Refuting the Lie that the Maoists Banned Strikes in Nepal
Posted by Ka Frank on January 6, 2010
By Alastair Reith
Nepal’s Maoists are often accused of being anti-worker, Stalinist, bourgeois nationalist and so on by many on the Western ‘left’, particularly anarchists and Trotskyists. As ‘evidence’ towards this, it is often claimed that while in government earlier this year, they banned strikes.
Let’s set the record straight. The Maoists never banned strikes.
All the militant, class struggle fighting unions are Maoist unions, and since their change in tactics in 2006 and the shift of the struggle to the urban areas the Maoists have essentially taken over the trade union movement in Nepal, as well as the bulk of the student unions. They regularly lead strikes for both political issues and bread and butter issues like pay and conditions. They have strongholds amongst the teachers, hotel workers, petrol workers, workers in many SEZs and industrial zones, and more. They never stopped leading strikes – they just called a three day general strike across Nepal!
The Maoists briefly put forward a proposal to temporarily ban strikes in certain key sectors. This was at a time when the country had no electricity for most of the day, there was a food shortage and strikes and bandhs called by reactionary parties were causing chaos and undermining the Maoist-led government.
In Nepal, strikes are enforced with violence. Bandhs are called regularly by political groups and factions are supporters of the bandh roam the streets enforcing it with batons. If you can muster enough supporters to do that you can shut an area down fairly easily. In most cases the Maoists seem to be the only ones capable of mustering the support to enforce a bandh with any success, but it’s actually not a voluntary thing. So the UML, NC and even royalist affiliated unions and the parties themselves were capable of shutting down (or at least seriously interfering with) production with or without mass support amongst the workers, and when the Maoists were in government they were doing this with great enthusiasm.
Which leads on to the next point. Strikes in Nepal are never just issues of workers vs bosses. All the unions (as far as I’ve seen) are affiliated to political parties. Strikes are not just called by workers through their unions, they’re called by the workers affiliated to this or that political party, in consultation with that political party. You can disagree with this if you prefer the idea of independent workers unions doing their own thing, but these are the facts on the ground. Strikes are as much about a struggle between different political factions as they are about a struggle between workers and bosses.
It’s not a case of the hotel workers, and the teachers, and the bus drivers or whatever each having their own unions, it’s a case of the Maoist union, the UML union, the Nepal Congress Union, and so on. You never read about militant strikes being led by any unions other than Maoist ones, and I see no reason why the bourgeois media would simply ignore the other strikes. The Maoists are at the forefront of the class struggle in Nepal.
In a recent strike in a big industrial zone in Nepal, the workers began as part of a union affiliated to the UML. But as the strike dragged on, they became increasingly frustrated with the collaborationist, reformist attitude of their union, and ended up leaving it en masse to join a Maoist union instead, which eagerly picked up their cause and threw it’s resources behind their strike. This says a lot I think about the relationship the UCPN (M) has with the working class.
So when we talk about that brief (and yes, in my view, wrong) proposal by the Maoists to ban strikes it should be seen in this context. The reactionary parties were calling bandhs to undermine the government. These were having an effect on the country, which was just a total fucking mess. The economy was in shambles and there were shortages of all kinds of basic goods. So when the Maoists talked about temporarily banning strikes in some sectors, my guess is it was a ploy by them to prevent their political opponents from using their ‘unions’ to undermine the government and try and make the Maoists look bad by causing shortages and chaos.
Needless to say, the idea was briefly reported on then disappeared. The Maoists have continued to lead strikes all over the place, and the bourgeoisie in Nepal are quite pissed off about it. I suspect pressure from the unions affiliated to the party helped put the idea away.
The Maoists are not anti-worker. The hundreds of thousands of Nepalis that have marched in support of the Maoists in the past few weeks are workers. And when the Maoists topple the government they’re going to build a Nepal where the workers hold political and economic power.