Modi’s Deafening Silence on Workers
PRIME Minister Modi has been leading a frenetic election campaign, flying from one corner of the country to another, addressing public meetings. He sets the agenda for his party, and whatever he says, is quickly repeated by innumerable BJP leaders and activists. Corporate owned TV channels and newspapers, cravenly repeat his most juicy utterances.
But, you may or may not have noticed one astonishing feature of Modi’s bombastic speeches: he has nothing to say about workers – of any kind! Not industrial workers, not public sector workers, not informal sector workers, not women workers, not contractual workers, not construction workers, not mine workers, not postal workers – nothing. He rarely goes to big industrial centres but when he did, like in Asansol, or Korba, or Bengaluru, it is as if this country, and its whole economy, its production system, its ‘GDP’ and ‘growth’ (that Modi talks about so often) is all happening automatically, by some divine force, invisible to everyone!
PLIGHT OF WORKERS
Remember: workers have been struggling continuously for the past several years for better wages, end of contractualisation, stopping of dilution of labour laws, and other demands. The share of wages in industrial profits has declined after taking into account price rise.
In all the states, except two, minimum wages are less than half of the benchmark Rs 18,000 that the central government pays to its own unskilled employees (as per the 7th Pay Commission). This benchmark is based on absolutely minimal food and other requirements calculated according to the norms set by the 15th ILC and expanded by the Supreme Court in 1992.
In public sector enterprises, over half of the work force is now contractual, getting much less wages, no other benefits and facing insecurity over their jobs. In the private sector, conditions are far worse, with large segments of industry now run by contractual or “fixed term employees”, officially sanctioned by Modi government.
In the informal sector, where 94 per cent of India’s workers are employed, starvation wages and no job security are the norm. The devastation caused by imposition of GST and the freedom given to imports has destroyed this sector, not only causing job losses but also depressing wages beyond belief.
JOB LOSSES AND UNEMPLOYMENT
Workers in both the organised and the unorganised sector have been facing severe job losses during the five-year period that Modi has ruled India. The earlier era of job-less growth has been replaced by an even more damaging job-loss growth. It is reported that at least two crore jobs have been lost due to Modi government’s disastrous policies.
This has led to the creation of a vast army of unemployed that roams hither and thither, seeking any kind of work, at whatever wage, just to survive. This has generally led to wage freeze for those who are employed because they can always be replaced by desperate workers who are searching for work.
Meanwhile the Modi government has set records in selling off the country’s pride – its public sector – to private companies. In its five years it has sold off nearly Rs 2 lakh crore worth of public sector assets – more than any other government in India ever did. This too has led to job losses and contractualisation of work as the new private owners push for more profits.
CORPORATE PROFITS ARE SOARING
And mind you – despite the lack of job growth, despite the slowing economy, corporate profits are rising, and the share of dividends paid out (that part of profits which is pocketed by shareholders, not reinvested) has hit a record in Modi’s rule, according to a recent CMIE analysis.
Between 2014-15 and 2017-18, dividends made up 65 per cent of profits compared to 45 per cent in the preceding four-year period (2010-11 to 2013-14), the CMIE analysis shows. In other words, corporates are sucking profit out of workers and companies as if there is no future – make as much money as you can under Modi!
AND YET, MODI IS SILENT
Any ruling party politician, however stupid, will realise that in election time you have to at least promise something to your voters, which includes some 15 crore workers! That is how they managed to fool people and win elections. But Modi is different. He thinks that workers (and farmers, and scheme workers, and agricultural labourers) will be satisfied with some schemes, and a tonic of pseudo-nationalism! He thinks that talking about how he ordered air strikes on Pakistan and how he has put up Sadhvi Pragya (terror accused) as a candidate will be enough to satisfy hungry families of workers.
He is making a serious miscalculation. Five years of struggles – all India strikes, marches to parliament, mahapadavs, strikes in various sectors and innumerable struggles for wages and jobs – have shown the workers in every corner of the country that the only way they can get some relief from the oppression of poverty and joblessness is by getting rid of the Modi Sarkar. The mind was made up much earlier and this last minute chest thumping about terrorists and nuclear bombs is not going to get Modi any votes.