09 March, 2009

Thoughts on International Women's Day

Thoughts on International Women's Day

When International Women's Day arrives this year along with the spring, it is time for the majority of the women the world over to get prepared for the worst ever situation in their life time. The effects and impacts of the crisis are at their doorstep. Oh sorry, in USA, they themselves are outside the doorsteps! Yes, out of their homes, out of their livelihoods, in the midst of uncertainty.

There has been a series of reports from all over the world of job losses, closures, and wage cuts – not in thousands, but in millions. In the US alone 598,000 jobs were lost in January this year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labour, the unemployment rate rose from 7.2 to 7.6 percent. Payroll employment has declined by 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007; about one-half of this decline occurred in the past 3 months. The ILO has projected the loss of 51 million jobs worldwide, in the forthcoming period.

In India, lakhs have already lost their jobs, and lakhs are on the way to losing their livelihoods. Even official estimates say that a minimum of one crore people will lose their jobs by this year in India. Industry is facing cancellation of export orders in textiles, garments, traditional industries like coir, cashew and fisheries, IT and ITES, gems and jewellery etc. Automobile, construction, tyre, steel, all other sectors are also getting affected. BPO's have a job cut of 25 per cent. Apart from the direct job losses the crisis is having a cascading effect in all sectors. After the peasants, now it is the turn of workers. Reports have started coming in already of workers committing suicide, including 71 diamond workers who have committed suicide owing to job losses after the recession started, in Surat, Pune etc.

In the agrarian sector, the existing crisis will aggravate. The prices of all commercial crops have started falling or fluctuating. The plantation sector, particularly coffee, rubber etc., is still facing a price fall. The planters' associations have already demanded drastic cuts in wages and other facilities. The already endangered food security, already low per capita food grain availability, all may reach new records after independence. Farmer suicides, distress migration, poverty deaths, all are going to increase. The gender gap is bound to widen to new records as well. Economists and journalists will have to search for more superlatives to describe these.

Women are the first targets, as always. In sectors where the impact is already being felt, in textiles and garments, in plantation and construction, in traditional industries and in the IT, financial and service sectors a significant percentage of the workers is women. Many of these women are the primary breadwinners in their families, and the snowballing impact of their job loss will affect much larger sections of the working population.

Capitalism will try to overcome the crisis and the only way it can survive is through intensified exploitation, the maximization of profits. For the women workers, the most exploited section of the working class, the miseries are going to be unprecedented. The share of unpaid labour of women's work is going to increase. The fall in real wages will be more.

The ruling classes are pursuing the same policies they did before the crisis. Instead of taking measures to curb the job losses and wage cuts, the government is busy changing laws favouring the multinationals, bypassing the parliament! In the interim budget, instead of increasing public spending on agriculture and infrastructure, the government has cut down the allocation for even the NREGS, Urban development and food subsidy!

The situation is grim. But for a revolutionary class, the crisis is bringing a new opportunity for change. The Great Depression of the 1930s had led to numerous peasant uprisings in the colonial countries worldwide, including India. Telengana, Tebhaga, Kayyoor, Warli, all these struggles by the distress ridden peasantry, squeezed by both the colonial rule as well as the feudal landlord system, strengthened and gave direction to the freedom struggle, which became victorious under the bourgeois leadership. We must remember that the anti colonial struggle in China succeeded under is working class leadership.

For the working class movement in India, this crisis is providing the objective conditions to advance to change the correlation of class forces. The core of this movement should be the worker peasant alliance.

International Women’s Day this year reminds us to carry forward its legacy of struggles for democratic and working class rights. One must not forget the history of 8 March, that started with the demand for eight hours work, workers rights and for the right to vote. The great October revolution started with the struggle of women workers.

This time demands from us to be prepared to lead endless struggles on various demands - on food security, for drinking water, for universal PDS, for minimum support price and procurement for agricultural produce, for interest free loans, for employment opportunities, employment guarantee, for minimum wages , for social security, for reservation, for health and sanitation, against wage cuts, against lay offs, against wage discrimination, against land grabbing by corporates, against caste oppression, against all forms of the neo liberal reforms.

We have to be prepared to face the communal divisive forces which are on the move to divide the popular movements. They perceive women as easy targets to achieve their goals.

As the most exploited section of the working class, working women have to assert, take the initiative to lead struggles. We have to strengthen our organisation. We have to study and understand thoroughly what is happening at the ground level, assess the situation, take up new issues, and mobilise new sections. We must develop more cadres, more leaders.

There is no alternative to struggles. Be prepared for more vigorous struggles. If we do not rise to the situation, history will never absolve us.

A R Sindhu

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