for building a democratic labour movement in India
With faltering industrial demand, workers are in a difficult situation with little room to manoeuvre.
Maruti Suzuki is a hybrid, an offspring of the Bharatiya and Japanese species of management, and like any cross-breed, it is flexible. Its pliability derives not merely from its Japanese-style flexible manufacturing system, but also from its elasticity in the choice of how much of the Bharatiya vintage to adopt. In the wake of the violent clash on 18 July at the company’s Manesar factory between managers and workers in which the former had reportedly hired goons to attack the latter, and in which the company’s general manager (human resources) lost his life, the company called in a Vedic astrologer to undertake a vaastu correction to exorcise the “negative energy” believed to be the source of all the evil at the factory. The Vedic astrologer diagnosed the root cause of the “labour problem” thus – the 600 acres of land on which the factory was constructed was once the site of a burial ground and, moreover, three temples had been razed to construct the manufacturing facility!
One might just dismiss all this mumbo-jumbo out of hand, but when management engages in a set of repulsive practices in the treatment of its workers, what Annavajhula J C B and Surendra Pratap (“Worker Voices in an Auto Production Chain: Notes from the Pits of a Low Road”, EPW, 18 and 25 August 2012) have called “industrial terrorism”, then surely it needs to spin a protective cocoon of beliefs around itself and its arena of control and influence. At the just concluded annual general meeting of Maruti Suzuki, one also heard the mai-baap homily that the management ought to have maintained “family type” relations with the workers. But industrial terrorism accompanied by such tedious moralising by management and shareholders is not confined to Maruti Suzuki alone.
If one really has to draw lessons from the Annavajhula-Pratap paper mentioned above, one would think that the only route to success would be if the workers ally with their workmates in the hundreds of supplier factories (the first- and second-tier subcontractors), as also those in the small-supplier workshops who too are the victims of the industrial terrorism of the low road to competitive advantage. Indeed, one should take note that the workers of the Gurgaon factory did not join their Manesar workmates when the latter struck work in June last year. Of course, growth of the sales of cars had decelerated drastically last year (2011-12) compared to that in 2010-11 and this made for further unfavourable conditions from the workers’ point of view. But if the workers of Manesar are to win a voice for themselves, they need to establish active links with the wider workforce in this industrial corridor south of Delhi. They can win rights and higher wages only as part of a struggle that spreads beyond Maruti Suzuki to its suppliers and their suppliers, and down the supplier chain to the small workshops.
Low wages, large numbers of casual and contract workers, authoritarianism in the workplace, unjust victimisation of workers who are at the forefront of resistance, the coming together of company and state to put down worker resistance with a heavy hand, and the lack of a fighting spirit on the part of the central trade unions affiliated to the mainstream political parties – these are what the workers are up against, even in the public sector.
One is reminded of the 44-day strike that began in April this year of thousands of contract workers of the public sector Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) who have been struggling for many years to win wage parity with the company’s permanent workers and the regularisation of their jobs. Sadly, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) allied with it, did not even give a call for the permanent workers to ally with these contract workers. Instead, all the AITUC did was to appeal to Jayalalithaa, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, in which the NLC is located, to intervene on behalf of the workers and prevail upon the central government to help settle the strike in their favour. This, when the Tamil Nadu police had been ordered to arrest the striking workers after their strike had been declared “illegal” through a court order.
The political parties to which the AITUC and the CITU are affiliated, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the CPI (Marxist), respectively, had entered into a thoroughly opportunistic alliance with Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in the state assembly elections last year and wanted to keep the alliance going. Indeed, it was the AIADMK government along with the central government, which controls the NLC, that was instrumental in the defeat of the strike when the AITUC decided to call it off after some vague promises of regularisation were made, without, of course, any agreement on pay parity.
If this then is the plight of workers in leading enterprises in the private and public sector, Maruti Suzuki and NLC, one can only imagine what their predicament is in labour-intensive manufacturing like apparel and footwear, and in the sweatshops of diamond cutting and polishing, all industries where the growth of exports is faltering.
Economic and Political Weekly; Vol – XLVII No. 36, September 08, 2012
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Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures,”
Social progress depends not upon the ennoblement of the few but on the enrichment of democracy; universal brotherhood can be achieved only when there is an equality of opportunity - of opportunity in the social, political and individual life.
In the new global politico-economic regime with new international division of labour, informalization of labour, free mobility of capital, alarming expansion of reserve army of labour and creation of global reserve army of labour for capital, and a system of regulating at international level and deregulating at national level, the pre-globalization strategies of organizing and collective bargaining have largely become ineffective and irrelevant. Therefore the labour movements and the social, political movements in general need to develop and implement new strategies of organizing and collective bargaining effective in new global politico-economic regime.
Divide, isolate and rule is the most important aspect of the capitalism to control the labour by not letting the working class emerge as a unified force. Dividing the working class in different sectional interests, and intensifying social conflicts (caste, gender, religion, regionality and nationality conflicts etc) are important strategies of capitalism. On the other hand, by its various institutions and propaganda machinery, the capitalism blurs the link between various sectional problems and their linkage with the capitalist system and therefore the movements appear detached from each other and focused on their sectional issues rather than challenging the capitalist system that produces and reproduces these problems.
The fate of social, political movements in India depends on their attitude towards learning and building unity in diversity at various levels to defeat the capital’s attempts to divide, isolate and rule. The revival of the working class movement also depends on this factor.