act 1948, which would change the work day from 8 hours to 12 hours, changing the 48-hour work week to 72 hours instead. Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti) strongly opposes such a move. Industries are likely to site losses as reasons to lay off workers in the coming months, claiming they have received no help from the government to overcome the crisis. They will likely run their plants with fewer workers, exploiting them to a far greater degree. The sudden rise in unemployment due to the anticipated lay-offs will further depress wages and the value of labour, ultimately resulting in an advantage to the capitalist.

Lakhs of people are unable to reach government hospitals for treatment due to the lockdown. Even today, an astounding number of people die of diseases like Tuberculosis and cancer in India each year. Several women are not even able to reach hospitals to have their children delivered. Many will now die simply out of a lack of access to healthcare.

We appeal to the labouring masses that along with the battle against the corona virus pandemic, we continue to struggle for security of work and regular access to health care, and against deaths due to hunger. We need to raise our voices, stay organised and continue to struggle, because we have trying times ahead of us. After all, as science tells us, banging on pots and pans, clapping our hands or lighting lamps will not help us either ward off the corona virus, prevent workers from being laid off or eradicate hunger. This pandemic cannot be tackled with by spreading fear and terror, and the responsibility of fighting this crisis is not the peoples alone. Keeping us at home by the fear of the gun, the government cannot rid itself of it’s own responsibility. One of the biggest reasons for such a high death toll across the globe has been the systematic privatization of health care world over and the complete breakdown of systems of public health care. The government of India should be compelled to strengthen its public healthcare system. The current crisis is of health, but it is also economic. And the bulk of its burden is being worn by the country’s labouring poor.

Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti) urges all workers to come out on the 1st of May – International Workers’ Day 2020 – at 10AM and 5PM and, mindful of lockdown rules and respectful of physical distancing, together raise the following slogans with our fists in the air –

1. Red salute to martyrs of International Workers’ day
2. Stop the 12-hour work day
3. Stop communalising the corona pandemic
4. Reinstate all workers laid off due to the pandemic
5. The state should support small industry that has suffered due to the corona pandemic crisis
6. Roll back the anti-worker labour law amendments
7. Down with the anti-worker government!
8. Provide all health workers, doctors, nurses, and sanitation workers with PPEs
9. Continue to provide mid-day meals or supply equivalent rations to all school children
10. Provide Mitanins with PPEs
11. Do away with the temporary ban on farmer bonus
12. Implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Report
13. Join MNREGA with agricultural work
14. Stop all assaults on democracy and the Constitution
15. We will not tolerate lay-offs!

Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti)