The Aging Of Capital

Workers of India: Where is the Voice of the Class?

Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri

Capital's bad patch is worsening into an unhealthy swamp. As if a symbolic signboard were necessary, all over the world headlines screamed—
IN THE 1960s                                              NOW it supports a skeleton force of 10,000
The workplace and home of                           workers, employed mainly in service,
3 million workers,                                           and 20,000 pensioners.
Children                                                          60% are poor.
Municipal parks                                              More than half are closed
Fire-engines and ambulances                         Unavailable
Residences                                                       70,000 abandoned
(credit for data duly acknowledged to the column of Jenifer Cunningham)

In the heyday of Fordism, early American capital dreamt of each worker coming to work in his own Model T, solving thereby the realization problem of expanded reproduction. This did happen, but the ungrateful workers, organized themselves into unions and fought to realize a wage which would support not only a model T, but a decent life all round. Capital aged into a Scoorge, marshalling a war against sullen Crotchets. But the consciousness of the workers didn't reach the stage of preparation for a general war to overthrow the rule of capital.

US data for 1948-2007 indicate that the rate of profit fluctuated about an almost stagnant time rate (many are convinced of a slight decline!). Technology, and productivity improved many fold to produce more goods in the same time to decrease sales price and sharpen competitiveness in world markets. As the productivity of labour rose, the muster roll was trimmed and real wage increases stalled. Finally, unemployment increased and real wages fell. Defeated labour was squeezed by the government as well. The final picture shows that a few (400) all-American Croesuses have more wealth than half the American people(150 million).

1960s                  From the 1970s
9% of taxes came       33% of taxes
from wages,               from wages,
40% from profits        10% from profits.

In the mean-time, capital began to migrate to sectors and pastures at home and abroad where the greenbacks in the realized profit were greater in number and multiplied sooner. Being a neo-colonial power, it found the greenest fields among the poorer countries, its post-war programme of subordinating Europe, Canada, and Japan having failed. Cheap raw materials and low wages abroad gave capital a stick to beat down workers' demands at home, and compete in increasingly difficult trade games with Europe, Canada, and, now, China. All these moves left decreasing demand at home to choke on unsold goods,—repeated crises of underconsumption and over-production. To keep up consumption, sub-prime lending became the fashion of the day, and the complete separation of financial control and management of productive activity in companies gave incentive and opportunity to financial controllers and brokers to embezzle public money, including bank loans. Such is the rule of modern finance capital.

Detroit demonstrates the laws of aging capital—
1)    capital shifts to sectors where the rate of profit is relatively higher,
2)   usually these are also the technologically advancing sectors, and this migration, in time, decreases the (Variable Capital+surplus value)/Constant Capital ratio in these sectors, too, (leading on to Marx's falling* rate of profit).

*N.B. As far as the present correspondent has been able to fathom, nobody has proved, beyond argument, a rising rate of profit. The data are oscillatory with an almost constant rate of profits as the secular trend. (e.g. see Deepankar Basu UMass- Amh and another)
Crowding into a few sectors aggravates and telescopes crises.The concomitant rise to dominance of finance capital and compulsive expert of capital lead to neo-colonial wars of subversion and aggression. Finally, finance capital becomes autonomous, repeating on a global scale (spirally!) speculation, 'bubbles', 'dud' shares, currency crises, and bankruptcies.

All over the world, rows of empty sheds, columns of unsmoking chimneys, rusting rails and brackish pools signify the exit of prosperity from once famous towrs as capital ages in the area. Workers are the worst hit, and the long, hard way back to a living scratches out all the lessons learnt and studied about how to achieve independence from capitalism, its economic grind, political obfuscation and laws of value. Nascent organizations had to disband and their ideas were forgotten. Everything has to start anew.

India has seen one round of this game. Let us consider the textile workers of Mumbai(Bombay), the commercial capital of India.

Between 1956 and1965, a period of state investment-led growth, industrial production in India grew at an average annual rate of 7.7%. The growth of enployment was 0.4% during 1951 to 1956. It jumped to 2% during 1961 to 1966 . Real wages, however, could not be increased significantly in this period, even when productivity increased. There was a plethora of unions and petty inter-union rivalry based on affiliation to political parties, and the bargaining process was heavily dependent on the government, who, as an umpire, was strongly biased towards employers' interests. All this contributed to low unionization, although the number of unions increased from 4623 in 1951-52 to 11,614 in 1961-62.

The political influence of the struggle against the colonial power could not be carried through to develop a consciousness of class interest. The ideological-political weakness of the left—its class collaborationist policies, the dependence on intellectuals and charismatic leaders of middle class extraction and the absence of a practice of learning from the people, organization in sectarian groups styling themselves as 'communist' parties, left it unable (and unwilling?) to cope with the deep social problems besetting the formation of a working class from the workers of India. Till recently, peasants came to the metropolis for extra earning, the village remained their base. The present correspondent was present when a young, left activist, exasperated by the consistent refusal of a group of dock workers, hailing from a poor, rural district of Kolkata's hinterland, to give a hearing to revolutionary politics, asked one of the group, Why have you come here? Quick came the answer, To become rich. The most famous group of labour with the same origins and attitude were the jute workers: ("red in Kolkata, tricolor(of the Congress flag) in the village", as had commented some wry red activists!). No doubt, many dispossessed poor peasants also came to the city, but, there were no waves of proletarianised have-nothings leaving the villages to crowd the factories, docks and markets for work. The process of breakdown of semi-feudal relations had been very slow till recently, and also uneven across the country.

In this situation, locality, ethnicity, religion and caste were competing centres of dis-union, and influenced political grouping, too, apart from social networking(e.g.see Dipesh Chakraborti, Dilip Veeraraghavan, Rajnarayan Chandavarkar). Ideologically, these concepts and formations were formidable opponents of a consciousness of class. Even when a subaltern consciousness helped (even helped start) a left movement, the leaders failed to prevent domination by one subaltern formation and alienation of the others.

In spite of these drawbacks, two all-India strikes made an impact on the people about the fighting potential of the workers. The first was the 1960 strike by lakhs of employees of the central government for revision of the recommendations of the 2nd pay commission (which had practically ignored the fall in purchasing power of the common man). The strike lasted for five days, and railwaymen were in the forefront. Five railwaymen were killed in police firing in Gujarat. The strike was followed by vindictive arrests (20,000), convictions (2000), suspensions and dismissals (25,000). In the sixties, Defence of India Rules, invoked after the war with China, practically forbade strikes and tried to stop people's movements.

All the rights of the people were trampled underfoot when Mrs Gandhi clamped the Emergency in 1974. This was challenged immediately by an all-India railway strike. 17 lakh workers went on strike on the issue of pay scale increases. This was the largest strike ever. Savage repression took place, in the course of which the families of strikers were thrown out of their quarters by police action. For three weeks, strikers led an almost underground existence, and, in places, there were guerrilla-type skirmishes. The leaders, however, could not (or did not?) take the strike forward into a political challenge to Mrs Gandhi, and called it off. Severe reprisal followed : 50,000 were arrested, 10,300 dismissed, 5600 temporary workers terminated. 4 railwaymen were killed. This strike galvanized people all through the country and was one of the factors which led to the electoral debacle of Mrs Gandhi's party.

After this long digression on the state of the Indian workers, one finally reaches the Girangaon district of Mumbai with 130 textile mills and the chawls of 240,000 workers. Taking at first a bird's eye view of the textile mills of India, one finds that product on of cotton cloth in mills fell by 1/3 between 1956 and 1972. Production of cotton cloth in mills faced competition from powermills and synthetic fibres. Apart from market forces, the then government policy of control placed restrictions on the type and quantity of cloth manufactured, mainly to the detriment of the mills(on the other hand, though, the mills were favoured within a protectionist policy for foreign trade, aimed mainly against Japan (at the time; now, the major competitors are Bangladesh, China, and the Asian "tigers"). Power mills were by far the most profitable over a high range of interest rates (13-46%), and, by the early eighties, had cornered 29% of the production of cotton cloth ( handlooms taking another 39%), and the mills had to remain satisfied with 32%, in place of, say, 54% in 1971. Also, cloth based on synthetic fibres became popular, in spite of negative discrimination in the sphere of government policy (with some favours for viscose fibre used by Birla-owned firms like Grasim). Synthetics produced 30% of the total quantity of cloth in 1979, a tripling from 10% in 1968.

The result was chronic non-profitability in the mill sector. A section of mills were termed "sick " and had to be taken over by the government, who used them under the banner of NIC to produce cheap "controlled cloth" for the weaker sections of the population.

Chimneys of Girangaon
The 60s and 70s saw increasing unrest among the workers of Mumbai. RMMS, a TU backed by the ruling party, recognized as the sole bargaining agent for textile workers in Mumbai, acted, in fact, as an agent of the management. This situation was common in organized industry. These so-called central or regional federations of TUs were linked to various political parties, and they raised paltry economic demands affecting a small proportion of the huge surplus value produced in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country, and no demands which could unite more and more workers politically. The official left had a presence in Mumbai's trade unions, but, this influence waned as the working class discovered that all the ambitions of these parties were centred around inter-union dominance and parliamentary elections. Finally, an extreme sectarian organization based on Maratha ethnicity, called the Shiv Sena, served the mill-owners as a task force, and left organizations were their first targets.

Onto this stage, textile workers of Mumbai invited a former member of the ruling party(the Congress of Indira Gandhi), a popular doctor called Dutta Samant. It was his practice to place "fabulous demands" after extensive and intensive calculation and consultation with workers. The demands were non-negotiable, and the doctor made it clear to the workers, too, that if there was a strike he wouldn't call it off until the demands were met. Under his leadership in 1982, 250,000 to 300,000 textile workers of Bombay walked out on a "do or die" strike. Apart from the usual "economic" demands, the charter included termination of the special advantages granted to the RMMS, and the annulment of the anti-labour, hugely repressive Bombay Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. It was a "do" or "die" movement, and the result was "die", indicating the weakness of the Mumbai workers vis a vis his employers. Neither side gave an inch, and the strike failed. Millowners took advantage of the closure to move out the assets of the mills (profitability was falling anyway), and laid out factory land for property speculation. 150,000-200,000 workers lost their jobs. By 2007, there were left hardly 20,000.

A large proportion of the mill workers hailed from the surrounding countryside, and the 1982 strike had seen fast spreading solidarity among workers and unusual interest and co-operation among peasants (peasants supplied rice for the community kitchens of the strikers), and Mrs Gandhi had been worried that the doctor might be invited by the port and dock workers of India's most important sea-port. Dr Samant meanwhile formed a political party and moved steadily leftwards. Alarmed by his progress, big business had him assassin ated. A suspect was nabbed, but he was also killed.

The workers retreated and the millowners survived. In the field of spinning yarn, the big mills had never had competition. Powerlooms were for weaving cloth. The big mills entered synthetic production and, while leaving weaving to powerlooms, collaborated with and, to an extent, subsumed them using mill supremacy in the sectors of finishing, dyeing and decorating, and distributing the woven cloth for sale.
The workers of Mumbai are still in retreat. But the skyline and the landscape of the Girangaon district in central Mumbai has changed. Posh housing (some owned by Shiv Sena leaders), discotheques and malls bare their discs and neons where the textile mills once whirred and shuttled, their sirens calling in masses of workers from their proud hovels.

The almost apolitical TU-centric and, often TU leader centric movement and organizations built by the Indian working class for some 70 years or so, did'nt shy from a fight in the 80s, but they were defeated everywhere. The senile engineering industry of greater Kolkata gave up the fight against cheap tools and machines from Panipat, Sonepat,Gurgaon, near Delhi. Lala Charat Ram's Jay engineering company with a once monopoly in Eastern India in sewing machines and fans; prestigious British emgineering companies once thougnt to be immortal, like Guest, Keen and Williams, Jessop, and Dunlop; the Birla showpiece of Hind Motors, all bit the dust, while capital fled west to the highly profitable sectors of small cars, oil and petrochem.

A sprawling mall and a high-rise apartments-complex have obliterated all signs of the Jay factory, including the quarters for labour. A number of workers had come from the middle class, some were upcountry peasants, sending home money to buy land, educate sons, and marry off daughters. Their attitude has been discussed at length. Another experience of the present correspondent concerns workers who had been pushed down from the middle class. The protagonist had been employed in another well-known company, Metal Box under closure at the time. He had had his son enrolled in a fairly expensive English-medium school, and his main worry was meeting the school deadline for the payment of fees. Little wonder, then, that the Jay workers took their severance pay without a fight. Only one worker refused to vacate his quarters and took the company to court. Rights groups tried to popularize the issue. He was killed "in a motor accident".

Informal Sector as Panacea
India has almost 500 million workers, 94% of whom are in the unorganized sector. It has been estimated that every year 13 million are added to the workforce, of whom some 8 million may find poorly paid jobs in the unorganized sector and 5 millions have to add themselves to the temporary work-parties put together for construction work, and various forms of partial employment and casual work. Some remain unemployed. Most of India's tangled coils of labour legislation afford little protection to informal workers.

In 1999-2000, the informal sector accounted for 86% of total employment, 14% coming from the organized sector. In 2004-2005, the break-up was almost the same , there being an ineffective shift of 4 workers out of 10,000 from the informal to the organized sector. The overall increase in employment in these five years was 6%, the respective increase in the number of urban and rural workers being 4% and 7% .

Capital was following a regressive path to increase profits—super-exploitation of informal workers. The working day for an informal worker was seldom less than 12 hours. Big production units cut down on highly-paid and protected permanent staff, even while signally raising the level of sophistication of the technology used, and, apart a small number of elite personnel manning core units requiring high skill and training, recruited casual workers to run general functions.

In 1999-2000, only 62% of the workers in the organized sector itself were registered formally, as many as 38% being informal. After five years this last proportion was almost 47%, the proportion of formal workers falling to 53%.

The new philosophy was implemented in the Gurgaon rsgion, a giant call-centre hub, which has 300,000 workers, 80% of whom are casuals of different categories. A sub-division of the same region, Manesar has grown into a young giant with 200,000 workers. Again, only 20% have a permanent contract. They are mainly skilled workers. The casuals/ temps are usually supplied by sub-contractors, and are young (18-25 years old) people from the surrounding countryside with strong links with their villages. They are not interested in the central TUs attached to political parties and want plant level unions. Subaltern values are strong, a manager lost his life at Maruti-Suzuki, Manesar, during a movement for the recognition of a plant-level union, because a "high" caste executive insulted the "low" caste of a worker. At the Maruti plants are 8100 permanent workers and 8450 'apprentices', 'trainees' and 'temps'. Temps numbered 4100 . However, struggle is the best teacher. Wages are low, the work is burdensome, the break is over before you reach the toilet, if you feel the urge during duty hours you need permission. These young hopes are thinking in terms of a 150,000 strong association of Manesar workers with the same type of problems.
[PS. A Maruti executive has gone on record to say that in future Maruti would employ permanent workers and not casuals. Check. Whichever way capital turns—check.]

Charlie Chaplin saw the declaration of the socialist republic by Mao at Tien-an-men. He says Mao rose slowly to the podium. When he looked at the sea of faces he wept. "The Chinese people have suffered much," he said, "At that time, we were not united."
The workers of India are uniting into a class. They will surely unite the people in the fight for democracy and freedom. To unite, you need to work together. Neogy, another leader of the workers, assassinated by the minions of capital, tried to show a way to work together : through
Sangharsh (fight)—a sword to fight the enemy, in the field and in the mind.
Aur (and)
Nirman (build)—a sword for the toilers to cut through the culture of silence and develop their own systems of thought to be implemented through their own schools and hospitals, workshops and farms.
Sangharsh to make Nirman possible and protect it. Nirman to give direction to Sangharsh.

Frontier, Autumn Number
Vol. 46, No. 13-16, Oct 6 - Nov 2, 2013

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