No more Hollow Speeches! Give food and income support to the people  Join All India Protest Day on 21st April 2020, 10.30am

The government has extended the country wide lockdown to 3rd May 2020. Announcing the extension, the Prime Minister has given seven advices to the people. But there is not one sentence about the measures that his government proposes to take to provide relief to the tens of millions of workers who have lost their only source of income and are starving with their families. They are not in a position to put into practice the Prime Minister’s advice to take care of their old family members. They are not in a position to feed them. The Prime Minister has no advice for them about what they should do. 

It is the workers, particularly the unorganised workers, the contract and casual workers, the NEEM workers, apprentices, trainees etc in the organised sector, the migrant workers including the construction, brick kiln etc workers, the workers in micro and small enterprises, the domestic workers, the small peasants and agricultural workers etc who are bearing the brunt of the lockdown due to the corona virus pandemic. The journalists, IT/ITES employees and permanent workers in the organised sector are also not spared. Every day cases of closure, retrenchments and wage cuts of workers, not only in the private sector, organised and unorganised but also from public sector companies to corporate media houses are pouring in. It was already the workers who were the worst affected by the economic slowdown that existed even before the corona virus struck.  Even 27 days after the lockdown, most of the migrant workers stranded at different places, far from their homes, are facing hunger; they don’t know where their food for the day will come from, if at all. Nearly 200 people died of starvation, exhaustion and other causes while trying to reach their homes on foot.

The suicide of Mukesh, a migrant worker living in a slum cluster in Gurugaon, a few kilometres from the national capital on 16th April reveals the severe plight of tens of millions of migrant workers in our country. Having lost his work as a painter two months ago and having no work to do since the lockdown, exhausting all his meagre savings, he sold his only possession which could fetch some money – his cell phone, for Rs 2500. He bought some flour, rice, sugar and a table fan for his children to survive the summer heat, gave the rest of money to his wife, went inside his shanty and hanged himself. His neighbours, all migrant workers, said that they were not getting food every day. As they had no ration cards, they were not getting any ration.

The capitalist class, the big corporates and business people, are keeping to their houses, trying new recipes and enjoying with their families whereas crores of workers who create wealth, who run the wheels of society have lost their work, have no place to stay, and are starving; those whose services to the society are indispensable are made to work without any protective gear, risking their lives. Doctors, nurses and other health workers are getting infected by Covid19 and even hospitals have to be closed. The frontline workers and cleaning workers are not even provided masks.

It is also a matter of great concern that in many parts of India the standing crops like wheat, paddy, chillies, pulses etc., are ready for harvest but the lockdown and restrictions have created a situation where harvesting, transport and marketing is curtailed. No measures are taken to ensure harvesting, remunerative price, procurement or arrangements for new cultivation. Even the pending wages in MGNREGA are not yet paid. There is demand that the unemployment wage clause under MGNREGA to be used for helping agricultural workers. Harvesting and transportation work should be included under MGNREGA to ensure work and income for the agricultural workers. Employment Guarantee Act should be extended to the urban areas also. The standing crops have to be protected to save the farmer and the agricultural workers and to protect the food security of the country.

With all family members confined to the home, women’ space in the house has become restricted. Their workload has increased. Violence against women has increased alarmingly.

But the government has neither the time nor the inclination to address any of these serious problems faced by the crores of common people due to the lockdown, in addition to the risk of the corona virus which is even more for the poor, for whom even following the protective measures like maintaining physical distance and washing hands frequently is not possible.

Eminent economists and intellectuals have suggested and the central trade unions and national organisations of peasants and agricultural workers have been demanding that at least a relief package of 5-6% of GDP should be announced to provide relief to the distressed millions of toiling people and revive the economy. The Prime Minister totally ignored this.

Instead, the government seems to be taking advantage of the lockdown, to surreptitiously go ahead with its anti workers agenda, as is reported in the media. It is reportedly going to amend the Factories Act to increase working hours to 12 hours a day. It is also reportedly moving ahead to enact the three Labour Codes now with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour. These are nothing but measures to push workers into slave like conditions and serve their corporate masters who are explicitly demanding the same to protect their profits. The CII has estimated that their profits will come down by around 10% due to the corona virus pandemic. Note that profits are not going to be wiped out. They are not ready to bear even a 10% decrease in their profits. But they want to push the entire burden on to the workers who are already reeling under the impact – losing their livelihood, lives, shelter less and starving. This is the naked picture of capitalism

The working class, already suffering the double whammy of economic slowdown and corona virus is not ready to take on this burden. It is not ready to tolerate the deceitful machinations of the government and the Prime Minister who has only words for the workers and the common people but money bags for the capitalists, the big corporates and business people. 

Even the capitalist countries like USA and UK have provided revival packages amounting to 10% and 17% of their GDP while India has announced only 0.85%. Ever since the lock down being enforced, the CITU is demanding the Prime Minister to ensure direct Bank Transfer of Rs. 7500/month through jan dhan account to all the around 21 crore non taxpaying households which will cost the exchequer Rs 1, 57,500 crore. If the government decides to allocate even 5% to 6% of the GDP to support the people and boost the economy then that amount will come around Rs. 8,50,000 crore to Rs. 10,20,000 crore. Hence, the remaining amount after basic income support could be used for boosting the economy by ensuring remunerative price to peasantry, promoting basic facilities on public health and public distribution system and supporting MSME and ensuring employment. The government must tax the super rich in order to minimise the income gap and eliminating unemployment and poverty.  Safety measures and personal protection equipments must be provided to all health workers, sanitation workers and scheme workers.

We have banged pots and plates. We have switched lights off and on. We have lighted candles and diyas because the Prime Minister asked us to do so. Now we will have to raise our voices demanding the above; we have to raise our flags. Already, AIKS, AIAWU, AIDWA, DYFI and SFI has declared their solidarity and are joining the protest. The united voices of the people, the demands raised in our slogans through our flags will hopefully be heard and taken into consideration by the Prime Minister, before he speaks again.

Hemalata

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