The Life of Labour: Failures of MGNREGA, Manual Scavenging in Delhi, Fisheries Sector Hit By GST

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

MGNREGA as distribution of dole

Govind Bhattacharjee, Director General at the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, writes in the Economic and Political Weekly on the failures of the MGNREGA.

An excerpt: “It is undeniable that MGNREGA has helped alter the rural scenario in India over the last one decade to a large extent. Studies have noted a positive impact of MGNREGA funds on household income and monthly per capita expenditure. Most significant has been the impact on rural demand and wages, especially on agriculture wage rates. The MGNREGA-notified wages have increased significantly across all states since 2006. Studies have also highlighted the benefits to women and Adivasis in terms not only of income-consumption effects or enhancement of choice and capability, but also in correcting the gender-skewness (Pankaj and Tankha 2010). Socio-economic variables like annual per capita income, monthly per capita expenditure on food, annual per child expenditure on education, per capita savings, condition of the dwelling houses, access to healthcare facility, etc, have improved as a result of this scheme (Sarkar et al 2011)

But it is equally true that many studies conducted over the years point to the suboptimal performance of the scheme due to a number of factors. These studies indicate that the scheme was becoming supply-driven and top-down in nature, instead of remaining demand-driven and bottom-up as envisaged (Mukhopadhyay et al 2015) and that the average number of days of employment per household was declining over time (Gaiha and Jha 2012). However, its impact on rural poverty has at best been only modest.”

Manual scavenging in Delhi

A feature in The Hindu which reports many of the issues around manual scavenging that we’ve discussed in previous issues. In this story, Soumya Pillai follows workers from the East Delhi Municipal Corporation as they unclog sewer lines across the city without any safety gear. The health conditions of the workers, their poor pay (especially for those who work on contract basis), the social stigma – all find mention in this article. Surprisingly, the reporter never mentions caste in the article. You can read the full story here and there’s a video report here.

Conservancy workers in Chennai protest against privatisation

Conservancy workers of Greater Chennai Corporation led by Red Flag Union, protested against proposals to expand privatisation of solid waste disposal citing that such an action would increase scams and workers will suffer untenable delays in wage payments. Around 300 workers participated in the demonstration in Chepauk, Chennai.

Fish workers disappointed with increased GST on essential equipments

The fisheries sector is bracing itself to face a fresh crisis triggered by the high tax rates on fishing gear under the GST (Goods Services Tax) regime. Taxes have increased on basic fishing equipment like nets, rods, and fishing tackles that had hitherto been exempt from taxation. Anticipating a spurt in input costs, tens of thousands of fishermen who belong to the traditional and mechanised sectors are gearing up for an agitation against the crisis brewing in the sector. T. Peter, General Secretary of National Fishworkers Federation, has sought the immediate reduction of GST rates on fishing equipment.

Workers in Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal belt continue to suffer violent reprisals for unionising

A Japanese MNC, Ahresty, is the latest company that has reportedly resorted to violence against workers, according to Thozhilalar Koodam. “When the management realised that issuing death threats was not having any effect on the workers morale who continued to voice their demands, it acted upon its threat and hired bouncers who viciously beat up Somnath, Vice President of the union. On June 11, Somnath was waiting at the bus stand to reach the factory in the morning when bouncers attacked him and broke both his legs as well as his hand. He also suffered severe injuries to his head for which he needed 16 stitches.”

In Chattisgarh, workers pay homage to martyred comrades on ‘Shaheed Diwas’

According to Thozhilalar Koodam, “Thousands of workers took out a 4 KM rally from Jamul Labour Camp to Bhilai Powerhouse Railway Station in Bhilai to pay their respects and homage to 15 of their comrades who laid down their lives on the very tracks of the rail station on July 1, 1992. ‘Shaheed Diwas’, as it is referred to locally, is an annual affair for the past 25 years since the bloody massacre of workers on that fateful evening. The workers who took part in the rally are part of the various factions and unions of Chattisgarh Mukhti Morcha (CMM), a political movement founded in 1982, led by the legendary union leader Shankar Guha Niyogi.”

International news:

Yet another industrial accident in Bangladesh kills 13, injures scores

On Monday, July 3, an accident at a garment factory in Bangladesh left 13 killed and over 50 injured. A boiler explosion ripped through the multi storey building, pulling down walls and roof. Multifabs, which owns and operate this factory, is a major exporter of garments for International brands. The Rana Plaza accident, which claimed the lives of over 1000 workers, is a mere three years past. While there was lot of effort to improve safety at the numerous garment factories in Bangladesh, such instances are unfortunate but unambiguous illustrations of the failure to regulate a fast growing, labour intensive sector. An article in Daily Star explains the systemic lapses that has made such accidents a regular phenomena.

General strike in Brazil

Here’s a short video that explains the events behind one of the largest general strikes that Brazil has seen in the recent past. In Rio de Janeiro alone, about 6000 people gathered to demand the ouster of the President Michel Temer and the city’s Governor. Brazil’ budget crisis has meant that thousands of state workers haven’t been paid and now the state is pushing through highly unpopular pension reforms.

France proposes anti-worker reforms

In France, the CGT union is organising protests and campaigns against pro-business reforms proposed by Emmanuel Macron, the recently elected President. With an eye on reducing unemployment and attracting foreign investment, the centrist Macron is trying to push through legislation which will, among other things, make it easier for companies to fire workers for ‘economic reasons’ and put a cap on compensation.

Weekend reads

Interview with Vijaya Lakshmi Bagalur Venkata, National Secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) at the 106th International Labour Conferenced organised by the ILO.

From Frontier Myanmar, a well-written profile of Thakin Po Hla Gyi, a labour organiser who led oil workers in a landmark strike in 1938 and earned the nickname alawaka or ‘the ogre’.

With the International Committee of the Fourth International trying to drum up a worldwide working class support for the Maruti Suzuki workers, here’s a history of similar “frame-ups” and international labor defense campaigns.

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