UPA Government and the Working Class: Attacking workers in the name of “aam aadmi”

The UPA Government headed by Manmohan Singh has completed the first year of its second term in office. Workers must make a sober assessment of this regime which is attacking workers and their rights in the name of the “aam admi”.  This fortnight, Mazdoor Ekta Lehar  looks at the UPA Government in relation to the conditions, aspirations and demands of the working class.

The UPA Government headed by Manmohan Singh has completed the first year of its second term in office. Workers must make a sober assessment of this regime which is attacking workers and their rights in the name of the “aam admi”.  This fortnight, Mazdoor Ekta Lehar  looks at the UPA Government in relation to the conditions, aspirations and demands of the working class.

Degree of exploitation increased under UPA

What is called the “organized sector” in the National Accounts Statistics consists of production of commodities on the basis of capitalist relations, where the added value produced by human labour is divided into two parts: (i) labour income, the wages and salaries paid to all workers and employees; and (ii) operation surplus, which is pocketed by the owners of capital in the form of profits, interest and rent.  The ratio of the extracted surplus to the labour income is the degree of exploitation of labour.  This degree of exploitation has risen steeply since 2004, when the first UPA regime emerged – from 108% to 142% in the capitalist sector of the economy as a whole, and even steeper in some sectors.  For instance, it rose from 166% in 2004 to 236% in 2008 in the case of manufacturing.

Born in the midst of deepening class divide

The year 2003 came to an end with prospects brightening considerably for Indian capitalism and the monopoly business houses.  Senior BJP leaders gleefully coined the slogan of “India shining” prior to the Lok Sabha elections of 2004.  India was indeed shining for a small minority of exploiters, headed by the monopoly houses of Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and others who had begun to convert their imperialist dream into reality. On the other hand, it was bleeding for the workers and peasants.

The campaign for the 14th Lok Sabha in 2004 revealed the deep division in perception and outlook between the exploiters and the exploited. The increasing opposition of working masses to the BJP led alliance prompted the bourgeoisie to back its alternative option, which was a Congress led alliance promising to care for the “aam aadmi”.

UPA-1 — an arrangement for promoting class conciliation

The UPA-1 regime that came to power six years ago was an arrangement to reconcile the conflict between the exploiters and the exploited, in favour of continuing with the capitalist offensive. It was carried out in the name of a National Common Minimum Program, worked out with the parliamentary communists. A National Advisory Council was set up to allegedly ensure that the interests of the toiling masses was taken care off. The passing of NREGA and certain other measures was hailed as the victory of the “aam admi” and a justification for the line of class conciliation. The working class was told — you do not have to fight, your interests are being taken care of by the parliamentary communists, who will use their controlling power in your favour. Do not rock the boat of the National Common Minimum Program, which is the best deal possible in the present conditions. See, we have got the disinvestment ministry disbanded (so what if the workers of Modern Food Industries Limited, BALCO, and so many other PSU’s have lost their livelihood)! For a whole period, the Congress Party as the head of UPA-1, and the Parliamentary communists, vied with each other claiming credit for this class compromise.

In the first four years of UPA-1 rule India did actually shine brightly for the monopoly capitalist houses.  The ratio of savings to GDP rose from 25% to 39%, which shows that the rich grew richer very rapidly.  The UPA-1 regime aggressively permitted Special Economic Zones to be created, encouraging and enabling the capitalists to violate workers’ rights, such as by expanding contract labour and outsourcing, night shifts for women, etc. The degree of exploitation of Indian labour intensified considerably during 2004-08 (see Box).

Thus the bourgeoisie represented by UPA-1 carried forward its agenda of globalization and liberalization, reaping fat profits at the expense of the working masses.

Reality check — Attack on workers wages, working conditions and rights

What has been the consequences of this class compromise?

The UPA regimes, both UPA-1 and UPA-2, have been marked with massive attacks on wages, working conditions and rights of workers.

With the aim of attracting capital and ensuring maximum profits, all labour laws have been given the go by. Labour departments across the country openly support the capitalists, as directed by the central and state governments. Thus, Gurgaon has witnessed massive struggles as well as brutal police repression of workers, in 2005 and in 2009, when workers took up the struggle to organize themselves into unions in the automobiles sector, garments sector and other sectors. Oil workers were faced with massive attacks when they struck work in 2009, with the state using ESMA and police and para military forces. The strike of 20,000 Air India workers has just been brutally attacked, with the management derecognizing the unions and dismissing and suspending a large number of workers. Earlier, the struggle of pilots whose wages were drastically cut in the name of recession, was brutally attacked. 15,000 workers in Hyundai factory in Tamilnadu faced attacks because of trying to form a union. Resident Doctors in Maharashtra, Gujarat and other states who have been fighting for better pay and working conditions have been attacked. All over the country, the entire state machinery- the government, the courts, and the police forces have been deployed against workers fighting for their rights, including the right to organise in a union. accompanied by massive propaganda against the workers. Everywhere, working class is faced with increased exploitation, attack on wages and worsening of working conditions, and attacks on their rights. .

The UPA has prepared the grounds for further attacking the rights of workers, so as to intensify their exploitation even more.  Reality today is this. Majority of workers work 60+ hours a week. Contract labour is so rampant, it accounts for over 50% of workforce even in PSU’s. The 6th Pay Commission has basically done away with class – 4 employees and replaced them with contract labour in government. The very attempt to form trade unions, even in big multinational companies, is met with brute force by the management and the government cutting across party barriers. The West Bengal Chief Minister is gone on record declaring that workers of IT enabled services sector in Bengal, need not be organized in unions, as they are allegedly “highly paid”. The 2008-09 Economic Survey, produced by the Ministry of Finance, advocates that (i) the Factories Act be amended to increase the workweek from 48 to 60 hours, and to allow 12 hour working day to meet seasonal demand; (ii) Hire and fire should be allowed for all workers and the concept of permanent workers should be discarded as anachronistic — that is all workers should be contract workers (iii) Industrial Disputes Act to be amended to remove the need for government permission to retrench workers in enterprises employing over 100 regular workers.

UPA -2 – stepping up the onslaught on the working class

UPA -1 regime came with the slogan that both the capitalists’ interests and those of workers could be taken care of. As the years passed, the mask of “human face” has been torn to shred by actual developments, and the stark reality that this government is a government committed to maximizing the exploitation of the working class and toiling masses to enrich the capitalist class has come into the open. With extreme arrogance, the UPA-2 government, which bent over backward in the past two years to bail out capitalists while increasing fiscal deficit, has  announced that this will not be done with respect to the workers and peasants. The only concern of the government will be to ensure highest growth rates for the capitalist class. Whatever is good for the capitalist class has been declared to be what is good for workers and whole of society.

There is a stepped up onslaught on the rights of workers to protest through strikes through an orchestrated media campaign that workers are being anti-social and irresponsible, they are going against the interests of the masses of people, whereas the government is trying very hard to get the economy working for the people!

Soaring Food Prices

Exploitation of workers has become worse as a result of the steep rise in food prices. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced no step in the Union Budget for 2010-11 towards arresting food price inflation.  On the contrary, the budget announced a reduction in petroleum and fertilizer subsidies, which will add to the burden of high food prices.  Collection of customs duties, union excise duty and service tax, all of which add to the market prices of commodities, is targeted to rise by 29% over the current year.

The working class has been demanding the setting up of a modern universal public distribution system through which all people can get good quality food grains, pulses, sugar, cooking oil, fuel, and so on at affordable prices and of sufficient quantity to ensure a healthy life. The UPA-2 government came with the grandiose promise of enacting a “national Food Security Act”. One year down the line, it is clear that the UPA government has no intention of fulfilling the demands of the workers. What it will do is what governments in India have always done in the past — try to palm off a counterfeit for the real thing, divide the toiling masses by providing arbitrarily for a few at the expense of the majority, all in the name of
the "aam admi”.


The program to sell public assets to private bidders was put back on the agenda the moment UPA -2 ascended the throne.  As much as Rs.24,000 crore has been raised in 2009-10 by selling the central government’s share holding in 5 big public companies in energy and mining.  The target for 2010-11 has been raised to Rs.40,000 crore.

Privatisation of the social sector — municipal services like water and sanitation, electricity distribution, education, health care, — is going on at a rapid pace, in the name of “public private partnership”. The wealth created by the people residing in banks, as well as sucked out as taxes, is being used to enable the capitalist class to make maximum profits in these sectors, and people are being told — you have no right to access to social services, unless you pay.

Right to Work

One of the fundamental demands and aspirations of the working class is the actualization of the Right to Work.  Given that the process of production is highly socialized, an individual worker cannot be left to find a job on his own.  Society has an obligation, hence the State has a duty, to ensure that there is work for all.

In the period 2008-10, lakhs of jobs were destroyed following the global economic crisis, especially in export oriented sectors such as readymade garments, leather products, gems and jewellery.  The UPA government did not lift a finger to address the demand for protection of livelihood and security against retrenchment.

The UPA government came up with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), a guarantee of partial unskilled employment (maximum of 100 days a year) at minimum wages for one member of every rural family.  Although it looks like a legal right, the NREGA is a government program, which can be expanded or curtailed as the ruling party or coalition wishes.

Besides expanding the pool of cheap labour readily available for exploitation at short notice, and offering fresh avenues for looting public funds through corruption and fraud, the NREGA serves an important purpose of stabilizing capitalist growth.  It serves to stimulate rural demand for capitalist products by releasing money into the villages, at a time when lack of consumer demand is constraining capitalist growth.  In addition, it also serves the political aim of pacifying the rural unemployed, and to create the general impression that something serious is being done to tackle rural poverty.

Temporary redistribution of incomes, through mechanisms such as NREGA, do not change the basic orientation of the economy, which continues to produce wealth and poverty at opposite poles. A tool to stabilize capitalism has been marketed as a pro-poor measure, thanks to the illusion mongering on this score by the CPI(M) and others.

Social Security

The working class has been fighting relentlessly for guaranteed social security for all working people. In the last days of UPA-1, it enacted an act claiming to do so. By enacting a law that is applicable to only those who are declared Below Poverty Line (BPL), the vast majority of workers have been denied any security.  An artificial division is being created within the working class on the basis of this BPL concept, and on the basis of separating ‘organised’ and ‘unorganised’ sectors.


The track record of this UPA regime, headed by Manmohan Singh, shows that it is committed to attack the livelihood and rights of the working class, to intensify exploitation in the interests of the capitalist class, headed by the big monopoly houses.

The working class faces a big challenge. Workers in different sectors are resisting the attacks, but the challenge is to mount a united resistance that will halt the capitalist offensive. The working class must unite around its own program as opposed to the capitalist program, and fight with the aim of replacing the rule of the capitalists with the rule of workers and peasants. That is the way we will be able to reorient the economy from its present orientation of ensuring maximum profits for the capitalist class, to one which will provide for all the people.

Share and Enjoy !


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *