Center For Workers Education

for building a democratic labour movement in India

Why integrated labour law reforms is necessary to upgrade labour standards-4

The facts of Life:

  1. The development of society depends on the wealth produced by its own social labour. The nature of social development in terms of inbuilt concerns for the wellbeing of the people depends on the extent of social equality in the ownership and control of means of production and the mechanisms for distribution and redistribution of wealth produced by social labour. In a capitalist society, ownership and control of crucial means of production is generally concentrated in a small elite section of the society and large majority of masses survive only on their labour power. This is not only true for the wage labour but also for the large section of the peasantry (small peasants who live in an illusion of being the owner of means of production but actually market has converted them in to wage labour on their own fields). In such situations, the nature of social development in terms inbuilt concerns of wellbeing of the people depends only on the strength and power of collective bargaining of the masses at different levels-at the level of a production unit, at the level of industry, and at the level of policy making. It is on this background that the right to organize and collective bargaining becomes a broad social and political issue and not only an economic issue. The struggle for unfettered right to organize and collective bargaining is actually a struggle for building a democratic and civilized society. It is so important that the extent of freedom, space and smoothness of collective bargaining can be considered as a barometer to measure how civilized a society is. We cannot imagine a civilized society without right to organize and collective bargaining. We cannot imagine a civilized society without organizations of labour, peasants and other sections of masses and political parties representing their socio-economic and political interests.

However, with the advent of liberalization suddenly in almost all the third world countries, an all-round attack (by the state and the corporate) started on right to organize and collective bargaining and resulted in shrinking and further shrinking the space for collective bargaining by way of : amending labour laws and making labour laws meaningless by allowing large scale violations, anti labour judicial pronouncements, creating special economic zones, not recognizing trade unions, unleashing repression on trade unions-workers and peasants whenever they attempt to claim the space for collective bargaining.

It is to be noted that to the extent this democratic space is lost, it creates such helplessness and hopelessness among workers leading to two extreme tendencies: suicides or extremism.

(for details on this issue pl read: Shrinking spaces for collective bargaining in India; https://workerscentre.wordpress.com/)

  1. The meaning of civilized society is a society where at least survival (different levels of survival at different levels of socio-economic development) is fully ensured for all; and the workers and the people at large can effectively exercise their powers of collective bargaining to ensure redistributive justice for further improvements in their living standards and working conditions. If the survival is not ensured, then, on the one hand, the workers are actually thrown in the conditions of slavery and it drastically reduces their collective bargaining power; and on the other hand, it means that there is no set base-level for collective bargaining, and in such situations, collective bargaining can not effectively ensure the redistributive justice and improvements in working and living standards (accompanying economic growth). The importance of labour laws on wages and job security, social security, Occupational health and safety and other working conditions for the larger enterprises of organized sector (as was the case in most Asian countries) was primarily in respect of ensuring survival and setting the base level for collective bargaining. The greater collective bargaining strength and improvements in the working and living conditions of organized sector workers (in comparison to unorganized sector workers) could be achieved primarily due to this factor.

But what is happening now. The globalization brings all sorts of uncertainties. Sustainability of development and jobs created by foreign investments are uncertain; job security at workplace is uncertain, incomes in traditional occupations are uncertain, income in agriculture has become highly uncertain, even the life is always in uncertainty due to increasing number of environmental disasters, drastic increase in occupational health and safety problems, increasing number of epidemics caused by new diseases and drastic increase in crime and accidents. The liberalization is consciously and unconsciously throwing everything in uncertainty to ensure certainty of profits to the capital; promoting casualisation in every sphere of life to ensure sustained profits to the capital. Now everything is becoming casual-jobs, incomes and even the social relations. On the other hand, it is also reducing the power of the people to fight against the vulnerabilities, by way of deregulations at national level and regulations at international level reducing the capacity of the people to bargain with their nation states, making capital freely mobile so that it can exploit the global reserve army of labour reducing the overall collective bargaining power of people/labour vis-a vis capital, informalisation and scattering of the industrial workforce both reducing the income and collective power of the working class, states moving out from its welfare functions and abolishing subsidies to the people and reducing welfare expenses, amending labour laws to reduce the overall collective power of the workers and compel them to virtually work in slave labour like conditions etc. Moreover, in the capitalist global village, the Asian community life based on mutual cooperation is abolished and the safety covers offered by joint family and community is lost. The fate of every individual is now controlled by the market, and the market teaches everyone to care for only him or herself and survive or perish on his/her own alone without getting any support from anyone. Lack of enough livelihood opportunities combined with consciously promoted individualism and consumerism has systematically intensified the barbaric competition among the people to get a living at the cost of the other. This is happening not only among the people with in a country; but also among the people of different developing countries. Given the unrestricted mobility of the capital, there is always a threat that investments may at any time fly away to other country and thereby may lead to mass unemployment. The situation is such that only those nation states can win the greater share of foreign investments, and greater export orders, which are barbaric enough to completely suppress all opposition from workers to ensure maximum exploitation of workers to generate super profits.

And this is not the end. The kind of social security systems initiated by the government are also in the same line. On the one hand, it is institutionalizing the division among labour by coming out with a show piece social security act for unorganized/informal workers (that remains only a paper act with no great practical meaning) and on the other hand it is marketizing the social security. If you can buy you can have a social security and if you are unable to buy you are poised to face a hell on this earth allthrough your life. Moreover, the social security funds are proposed to be invested in share market etc and so you are not sure ultimately what benefits it will bring to you—if share market crashes you may also be crashed.

Does it not resemble to the age of barbarism? It is certainly different, since unlike the age of barbarism, this is unimaginably higher stage of development with problems of overproduction rather than scarcity and also unlike the earlier, it is well planned and systematically imposed by the corporate capital for profit motives. Therefore, we can call it the age of modern barbarism. The vulnerabilities of the people, in this age of modern barbarism are growing to the extent that not only large number of poor people are compelled to live in hell of chronic poverty and dying of hunger; but also they are compelled to opt for suicides. In one decade from 1997-2007, more than 182936 suicide deaths were reported mainly of small-marginal farmers in India, and large number of suicides of industrial workers for example in Tirpur..

(Read details on this issue in: Social security: A struggle of survival for Workers in the age of Globalization; https://workerscentre.wordpress.com/)

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