From the 1st of February, thousands of Anganwadi workers in India’s capital of New Delhi have come out on the streets striking, in what is an unprecedented indefinite strike. The government of Delhi, led by the reformist petty bourgeois party, the Aam Aadmi Party (Common man’s party), has failed to meet the basic demands of the workers, who only demand the wages that are due to them.
By Adhiraj Bose – Mazdoor Inquilab India
The Anganwadi workers are paid a salary of around Rs. 5000 a month, which translates to about 20 rupees a day, that is not even a dollar. This pittance of a wage is not enough to take care of a family and pay rent, and most of the workers who join the Anganwadi service are the main earners for their family. Thus, the Anganwadi workers, through their union, the Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union (DSAWHU) has been demanding an increase of the pay to Rs. 25000 per month for workers, and 20,000 per month for helpers, in addition to payment of arrears owed during Covid and Lockdown.
Who are the Anganwadi workers
Anganwadi workers are part of the Government of India’s Integrated Child Development Services. This workforce was formed to combat child hunger and malnutrition. There are presently 1.3 million Anganwadi centers across India catering to 80 million children. Among the services provided from these centers, include supplementary nutrition, informal schooling, immunization, health checkups and referral services. The last of these three are done in convergence with public health services. During the pandemic, Anganwadi workers and Anganwadi centers were of critical importance, in providing essential health services to children across India.
The Anganwadi workers of India risked life and limb to ensure critical frontline health services and nutrition reached millions of poor children across the country, but for this they barely received any assistance from the government. Protective kits were in short supply, wages were left unpaid, along with the ASHA workers, they had to face discrimination and poverty for giving their service to the people. The struggle of the Anganwadi workers in Delhi is a struggle for dignity and respect, as much as it is a struggle for wage increase.
The AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) government
The Aam Aadmi Party was formed in the aftermath of the nationwide anti-corruption mobilization in 2011. It’s leader, Arvind Kejriwal, had led what was then an apolitical movement, rooted in the petty bourgeois and middle class. The protests however, had drawn people from all quarters, including the working class. However, Arvind Kejriwal’s leadership was not interested in turning this mobilization around the demand for an ombudsman (lokayukta) into a mobilization of the working class to give a true solution for the problem of corruption, which the working class faces the most. Some time after the end of the mobilization, Arvind Kejriwal turned on his earlier apolitical stance and formed the Aam Aadmi Party, it was meant to be a party with a difference, a party that would stand above the politics of the Congress Party and BJP, and other mainstream regional parties. Many radical leftists were attracted to the rhetoric of the AAP. Once in power, they had instituted several welfarist legislations, access to education improved greatly, utilities services improved, and access to health services were expanded. However, in time the true face of the party started to show, as the AAP slowly transformed into a party centered around the personality of Arvind Kejriwal himself, displaying the bonapartist tendencies common in the mainstream regional parties of India, which operate around one ‘great’ leader. Eventually, the party’s rhetoric also changed, from championing secular values, the party is now increasingly embracing religion in it’s rhetoric.
During the nationwide mobilization against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the party took no step to support the movement, and instead sat back taking an opportunistic neutral stance. The party’s position on the farmer’s protest was similar, simply stepping back and taking no overt stance. Delhi is a union territory, which means that it does not have the full rights that a state would have, among the limitations imposed on it, is having no control over the police, and a lieutenant governor, which is appointed by the Central government, which can interfere in its law making process. The AAP government has always used this as a scapegoat to excuse some of it’s ineptitude and deflect blame, whenever the police act in heavy handed ways, as it did during the CAA demonstrations and farmer agitation, or when it outright fails it’s duty, as it did during the Delhi pogrom, the AAP government simply sat back and deflected blame, taking no stand or step against the government. The party which was formed on the basis of the largest spontaneous mobilization in India since the anti-emergency protests in 1978, acted as a lame duck when faced with these challenges, when in power.
Now that thousands of Anganwadi workers are on the streets protesting, demanding payment of arrears and an increase of wages to a realistic level, the AAP government sits back and keeps mum. The protests are an embarrassment for the government which has thus far pretended to be a party of the people, here we see the party acting no different from other bourgeois parties when it comes to the question of workers. The DSAWHU is the main representative body of the Anganwadi workers, but the AAP party is unwilling to sit and negotiate with them, without also involving the CITU union, which represents a small minority and believes in compromising with the AAP and pushing a reformist line. The AAP’s strategy is therefore, to divide the workers, and go around the DSAWHU to make an arrangement that would still prejudice the workers.
Recently, the AAP government has stated that they would raise the wage of the Anganwadi workers to 12,720 rupees and helpers to 6.810 rupees. These are barely enough to account for rent, and essentials, whose price keeps rising every day thanks to the spiralling inflation in India today. Delhi is also one of the most expensive cities to live in, and for a working class family, it is particularly hard.
The role of the CITU
The CITU is one of the largest trade unions in India counting for over six million workers throughout the country. It is also linked with the Stalinist parties of India, the CPI(M) and CPI. The actions of the trade union here show it follows the Stalinist tradition of betraying the working class in support of so-called progressive elements of the bourgeoisie. Here too, the CITU is indirectly working against the Anganwadi workers by undermining the main union the DSAWHU. This however, is not just a one off case, according to the general secretary of the DSAWHU, the CITU has always played the role of a yellow trade union when it came to the Anganwadi workers of Delhi, the Anganwadi workers have had to fight against them as saboteurs within their movement. Now again, they have shown their colours as they try to cut a deal with the AAP government behind the backs of the striking workers.
We reiterate our full and unconditional support to the Anganwadi workers of Delhi who are out on strike today. A victory here would be a victory for all workers throughout the country, we must make it a rallying point for Anganwadi workers facing similar hardships throughout the country, as well as other frontline healthcare workers like the ASHA workers, who have been fighting back against exploitation and neglect by both state and central governments. It is time their service is valued and recognized. Most importantly, we call for a radical transformation of India’s ramshackle capitalistic healthcare system which can’t satisfy the basic needs of its people, and failed utterly during the pandemic.
FOR A LIVING WAGE !
FOR A NATIONALIZED HEALTH SERVICE !
PAY ALL ARREARS OWED TO THE ANGANWADI WORKERS!
DOWN WITH AAP ! LONG LIVE ANGANWADI WORKERS OF DELHI !