May-Day Thoughts: Let the Dignity of Labour be the Basis of Development

   may day

Corona attacks us again. This time intensity is much higher than last year. As a result of the previous sudden lockdown, millions of workers, porters, drivers of rickshaw auto taxi, etc., employees of shopping malls and restaurants – in a word, various sections of the toilers lost their jobs. The country’s economy had almost collapsed. This time the central government says there will be no more lockdowns across the country. But the Centre fails to give an account of how the economy will recover, how to generate much-needed employment. On the contrary, rulers are keen to hand over the employers the right to lay off workers and impose 12-14 hours daily workload in the name of changing the ‘archaic’ labor laws in order to “meet the needs of our time”. Let us not forget that May Day is observed to commemorate the heroic rally of the striking workers who gathered in Chicago’s Hay Market demanding eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation and eight hours of rest. They were greeted with police firing and many of them were killed.

To cover up their own failures, our current rulers are putting all their blames on the critics and opponents. Thanks God, Charles Dickens or Maxim Gorky were not born in this country and are no longer alive! Had they, our rulers would have called them ‘angels of hell’, ‘traitors’ for their great literary works like Hard Times (published in 1854) or Lower Depths (1902). Prominent British author Dickens, in his novel Hard Times, portrayed the miserable lives of the toilers in the Victorian-era industrial cities of England. In his world-famous play, Lower Depths, Russian author Gorky paints a grim picture of the oppressed and humiliated lives of poor slum dwellers on the banks of the Volga during the Tsarist era. Both paint pictures of the conflicts between the bitter truths of their respective societies and the dream of an enchanted happy life, societies that push people away, and eventually they become thieves and prostitutes in despair.

People with such mentality did not even spare Satyajit Ray, the guru of modern Indian film-makers. When Satyajit Ray’s great work Pather Panchali based on the immortal novel of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay was recognized all over the world, they said that he had ‘sold poverty in the world market’! However, people have thrown them in the dustbin of history. And today, when the camerapersons, journalists, lawyers and social workers are risking their lives to portray the agony, the plight and the helplessness of the most endangered victims of the pandemic and lockdown—the toilers, including the migrant workers, doctors and health workers and to establish their rights, the ruling clique and its cronies are leveling them as ‘traitors’ ! The government is playing havoc with health insurance scheme for the front-line warriors against the Corona pandemic.

If India has to overcome the Corona pandemic and move forward on the path to prosperity, criticism and advice are more useful than beating the drums of the kings and their cronies. Of course, the rulers should have the courage to listen to and implement them.

Even before the Corona pandemic broke out and lockdown was imposed hastily last year, our economy was slowing down. Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate had come down from 6 per cent in FY 2017-18 to 4.2 per cent in 2019-20, while the growth rate of industrial production fell from 4.4 per cent to 0.8 per cent below zero. Investment fell from 34.2 per cent to 29.6 per cent, bank loans from 10 per cent to 8.1 per cent, and exports growth fell from 10 per cent to 4.6 per cent. Of let, when our economy was showing faintest signs of pullback, the devil is again before us. Corona’s second push is more severe and the government seems to be bewildered and clueless.

In India, 80 per cent of employment is in the unorganized sector. Workers and day laborers (most of them migrants) work in this sector and therefore have lost their livelihood. They have no legal agreement with the owner. There is no social security system in place. If the direction of our economy is not changed for the well-being of the toiling majority, they will continue to be in danger of sinking into the abyss of poverty.

In the future too, social distancing must be adhered to in dealing with corona. As a result, the type of work will also change. Many of the current jobs in the economy will lose importance, maybe redundant. New situations will call for new types of skills. Many of those who are losing their jobs today may not be able to acquire such skills. If not, it will be a disaster. If we do not build up a proper social security system, there will be terrible social problems. And so the central and state governments have to play an important role in advance, they have to work hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder to address the problem.

The idea that workers should have to work 12-14 hours a day in order to give a boost to our economy – is childish and outdated. It will increase unemployment, push the country and the toilers into the era of Dickens and Gorky. If the workers are forced to work for a long time, they may get fatigued and eventually get into accidents and even die. It cannot be desirable in a civilized society.

Instead, we should try hard to develop manufacturing, infrastructure and agriculture; because these are the most import areas where maximum employment is generated. We need to build a manufacturing industry whose high-quality products will be used by the industrial units all over the world. However, this will not be possible overnight. It is not likely in the near future either. The global economy is in turmoil, the Corona pandemic and the lockdown have upset the supply-demand balance around the world. It will also take time to enhance demand in developed countries. There is no reason why do industrialists invest when there is lack of demands. So if we expect that the world’s leading industrialists will bee line to invest in our country until the world economy recovers, then we are only deceiving ourselves.

Many of the migrant workers who lost their jobs had returned to their native villages, and it cannot be said with certainty that such reverse migration will not increase in the face of the new round of Corona attack. However, as we are facing new problems, the doors of new possibilities are also opening up. The opportunity has been created to build a new model of development across a wider area. And the dignity of labor will be the corner-stone of that model. In this regard, farmers’ cooperatives can play an important role in both production and marketing. We cannot forget the success of Amul and how it changed our dairy map. We can extend this model in different parts of the country in various fields of agricultural processing. State governments can further expand the backward district development program. It will encourage industrialists to invest and create new employment opportunities.

Each state should create a land use map. Industries should be set up in barren and less fertile lands, whereas fertile land should be kept aside for agriculture. The importance of creating and expanding orchards should be increased. Let us not forget that our food habits are changing. Actually, the well-to-do, even the less well-to-do are consuming less pulses, rice and bread nowadays. Fruits, fish, poultry and dairy products are on the rise in their diet. The more we improve the economy, the more the income of the people increases, the more the demand for these food items is bound to increase. At the same time, we cannot ignore the importance of developing and marketing handicrafts to increase the income of rural people.

The toilers and poor people in the villages and cities must be saved from hunger, malnutrition and death. We already have an effective tool to get rid of this humanitarian crisis, to restore their confidence –the 100-day work program. Similar programs need to be introduced in the cities and towns and linked to the slum development program. Emphasis should be placed on building housing for toiling people near their workplace.

May the organizations of toiling people pledge to fight for all this, for upholding the rights of the toilers and for improving their standard of living on the May Day! Otherwise, observing the May Day would become mere rituals.

(The author is a former journalist and writer)

e-mail: [email protected]




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