The Life of Labour: Protesting Farmers Force Government to Announce Loan Waiver in Rajasthan

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Massive farmers’ protest in Rajasthan, government blocks the internet and then announces loan waiver

Sikar in Rajasthan was the site of massive protests over the last two weeks. More than 10,000 farmers gathered under the aegis of the All India Kisan Sabha to demand a loan waiver from the government. State-wide bandhs were declared and the Collectorate was barricaded. Sikar was essentially shut down while the bandh was also observed in Ganganagar, Hanumangarh, Churu, Bikaner, Nagaur and Jhunjhunu according to Newsclick.

The agitating farmers came with their stories of agrarian distress. The Indian Express reports, “In late July, Mohan Lal, 45, a fellow farmer from the district, was forced to crush all onion grown on his 3-bigha land with a tractor. “Onion was selling for Rs 1 per kg. It was the first time our family had to crush a crop like that,” he said, still unable to come to terms with the decision.”

The Wire spoke to Jayram, a 45-year-old farmer from Reengus, who complained about the forced inclusion to insurance schemes that they had no faith in. “We were never eager for any insurance scheme as it is of no use. The companies have one or the other way to get out of it and make excuses (when farmers make claims), but due to the Modi government’s insurance scheme, it is compulsory to have insurance even if we don’t wish to. The banks deduct a premium for crop insurance automatically from our account”, he said.

Many of them also complained about the cattle policies of the centre and the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh which had seen the prices of buffalo fall sharply.

On September 11, as more and more groups joined the movement in solidarity, section 144 was imposed and internet was shut down. But despite that, in the midst of heavy police presence, the stir went on peacefully with no sign of abatement. Finally, on Thursday, the government agreed to talks and though initial discussions weren’t fruitful, they finally announced a Rs. 20,000 crore loan waiver. According to Hindustan Times, all loans up to Rs. 50,000 will be waived off.

Indian women domestic workers in Kuwait lose their financial guarantees

The Ladies Finger reports that the rule that mandated employers deposit 2500$ as a bank guarantee when employing domestic workers from India has been repealed. This amount stood as security against non-payment of wages in the foreign country and applied to Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain where over 6 lakh Indian women work as domestic help. The central government has cited misuse of the provision as the reason for scrapping this small protection in the case of Kuwait, with other countries potentially following suit. It isn’t clear what these misuses were but it’s clear that the deposit was a sore point for most employers and that with its repeal, these women have lost whatever little protection they had.

JACTO GEO leadership forced to suspend week long strike by Madras High Court

The teachers and government employees in Tamil Nadu, who were on strike since September 11 have suspended their strike following direct orders from the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. The government workers and teachers, organized under JACTO GEO, have been demanding the repeal of the new pension scheme and the re-enactment of the old pension scheme. They had given a notice to go on strike from September 9. On September 7, acting on a Public Interest Litigation, the High Court ordered a stay on the strike. It had also maintained that the employees cannot use ‘strike as a weapon’. But JACTO GEO members had decided to continue with the strike from September 11 and had staged protests across the state. On the September 15, after summoning the leadership of the federation, the judges ordered that the strike be withdrawn forthwith upon which the strike was suspended. This is yet another judgment that deprives the right of workers to protest and strike. Earlier, the Madras High Court had directed the state government to enforce ESMA against striking transport workers. Courts have regularly denied workers right to picket or protest at their factories, the recent case being JK tyres. These actions have gravely undermined the rights of the workers and their ability to bargain collectively.

Anganwadi workers in Mumbai on strike

Over 2500 Anganwadi workers assembled at Azad Maidan in a protest against the government’s inaction in paying their wages and providing the allocated funds to run the daycare centers. The Anganwadi workers are on strike since September 11, demanding that their wages be raised as per the recommendations of the government appointed committee, the fund allocation for food be raised and their dues be cleared immediately. The government allocates a mere Rs. 4.92 per student for food expense and often delays disbursement of this money for months. While the money allocated is far too little to prepare quality and nutritious food, the delays force the workers to foot the bill in order to maintain services. These workers are also paid between Rs. 5000/- to Rs. 2500/- which is well below any reasonable living wage. The workers are demanding that the wages be raised to Rs. 10,000 for a worker and Rs. 7,500 for a helper. The union claimed that this was the recommendation of the committee appointed by the government.

Other News

It’s safer being a soldier fighting in Kashmir than a sewer worker: crunches some numbers and reports that, “At least 90 cleaners have died in sewers this year as against 54 security personnel killed in insurgency.” Read more here.

Unpaid for months, railway sanitary workers seek relief: About 40 sanitary workers are on strike in Madurai after having not received their wages for two and a half months. ToI reports that, “There are 90 contract sanitary workers in Madurai junction working in three shifts. They are paid Rs. 265 per day and the wages are remitted in the bank account of the workers. In addition to it, they are entitled to ESI and provident fund. Workers, however, said they hardly know these benefits exist. They are also not provided safety equipment like mask and gloves.”

FEFSI signs agreement with Producers Council, ends strike

After 12 days of strike, FEFSI (Film Employees Federation of South India) won its principal demand that the Tamil Nadu Producers Council not employ non-unionised workers. They have conceded to reduce the travel bata by half and have also permanently debarred Technicians Union from FEFSI. Speaking about this, Angamuthu Shanmugam, General Secretary of FEFSI, said that the technicians’ union was expelled for violating federation rules and not as part of the agreement. After the one-to-one agreement was signed on September 12, FEFSI has withdrawn the strike and film shoots have resumed.

International News

6000 workers involved in Wildcat strike at clothing factory in Vietnam: The strike started on September 6 when a manager took away the offcuts (extra pieces of cloth) from the fabric workers who were using them as cushioning during their lunch break. The manager wanted them to just sit directly on the ground. This sparked off a strike with 2000 workers joining initially, they were later joined by 4000 more. The workers then put out a list of demands including better working conditions.

Kenyan nurses on strike since June 5, Government threatens to fire all: Even though months have passed and millions of Kenyans have been unable to access even basic health services in public hospitals, the government refuses to sign a collective bargaining agreement with the striking nurses. This is despite agreeing to one at the end of the last strike in December. The latest update is that the government has threatened to replace all striking nurses and ordered the hospitals to advertise for their replacement.

Support for labour unions in the US is at a decade high, poll finds: “A Gallup Poll released for Labour Day found that 61% of adults in the U.S. approve of labour unions — the highest percentage since 2003, when approval was at 65%. The 2017 approval rate is up 5 percentage points from last year and 13 points above the all-time low of 48% in 2009.” Read more here.

Weekend Reads

Tackling wealth inequality like a Swede: The People’s Policy Project, a think tank funded by $5 – $15 donations from over 1600 donors, has a great article about the socialist experiments that took place in Sweden in the latter part of the 20th century. Sweden’s “solidarity in wages” policy had the unintended side effect of delivering super profits to the hands of a small group of capitalists. To counteract this, the Meidner Group came up with the idea of “wage-earner funds” that would be “financed through profit-related payments from firms in the form of voting shares, and administered through union-dominated boards. In this way, as firms produced profits for their shareholders, the wage-earner funds would gain larger and larger stakes in the company until they became the majority owners.” At a time when socialism and modern economies seem to be irreconcilable in the public imagination, these sorts of policies are a beacon of hope.

How to skill India when the jobs are bad: The NDA government had unveiled the ‘Skill India’ programme with great fanfare and set a fantastic target of skilling 500 million workers over a decade. It has subsequently rolled back its promise and scaled back the targets. Critiquing the programme and its basic premise, Orlando Ruthven, a labour researcher from SOAS with extensive knowledge about the labour process in India, maintains that the manufacturing sector is going through a period of deskilling and contractualisation. Discussing in depth the various ways in which companies maintain a precarious workforce, she maintains that companies have shifted from seeking skilled workers to employing workers as trainees for shorter periods of time. The precarity of employment allows companies to hire low cost labour and also shift the risk of business cycles on to the workers. In this context, the author contends that programs like Skill India are destined to fail in providing tangible and quality jobs for the growing young workforce.

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