capitalism and climate change cartoon

We are in the midst of a new mobility revolution, declared Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, at the global mobility summit in New Delhi in 2018. The gentleman who waxed eloquent on mobility then was completely silent in his recent address to the nation about the misery of thousands of workers stranded , immobilised all over the country without shelter in the heat of May.

Not really a surprise for this writer who has been attending the annual mobility conferences organised by the central government for the last decade. Last mile connectivity, seamless mobility are the catchwords at these conferences. Lip service is paid to public transport but in reality life is getting worse, ordinary people are becoming more and more immobile while the government builds infrastructure for motorists and increases their mobility.

Even during the current lock-down, drunken rich motorists are killing innocent people in urban areas and more cruelly on highways their victims include poor workers walking for hundreds of miles as is clear from daily media reports.

I attended the urban mobility conference in Lucknow last November and saw how difficult it is to travel by train to the capital of Uttar Pradesh even during normal times, how overcrowded even reserved compartments become. It is also the state which cruelly is doing away with most labour laws and not ensuring that employers at least provide drinking water, ventilation, sanitation rest facilities to workers.

The ruling class everywhere has been most hostile to workers. Look at labour history and the slave trade. Slave trade meant forced mobility, snatching people from their homes, huddling them in ships across the Atlantic for hard labour and exploitation and then to confinement for generations.

Sven Beckert, author of the book Empire of Cotton, has demonstrated how slave trade was crucial to the world-altering Industrial Revolution as it first unfolded in Great Britain and then spread from there to other parts of the world, including the northern states of the Union. Until 1861, until the American Civil War, almost all cotton used in industrial production was grown by enslaved workers in the southern parts of the United States. Slavery thus played a very important role in supplying an essential raw material for industrial production.

I heard Beckert at the Jaipur literary festival two years ago and then at a lecture in Mumbai organised by Asia Society last year.
Curiously, fabled Indian textiles produced in this country before the British killed the domestic industry, were used in the slave trade as barter.These were highly prized by the African rulers who were collaborators in the international slave trade.

Slavery is the most glaring example of immobility inflicted upon workers by the ruling class. It is only in the 19th century that some slaves in the U.S. could plan their escape to free states with the help of abolitionists. The elaborate but informal system of escape came to be known as Underground Railroad . It was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by enslaved African-Americans to escape into free states and Canada, , experts point out.

Some people may not agree with Karl Marx but what he said about capitalist exploitation of labour is most interesting and relevant. He said that motivated solely by profit, factory owners emerge as a form of economic vampires, improving their bottom line through longer hours, lower wages, and poorer working conditions. Capitalists are, in effect, draining away the value of their workers’ labor to enrich themselves—just as supernatural vampires drain their victims’ life force to grow stronger.

The figure of the vampire is the ultimate individual: predatory, inhuman, anti-human, with no moral obligation to others. Of course, this selfishness leads to alienation. One of the great themes of vampire fiction is the tragedy of the vampire’s inability to connect with life except in a murderous way, or to live for centuries in what is the ultimate gate community. The only escape is the stake through the heart.

Some tycoons are really behaving like vampires or are seen to be like vampires. PayPal co-founder and prominent Donald Trump donor Peter Thiel has addressed reports that he uses radical life extension therapies that involve blood transfusions using youthful donors.

Speaking at the New York Times Dealbook conference Mr Thiel said: “I want to publicly tell you that I’m not a vampire. On the record, I am not a vampire. As thinker Yuval Harari said some time ago, some rich people are promoting scientific experiments which will help them retrofit themselves to turn themselves into supermen. But Corona virus seems to have dashed their hopes for now.

One can understand the capitalists being hostile to common people, toiling workers. Why are some intellectuals and journalists turning themselves into petty creatures mouthing anti-labour statement in support of the most anti-human changes in labour laws proposed by the governments of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh ?

Krishnamurthy Subramaniam, economic adviser to the government of India, instead of doing any introspection about the current crisis in the labour situation sought to blame organiseD workers in an interview to Tanvi Shukla on a television channel.

The example he gave was quite ludicrous. He said in an unreserved train compartment people do not allow others to get in as there is no space . So common people, not the railways, are to blame for the mobility crisis,he impled. Would not any decent administrator provide more trains ? So the government’s abject failure to provide enough trains is blamed on the victims. He blamed the organised sector. And in the same breath he said his father worked in the organised sector. Does the economic adviser realise that he would not have been in this position if it had not been for the decent, stable job his father had. Where would he have been if his father was in the unorganised sector without any job security, with poor pay ?

It is surprising that when workers are down and out because of Corona virus, loss of job and poverty we have intellectuals who are not only indifferent but even hostile to the deprived masses.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking a more democratic form of transport mobility


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