New Delhi: Tens of thousands of workers associated with the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), India’s largest labour union, staged a protest in the national capital on Friday, demanding better wages for workers and opposing reform initiatives of the central government.

The protest by the BMS, which is affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that’s also the ideological fountainhead of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), follows a three-day sit-in protest by 10 other central trade unions last week. Those unions demanded the creation of more jobs and protection of workers’ rights.

The objective of Friday’s protest by employees of both the organised and unorganised sectors is to pressurise the union government to not ignore labourers’s interests, said Virjesh Upadhyay, general secretary of the BMS. “The central government should stop curtailing the workers’ rights in the name of labour law reforms and other policy reforms," he added.

Over the last two years, the BMS has stayed away from strikes or other protests called by other central labour unions. It’s protest on Friday will serve to highlight the opposition the government is facing from the working class.

The move not only opens a new political front against the BJP-led NDA government, but also puts the spotlight on the politically contentious issue of generating jobs, which has become the central issue voiced by the opposition parties in the campaign for the assemblies of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

On 27 September, BMS came out openly to criticise the NDA’s “misguided reforms". It had then said that the “present slowdown is the result of the wrong direction of the economy and job-displacing reforms followed as a continuation of UPA (United Progressive Alliance) policies. PM’s good intentions and efforts are neutralised by lack of proper experts, lack of communication and (lack of) feedback from social sector (which includes labour, farmer, below poverty line, tribal, backward people, micro industries, etc.), dependence on faulty advisors and misguided reforms."

On Friday, BMS presented a 22-point charter of demands that sought a Rs18,000 minimum monthly wage for all workers, minimum pension of Rs3,000, assured work of 200 days under the national rural jobs guarantee scheme and no disinvestment or privatisation of public sector units.

Central trade unions and their affiliates too have warned the central government that they will continue their strike over the next four months across states, cities and sectors to highlight the “plight" of the 470-million plus working community.

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