The Life of Labour: All Worked Up And Nowhere To Go

The Life of Labour, a compilation of important labour developments from around the world, will be delivered to your inbox every Sunday at 10 am. Click here to subscribe.

A man holds a placard saluting the struggle of Maruti workers in a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. Credit: Akhil Kumar

‘Uprooted by dam, workers trapped in bonded labor on Indian plantations: report’

A six-month study conducted by the National Adivasi Solidarity Council found that “more than 200 people whose families were forced from their homes in southern India by the construction of Aliyar dam in the 1960s are still trapped in bonded labor in plantations”. Over 50 families, including 73 children, are working in about 30 farms/plantations spread over a 15 km radius around the dam. The families belong to the Malasar tribal community, and all of them have lost land because of the dam. They are now toiling away without wages or access to any basic rights or amenities.

Haryana state government appeals acquittal of Maruti workers

Last week, the Haryana government decided to challenge the acquittal of 117 former workers of Maruti-Suzuki by the Gurugram trial court. The state government will also seek an enhancement of punishment for the 18 that were convicted at the high court.

West Bengal tea workers’ strike

A joint forum of 29 trade unions which organises workers in the tea industry called for a two-day strike across West Bengal, “demanding the implementation of minimum wages, reinforcement of entitlement for tea workers and distribution of land holding among tea workers for residential purposes”.

“The response so far has been overwhelming. As many as 90 per cent tea workers in the hills joined the strike. For example, only 18 workers entered the garden out of 1,800 in the Sukna tea garden,” Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) state general secretary Anandi Sahu told IANS.

On the second day, police allegedly clashed with tea workers, resulting in at least twenty workers and six police officers sustaining injuries in the process. The tea industry estimated a loss of Rs 10 crore.

[Bonus: Read Thozhilalar Koodam’s review of Chaay Garam, a documentary about the ‘living and working conditions of tea plantation workers’]

‘Welfare cess removal rubs salt on workers’ wounds’

A notification in July 2016 saw the removal of cess collection for the welfare of workers in six sectors – salt, mica, coal, limestone, dolomite and iron ore. For salt workers, this means a lack of access to “welfare schemes such as water supply, provision of water coolers, storage tanks, construction of labour rest sheds, creches and toilets, housing, and supplying safety kits containing gloves, caps and goggles”. Even educational aid and scholarships have now been made inaccessible to these workers, reports Aditi R. in The Hindu.

Pourakarmikas in Bangalore

Contract pourakarmikas gathered in Bengaluru’s Banappa Park on June 12, striking work and demanding direct payment of wages and regularisation of work. “The main demands of the contract pourakarmikas are regularisation of their services and direct payment of salaries as per the Haryana model. The contract pourakarmikas were promised an increased wage of ₹14,400 plus risk allowance of ₹3,000 in August 2016, toilets, safety gear and regularisation of services by March 2017, none of which have materialised.”

By the next day, 6,000 pourakarmikas had struck work to gather at the park, and the State government finally promised to deposit wages directly to workers’ bank accounts to reduce their dependence on their contractors.

New York state judge finds Uber an ’employer’

“New York Taxi Workers Alliance executive director Bhairavi Desai said, “The message here is simple: If you’re going to control the workers to maximise your profits off their labor, you owe them their rights and benefits under the law.””

Weekend Reading:

1. “Upon Hearing the News of Xu Lizhi’s Suicide” (《惊闻90后青工诗人许立志坠楼有感》)

[Two weeks ago, we wrote about Xu Lizhi’s poetry. Today, we’re including a poem written after Xu’s suicide by Zhou Qizao, his colleague at Foxconn.]

The loss of every life
Is the passing of another me
Another screw comes loose
Another migrant worker brother jumps
You die in place of me
And I keep writing in place of you
While I do so, screwing the screws tighter
Today is our nation’s sixty-fifth birthday
We wish the country joyous celebrations
A twenty-four-year-old you stands in the grey picture frame, smiling ever so slightly
Autumn winds and autumn rain
A white-haired father, holding the black urn with your ashes, stumbles home.

(1 October 2014)
Taken from here.

2. All worked up and nowhere to go

“I’m not suggesting we retire the rally, but let’s remember what political theater actually does and does not accomplish: marches are for morale, protests are for pathos, but strikes? Strikes are for getting the goods, and that requires organising workers. The hub of political power is not academia; it is not the internet; it is not the media, or comedy, or romance, or friendship, or art, or theory. It’s the workplace. And however “deviant” or unwanted this message may be, there are workers—mostly ignored by the broader left—who are nonetheless transmitting it loud and clear.”

3. The Bleak Left: on Endnotes

“In 2008, a slim journal published by an anonymous collective began to circulate within the thinning ranks of the revolutionary left. Its cover was solid green except for the journal’s name, Endnotes, in white, and a subtitle, “Preliminary Materials for a Balance Sheet of the Twentieth Century,” in black. The text was produced by a discussion group formed in Brighton, UK, in 2005 with origins in long-running debates in the German and French ultraleft. Authorship wasn’t really secret; you could find bylined references scattered across CVs and footnotes. But collective authorship was key to the distinctive voice, something like the crossfire of an unusually well-prepared reading group recollected in tranquility. The essays run on, sometimes more than ten thousand words, to simulate the modulations of conversation. Disciplinary specialisations sit side by side, with notes on Kant and Schelling following graphs of employment patterns in UK manufacturing. The style is by turns earnest (“The communisation of social relations among seven billion people will take time”), bleak (“There is always someone more abject than you”), and droll (“Proletarians do not have to see anyone they do not like, except at work”). It is a journal whose scope, rigour, and utter lack of piety make it one of the consistently challenging left-wing periodicals of our time. In 2014, Anderson himself called it one of the “most impressive publications to emerge in the Bush-Obama era.””

Liked the story? We’re a non-profit. Make a donation and help pay for our journalism.