Workers can defend their rights only through uncompromising struggle against the capitalists and their government
Inaugurating the 45th Session of the Indian Labour Conference, held in New Delhi on 17th May, 2013, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “The recent two-day strike by trade unions focused on a number of issues relating to the welfare not only of the working-classes but also the people at large. These include demands on which there can be no disagreement. For example, demands for concrete measures for containing inflation, for generation of employment opportunities, for strict implementation of labour laws, are unexceptionable. There can however be differences on the best ways of fulfilling these demands and we are willing to engage constructively with the Trade Unions in this regard.”
The Indian Labour Conference is mandated to make recommendations to government on labour policy. It is called a “tripartite” body. It consists of representatives of the major associations of the capitalists, the government recognised central trade unions and the different ministries of the government. The false propaganda is carried out amongst the working class and people that the government represents all classes, including the capitalist class and the working class. In reality, however, the government is a government of the capitalist class and strictly implements the will of this class.
Nothing concrete came out of the 45th Session as far as the main demands for which numerous all India strikes and other actions have been organised by the trade unions. None of the main demands of the workers’ unions (see Box) have been addressed. This once again shows that it is useless for workers to expect the ILC to come up with any concrete steps in their interests.
If we examine the inaugural speech of the Prime Minister, we find that he is lying through his teeth. He says that there is no disagreement between the government and the working class on inflation, generation of employment opportunities and on the strict implementation of laws that protect labour rights. If this were true, then we must wonder why the conditions of the broad masses of workers and working people are deteriorating while the wealth of the biggest capitalists has been rapidly rising.
The Prime Minister wants us to believe that both capitalists and workers are agreed that inflation must be brought under control. The reality is that the two classes look at this problem from two opposite sides.
A general rise in commodity prices hurts workers and benefits the capitalist class.
Workers lose part of the real value of their incomes, and what they lose adds to the profits of the capitalist class. At the same time, the big capitalists do not want inflation in India to be much higher than in other capitalist countries because this reduces the preference for the rupee relative to other currencies, in international trade.
The working class wants to be able to afford purchasing all the essential items of monthly household consumption. This means that their prices must actually come down from their present levels, implying a negative inflation rate. Or else wages must rise rapidly to catch up with the higher prices, so as to ensure prosperity and protection of living standards of the working class.
The capitalist class does not want prices of essential commodities of mass consumption to come down, as this is one more way to extract more from the working class and people. Far from agreement, there is an acute clash between the demand of workers for a universal PDS, and the agenda of the government of opening up trade and distribution even more to private monopolies, Indian and foreign.
If wholesale internal trade and foreign trade are nationalized and socialized, so that private profiteering is progressively eliminated from the sphere of trade, all essential articles can be made available at affordable prices to all working families. Publicly managed procurement will then support a universal public distribution system in which all items of mass consumption are available through public outlets to the entire population.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the government he heads is doing the exact opposite. It is encouraging private monopolies, Indian and foreign, to take over wholesale and retail trade, integrating them with the global supply chains of private capitalist monopolies. The government is acting in the interest of the capitalists, against the interests of the working class and toiling majority of the population.
Employment and workers’ rights
It must be remembered that on 14th February 2012, addressing the 44 th Session of the Indian Labour Conference, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claimed that the existing policies “unduly” protect the interests of the “currently employed” and hinder the creation of new jobs. He applauded those state governments that have introduced reforms in their laws to lower the level of protection for workers’ rights. He argued that similar reforms are needed in the central laws as well.
The way to create more employment opportunities, according to our Prime Minister, is for workers to offer themselves for more intense exploitation, to do the same work for an even lower pay, or more work for the same pay, so that capitalists from all over the world will be keen to invest in India.
If the economy is reoriented to provide prosperity and protection for all, then there will be a great need to expand the production of many items of consumption that millions of people in our country currently cannot afford. There will be rapid expansion in producing more food and clothing, more affordable housing, more household appliances, etc. This will in turn increase the requirement for steel, cement, energy and numerous other means of production, including long-term assets such as machinery and equipment. Expanding employment opportunities to ensure jobs for all is possible in such a scenario, where the economy is reoriented to provide for all.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a champion of the present orientation of leaving everything to the so-called free market forces. This means that the rate at which different sectors of production grow is driven by the rate of capitalist profits that can be reaped, and on the investment decisions of private profiteering companies and giant financial institutions. Such a skewed orientation leads inevitably to a situation where one section of workers is over-worked while another section is forced into idleness for lack of employment.
To claim that there is no disagreement between capitalists, workers and the central government over the implementation of labour laws is a truly monstrous lie.
The truth is that our young working population is not guaranteed the right to work and to social security. In the sectors that have grown most rapidly since 2002, such as automobiles and auto components, electronic components, mobile phone services, IT and IT-enabled services including the news media and entertainment, workers typically work for extraordinarily long hours. They have no job security. Many of them do not enjoy any legal protection for their rights, even the basic right to form unions.
“Trade unions that fight for workers’ rights are bad for the investment climate”. This is the mantra with which the capitalist class has been taking numerous measures to lower the standards of what a worker can legitimately claim as his or her right. Contract labour has become the norm. This is the case not only in private companies; about half the workers employed in the state sector are on contract.
The capitalist class has been demanding that contract labour should be fully legalized, so that workers can be hired and fired at will, and denied any form of security. Associations of big capital are demanding that entire sectors of the economy called the “small and medium enterprises”, employing millions of workers, be kept out of the purview of the minimum wages act. Big capitalists are demanding that the limit on working hours be increased from 48 to 60 hours a week, and workers must be deprived of the right to organise into unions that defend their rights.
The Prime Minister said at this ILC conference: “Some other demands raised by the Trade Unions are already under an advanced stage of consideration by the Government. These include ….. fixing a National Floor Level Minimum Wage and provision of minimum pension of Rs. 1000 per month under the Employees’ Pension Scheme.”
Minimum literally means the “least possible amount”. On the basis of the principle that wages must be adequate for working families to enjoy human conditions of existence, the trade unions have demanded that the minimum wages for any worker anywhere in the country must be set at Rs 10,000 per month and linked with the consumer price index. Today, the statutory minimum wages for workers is set at different levels in different states, and are far below this, and not linked to any price index.
There must indeed be one minimum standard set for the whole country, which cannot be less than Rs. 10,000 per month and linked with the consumer price index. This is what the actual conditions of life are telling us. The Prime Minister and the government are talking about a National Floor Level Minimum Wage, without specifying how much or even how it will be calculated. The government is obviously opposed to the demand of the trade unions on this score as well.
The central government is committed to enable the big capitalists to reach global standards, by keeping workers at the floor level. Maximum prosperity for the capitalists by denying any prosperity for the working people — this is the motto of Manmohan Singh and other representatives of the big bourgeoisie.
The Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS) is applicable only to workers earning less than Rs. 6,500 a month. Workers’ representatives argued that pension, a form of setting apart a portion of the value added by workers to provide for them after retirement, is a universal right. It belongs to all workers, irrespective of wage level. And given double digit inflation in consumer prices, it is essential that pension should be adjusted once a year or more frequently based on movements in an appropriate price index. The representatives of the capitalists and of the central government rejected this just demand during the deliberations at the Indian Labour Conference. Instead, the Prime Minister announced that the minimum pension would be Rs 1000 per month, a miserly amount which, over time, will shrink even further in terms of its purchasing power.
Crucial issues shelved
Finally, the Prime Minister declared, “The third set of demands relates to issues on which further dialogue with Trade Union leaders appears necessary, including tripartite discussions. We have set up a Group of Ministers under the Finance Minister to go into the whole gamut of demands raised by the Trade Unions…” This group of ministers met with trade union leaders on 23rd May, 2013, and came to no conclusion on the demands raised by workers.
What is this “third set of demands”? It is in fact all the demands that the working class has been raising in defence of their livelihood and rights, as indicated in Box. This includes the abolition of contract labour in work of permanent or perennial nature, payment of wages and benefits to contract workers on par with regular workers, an immediate end to privatization, removal of ceiling on bonus and provident fund, and universal social security cover. Predictably, meeting of union representatives with the Group of Ministers did not come to any conclusion on these demands.
Tripartite bodies like the Indian Labour Conference are aimed at creating the illusion that the interests of the capitalists and the interests of the working class can be reconciled, and that the government is a neutral party which reconciles these interests. Neither of this is true.
The agenda of the 45th ILC was not set by the working class. It did not discuss the demands raised by workers. Instead the agenda was one set by the government on behalf of the capitalist class. The concerns of the workers were completely stonewalled.
Workers must have no illusions that the government is above classes, or that it defends the interests of all classes. Such is not possible in a society divided into antagonistic classes. Either the capitalist class is in power or the working class is in power. Only a government of the working class and toiling masses can defend the interests of not only workers, but also the general interests of society. This is because the interests of the working class are not in contradiction with the general interests of society.
The only way forward for workers to defend their livelihood and rights, and the general interests of society, is to wage uncompromising struggle against the capitalists and their government. There must be no compromise with the anti-worker, anti-peasant and anti-national program of globalization through liberalization and privatization.
We communists, while leading the struggle of the working class for their immediate demands must keep our aim very clear. That aim is to establish the rule of the working class in alliance with the toiling peasantry. Only then we will be able to reorient the economy to ensure that it provides for the people.
The situation demands that all communists and activists of the working class wage the resolute uncompromising struggle in defence of livelihood and rights and unite around the aim of establishing the rule of workers and peasants in place of the rule of the capitalist class.
The immediate demands workers are agitating for include