The latest two packages of economic policy reforms announced by the UPA Government have been met with widespread opposition among the working class and people. These are measures to expand the space for the biggest capitalist monopolies, Indian and international, to collaborate in intensifying the exploitation and plunder of our land and labour.
Apart from cutting petroleum subsidy and permitting foreign companies to expand in retail trade, air transport and TV media, the recent Cabinet decisions include proposed legislation for permitting capitalist corporations to rob workers’ pension funds and to grab peasants’ lands wherever they see possibilities of reaping maximum profits.
In his address to the nation, telecast on 21st September, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that those who are opposing this policy reform agenda are misguided or misinformed, and that they pose a threat to national security! He reminded the people of the conditions in 1991, when as the Finance Minister he dealt with an acute balance of payments crisis by launching the first wave of the liberalisation and privatisation program.
The situation in 2012 is not the same as in 1991. While the working class stood isolated and side-lined 20 years ago, it is the big bourgeoisie and its parties that are threatened with isolation at this time.
Two decades of experience have exposed the reality of the anti-social reform program of the bourgeoisie. Workers in all sectors of production are uniting and strengthening their resistance to this program. The level of consciousness has also advanced among the middle strata of society. More and more people understand that these reforms are geared to enrich only a super-rich minority, at the expense of the hardworking majority. There is widespread disgust with the corrupt and criminal activities of those in positions of power.
Correspondents of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar have conducted hundreds of interviews of activists and organisers of workers in numerous sectors and published many of them during the past 12 months. The views expressed by these working class activists are based on their individual and collective experience. They are not misguided, as the Prime Minister claims, but guided by hard facts of life.
Workers in a wide range of industries and services are clearly expressing the view that those who toil are not prospering from the policy reforms and high GDP growth that Manmohan Singh is boasting about. Workers are being exploited more intensely than before. Their working conditions and terms of contract are deteriorating. The quality of life of their families is going from bad to worse, due to rising insecurity of livelihood and ever-rising cost of living. Any attempt of working people to defend their rights and stake their legitimate claims is being met with brutal repression.
Asked how their conditions have developed over the past 20 years, workers have provided a wealth of information about the varied forms in which more value is being extracted out of them. Some of the major forms are the following (see the respective Boxes for details):
- Increasing use of temporary contracts and outsourcing;
- Extension of working hours and increase in workload; and
- Insidious ways of implementing privatisation.
The interviews show clearly that workers are largely united in their opposition to the policy agenda of the bourgeoisie. Working people can see that the past 20 years of implementing this agenda has led to enormous growth in the wealth of the Ambanis, Tatas, Birlas and other monopoly capitalist houses. The combined wealth of the ten richest capitalists in our country reached the astronomical level of Rs. 8,40,000 crore in 2008, more than one-fifth the national income. At the other pole, crores of working people face the threat of unemployment, falling real wages, increasing indebtedness and intensified poverty.
More and more people can see that the program to maximise GDP growth is in fact a program to intensify the exploitation of labour and escalate the plunder of natural resources. It is an anti-worker, anti-peasant and anti-social program. It is aimed at enabling Indian monopoly capitalists to emerge as contenders for big power status on the global scale.
Workers’ unions have put forward the demand that the rights of workers must be guaranteed by the State, with strict punishment for any violation. Both workers’ and peasants’ unions have demanded a universal public distribution system, as the solution to the rising prices and instability of peasant incomes. However, the policy agenda being implemented today is in the opposite direction. It is to deny workers their rights and to bring domestic and foreign trade under the control of the biggest capitalist monopolies, Indian and foreign.
As long as workers and peasants remain excluded from political power, their demands will never get accepted and implemented. As long as one or another party backed by the big money power of the monopoly capitalists controls decision-making power, the economy will only produce wealth for a minority of exploiters and misery for the majority of exploited.
When he was interviewed by MEL correspondents about a year ago, Comrade Lal Singh, General Secretary of the Communist Ghadar Party of India, pointed out that the key question is how the toiling majority of people can gain decision-making power. Only if workers and peasants become the decision-makers can they ensure that the economy works for them and not for the robbers of the wealth they produce.
The alternative to the capitalist-imperialist reform agenda is the Navnirman of India, which Comrade Lal Singh explained as the program for reconstitution of political power so that the toiling majority can reorient the economy to provide prosperity and protection for all.
There is need to establish a new Constitution that guarantees the inviolable rights of workers, of those who till the land, basic rights of women, of all human beings, democratic rights of citizens, rights of every nation, nationality and people to self-determination, and rights of religious and national minorities.
There is need for radical changes in the political process, so as to vest decision-making power in the hands of the people, organised in non-partisan samitis in every constituency. The right to vote must be accompanied by the right to be elected, right to have a say in the selection of candidates, right to initiate legislation and to recall the one who gets elected at any time.
With decision-making power in their hands, the workers, peasants and revolutionary intelligentsia of all nationalities can ensure that the economic system provides them with prosperity and stability, that it raises their living standard steadily without any crises or shocks.
The drain of public resources to fulfil monopoly capitalist greed can be immediately stopped by issuing a moratorium on servicing the public debt. Additional resources for addressing the people’s needs can also be mobilised by demonetising the currency to unearth the hordes of hidden cash and by other measures seize unaccounted foreign bank balances.
The colonial land laws and the proposed monopoly capitalist land law must be replaced with a new law that recognizes land and other natural resources as national property, to be socially regulated and not treated as commodities to be bought and sold by private parties.
The agrarian question can be solved on the basis of guaranteeing secure possession of land in the hands of the tillers, encouraging small farmers to form cooperatives, ensuring liberal State assistance to such producer collectives and blocking the path for capitalist agriculture to advance.
A modern universal PDS can be established by eliminating the role of private profit in trade and finance, by bringing all material and financial resources under the control of the people and their organs of power at the local, national and union levels.
Extension of working hours and increase in workload
In many industrial estates it has become the norm to make workers toil for 12 hours a day. In Voltas (Mumbai), Ashok Leyland (Chennai) and other large-scale manufacturing companies, new wage agreements stipulate that workers have to put in six days’ work within five days. The sixth day is deemed to be an optional additional workday, subject to the discretion of the company’s management.
In the Indian Railways, increasing demand for services is sought to be met with the same wagons, coaches, engines, rail lines and workers. This has been termed “optimum utilization”. It has also been described as “squeezing maximum from the minimum”, and “doing more from less”. The workload per worker is rising to alarming proportions.
In the case of airline pilots, increasing workload and reduction in rest time between long flights is not only an attack on their rights as workers, but it also increases the risk of accidents and compromises on safety standards.
In the banking sector, a rising proportion of workers are designated as “officers” so as to freely extend the length of their working day without paying due compensation for over-time work. In privately owned banks almost all new recruits are designated as officers, and are over-worked and denied access to labour rights.
Increasing use of contract labour and outsourcing
In most of the new sectors of modern industry and services that have grown in the past two decades – from auto manufacturing to BPOs – there are more workers on temporary than on regular contracts. The Ford plant in Chennai employs over 5000 workers, of which only 1250 are classified as regular while the rest are trainees or apprentices, who can be thrown out any time. Temporary contract means no job security, no Provident Fund, ESI or pension benefits, and no access to legal protection of workers’ rights.
In all the older sectors of industry and services, there has been a steady process of replacing regular positions by temporary contracts, both in private capitalist companies and in state-owned enterprises. Thus, for example, the number of regular port and dock workers in the country has been reduced from 1,50,000 to 65,000 over the past 10 years. A large part of the work is now outsourced to private companies or contractors.
The use of contract labour and outsourcing are not only depriving workers of their rights and security of livelihood. It is also against the safety of workers and the general public. The dock workers at the Madras Port Trust, for instance, have been victims of many serious accidents as a result of reducing the number of regular workers and replacing them with temporary contract workers. The same trend has meant compromising on the safety of passengers in rail and air transport.
Insidious ways to implement privatisation
The deliberate ruination of Air India has been well documented. Following the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines, all highly profitable routes were handed over to private carriers, and the national carrier was left with the least profitable ones. Ground handling functions were hived off and handed over to a private companies. The state-owned company was deliberately turned into a loss-making one, to create the conditions for pushing privatisation as the salvation.
A similar story is told by the workers in the state-owned telecom company Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). Urgently needed maintenance workers have not been recruited. The Central Government has handed over the major profitable sectors in the big metros to the private players, while BSNL spends Rs 8000 crores annually to provide services in rural areas. Private players are allowed access to BSNL networks without paying anything. The resulting lower profitability of BSNL is used as a justification for promoting privatisation.
In the case of Delhi Jal Board (DJB), workshops for repairing meters and electric motors have been contracted out to private companies. Private capitalist corporations are lusting after the 6000 acres of land currently under the control of the Jal Board. The government has valued the Jhandewalan land at only Rs. 80,00,000, whereas it is believed to be worth hundreds of crores.