A Failed Exercise

The origin of May Day is organically bound up with the factory system in Britain, the US and European countries. But the very basis of factory system that once galvanised the toilers across the world to protest against exploitation and stand for international solidarity for working class, at least for a day, is being increasingly replaced by automated production lines. Blue collar-jobs are vanishing alarmingly while white collar-jobs that require skill are not sufficient enough to absorb the ever growing labour force. As for unskilled workers they have no room in this new world because the automated or semi-automated assembly lines need robots, not human beings. The new generation industries have created new generation workers who refuse to call themselves workers in traditional sense. They think they have nothing to learn from workers' struggles for rights through ages. In reality they are ‘cyber slaves’, glued to computers and computerised machines for 12 hours or more without giving any thought to the history of struggle for 8-hour working day. They are running with speed without realising how clock is turning back. Officially the British Parliament abolished slave labour in British colonies in 1833 and 30 years later Abraham Lincoln did it in America in 1863. But British and American multinationals have reintroduced modern-day slavery destroying freedom, dignity, right to 8-hour working day, social security and job protection in most workplaces, automated or not-so automated. Computerised production system mocks at 8-hour working day and enormous sacrifices made by toilers throughout the world to earn that historic right.

Wage differential among workors is hastening class differentiation to the advantage of employers while making it a stumbling block in the path of strengthening and mobilising international working class solidarity even on international labour day. To talk tough against global capital's unfair labour practice what is needed is to raise voice of solidarity globally without which no amount of isolated militancy in mines or in manufacturing could deliver in the context of changed industrial relations.

Even on May Day voice of the organised labour is so feeble that the idea of resistance and struggle no longer gains currency. Under the 'specious' argument of 'reforms' the authorities in almost all countries are determined to take away rights earned through bloody struggles over centuries. Only 7 percent of total workers in India are in the organised sector and 93 percent continue to toil in most inhumane and medieval working conditions. Unless the spirit of May Day returns and motivates the condemned 93 percent it is next to impossible to win back what the working community as a whole has lost—right to life, right to honourable living.

As for labour reforms in India Congress started it in the '90s and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the notorious and ruthless representative of money bags, is all set to crush whatever remains of labour power because of existence of some welfare laws enacted against the backdrop of world wars and war economy. What they mean by 'reforms' is right to 'hire and fire' at will and no social security. To begin with they have already started it by amending the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) 1946, to allow companies to employ workers under contract for a fixed term and to terminate their service without advance notice. They have created an atmosphere of fear psychosis among workers at every level—an undeclared emergency. Corporate India is hell bent on dismantling even meagre welfarism that organised sector workers currently enjoy.

It's a fact that old method of labour organising has very little appeal to workers who live in perpetual insecurity. Strikes are so rare these days that ordinary people raise the question of legitimacy of strike even in a situation where illegal suspension of work is rampant. Why major segments of organised workers are still under the sway of reactionary parties has been a puzzle to radical labour organisers for long. Radicals or progressives or traditional leftists never tried to enhance political consciousness of workers, rather they kept them in pure economism. The result is there for all to see. During riots workers get divided on communal lines, not on class solidarity. After so many years of organised labour movement workers in India are the most apolitical entity, do not feel any necessity to intervene in anti-war movement. Nor do they react to moral degradation that affects every layer of society. They have no concern for fascistic monetary policies of the government. They never go beyond demanding wage revision and to a lesser extent some social security issues. They are too sectarian to assert themselves as leaders of working men and women in general. In many ways peasants in India are politically more conscious than the so-called vanguards, albeit farmers despite their sporadic outbursts, of late, are falling behind to cope with the changing pattern of land relations.

The concept of worker-peasant alliance in India's communist discourse has always been a myth. It has never been translated into action. This communist rhetoric is at best a theatre of the absurd. Once the idea of workers' cooperatives gained some momentum in the wake of massive lock-outs and closures. It's no more.

Bad news is becoming all too common. In the face of this workers cannot even hold on the slim hopes that they once had. In such chaotic and disillusioning times as people live in today, with the authoritarian and fascist rule on the rise, and with elites and billionaires calling the shots in every sphere of public life workers continue to be imprisoned by ghettoised mentality. May Day comes, May Day goes. And it will take yet another year to expect the unexpected—international solidarity for labouring masses across the globe. With each catastrophe the seeds of new life are sown, for life is always stronger than death. The problem is how to change that catastrophe into its opposite.

Vol. 50, No.45, May 13 - 19, 2018