Labour

The Life of Labour: Public Transport as Class Warfare, All India Kisan Sabha Joins the BDS Movement

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Public transport as class warfare

As with many public services, the consciousness of why bus services are public is fast disappearing. Hussain Indorewala writes in The Wire that many of our current municipal services were historically privatised. “The gradual municipalisation of these services and utilities, as cities democratised, was the victory of other values – public service, social equity, universal access – over the single metric of private gain.” This mass amnesia about the value of public utilities isn’t an accident, it has been facilitated by a state that doesn’t want the burden that these values represent.

We often hear about public bus systems in India that they are loss-making entities. They are attacked and vilified for not earning profits, despite the fact that they were never meant to do so in the first place. Indorewala writes, “A public transport system plays a crucial economic role; it facilitates the labour market by efficiently distributing workers all over the city. Almost every metropolitan public transport system in the world runs a deficit with the intention of partially socialising the cost of improving employment opportunities, reducing transport costs and cutting down travel time.

In fact, a public transit system is a subsidy to businesses, as it provides an indirect wage to their employees. When travel costs for workers increase, these will have to be paid through direct wages received from employers. The crucial point is that public facilities and services do not serve just the people who actually use them. By socialising costs and stimulating demand, they help economic growth while improving overall living standards.”

For a long time, with an eye on the economic benefits, the state has incentivised the production and sale of private transport. It offers incentives to automobile manufacturers as they contribute to the economy and provide employment. They create markets for them by providing credit in the form of car loans to consumers. But what if this wasn’t some kind of unilateral good? The incentivising of cars has led to increased air and noise pollution-choked streets and also the decline of the public transport system. Indorewala points out that the inefficiency of the bus system is partially because of the cars on the road. Reducing private transport would decrease congestion and increase the speed, efficiency and financial performance of the public transport system.

Thus, our roads form a metaphor for class warfare. The upper class buy cars and literally take up space. Space then allowed to working class people on the streets are the four walls of a bus. If we balanced incentivising the sale of cars with investment in the public transport system, not only would space be distributed more equitably, but traffic would flow faster, the air would be cleaner and there would be lesser noise.

Why more people should use public transportation

Bangalore conservancy workers on protest against sexual harassment by contractors

BBMP conservancy workers went on a massive protest on Wednesday against sexual harassment of women workers by contractors. The protest, organised by the AICCTU affiliated BBMP Guttige Pourakarmika Sangha, demanded that action is taken against the contractors, defaulted wages be paid immediately and BBMP fulfills its commitments to end contract system in waste management. Earlier this year, after major protests by pourakarmikas, BBMP had agreed to pay their wages directly without going through contractors. Even though a government order had been passed in this regard, the BBMP has not fulfilled the commitment due to backlash from contractors. When women pourakarmikas demanded back wages from the contractors, they were sexually harassed. In one instance, the contractor had allegedly asked the worker to reach under his pants to collect the wages. These incidents along with little action by BBMP against complaints led to the protests.

Kerala migrant recounts her travails in Saudi Arabia. Is anyone listening?

“In all my time there, I earned nothing other than these massive debts, and a body and mind full of wounds”, said Manjusha, a domestic worker who had a traumatic experience with a Saudi Arabian household before managing to escape. Her account in The News Minute sketches a regular pattern. A poor worker, unable to meet expenses as we have an unenforced minimum wage law, finds hope in migration. Travel agents and touts make use of the vulnerability, give false promises, and ship her to the middle east (in this case Saudi Arabia) as it is easy to skirt Indian enforcement and oversight systems. Once in Saudi Arabia, she is not paid her wage, physically and mentally abused. While the article narrates the painful experience, it does not account whether the criminals involved in this process ever paid a price for their crimes.

Tamil Nadu cine technicians left in the lurch as debate moves to GST and ‘Merasal’

While public attention had been focussed on the BJP-cinema industry spat over criticism of GST in a movie ‘Mersal’, the cine technicians have been without jobs for over two months with producers demanding they work for a lower wage and longer hours. The producers were also insisting that the technicians dissociate from their union. The technicians’ union was not allowed to go on an indefinite fast against these issues. The producers have been able to replace the technicians with retired workers, migrants and entry-level workers. There has not been much support for the technicians from major unions or political parties, or even celebrities from the industry.

Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh national president’s scathing assessment of the NDA Government

In a scathing indictment of the NDA government’s labour policies, C.K. Saji Narayanan ,the national president of Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, an RSS affiliated trade union, has countered the claims made by the central government for pushing labour reforms. “The present model of GDP growth is not inclusive; it benefits only a small creamy section of the society not the downtrodden and marginalised population of the country that lies in the social sector. Hence BMS had to take a strong critical stand against the policy initiatives of the successive governments,” he writes in an article in Outlook India.

International news

16 million strong All India Kisan Sabha join the international movement in support of Palestine

Earlier this month, the largest national organisation representing farmers and agricultural workers in India, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), has announced that it has joined the BDS movement. AIKS is spread across 21 states in India and has over 16 million members. BDS is an international movement that supports the right of the Palestinians to nationhood and fights to end ‘Israeli occupation’. The movement, comprising trade unions, academics, artists, grass root movements and other associations targets national governments and corporations against support to the Israeli government.

New Zealand: Migrant workers’ union demands return of deported Indian students

With a change in the New Zealand government, the Migrant Workers Association has raised the issue of the return of deported Indian students. The Labour party had shown support for the cause of the students before but their response now that they’re in power is to be seen. More than a hundred students had been deported after it was found that they had submitted fake documents to get their visa. But many of these documents were submitted by education agents without the knowledge of these students themselves. Many of the students have paid fees at their universities but were asked to leave anyway. Nine of them were provided sanctuary by the Auckland Unitary Church.

Weekend reading

Living not just surviving: At a time when automation is making workers redundant in production when climate change is threatening the very existence of human species, the article confronts the working-class movement about the vision for a future. It extols the working-class movements to “place the social and ecological reproduction at the center of its vision”. Arguing the limits of technocratic solutions to the problems of a capitalist mode of production, the article argues that the working class should not stop with struggles within the present system but to organise workers in the emerging service sectors that would become the future of a climate stable economic system. “In general, it will mean less work all around. But the kind of work that we’ll need more of in a climate-stable future is work that’s oriented towards sustaining and improving human life as well as the lives of other species who share our world. That means teaching, gardening, cooking, and nursing: work that makes people’s lives better without consuming vast amounts of resources, generating significant carbon emissions, or producing huge amounts of stuff.” Drawing heavily from US experiences, the author illustrates the possibilities for organising workers in sectors of social reproduction such as healthcare, education, domestic work etc. Overall, it suggests a slew of agenda points geared towards improving living standards and social relations within the working class, while drawing away from a fossil fuel dependent, production hungry economic system. But it does not provide any indication of how to organise production relationships if a higher standard of life has to be achieved even as work hours are reduced and production is ramped down.