Tuesday, September 13, 2011

West Bengal: The Class Struggle is Not Over

For a long time, the CPI(M) had been mistakenly identified with class struggle. As a result, there was much elation on the Right after 13 May 2011, when it was evident that Mamata Banerjee would head a rightwing government in the province of West Bengal, earlier ruled for 34 years by the CPI(M). A totally stunned CPI(M) has been in no position to wage any kind of struggle, since this party and its cadres all the way to the village panchayat level had become accustomed to police protection and government support whenever it wanted to wage a “struggle”.

But the working class found new channels to express itself. Unorganised sector workers have sarted organizing themselves. An 'Asangothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Mancha' (Militant Forum of Unorganised Sector Workers) was formed by June 2011. For three months, the organizers campaigned among different sections of the unorganized workers. An early deputation to the new government, which had promised Parivartan (change) had elicited a simple response: we have just now come to power, so we need some time. Incidentally, the labour minister in the new government is a renegade ex-Naxalite.

From 6th to 8th September, for three days, close to 11,000 workers gathered at the Metro Channel, Calcutta’s usual place for open air meetings and gatherings. The principal demands were:

# Recognition and issuing of identity cards to all unorganised sector workers (including sex workers) ;

# Fixation of minimum wage for all unorganised sector workers as per the norms of the 15th Indian Labour Conference , along with strict implementation of the Minimum Wages Act;

# Provision of cheap food for all, starting with 7 kgs of rice per adult at Rs. 2 per kg;

# Strict implementation of all provisions, especially 100 days of work, in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, with expansion to a guarantee of 270 days of work for all rural and urban workers;

#Inclusion of all unorganised sector workers, including workers of closed factories, as priority group or BPL in the 2011 Socioeconomic Survey

# Effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act (Scheduled Tribes and Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act);

#Permanent status for all contract workers employed in perennial jobs in the organised sector;

#Recognition and extension of facilities available to all socially backward castes and tribes.

On the 8th, a deputation went to meet ministers. The response was blunt b—the government has a shortage of funds, so nothing can be done now. Few things have revealed the class character of the government so clearly. The workers too have thrown down the gauntlet, telling the government that unless their demands are met they will step up the level of agitation.

In India, at the moment, 37 per cent of the people have a body-mass index of less than 18.5, indicating they are suffering from malnutrition. The demand for making the PDS a stronger one is a rock-bottom minimum. The callous reaction of the government to this, while it discusses means of keeping the middle class and upper class voters happy, is something that will have more repercussions in days to come.

As callous as the government have been the major media. The Bengal Post alone carried a positive news. On the 9th, The Telegraph printed a photo with a caption that said it all:

Return of rally raj

- CITY CENTRE CHOKES, citizens suffer


Processions by two unorganised workers' associations converge on Metro Channel on Thursday and (above) traffic stalls on the Park Street flyover.

What better a way of telling the working class that they are not citizens? Their sufferings merit at best an end of year tax savings donation to a charity. Unless they mobilize and fight, the working class will have no alternative. And the struggle has been joined, under new leaderships.



A Moment of Silence, Before I Start this Poem

[Written 2002]

Before I start this poem,
I'd like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence
in honor of those who died in the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence
for all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes,
for the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing...
A full day of silence for the tens of thousands of Palestinians
who have died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces
over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation
as a result of an 11-year U.S. embargo against the country.
Before I begin this poem: two months of silence
for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
where homeland security made them aliens
in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
where death rained down and peeled back
every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin
and the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Viet Nam -
a people, not a war - for those who know a thing or two
about the scent of burning fuel,
their relatives' bones buried in it,
their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos,
victims of a secret war ... ssssshhhhh .... Say nothing ...
we don't want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
whose names, like the corpses they once represented,
have piled up and slipped off our tongues.
Before I begin this poem,
An hour of silence for El Salvador ... An afternoon
of silence for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence for the Guetmaltecos ... None of whom
ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans
who found their graves far deeper in the ocean
than any building could poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung
from the heights of sycamore trees
in the south, the north, the east, and the west...
100 years of silence...
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half of
right here, Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek,
Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears. Names now reduced to innocuous
magnetic poetry on the refrigerator of our consciousness ...
So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be.
Not like it always has been
Because this is not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written And if
this is a 9/11 poem, then
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New
York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek
This is a poem for interrupting this program.
And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem
We could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.
If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit
If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window of
Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses and
the Playboys. If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt
fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered

You want a moment of silence
Then take it
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand
In the space
between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all
Don't cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime.
But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing
For our dead.

Emmanuel Ortiz, 9.11.02