News

Women Workers Organise Massive Rally in Delhi

Thousands of women workers, mostly from the unorganised sector, converged on Delhi on 27 November. A huge gathering met at the Ramlila Maidan and marched to the Indian Parliament. According to some reports, the demonstration was larger than the one by sugar-cane growers organized by Ajit Singh on 19 November.

Women workers came from various areas and various types of workplaces. They included women bidi-rollers, women employed by Anganwadis (government sponsored child-care and mother-care centres), Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers, striking women workers from Gurgaon, as well as women workers from the organized sectors, like bank and insurance workers, government employees, women in the medical profession, and others. Among their central demands were equal pay for equal work, ending sexual harassment at the workplace, maternity benefits for al working women, and a hike in the salaries of Anganwadi and ASHA workers.

The Finance Minister, who met a delegation of the women, told them that while their demands were legitimate, it was difficult to say how far the demands could be met. But of course, sir. Your ministry, as well as the other ministries, are bending over backwards to meet the demands of the capitalists. How can you meet the demands of the workers – and women workers at that. Reform of the antiquated labour laws is in everyone’s lips these days. What they mean was clearly expressed by the Wall Street Journal in an article of November 24, 2009 (Deadly Labor Wars Hinder India's Rise), when it wrote that “Manufacturers have long complained that it can take years to dismiss their permanent employees, leading to bloated work forces and hampering companies' ability to respond quickly to changing business conditions. Executives and industry groups say relaxing the labor laws would allow companies to hire more workers and would attract more manufacturers to India, ultimately underpinning a rise in wages”. The contradiction between the demand and the conclusion could not have been more glaring. Allow us to sack the permanent workers, who have some minimum rights – so goes the refrain. What will be the consequence? More workers will be hired and wages will rise!! The shock therapy in Russia led to a devastation of the Russian economy. Indeed, in no country has labour shared the benefits with capital in the neoliberal era. Instead, the hard-won rights of the earlier periods have been under attack. This is what the women workers were resisting when they came out on the streets.

The demonstration was organized by the All India Trade Union Congress – dominated by the CPI. The AITUC has suggested levying a cess on industry to create a maternity benefit fund for women workers in the unorganized sector. At the same time, we would argue that the state has the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of all residents f the country, and therefore it has to arrange the maternity benefits. It is not the task of trade unions who are entirely outside the power structures to decide how the money should be raised, except to say that the demand is not a shifting of resources within the working class, but from capital to labour.