By Dr BK Kango
The current strategy and structure of unions evolved during the period when the welfare economy prevailed and existing technology saw the evolution of large corporations with large manufacturing plants, employing hundreds and hundreds of workers. The evolution of Fordism with production on the assembly line, disqualification of workers, etc., was observed in the period. But in the constant unfolding class struggle, the power of workers to stop production was an important factor in increasing their bargaining power along with the existence of the socialist world, which also helped in increasing the power of workers vis-à-vis 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 capitalists to offer concessions to trade unions.
The lessons of the Great Depression of 1929-31 were also significant. If consumer power does not expand, capitalism is doomed, not to mention the great struggles. A sacrifice by the working class and its supporters was undoubtedly also a major factor in forcing the capitalist class to negotiate with the unions. Thus, from 1930 to 1975, there was a period when productivity rose along with the real wages of the working class as a whole, limiting the growth of the income gap and slowing the growth of the income gap.
The struggles of unions in the 19th and 20th centuries for an eight-hour workday, their participation in the nationalist uprising against colonialism, the existence of the socialist world and prevailing technology, along with the experience of the Great Depression of 1929-31 contributed to the evolution of union power. However, the division between the working class based on communists, democrats and socialists, along with ultranationalism and the depoliticization of the working class encouraged by capitalism, restricted the political and bargaining power of the working class.
The thought process of capitalism, which could be described as the ‘hegemony’ and control of the media, along with the propaganda against existing socialist countries, helped the capitalist class to maintain its power and influence in society and ultimately in power. state-owned. But one thing was very clear: no state could afford to ignore the power of unions and had to compromise. Thus, the period has been described as the ‘Golden Pledge or Golden Handshake’ period. But despite such a compromise, class struggle was ongoing and the use of technology, state power, etc., were used by capitalists to limit the power of the working class and trade unions.
In many former colonial but newly independent countries, religion, caste, language and or other ethnic issues were encouraged, leading to division among the working class, who banded together only to achieve their economic demands. Here, the influence of capitalist thinking that money can give you power, a better life, and therefore a person can improve his own life by earning more money, played an important role. So all the unions started to compete with each other to get more money for their members. All other important issues were left behind.
The issue of better housing, better education, better health facilities, transportation, etc., should be resolved by spending more money, and therefore it did not matter whether these services were state-controlled or private. In fact, due to neglect and disregard for the good services of the public sector, private schools, hospitals, transport, etc., should be better when managed by private actors. So it was felt that regulation should be left to the government and people started saying that it is not the government’s business to be in business.
Expanding trade-related activities would increase the state’s income through increased taxes, and therefore, it was felt that the state would be in a better position to help the people. At the same time, the emergence of new technologies and their control by capitalists led to a new type of production activities. Gone are the days when everything was favored under one roof and the fragmentation of the process for activities related to production in several centers helped in the establishment of several small or medium production centers. The speed of this change was rapid.
The old nationalist economic thought process of self-reliance, import substitution, etc., was changed and foreign money, foreign market, export industries were encouraged. Under this new process, all the old structures developed during the period of the welfare economy were slowly dismantled. Contract systems have increased. Permanent workers and permanent jobs slowly started to become history.
There is a determined effort to change labor laws and reduce workers’ bargaining power. Thomas Piketty in his book “Capitalism in the 21st Century” demonstrated that the real income of workers in most countries has stagnated or fallen since 1980.
The speed of increasing inequality has also increased. Less than 1% of people control more than 50% of the world’s wealth and, as stated, the new industrial revolution called the 4th industrial revolution will likely wipe out 50% of existing jobs. Undoubtedly, new jobs are created, but they require skill and experience, which most people do not have and are therefore compelled to do work that the ILO has defined as precarious and low-paid jobs.
New relationship between worker and owner is evolving as seen in the case of Uber, Ola, Amazon, Swiggy, Zomato, etc. is a major challenge for unions. The government is also recruiting people into schemes and refusing to recognize scheme workers as government employees and paying negligible amounts as fees deprives scheme workers of getting justice through labor laws. Anganwadi, midday meal workers and Asha workers and others are classic examples. The AIUC is trying to build a movement of these scheme workers. Other unions are also active in their mobilization. In fact, in most states, their mobilization in the joint trade union movement is very significant and important.
Unions have realized the challenge of the new situation and therefore since 1984 there has been a cautious effort at the national level to form joint union struggles. Strikes by coal workers, bank workers, United Forum of Employees and Bank Officials have been a very important development. Even the scheme workers conducted important joint struggles at the state level.
However, at the factory level, due to the tactics of employing interns, NEEM workers, casual and contract workers, along with management cadres (JMC) for production and employing modern machinery. 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 worker skills useless. The control of productive activities, which a few years ago was under the influence of unions, is now under managerial control.
There is now an attempt to increase the working hours of workers. When new technologies with increased productivity could easily lead to shorter working hours and better working conditions for workers. But the profit motive prevents such changes.
Rising unemployment requires shorter working hours to employ more people. But a sustained movement like this is necessary, which was carried out during eight hours of work a day to fulfill the demand. In some developed countries, there is a movement to demand an increase in the minimum wage. As in the US, where the $15 an hour minimum is in demand, the issue becomes important in the general election.
We in India demand it, but we can’t make it a major issue in elections. The vision of society and unions at the beginning of the 20th century was to demand permanence, salary increases and social security through employment. But as that vision is fading, we need to develop a new strategy. We need to demand social security such as pensions, healthcare facilities, affordable housing and transport for all.
We need to mobilize workers for these demands. One strategy to attract thousands of so-called autonomous and disorganized workers is the need of the moment along with the traditional methods of struggle. The sight of most people working as wage workers in companies and joining unions and, through their strength, forcing 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 precarious poorly paid jobs and no social security seems to be the emerging scenario and unions need to have a new organizational strategy and new demands are necessary to face the future a better human life. (IPA Service)
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