All governments are averse to criticism, the present one is no exception. It is customary for them to cry out “politically motivated” when rejecting any negative suggestions about their functioning. It will, therefore, be interesting to note how the NDA reacts to the protest march being planned in the Capital on Friday by the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh ~ the major trade union contends that several of the “new” economic policies run counter to the interests of the working class. The BMS has raised several issues in recent months, the procession to Parliament will focus on a range of grievances ~ some of which have also been slammed by trade unions that have other political links.
The significance of the protest has to be seen in the context of an earlier RSS conclave triggering the revival of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, and some other steps to revive an economy which Raisina Hill is reluctant to accept is sluggish. The government might draw a little comfort from the BMS not directly joining in the tirade against two of the government’s pet economic moves ~ demonetisation and the GST regime. Yet the seriousness of the ‘in-house’ dismay can be gauged by the secretary-general of the BMS calling a press conference to articulate the reasons behind the march, and making a point of stressing that “strike is an option, we are not opposed to strike” ~ not exactly an endorsement of “make in India” and any of the other slogans the government uses to project economic muscle.
“Worker’s problems have been accumulating for decades,” said the BMS leader Virjesh Upadhyay “and unless the design of economic policy is changed the problems won’t go”. While that observation would apply to various administrations, he drove the point closer home when he said that the “reforms” in labour laws continued to exclude the unorganised sector which constituted 93 per cent of the workforce, and that the government was only talking to the unions without accepting any of their suggestions.
According to him the proposed changes in laws governing electricity, factories and transport were drafted in keeping with the interests of industry alone ~ not as stridently expressed, but in consonance with criticism from the Congress and left-wing unions. The BMS insisted on retention of the public sector, which would obviously run counter to the disinvestment process; Mr Upadhyay regretted that the government had become the greatest employer of contract workers, and the laws on equal wages for equal work were being flouted by many state governments. Much of that would read as if it had been drafted by a “comrade”: but while what is raised by those waving red flags may be ignored by those now reigning on Raisina Hall, what is flashed on a saffron banner cannot be junked too easily.