The population of the U.S. is ca. 319 million people. Now, imagine around half of the entire population of the U.S. went on strike. The sheer magnitude of this number is staggering, but in the world’s 2nd most populace nation it was the 24-hour reality on September 2nd, which would make it the biggest ever general strike in human history. The power of this strike was apparent across the country, where entire sectors participated, including banking, telecommunications, electricity, postal service, coal, steel and transportation.
Why are so many people striking?
According to local sources, workers across India are protesting significant labor reforms that have been proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. One of the reforms would make it simpler for factories to make redundancies without first seeking government approval. Current law in India requires organizations with more that 100 employees to receive the government’s OK before making redundancies. The current Modi government has proposed that this number be moved to organizations with 300 or fewer employees. The strikers were also protesting price rises and calling for India’s minimum daily wage to be increased to more fairly provide a living wage and to keep pace with inflation. It has been speculated that the government wants to ease worker’s rights policies because it sees these policies as inhibiting efforts to attract foreign companies and capital.
Only four per cent of the Indian workforce is in unions. This number is a scant representation of where unionized labor was at its peak in the 1970’s. The 1980’s and seemed to mark the beginning of the downturn for unions across the globe. Union power really picked up speed with the Indian economy liberalized in 1991, with one of the consequences, whether intentional or not, being that Indian workers were pitted against workers elsewhere (e.g. entire countries competing to create the lowest wages possible to attract international industries seeking to reduce labor costs).
With all of the above in mind, it is imperative to remember that workers and the unions that support them are not in the driver’s seat of the capitalist system. Rather, they are the result of it. The capitalist system, while having many virtues, exists to serve primarily the needs of the wealthiest few among us. The concept is simple: the capitalist has access and control of the capital necessary to bring together the goods and resources that people want and need. The majority of the financial return on the capitalist’s investment will go the capitalist and his/her shareholders. The prime motivator is to maximize return on the investment, even if it means cutting costs to a bear minimum. Since the biggest expense of all is labor, the capitalist is financially motivated to reduce that expense as much as possible. Without government restrictions in place to protect the worker, or the strength of unions to ensure fair representation in government in the first place, the capitalist can be expected to take as much advantage of this scenario as possible.
Where’s the world’s media?
One would think the massive strike in India would make headlines in the world’s media. Think again. Very few publications covered this monumental event. If they were, it was scant coverage at best. Why could this be? Look no further to how any kind of strike is represented in the media when it represented at all. Worker’s struggles have most often been viewed as inconveniences to societal life and the smooth functioning of the economy. There is also the lens that strikes are an antiquated notion for how to achieve decent living standards. But in India especially, workers rights and fair wages for honest work are the exception and not the norm (as appears to be the trend in countries like the U.S. as well). According to one estimate, 680 million Indians live in poverty – over half of it’s population. Deprivation means lack ability to afford, or have access to, the bare necessities such as food, electricity, potable water, proper sanitation and health care to name a few. When deprivation turns to desperation, the children of poverty stricken families are often forced to contribute to the family’s survival, which means missing out on education and any means of moving ahead in life overall.
Unfortunately, India is already viewed as an extremely poor nation in the Western world, so strikes to protest something like abject poverty, which is seemingly unsolvable and will most likely continue ad infinitum, is not super news worthy. What is news worthy, however, is that 150-180 million human souls are rising up to demand decent treatment, representation and payment for work that clearly has a financial value for the capitalist and society overall. It is fair to say that the last thing the world’s media wants is for India’s strikers to place seeds in the minds of others around the world who are suffering similar circumstances. This would not serve the interests of organized capitalists, or by proxy the major media channels that are owned and controlled by the corporate influence that govern their interests.