August 27, 2023
Karnataka: People’s Convention Resolves to Fight the Cost of Living Crisis

Vasanth N K

THE ‘Bangalore People’s Convention,’ held on August 20 at the Shikshakara Sadana auditorium, aimed to collectively tackle the cost of living crisis. Drawing over a thousand participants primarily consisting of IT employees, the programme was organised by the local committee of the IT front of the CPI(M). Notably, it was a unique gathering led by newly unionised IT sector employees, focusing on the urban cost of living crisis. Preparations included six weeks of campaign by 300 volunteers in 30 area committees, distributing 50,000 theme-explaining pamphlets, conducting street and door-to-door campaign, and 5000 city-wide pasting of posters. Participants arranged their transport, facilitated by 17 buses from area committees to the convention venue.

Amidst the Covid period, an IT employee required medical treatment in a private hospital for a medical condition, incurring an astonishing cost of Rs 3.6 crores. Tragically, he subsequently passed away, leaving his parents, residing in West Bengal, in a state of complete destitution. This heart-wrenching case serves as a stark illustration of the issue of exorbitant healthcare expenditures. In the aftermath of the Covid recovery phase, rental prices for houses and apartments near major IT parks have doubled, with certain landlords demanding upfront payments equivalent to one to three years' worth of rent. While these situations might represent the extreme end of the spectrum, the average expenses associated with housing and healthcare are not significantly distant.

Drawing attention to the undeniable crisis point, which is exemplified by a steep surge in the cost of living, Ashok Dhawale,  CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, underscored this aspect during the inauguration of the convention. Dhawale concurred with the convention organisers on the fundamental constituents of the cost of living crisis: housing, transport, education, and healthcare expenditures. In his address, he intricately illuminated the connection between this crisis and the trajectory of economic policies, which has notably shifted since 1991 and particularly since 2014. He also elucidated the rationale behind these policies pursued by the ruling classes. Consequently, fighting for the reversal of these policies becomes the ultimate solution. However, he stressed the necessity to initially address the specifics of major cost factors, the challenges in local areas and sectors, and offer specific solutions, as outlined in the Convention. He asserted that this approach could mobilise people to also work towards reversing the trajectory of economic policies.

Sooraj Nidiyanga, secretary of the IT Front local committee (ITF LC) of CPI(M) Karnataka, explained the convention's essence and objectives. He emphasized that the core factors contributing to the cost-of-living crisis encompass rising house rents, increased transportation expenses, higher out-of-pocket spending on health and education, and escalating prices of essential goods. He further pointed out that this occurs simultaneously with stagnant salaries across various sectors. He said that there is a need to end the dual exploitation perpetuated by capital, wherein market forces drive living costs upward while worker wages are intentionally suppressed to maximise profits.

Addressing the convention, Meenakshi Sundaram, CPI(M) state secretariat member, asserted the preeminent role of the working class in fighting back against the cost of living crisis. He drew attention to instances in Bangalore factories where workers' share of production has significantly dwindled. The conventional employer-employee dynamic has become obscured, while precarious job opportunities continue to rise. He highlighted data indicating that 57 per cent of workers earned less than Rs 10,000 per month. He emphasized that the fightback must unfold across three crucial realms: restoring the capacity of working people to negotiate and regain fair share for their output; resisting privatisation and commercialisation of essential services such as water, electricity, education, and healthcare; and advocating for improved housing conditions. He urged the gathering to consider this convention as a starting point, and spread its influence to every ward alongside other segments of workers and the unorganised masses.

VJK Nair, former CPI(M) state secretary, highlighted the historical context by noting that until the 1970s and 80s, companies establishing factories also provided housing colonies, hospitals, and schools for workers and their families. He emphasized that the fightback should begin with workers asking employers to reinstate these responsibilities. This necessitates advocating not only for minimum wages or need-based minimum wages, but also for fair wages and living wages. He briefly differentiated between these wage concepts, emphasizing that fair wages involve reinvesting up to 60 per cent of the company's allocable surplus for workers. Fair wages encompass the major components of the cost of living. Thus, the pursuit of fair wages is integral to the ongoing fightback. He further explained that the astronomical increase in land prices, exemplified by a shift from Rs 4 per square metre in the 1970s to Rs 10,000 now in certain areas, leading to primitive accumulation of enormous proportions in few hands, is the root cause of exorbitant housing costs. He praised the IT front for taking the initiative to organise the convention. He referenced the history of around 100,000 organised sector workers shaking up Bangalore in the early 1980s and posed the question: Can't over 2 million IT workers, alongside the broader workforce of almost 5 million, shake Bangalore once more?

Gopalakrishna, CPI(M) secretariat member, Vasanth, state committee member and B N Majunath, secretary, Bangalore south district committee also addressed the convention. Sooraj Nidiyanga and Chitra Bhanu of ITF LC conducted the convention proceedings. Lenil Babu (ITF LC member) gave the welcome address. Rajil proposed vote of thanks.

The convention saw the presentation of four resolutions. The first addressed rising house rents in Bangalore, calling for implementing social housing and regulating the housing market with a rent cap. The second focused on increased transportation costs due to inadequate public transport and dynamic pricing for app-based cabs/rickshaws, advocating for developing sufficient public transport and regulating app-based services. The third resolution was on escalating healthcare expenses, highlighting issues in the public health system and private clinics/hospitals, and urging the strengthening of public healthcare and regulation of private healthcare. Lastly, the fourth resolution tackled rising educational costs, sharing data and seeking to increase government investment in public education and regulate expenses in private institutions. These resolutions were unanimously adopted at the convention. 

The convention called for an increase in the minimum wage to support a decent family living and the enforcement of labour laws for free crèche facilities at the company premises. Additionally, a plan of action was adopted, outlining the creation of area-based people's collectives to mobilise and campaign for effective resistance against the cost of living crisis.