There Is An Alternative

Workers' Cooperative

Subhendu Dasgupta

The present pandemic has destroyed the lower level of the economy.

The income of the common people is gradually declining. So is the expenditure. Yet the basic expenditure cannot be reduced below a minimum level. Expenses on basic consumption cannot be easily curtailed. Common people need food, commodities for daily use, and medicines for everyday living.

The situation requires the supply of these basic products at bare minimum prices.

How will the poor people get these products at lower prices?

The immediate answer is to sell the products at affordable prices.

The next question will be: how can these products be supplied at low prices?

Again the simple answer is to produce the products at lower cost.

Previously this economic ‘model’ was propagated during the peak of the Hawkers’ Movement.

The model was framed on the basis of an interconnection between poor buyers < > poor sellers < > poor producers (production at minimum cost).

For the living of the poor buyers the need is to get the products at lower prices from poor sellers. For the viability of the poor sellers, the supply of goods at lower prices by the poor producers is required. The term poor producer suggests production at low lower cost.

In the present scenario the poor producer means small factory < > small producer < > low cost of production < > workers with low wages. For this structure, the opening of the closed industries and reemployment of former workers (if available) with low wages, accepted by the workers themselves, considering the objective of the project, is needed.

This could only be possible by the making of the Workers’ Cooperative.

Nagarik Mancha as a part of its movement for the opening of closed factories during the rule of the Left Front Government had propagated the idea of the opening of closed factories by Workers’ Cooperative.

Nagarik Mancha had helped workers in the formulation of workers’ cooperative in four closed factories. Several experts in the fields of technology, management, accountancy, banking and engineering had actively participated in the framing of workers’ cooperatives for each of these closed factories.

On behalf of the workers of these factories, Nagarik Mancha had submitted the proposals to the Minister in charge of Industry of the then Left Front Government. In the introductory letter Nagarik Mancha had mentioned that the organisation is eager to meet the Minister along with the representatives of the respective trade unions of the four factories. We were denied the appointment. Yet we tried to meet the Minister to discuss the subject with him.

After a long period, through a senior member of Nagarik Mancha, who had connections with Left Front officials, we did get an appointment with the Minister. In the meeting we answered all the questions raised by the Minister, but the Minister turned down all our proposals. The workers of the closed industries were not allowed to make experiments with the opening of closed factories by the workers’ cooperatives.
The present economic situation again demands such an endeavour with the workers’ cooperatives to open the closed small and medium factories. A much quoted political statement seems to be valid now. There is great chaos under the sun. The situation is excellent.

The situation now demands the opening of closed small and medium factories by the formation of Workers’ Cooperatives. The production of daily necessary goods demanded by the poor people with low cost. The products would be sold at lower prices. The former workers of the concerned factories if available would be reemployed. The workers would be paid lower wages as fixed by the Workers’ Cooperative on the basis of consultations with the workers.

The products would be sold only to the cooperatives formed by the poor consumers.

At the initial stage the government will have to help the workers’ cooperatives. After the achievement of the stage of self dependence the cooperatives will return the grant provided by the government in installments.

Retired and enthusiastic technologists, production engineers, cost accountants and others will help the Workers’ Cooperatives. This has happened at the time of preparing the documents for the Workers’ Cooperatives for the four factories at the initiative of Nagarik Mancha.

These Workers’ Cooperatives will be one of the many solutions for the post—Covid economic crisis.

This will create employment, provide basic necessary goods at low prices to the poor people.

This economic model formulated at the time of Hawkers’ Movement has generated a kind of interrelationship between the poor sellers and the poor buyers. The binding is economic. The poor buyers cannot exist without the presence of poor sellers. And it is also the other way round. This economic bondage had been translated into a political bondage. During the political movement of the poor people against eviction from their living space the Hawkers were with them politically.

There are very few options for the solution of the present economic crisis. The present governmental steps, relief and grants, are merely temporary and not permanent solutions.

What is needed is a serious discussion at the civil society level on the viable solutions of the economic crisis of the poor people. This will also create an opportunity to pressurize the Government to realise that the steps towards the opening of closed industries is primarily the responsibility of the Government.

The proposal for the Workers’ Cooperative is not only an economic question, it is also political.

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Vol. 54, No. 14-17, Oct 3 - 30, 2021