Monday, June 9, 2014

Some urgent questions have come to shore

(New Series No. 311, May 2014)

While distributing the paper, we were stopped twice and advised: “Don’t distribute the paper here. Workers here are very happy. Are you trying to get the factories closed?” That reading, writing, thinking and exchange can lead to factory closures – where does this thought come from?

Perhaps this fear is a result of the messages that are circulating between the mobile phones of tailors:

Uthe sabke kadam
Ajee aise geet gaya karo
Hanso aur hansaya karo.

Or perhaps this fear emerges because workers on the assembly line are humming:

Tu zinda hai
Tu zindagi ke
Geet par yakeen kar

The industrial belt that surrounds Delhi has been going through a deep churning over the last few years. Gathering enormous experience and thoughts at an early age, hundreds of thousands of young men and women have been giving force to waves of self-activity through innovative steps, fresh languages, novel creations and new relationships. In this gathering milieu, many long-held assumptions have been done away with, and unfamiliar possibilities have been inaugurated. We have indicated two from among many of these tendencies in our previous issues. Here we are presenting some of the questions that have been posed in the course of conversations that have passed through us and gone on around us.

Why should anyone be a worker at all?

This question has gained such currency in these industrial areas, that some readers may find it strange that it should be mentioned here at all. But still, we find it pertinent to underscore the rising perplexity at the demand that one should surrender ones life to that which has no future. And again, why should one surrender ones life to something that offers little dignity?

If we put aside the fear, resentment, rage and disappointment in the statement, “What is to be gained through wage work after all,” we begin to see outlines of a different imagination of life. This different imagination of life knocks at us today, and we have between us the capacity, capability and intelligence to experiment with ways that can shape a diversity of ways of living.

Do the constantly emerging desires and multiple steps of self-activity bring into question every existing partition and boundary?

In this sprawling industrial zone, at every work station, in each work break – whether it’s a tea break or a lunch break – conversations gather storm. Intervals are generative. They bring desires into the open, and become occasions to invent steps and actions. No one is, any longer, invested in agreements that might bring a better future in three years, or maybe five. Assessing constantly, negotiating continually; examining the self, and examining the strength of the collective, ceaselessly. And with it, a wink and a smile: Let’s see how a manager manages this! The borders drawn up by agreements are breached, the game of concession wobbles, middlemen disaggregate.

When we do – and can do – everything on our own, why then do we need the mediation of leaders?

“Whether or not to return to work after a break, and across how many factories should we act together – we decide these things on our own, between ourselves,” said a seamster. Others concurred: “When we act like this, on our own, results are rapid, and our self-confidence grows”, and elaborated, “On the other hand, when a leader steps in, things fall apart; it’s disheartening. When we are capable of doing everything on our own, why should we go about seeking disappointment?”

Another conversation threw up a fascinating image: “During our regular night shifts, the general manager used to be abrasive with any worker he saw dozing. He used to take punitive action against them. One night, one hundred and eight of us went to sleep, all together, in the shop floor. Managers, one after the other, who came to check on us, saw us all sleeping in one place, and returned quietly. We carried on like this for three nights. They didn’t misbehave with us, didn’t take any action against us. Workers in other sections of the factory followed suit. It became a tradition of sorts.”

Are these acts that are relentlessly breaching inherited hierarchies an announcement of the invention of new kinds of relationships?

In previous issues, we have discussed at length how the men and women workers of Baxter and Napino Auto & Electronics factories displaced the management’s occupation of the shop floor. During that entire time, workers did not leave the factory. Men and women stayed inside the factory day and night, side by side; this signals their confidence in their relationship. There are several instances too of temporary and permanent workers acting together to demand equal increments in wages and other facilities. People are acting against inherited divisions, forging uncharted bonds.

Are these various actions that are being taken today breaking the stronghold of demand-based thinking?

The remarkable and influential tendency that has emerged in this extensive industrial belt cannot be wrapped up, contained in or explained via the language of conditions, demands and concessions. Why? Over the years, the dominant trend has been to portray workers as ‘poor thing’, which effectively traps them in a language that makes them seem victims of their condition and dependent on concessions. And then they are declared as being in bondage to condition, demand and concessions. This is a vicious encirclement. In the last few years, the workers of Maruti Suzuki (Manesar) have ripped through this encirclement. What is it that workers want? What in the world do workers want? The company, the local government, the central government were clueless in 2011, they stayed clueless through 2012, and they are still clueless. This makes them nervous. That is why, when workers exploded despite the substantial concessions being offered by the management, it resulted in six hundred paramilitary commandos being deputed to produce normalcy. A hundred and forty seven workers are political prisoners even today.

Do all these questions hold for everyone, everywhere in the world?

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