No, he’s fleeing India, where he’s been on a trade mission, not the UK! On Wednesday and Thursday, eleven Indian trade union confederations representing over 100 million workers will hold their first ever co-ordinated two day general strike, with a series of ten demands detailed here along with a list of the participating unions.
There are many issues that have led to the strike, but the involvement of the one million strong Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is not simple solidarity. Several of the ten demands relate to the informal sector which accounts for over 90% of Indian employment. This strike is about regulating the labour market, establishing the terms and conditions of informal sector workers by demanding Government regulation and safety nets.
So the strikers will be demanding not just price controls and the ratification of core ILO conventions on collective bargaining and the right to join a union, but also pensions for all, an increased minimum wage, social security cover for informal workers, and the eradication of contract work.
These changes would radically restructure the Indian labour market, and while they were never likely to be conceded in the last minute talks arranged last night by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, they show how important such issues are for Indian unions which have been criticised in the past for only representing the interests of the 7% of workers in the formal sector.
It is not the first time the fissiparous Indian trade union movement has worked across sectarian lines. There have been joint demonstrations before, and some joint strikes. But this week, for the first time since Independence precipitated the split in the unitary Indian trade union movement, 11 national trade union centres have called a 48 hour strike that will cover Indian banks, railways, and even call centres.
All three affiliates of the International Trade Union Confederation, the Congress Party-linked INTUC, the social democratic/socialist HMS and SEWA will be joined by communist trade unions and even the Bharatiya Janata Party-led BMS (Hindu nationalists).
Commenting after the talks with the Government collapsed, the veteran President of the INTUC confederation, closest of all to the current Government, G Sanjeeva Reddy said:
“They wanted more time. We said we have already given two years time. We placed the demands three years before, so three years time we already gave, so there is no question of giving more time.”