May Day to see nationwide protests against Modi govt’s pro-corporate vaccine policy

Apart from demanding withdrawal of Modi govt’s vaccine policy, workers will protest against total mismanagement of COVID-19 crisis and its anti-worker, anti-farmer and anti-people policies

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

Gyan Pathak

The ferocious rise in the second wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths in India has made the working class suffer the most, and hence May Day 2021 is going to be different. Trade unions of the country, while demonstrating solidarity of the working class, will also be expressing solidarity with the common people who have become victim of the deplorable callous attitude of the Modi government.

Trade unions believe that a substantial part of deaths were preventable, being caused due to non-availability of basic infrastructure, oxygen, hospital beds and essential medicines. The joint platform of Central Trade Unions and independent sectoral federations not only expressed this view in their online meeting on April 28, but also sent a letter to the Prime Minister to apprise him of their stand, which they termed as the ‘cruel insensitivity of the government at the Centre” in addressing and combating the second wave of the pandemic.

They said that the alarming country-wide surge has thrown the lives of the people, the working people in particular, in total jeopardy. They have found the Centre’s vaccines policy in favour of the corporate, and therefore, demanded its immediate withdrawal.

It is in this context that the trade unions have called for observing May Day 2021 as a day on which protest demonstrations will be held all over the country. Apart from demanding the withdrawal of the new pro-corporate vaccine policy of the Centre and total mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis, the workers will also be protesting against the anti-worker, anti-farmer, and anti-people policies of the Modi government.

When we are in the midst of such a grave human crisis under the present leadership, drawing satisfaction over overcoming the crisis would be ridiculous, unless much more wise steps are urgently taken. The truth is the Union government was caught unprepared despite the warning about a second countrywide wave.

Now the Centre is trying to blame the people, the state governments and everybody except itself. The reprimand of EC by some High Courts has vindicated the stand taken by trade unions from time to time. Only now has the order come not to organise any rally or celebration after Assembly poll results are announced, the letter read.

There is serious shortage of vaccines, testing facilities, hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen, medicines and above all trained personnel – doctors, nurses and other medical staff. The front line workers and employees are overworked and lack adequate protection.

Instead of addressing these serious issues, BJP leaders including union ministers are engaged in shifting the responsibility to the state governments and indulging in blame games.

In the midst of this, the vaccine policy announced by the government puts corporate profits above the precious lives of people. Today, it is crucial to strictly regulate, under direct government supervision, the entire vaccination process to ensure that the entire population is vaccinated within a definite time frame. Vaccine production must be urgently scaled up.

However, the statement further read, the government is shamelessly succumbing to the profit hungry international drug mafia and liberalised vaccine sales. The new vaccine policy liberalises vaccine sale by deregulating the prices through a discriminatory process, that too without taking any concrete measures for augmenting availability.

States are not given the promised doses of vaccines. This has severely affected the first phase of vaccination itself. The new vaccine policy of Modi government stipulates that the state governments have to procure the vaccines from the open market with higher price of Rs 400/Rs 600 per dose as announced by the two vaccine companies in India.

They will be thrown into unhealthy competition with each other and also with the private sector hospitals which are also free to procure the vaccines at Rs 600/ Rs 1200. More such notorious announcements are expected to pour in during the days to come due to the government-corporate nexus.

It is atrocious that the Serum Institute has announced Rs 400 per dose of vaccine for the state governments and Rs 600 for private hospitals in India. Covisheild is priced at 1.78 Euro (Rs 160) in Europe and at $4 (Rs 300) in the US and Bangladesh, at Rs.237 in Brazil, at Rs. 226 in UK.

This pro-corporate deregulation on vaccine and other essential ingredients of pandemic management will further facilitate hoarding and black marketing, which is already going on in case of essential medicines like Remdesivir and oxygen.

The overwhelming majority of our people who cannot afford the huge price of the vaccine would be excluded. Policies of exclusion have now become the hallmark of the Central government.

The Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions and Federations has demanded withdrawal of the new pro-corporate as well as discriminatory vaccine policy along with immediate measures to ensure 100% procurement of the vaccine, adequate supply of vaccines to the states, free of cost, by utilising the PM-CARES Fund.

The government, sufficiently empowered by Disaster Management Act, must not abdicate its responsibility of prioritising protection of the lives of the people during this grave pandemic, over profiteering by vaccine-pharmaceutical barons.

The local and regional lockdowns and curfews being imposed in several states are creating uncertainties about the work and income among the working people, the migrant workers and workers in the unorganised sector in particular.

Reminiscent of the migrant workers’ march around one year back, migrant workers are again heading to their native places. However, none of the orders issued so far by various authorities cared to concretely direct the employers to protect employment/livelihood of workers, their incomes and residences. Government must issue enforceable orders to protect workers from retrenchment and wage-cut.

The trade union leaders found the statement of the Union Finance Minister mindless and self congratulatory in which she has said that the Centre’s programme of privatisation and disinvestment is on track and in progress. They pointed out that it is the public sector companies that are, as ever, coming to the rescue of the nation in this critical situation, even by producing, supplying, and transporting oxygen. The mindless privatisation drive thus must be stopped immediately.

This year’s May Day protests will have 11 demands which include safety and security for common people and workers from the disease and financial uncertainties created by the anti-people and anti-worker but pro corporate policies.

(IPA Service)

Views are personal

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