February 25, 2024

Decade of Plight for Working People

Sanjay Roy

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IT is election eve and the prime minister while speaking in the parliament on the interim budget session ended with forecasts of election results for the ruling combine. It was not an expression of encouragement for his colleagues for the ensuing election but a prediction of number of seats that the BJP and the NDA would be winning. What it transpired perhaps for the mainstream media and the subservient executives is a sense of responsibility to legitimise the expectations of Modi and actualise the figures as expected.

One of the major ways of naturalising the number is to continuously drumbeat the achievements claimed by the government, namely, the projection of India becoming third largest economy, the success of G20 Summit, the welfare schemes, declining multidimensional inequality and most importantly of consecration of Ram Lalla at Ayodhya. These are the major claims on the basis of which the NDA government asks for a fresh and emphatic mandate. If politics is all about building perceptions as it is told these days, then controlling instruments of orienting perception and the hidden propaganda assumes immense importance. Sometimes bitter facts are diffused and immersed into the glory created by constructed perceptions. Within a whirlwind of emotions, the truth of Pulwama was never allowed to raise its head, it is again about religious identity and of rescuing ‘ancient heritage’ that the ruling combine invokes from a recreated past and makes people decide their present and the future on the basis of controversies which the people of this subcontinent left to history long back.

The ‘strong man’ seems to have epitomised the strength of damaging the secular ethos of India, in whatever way people understood it and nurtured for the past 75 years since independence. The ‘strong man’ is strong enough to show cruelty to opposition parties and in silencing voices of dissent.  Purging of real life issues from the discourse of electoral democracy is the hallmark of the aura created by the media around a man whose name is prefixed with ‘PM’ so that the audience internalises a sense of permanence about his prime ministership. True, politics is all about defining enemies and friends with a vision to organise society invoking a particular worldview claiming to be beneficial for the majority citizens. But now it seems politics is all about creating divisions within the majority who are exploited and oppressed, making enemies within, so that the rulers can sleep peacefully.



The success stories peddled in mainstream media and the tall claims made by the government fall flat when we consider issues that are related to the working people of our country. Since the large section of the working population are wage earners it is important to see how their incomes grew over time. TV discussions hardly bother about the growth of real wages in India because such news does not attract attention of the upper middle class metro citizens who are the biggest consumers of English media. For the vernacular media, wage and employment issues are being displaced by sizzling jingoism and cultural revivalism of the majoritarian right-wing that burry mundane issues of wages and income in the void of false empowerment. Hence even if workers both in rural and urban segments, in agriculture and in industry are facing a drastic fall in the growth of wages in recent times, nevertheless, such news may appear less interesting as against stories of conflict between working people on the basis of religion or caste.

The average annual wage growth in agriculture during the period 2004-05 to 2013-14 in India was 12.3 per cent which has come down during the period 2014-15 to 2022-23 to 4.8 per cent. Hence rural agricultural wage became almost stagnant in the recent period. For non- agricultural activities, the growth of wages has fallen from 11.1 per cent to 4.7 per cent during the same period. In agriculture, for activities related to harvesting, the growth of wages fell from 13.1 per cent to 5.7 per cent. In the case of non-agricultural activities, and in the urban segment for instance, the wage growth for carpenters has come down from 10.9 per cent to 5.5 per cent. And for sweepers, the growth of wage had fallen from 11 per cent annual growth rate during 2004-05 to 2013-14 to 5.9 per cent in the period 2014-15 to 2022-23. The important fact is that not only has the growth of wages drastically fallen but the nominal growth rate has in many years come down below the inflation rate.

The average inflation rate during the period 2014-15 to 2022-23 according to CPI General Index had been 5.1 per cent and the average annual growth rates of wages as mentioned for the same reference period for rural agricultural and non-agricultural activities have been marginally higher than the average rate of inflation. This basically indicates that rural wage, both for agricultural and non-farm activities, almost stagnated in real terms. Average measures also underestimate the misery of the people in the past ten years. During the past ten years, growth of rural agricultural wage was lower than the inflation rate of the corresponding year in the case of five out of ten years in agricultural activities and for six years in the case of non-farm activities.

In a particular year if the growth of nominal wage falls short of the growth of prices then not only purchasing power falls relative to previous years but chances of indebtedness increases as, for the poor, the share of non-discretionary expenditure constitute the major share of the consumption basket. If this happens for consecutive two or three years, in the fourth year even if wages grow higher than the inflation rate, then also purchasing power does not rise due to past indebtedness and the plight of the workers perpetually continues.



In the case of industrial workers also, we see a meagre increase in real wages in the past ten years. According to the Annual Survey of Industries, the average annual growth of wages of organised sector workers in the first decade of the millennium was about 8 per cent per annum which increased to 10.1 per cent during the period 2005-06 to 2013-14. This declined sharply during the period 2014-15 to 2020-21 to 6 per cent. Given the fact that the average inflation rate during the period 2014-2020 was 5 per cent there was virtually no increase in real wage of industrial workers during this period. This is also being reflected in the steep decline in the share of wages in net value added of industries in India.

During the 1980s, the share of profits in Net Value Added was 18 per cent which increased to an average share of 45.3 per cent during the period 2014-15 to 2020-21, while the share of wages in NVA declined from an average of 30.4 per cent in the 1980s to an average of 16 per cent during 2014-21. The government also releases Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) figures which gives figures of wages for regular/salaried workers, casual workers and earnings of self-employed. Hence these figures include wages and earnings of workers engaged in the unorganised segment as well. PLFS latest report gives data for four successive quarters June-September, 2022; October to December 2022; January to March 2023 and April to June 2023. For the regular workers, the growth of wages from the first period to the second was only 4.3 per cent and the wages and earnings of casual workers and self-employed fell in absolute terms. From the second to the third quarter mentioned, the wages of regular salaried workers fell in absolute terms and the wages of casual workers grew by 1.02 per cent and earnings of self-employed workers increased by 4.7 per cent. From the third to the fourth quarter, the growth of wages and earnings for all categories of workers were less than 3 per cent. During these two years the average inflation rate was 6 per cent, which means there has been severe contraction of real incomes of workers during this period.

The white paper published by the government has been silent about the plight of the millions the toiling people of the country. The past decade has been a decade of contraction of real incomes of the working people of our country while recording a massive rise in the share of profits in value added. The government did nothing to protect the declining earnings of the working people because they do not contribute to ruling parties through electoral bonds rather their sufferings enable big corporates to fill the coffers of the ruling party!  



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