Workers and Elections

Workers in India these days do hardly play any leading role in any event, national or otherwise. Even in the highly contested 2019 parliamentary poll they are mere voters. At best they are passive on-lookers from Modi's Republic Train though after peasants they are the worst victims of Modi's autocratic measures scripted by foreign corporates and their domestic partners. But they could have effectively made a serious impact on current electoral politics had they took trouble to relentlessly expose Modi's disastrous economic policies. No. They didn't.

For the decline of labour movement what is theoretically valid for workers In the West is equally valid for workers in India. The collapse of Soviet Russia gave employers, more precisely corporate employers, extra leverage to curb their bargaining power. The model of socialist societies where workers used to enjoy better living standards and social security was no longer there. Socialism itself became a dirty word. The post-Soviet situation also helped right-wing forces organise trade unions under their banner of reactionary and backward ideology. Reversal in China gave them extra teeth to coerce labour and brakes on trade union rights. Tragically most workers in the organised sector came under the sway of political right while the left continued to wander in ideological wilderness. In truth they are still in search of right strategy in the changed context. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controlled Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Congress controlled INTUC together control most organized membership of unions and don't allow workers to go on strike even in case of gross violation of workers' rights.

Politically, the middle-class as a whole dominates Indian labour movement. It doesn't matter whether unions are left controlled or rightist led, leadership always comes with middle-class background. Communist and socialist outfits deploy whole timers to organise trade unions. Right wing forces too do the same. This tradition has been continuing since beginning of trade union movement in the 1920s. For economically sound big unions trade union bureaucracy is a nightmare to ordinary workers. They are part of the management. In the name of maintaining industrial peace they sometimes openly work against the interests of workers. Not that, leaders from working community are rare. But in course of time they too acquire the status of middle-class. Once P C Joshi, the secretary of undivided communist party made a unique observation—'workers being promoted to leadership become babus'. Declassed in reverse order! The system of 'recognised unions' is a nice device to corrupt TU leaders who do nothing in workplace but provide consultancy to management. Their sole job is to keep vigil on aggrieved workers on behalf of management and pacify workers at the time of unrest.

It is the basic weakness of labour movement in India that even the far left, not to speak of official left, does raise the question of class. Nor do they educate wage labourers on class line. Frankly speaking they consciously keep Trade Unions free from politics. As a result it is no problem for capital to divide workers by manipulating divisive and sectarian issues through their paid agents when it is necessary. When the ruling parties spread war hysteria no protest emerges from workers' platform as if workers are not affected by such propaganda. Caste continues to affect labour unity in a big way. Despite toiling for decades side by side in an establishment workers remain vulnerable to caste and religious prejudices. They remain immune to progressive ideas—no change in their outlook. They come with prejudice and they go back with prejudice.

As workers are not politically trained they some time get swayed by divisive manoeuvreing of capital. Workers talk politics not at factory gate. No doubt they discuss elections but they do it as common people, not as workers. So the working class perspective is totally missing in their discourse even during the supercharged electioneering this time.

Vol. 51, No. 45, May 12 - 18, 2019