The programme was conducted by Com. Naveen. Speakers were Dr Babu P Ramesh (IGNOU), Com. Ashim Ray (NTUI) and Com. Ravi Sinha (NSI).
The programme started with singing of the 'International in Hindi', and another revolutionary song by Com. Mahender, Com. Subhash and Com. Naveen.
In his opening remarks Com. Naveen gave a brief introduction to the New Socialist Initiative. He opened the discussion with questions like: How does capitalism operate today? Where and how does working class live? This becomes significant because there are segments of working class which do not wish to be identified as workers.
First speaker was Dr Ramesh. His talk was focused on condition of workers in new service sector, like information services, organized retail (shopping malls), insurance and banking. He underlined the fact that all these sectors have similar logic of work organization and governing structure. The driving force for this is globalization of capital. A race to cut costs under global production systems was the main effect. Outsourcing and off-shoring have emerged as major tools for organizing production systems, with information technologies allowing such systems to go beyond national boundaries. Core – periphery distinctions mean that most of the workers in the peripheral activities can be dispensed with little cost. There also is built in distancing of the actual employer from workers, behind layers of contractors. Along with these, new human resource management techniques have been developed. For instance, earlier close supervision, threat and scolding were commonly used. After eighties it was realized that for managing workers providing ‘emotional labour’ these are not productive. New styles are ‘caring’. However, the work regimen are tightly controlled. Workers have no control over working conditions. There are no natural movements, workers are trained for every form of behaviour. There is little time for socialization, management decides even how the ‘break time’ is used. Workers work under an atmosphere of structured socialization. Socially active workers are isolated. Such management methods are in a way old, reflecting adaptation of Taylorism to current needs. They are producing new insecurities and challenges for workers. From his research in IT sector he highlighted the fact that workers have a serious identity crisis. They do not consider themselves as workers. They see themselves as individuals. This is supported by better salaries, technologically sophisticated work place, and the fact that most of the employees are young. Workers appear to have integrated the corporate value system. They share a characteristic with workers in the lowest rung of unorganized sector in a scrap market in Delhi, in that they do not appear to have time to think about any other issue. Dr Ramesh ended by noting that Indian economy is growing very fast, but the gap between rich and poor has increased. The logic of exploitation is same as prevalent earlier.
Com. Ashim Ray started his talk with a narrative of his visit to Haymarket Square in Chicago in 2004. It was only a year earlier that a group of old communist activists, after years of hard work, were able to erect a memorial to workers killed in the Haymarket massacre. This underlined the difficulty of organizing working class in current USA. However, the very next year in 2005, the US saw largest May Day parades. He raised the question about the visible differences in working class movement. It is coming up in some places, while appears dormant in other. Other questions that structured his talk were: What is the role of Trade Unions in working class movement? What new strategies should be used for building this movement? What is its relationship with non-class struggles like struggles around identity? According to materialist understanding of history and society, classes, and working class too, are driven by their material interests. Working class is not going to direct its politics under the sway of some Grand Idea, but on the basis of concrete situations it finds itself under capitalism. Crises of capitalism contribute to the development of working class movement. There is no uniformity in the current crisis of global capital, hence we should also not expect a homogenous response from the working class. Workers in advanced capitalist countries are exploited intensively, while workers in countries like India are exploited extensively. We are seeing in India how regular working day has been expanded from 8 hours to 12 and ever more hours. Marx and Engels had the political wisdom to give the slogan of 8 hour working day, which affected all workers directly and materially, and not a directly political slogan, to rally the working class of their time. Com. Ashim suggested that now we should raise the slogan of Global Living Wage. Globalisation of capital and production chains now provide political economic parameters to compare wages in different countries on the basis of purchasing power parity index. This should be used to define a Global Living Wage. He advocated autonomous space for Trade Union consciousness. Political parties in India have tried to organize workers around political issues. The trade union organizing per se has taken a back seat. If we visualize working class divided in three layers, a politically conscious vanguard which understands itself as a class, intermediate layers that have a sense of class, and backward sections that have no class sense, then it is seen that union organizing by political parties has concentrated mainly on the zone of intersection between the vanguard and intermediate layers. The other zone of intersection has been completely overlooked. Trade Unions are the first organizations which bring in a sense of class to workers. This is very important in a social formation like India which has many pre capitalist modes existing simultaneously with capitalism. Trade Unions can develop the sense of class in working masses, if they are self organized. This is why an autonomous organizational space for Trade Unions is a must. Furthermore, TUs must always occupy oppositional space. If they are under a political party, then they loose this oppositional space when that party gets in power. At NTUI a conscious decision has been taken to provide space for multiple political positions. During discussion later, Com. Ashim said that in NTUI different nationality positions are also welcome. It is only by avoiding a political straitjacket and letting multiple political positions to flourish, that TUs can maintain their organizational autonomy and be in the oppositional space.
Com. Ravi Sinha started with four issues he wished to touch in his talk. These were the nature of current capitalism, the social character of actually existing working class in India, the relationship between emerging environmental crisis and working class, and the long term political challenge before the working class to abolish itself, on way to abolishing class society. It is often claimed by revolutionary parties that today’s capitalism is imperialism, but what kind of imperialism it is, is little explored. The colonial era is firmly over. Bourgeoisie in India have a clear political and economic dominance in the country. Its interests do not clash with imperial capital. If we look at capitalism world over, prosperity has come only in the last 50-60 years. In India we are seeing growth rates in the past thirty years, which were thought unimaginable earlier. Rather than dying off due to market limits, capitalism has expanded its reach in every sphere of life. In this way, it has transformed itself internally. More than 70% of GDP in many economies is provided by the service sector. We should ask the question why should capitalism create a homogenous working class, all of whose members live at bare subsistence level? As is seen in many cases, capitalism also flourishes when it gives enough to workers thereby expanding domestic market, and also when pension funds of workers are invested back in stock markets. Companies like the Infosys have given shares to their workers. Worker productivity has increased tremendously. Relatively speaking, more productive workers in advanced countries are more exploited since larger share of their labour product is alienated from them. About the social aspect of working class he raised the question is working class in India necessarily less caste ridden and patriarchal than the capitalist class? He highlighted the experiences of Ambedkar when he tried to bring in the issue of dalit workers in trade union movement of his time. The long term political goal of working class requires it to establish its state power. He said rhetorically that one can not reach the seat of state power in Delhi through the forests of Dandakarnaya. It does not deny the possibility that raising arms in Dandakarnaya may be the only way to revolutionary politics there, but state power in India can not be captured through that route. Nor will just organizing trade unions will lead to the political goal. Issue of surplus extraction under capitalism should be the core point of organizing, and we should look forward to organizing production, for instance under cooperatives, in which surplus is retained by workers’ collective.
Presentations were followed by more than an hour and half long discussion. Some of the participants in the discussion were Rajesh Upadhyay (Identity politics and working class) Rojesh (internal colonialism of India state), Asit (struggles by multitudes, as envisioned by Negri and Hardt, vs working class struggle), Arun (neglect of workers in caste based occupation in traditional conception of working people in left literature), Kumar Sanjay Singh (problems of conceiving a uniform living wage, and artificial separation between trade union and political consciousnesses) and Sudha (changes in the characteristics of workers in new service sector industries as the work force ages, and cross group linkages between IT workers, teachers, etc (who may not consider themselves as workers) and workers in unorganized sectors like the domestic workers).