By Dr. B. K. Kango
The current strategy and structure of unions evolved during the period when welfare economics prevailed and existing technology saw the evolution of large corporations with large manufacturing units, employing hundreds and hundreds of workers. During the period, the evolution of Fordism with chain production, deskilling of workers, etc. was seen. But the constant class struggle that was developing, the power of the workers to stop production was an important factor in increasing their bargaining power along with the existence of the socialist world, which also helped to increase the power of the workers against to the capitalists.
With the success of the 1917 Revolution in Russia, the message that workers can take over the state and run the business was loud and clear, even forcing the capitalists to offer concessions to the bargaining unions.
The lessons of the Great Depression of 1929-31 were also significant. If the power of the consumer does not expand, capitalism is doomed, not forgetting the great struggles. A sacrifice of the working class and its supporters was also undoubtedly an important factor in forcing the capitalist class to negotiate with the unions. Thus, from 1930 to 1975, there was a period when productivity increased along with real wages for the working class as a whole, limiting the growth of income disparity along with slowing the growth of income disparity. from income.
The struggles of trade unions in the 19th and 20th centuries for the eight-hour work day, their participation in the nationalist uprising against colonialism, the existence of the socialist world and the prevailing technology together with the experience of the Great Depression of 1929-31 contributed to the evolution of the power of trade unions. However, the division between the working class on the basis of communists, democrats and socialists coupled with ultranationalism and the depoliticization of the working class fostered by capitalism restricted the political and bargaining power of the working class.
The thought process of capitalism, which could be described as ‘hegemony’ and control of the media along with propaganda against existing socialist countries, helped the capitalist class retain its power and influence in society and ultimately , in state power. But one thing was very clear: no state could afford to ignore the power of unions and had to compromise. Therefore, the period has been described as the ‘Golden Engagement or Golden Handshake’ period. But despite such a commitment, the class struggle was on and the capitalists used technology, state power, etc., to limit the power of the working class and the unions.
In many former but newly independent colonial countries, religion, caste, language, and other ethnic issues were encouraged, leading to division among the working class, who came together only to achieve their economic demands. Here, the influence of capitalist thought that money can give you power, a better life, and therefore one can improve one’s own life by earning more money has played an important role. Therefore, all the unions began to compete with each other to get more money for their members. All other important matters were left behind.
The question of better housing, better education, better health facilities, transportation, etc., was supposed to be solved by spending more money, and therefore it did not matter whether those services were state-controlled or private. In fact, due to the indifference and neglect of good services through the public sector, private schools, hospitals, transportation, etc., were supposed to be better when run by private actors. Therefore, it was felt that regulation should be left to the government and people started saying that it is none of the government’s business to be in business.
The expansion of trade-related activities would improve the state’s revenue through increased taxes, and thus the state was seen as being in a better position to help the people. At the same time, the appearance of new technology and its control by the capitalists led to a new type of productive activities. Gone are the days when everything was favored under one roof and the fragmentation of the process into activities related to production in multiple centers helped in the establishment of multiple small or medium production centers. The speed of this change was rapid.
The old nationalist economic thought process of self-sufficiency, import substitution, etc. was changed, and export industries, foreign market, and foreign money were encouraged. Under this new process, all the old structures developed during the welfare economy period were slowly dismantled. Contract systems increased. Permanent workers and permanent jobs slowly began to become history.
There is a determined effort to change labor laws and reduce the bargaining power of workers. Thomas Piketty in his book ‘Capitalism in the 21st Century’ has shown that the real incomes of workers in most countries have stagnated or fallen since 1980.
The rate of increase in inequality has also grown. Less than one percent of the people control more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth and, as claimed, the new industrial revolution called the fourth industrial revolution is likely to wipe out 50 percent of existing jobs. New jobs are certainly created, but they require skills and experience, which most people lack and are therefore forced into jobs that the ILO has defined as precarious and low paid jobs.
The new relationship between workers and owners is evolving as seen in the case of Uber, Ola, Amazon, Swiggy, Zomato, etc. The new economy based on self-employment, the dominant service sector and the rise of contract work or employment through an agency or third party. it is a great challenge for the unions. The government is now also recruiting people for schemes and refusing to recognize the scheme workers as servants of the government and by paying a negligible amount as fees deprives the scheme workers of getting justice through labor laws. Anganwadi, midday meal workers, and Asha workers and others are classic examples. AITUC is trying to build a movement of those scheme workers. Other unions are also actively involved in their mobilization. In fact, in most states, their mobilization in the whole trade union movement is very significant and important.
The trade unions have realized the challenge of the new situation and therefore, since 1984, there is a cautious effort at the national level to form joint trade union struggles. The strikes of coal workers, bank employees, the United Forum of Employees and Bank Officials have been a very important development. Even the workers of the scheme have carried out important joint struggles at the state level.
However, at the factory level due to the tactics of employing apprentices, NEEM workers, casual and contract workers along with management cadres (JMC) for the production and use of modern machines. The number of permanent unionized workers is reduced and the impact of strikes or work stoppages by unions becomes ineffective.
AI, robotics and computer controlled machines have made many jobs redundant and the skills of workers rendered useless. The control of productive activities, which a few years ago was under the influence of the unions, is now under the control of the management.
Now there is an attempt to increase the working hours of workers. When new technology with increased productivity could easily give way to reduced working hours and better working conditions for workers. But the profit motive prevents such changes.
The increase in unemployment requires the reduction of the working day to employ more people. But it takes a sustained movement like this one, which took place during an eight-hour workday, to implement the demand. In a few developed countries, there is a movement to demand an increase in minimum wages. As in the US, where the demand is a minimum of $15 an hour, the issue becomes important in the general election.
We in India are suing, but we have not managed to make it a major issue in the elections. The vision of society and unions at the beginning of the 20th century was to demand permanence, increased wages and social security through employment. But as this vision fades, we need to develop a new strategy. We need to demand social security like pensions, health facilities, affordable housing and transportation for all.
We need to mobilize workers for these demands. One strategy to attract thousands of so-called self-employed and unorganized workers is the need of the moment together with the traditional methods of struggle. The vision of the majority of people who work as employed workers in companies and unionize and, through their strength, force the government and companies to improve wages and social security is now a distant dream! a new organization of society with more self-employed, disorganized workers, with poorly paid precarious jobs and without social security seems to be the emerging scenario and the unions need to have a new organization strategy and new demands are needed to face the future of a better life human. (IPA service)
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