Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS), Kamgar Ekta Chalwal (KEC) and the Department of Labour Studies and Management at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) jointly organised a one-day Symposium on Conditions and Rights of Workers in the Era of Liberalization and Globalization on Sunday,2nd August 2009 from 10:00 in the morning to 5:30 in the evening.
The Symposium was an attempt to bring together concerned academia, activists and individuals to help understand the real situation of working people belonging to different sectors. The aim was to help create a composite picture of the current status and trends by inputs from scholars and activists alike. At the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Das explained the background and aims of organising this Symposium.
The Symposium opened with the lighting of the traditional lamp signifying victory of light over darkness. Two energetic songs appropriate for the occasion, Gar ho sake to ab koyi shamma jalaiye, is daur-e-siyasat ka andhera bujhaiye! (Let us light a flame and rid the darkness of the present political system!) And Yeh baat jamana yaad rakhe, mazdoor hain hum mazboor nahin; Yeh bhookh, garibi, badhaali, hargiz hum ko manjoor nahin! (Let this era note that we are workers and are not incapable; The hunger, poverty and bad conditions are not acceptable to us!) were presented. Prof E. Toppo, who inaugurated the Symposium couldn’t agree more with the young singers from TISS and LRS. He said that the working people ask not for charity but their rights. He also spoke about the history and other useful information about TISS.
The first session of the Symposium started by reading the message of greeting sent by Shri T S Sankaran, who could not come to the Symposium himself but sent a informative presentation on the Unorganised Sector Social Security Act passed by the parliament in 2008. The presentation clearly pointed out the Act has ignored all the inputs given by the Unorganised Workers’ National Coordination Committee, as well as, the proposals of Parliamentary Labour Standing Committee, the Petitions Committee and those given by organisations like NCEUS. It is a totally inadequate and useless act, which lacks legislative policy and intent.
Other speakers in this session included Shri Bhave from Kamgar Ekta Chalwal (KEC), Shri Shinge and Kapure from Garment industry, Mrs. Malan working amongst the domestic workers and Shri Patharia from the Naka Workers movement.
Shri Bhave talked on the impact of liberalisation and globalization on the working people. He began by pointing out that working people constituted the great majority of the population, yet the policies of liberalisation and globalization has benefited only the big corporate sector. This orientation of the economy has resulted in curtailment of social programs and rights of the working people. The use of communal violence and state terror has been used, on the other hand, to break the unity of the working people. He drew various conclusions from these observations and emphasized the need for developing an alternate program that will defend the rights and interests of the working people.
Shri Shinge and Kapure started their presentation highlighting the appalling conditions of the workers in the garment industries in Mumbai, Tirupur and Bangalore. They pointed out that a huge number of people that have lost jobs in the wake of the economic crisis. However, the stimulus packages of the government have not resulted in restoration of any jobs; it has only accomplished what the owners wanted, i.e., increased exploitation of the workers. They then highlighted the tricks that are used by the industrialists to avoid giving even minimum legal benefits to the garment workers. From open cheating and threats to the dismissal of workers who attempted to unionize and assert their rights – the government and the legal system has always been there to help them. They also explained to the participants how the Union has to use indirect and circumstantial evidence to even prove that workers are the employees of this or that company. By meticulously showing that owners are at fault in breaking the labour laws, their union has been able to bring some relief to garment workers.
Mrs. Malan talked about the conditions of the women working as maid servants in Mumbai. Starting from why someone is forced to work as a maid servant, she went on to describe the difficult and degrading conditions in which they have to work. She criticized the Domestic Workers Act as a law that does not address the concerns of this sector of workers. She then talked about their demands and also how their union was going about organising the domestic workers. Shri Patharia talked about the conditions of the workers who wait at street intersections every morning to look for work for the day. He informed the gathering that this section was very vulnerable and there is an urgent need for the State to provide some security of livelihood to them.
The Second session started post lunch with some more beautiful songs of workers’ struggle across the globe. Prof Paul and Shri Kishor from TISS reported on some findings of their study regarding workers conditions and their education level. This session was also addressed by Justice Suresh on the topic "Workers Rights and the Legal System", Ms. Vineetha spoke about the condition of workers in the IT and IT enabled Services industry and Shri Raghavan, LRS President, presented on the topic "Workers rights remain a mirage – The necessity for political renewal."
Justice Suresh said that workers have a right to work. In the modern context, a right to life has to include right to livelihood just as right to life means right to life with dignity, with food, shelter and clothing. He highlighted the fact that the courts in India have been taking anti-labour stand and siding with the owners time and time again. He cited the example of the mill land in Mumbai, where the Supreme Court ruled even more in favour of the Mill owners.
Vineetha shattered some of the myths about the knowledge sector workers. She pointed out that just because they sit in air-conditioned rooms and wear good clothes, does not mean that cease to belong to the working class. Their mobiles are actually a leash around their neck by which they are kept on the job 24×7. She also brought home the point about the really menial work that they are asked to do, often amounting to repeating the same lines over and over again, and there is tremendous pressure through constant monitoring and supervision. There is very little social interaction and workers in this sector are facing physical and mental strains.
Shri Raghavan delivered the keynote address. He elaborated on the modern conception of rights as universal, inalienable and by virtue of being a human being. He said that constitutional and political rights of the workers were being denied in practice. He then talked about the real nature of representative democracy in India and concluded that power in the hands of the people through the renewal of the political process to establish direct participatory democracy was necessary to assert the rights of the workers.
This was followed by a lively question and answer session. More than 20 participants intervened with questions and comments. All participants felt that such exchange of views was very necessary. The TISS students were happy to learn from the representatives of different sections of workers about their conditions and experience in addressing their own problems.
In the end, Dr. Bharat summed up the meeting and Shri Kishor proposed the vote of thanks, but the participants continued to mix with the speakers and the representatives workers organisations present there.