Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle) on Monday called on workers, farmers, students, and other community members to join in solidarity actions Jan. 8 in support of millions of farmers in India who are courageously protesting against new privatization and exploitation laws by the Hindu fundamentalist and reactionary establishment regime of Indian Prime Minister Modi and his political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Indian farmers are bravely protesting new BJP-proposed laws that would dismantle the bare minimum protections or regulations relied on by millions of small farmers for survival, and give massive corporate handouts to profitable agribusiness multinational corporations. One of the billionaires who will directly benefit from the new laws is Mukesh Ambani, who is like the Jeff Bezos of India. He is the richest man in India, and with a net worth above $80 billion, is the 5th richest man in the world.
On November 26, the Indian labor movement carried out a general strike involving 250 million workers in solidarity with the ongoing farmers’ protest, the largest general strike in global labor history.
“Farmers in India have been courageously protesting for nearly three weeks, facing down brutal repression by police using tear gas and water cannons,” Sawant noted. “These new policies would carry out ruthless privatization and corporatization, and push the overwhelming majority of farmers and agricultural workers into deeper poverty and indebtedness, while billionaires and agribusiness multinationals will become even more obscenely wealthy.”
“The deep and long-term crisis in the global capitalist system – a crisis predating but exacerbated by the COVID pandemic – poses the fundamental question globally, from Seattle to Delhi: who will pay for the crisis, big corporations and the super-wealthy, or ordinary working people and impoverished communities?” she said.
Indian farmers and workers have now called for a Bharat Bandh – a “shut down India” action – on January 8, 2021. The general strike call includes not only a hundred farmer organizations, but also ten trade union confederations, and a number of student unions.
On Monday (Dec. 14), the Seattle City Council unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the Indian farmer protest. The resolution had been introduced by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and was co-sponsored by Councilmember Sawant.
Councilmember Sawant noted that “Working people and the labor movement in the Seattle region, and indeed everywhere, have a stake in what happens in India. The Indian farmers are facing the same exploitation by the billionaire class that farmers and workers are facing worldwide. Just like in the United States, billionaires in India have seen their wealth skyrocket during the pandemic. Here in Washington state, farmworkers and their communities continue to be deeply exploited by big agribusiness, which works hand-in-hand with the political establishment. That’s why international solidarity is necessary among the oppressed – an injury to one is an injury to all. I urge everyone to join the Seattle region’s South Asian community and my office in a solidarity car caravan rally on January 8, 2021, at 3PM.”
Sawant also proposed an amendment to the resolution that would have put the City Council on record as supporting “farmers organizations, trade union federations, and student unions in India organizing for a general strike on January 8 to unite the movements of oppressed peoples, demanding the restoration of protections for small farmers, increasing the minimum wage, ending privatizations, and defending the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.”
Sawant noted that “speakers during City Council public comment – including many Sikh community members, South Asian activists, socialists, and union members – almost unanimously urged the City Council to support the amendment from my office declaring solidarity with the January 8 general strike. Despite this overwhelming community support, it’s unfortunate that four Councilmembers who supported the resolution then utterly failed to adopt the amendment that gives that support real meaning, by specifically backing the farmers and workers in their next nationwide action. This is a reminder of why our communities must build independently for the January 8th car caravan rally, and not depend on the political establishment,” Sawant said, adding, “I want to thank the four Councilmembers who did support my amendment.”
Hira Singh Bhullar, a Seattle area member of the Punjabi immigrant community, echoing the testimony of dozens of community members said, “I want to thank Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda for bringing this important resolution in support of Indian farmers fighting laws from the Modi regime which will lead to mass indebtedness and suffering for millions. As the son of a farmer who lived many years in India and experienced the brutal conditions farmers face, this struggle is very close to me and the solidarity offered by the City Council is very important. It was surprising and disappointing to see four Councilmembers refuse to support Councilmember Sawant’s amendment in support of the January 8th general strike, set to be one of the biggest mass actions in human history, and a critical part of farmers’ path to victory. I see Council’s vote against that solidarity as motivation to build even more community support among the Indian and South Asian community in the Seattle region, especially for the January 8th Car Caravan Protest in solidarity.”
Farmers and agricultural workers make up 60 percent of India’s population. A 2018 study found that more than half of the farmers in the country were in debt – and this was before the current pandemic and deep capitalist crisis. More than 20,000 farmers in the country have died by suicide just from 2018 to 2019, and farmer indebtedness has been a major factor.
In addition to the call for solidarity on Jan. 8, Sawant has launched a petition calling on the incoming Biden/Harris administration to publicly side with the farmers and workers in India.