Labour

The Life of Labour: 100th Anniversary Of The Russian Revolution

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Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Illustration by Aliza Bakht

Remembering the Russian Revolution

November 7, 2017 marked the hundredth year since the October Revolution in Russia. This landmark event of the 20th century defined the central conflict of the past century and shaped world events for the next several decades. The revolution was a seminal influence on the struggles of oppressed peoples across the world, be they the working class in Industrialised Europe, the colonial subjects of Asia and Africa, or ethnic minorities in their fight for self-determination. The ideological conflict that arose from this revolution led to our first leap beyond earth towards the moon and Mars, but also threatened a ‘nuclear holocaust’ until the end of Cold War. Hailed universally as a defining moment in history, its ripples have faded fast. A century later, this historic day is hardly remembered, let alone celebrated.

Communists hold parade at Moscow’s Red Square, the ruling elite shy away

Members of the Communist Party of Russia commemorated the centenary of the Russian Revolution by holding a parade at the Red Square in Moscow, historically a stage for a grand show of power and pageantry during the Soviet times. The celebration was subdued, with President Vladimir Putin and the ruling dispensation shying away from marking the historic significance of this day at a time when there has been a series of protests that have challenged the government.

Pointing out the attempt by the Russian government to ignore the event altogether, Oliver Carrol writes in The Independent that the chequered history of the Soviet Union that succeeded the revolution has left the following generations with conflicting memories. The article further argues that even though the present government has little to fear about a revolutionary movement, they have little to gain from marking the event or commenting on the period either in negative or positive terms.

Latin America celebrates the Russian Revolution

Latin American countries have taken a lead in honouring the revolution and its leaders with a series of events in different countries. In Cuba, President Raul Castro highlighted the relevance of the October Revolution stating “the principles of equality, solidarity, internationalism, social justice, the people’s right to self-determination, independence, and sovereignty, were the basis of the October Revolution and will also continue to be the basis of ours.”

In Venezuela and Bolivia, President Maduro and Evo Morales participated in various events commemorating the revolution. Newsweek published a photo essay about the celebrations around the world.

A five-day celebration in the UK

From October 19-23, over 300 Marxists from across Europe gathered in London for the October Revolution festival – a commemoration of the centenary of the Russian Revolution. An audience of around 150 revolutionary activists were in attendance at the packed rally which began with the premiere of a new documentary about the life and ideas of Leon Trotsky produced by the International Marxist Tendency. The documentary gave a detailed analysis of Trotsky’s role in leading the Russian Revolution, as well as highlighting Trotsky’s defence of the traditions of Marxism and Bolshevism against the Stalinist bureaucracy. The keynote speech at the rally was given by Leon Trotsky’s grandson, Esteban Volkov, who joined the meeting via video link from the Trotsky museum in Mexico, in the house where Trotsky was assassinated. Here is a report from Marxist.com.

The relevance of the revolution to India’s past and present

In India, the celebrations were low key with flag hoisting ceremonies and speeches confined to left party offices. The Wire published a series of articles, historicising and evaluating the revolution. The Indian Express carried an article by Hari Vasudevan on the relevance of the revolution to the Indian freedom struggle. Thozhillalar Koodum published an opinion article on the renewed relevance of the Russian Revolution to the Indian working class

Other news

Massive mobilisation of workers in New Delhi against central government policies

Central trade unions had called for a massive mobilisation in New Delhi between November 9 -11. Workers from across India poured into the national capital braving the deadly smog in New Delhi. Newsclick reports that over 70,000 workers gathered in the first ever mobilisation of workers against the NDA government’s labour policies. The demands included the end to contractualisation in the garb of ‘Ease of Doing Business’. While the government has failed to engage substantially with the concerns raised by the unions, they tried a last-minute PR exercise when the Minister of State for Labour Affairs, Santosh Gangwar, held a discussion with the unions on November 7 urging them to “engage constructively”. The discussion failed to resolve the outstanding issues. Though many left and progressive unions are not part of the coordination committee of Central Trade Unions, they supported the protest and urged workers to participate in the dharna. Here is the New Trade Union Initiative’s statement on this issue.

Delhi High Court says that industries who don’t pay minimum wage have no right to continue

In a stunning judgement, the Delhi High court came out strongly against industries not paying minimum wages, declaring that they had “no right to continue”. In the central part of the judgement, the Court wrote, “Payment of minimum wages is, therefore, an essential characteristic of humanity. Extraction of labour without payment of minimum wages, per corollary, would reflect an attitude which is inhuman… …Non-payment of minimum wages, to a workman is, therefore, unconscionable and unpardonable in law. It strikes at the very root of our constitutional framework, and belies the aspirations set out in the preamble thereto.”

IT Union gets Labour Department approval in Karnataka

In yet another victory for the workers in IT and ITES sectors, the Karnataka Labour Department permitted the establishment of a sectoral union for IT employees, the Karnataka State IT/ES employees Union (KITU). With 250 members of the sector affirming their affiliation with the union, the labour department consented to its formation. In a state that has become a hub for IT services but made special provisions to exclude the IT sector from labour regulations, this is a major development. KITU is affiliated to CITU.

NTPC accident points to a wider need to document and reduce workplace mishaps

Bharat Dogra writes in The Wire about the broader need for data and discussion around occupational safety and health after the horrific accident at NTPC where 29 workers died and more than a hundred were injured. He quotes a study in the Gurgaon Manesar industrial belt in 2015 which “revealed that nearly a thousand workers experience serious accidents in the belt in a year, most of which result in permanent disabilities.”

From Foxconn to Rising Star: How the company is running circles around its workers

After suspending operations in 2015 and letting go of more than 1300 workers, Foxconn returns to the same factory but in the form of an associate company, Rising Star. The new company allegedly denied its link to Foxconn and refused to rehire the old workers. But this company seems to be intimately related to Foxconn. Their Facebook page claims that it is part of Foxconn Technology group. The protesting Foxconn workers claim that many of the personnel — like HR managers — in Rising Star are same as the Foxconn plant of Sunguvarchatram. The address of the two companies is almost the same. Finally, we also found that both the companies have the same board of directors.

Thozhilalar Koodam reports that “the workers claim that Rising star has hired 9000 contract workers distributed over three shifts. All of the new hires are women and have been hired as contract workers.”

Foxconn on strike in Kashmir’s Baglihar hydro project

Daily wage workers at the Baglihar Hydro Project have been on strike for a month demanding that their services be regularised. The 900 MW power plant is run by the Jammu and Kashmir State Power Development Corporation. The daily wagers have highlighted their demands in various meetings held by them with the management of the Power Development Corporation. They alleged that they were always assured regularisation of their services but the management of the corporation has failed in keeping their commitment to the daily wagers for more than five years.

International news:

Zara workers use garments to send S-O-S messages

Zara is a leading international fashion brand spanning over 2000 stores and worth over $8 billion. Yet, its workers have not been paid wages for months together forcing them to send SoS messages to customers. The workers have found a unique mode of connecting and communicating with the customers. Instead of taking to mainstream media or social media, they have been leaving notes of plea on the garments they are stitching and packing. Associated Press reports that customers in Istanbul and Turkey are finding notes that read ‘I made the item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it’. The Independent has published a longer article tracing the brand’s history of violations of environmental and labour regulations.

Billionaire shuts down the US and Chinese news sites after staff join union

The Guardian reports that Joe Ricketts, “the billionaire backer of a string of local news websites that spanned New York to Shanghai has sparked outrage by shutting them down just a week after reporters in one newsroom voted to unionise.” This move leaves 115 journalists out of work. Portraying himself as the taker of hard decisions, Ricketts, a Trump supporter, wrote, “Unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed. That corrosive dynamic makes no sense in my mind where an entrepreneur is staking his capital on a business that is providing jobs and promoting innovation.”

Responding to Ricketts in The Baffler, one of the sacked journalists wrote, “The union was how we became closer as reporters; it was also what allowed us to learn each other’s strengths and skills. At the level of non-rhetorical esprit de corps, the union also gave us the hope for a shared journalistic future that had us staying up late hours to work and research and do our damndest to keep people informed. As the old refrain goes, the union made us strong—not Joe Ricketts, not his money, not his decisions, and certainly not his “direction.””

Weekend reading

This week’s theme is the Russian Revolution. At The Guardian, Tariq Ali recommends ten books on the subject. It’s not the best list in the world but one of the books, Ten Days That Shook the World, is as good a place to start as any. The book is a first-hand account by an American, John Reed, who went to Russia at the time of the revolution. But a gentle disclaimer: Reed’s sympathies are clearly with the Bolsheviks. In his own words, “in the struggle, my sympathies were not neutral.”

Another interesting overview of the literature can be found in the London Review of Books by the historian Sheila Fitzpatrick, an author of a book on the revolution. She even selects the recent book ‘October’ by the acclaimed writer of fantasy, China Miéville. “Miéville is not a historian, though he has done his homework, and his October is not at all weird, but elegantly constructed and unexpectedly moving. What he sets out to do, and admirably succeeds in doing, is to write an exciting story of 1917 for those who are sympathetically inclined to the revolution in general and to the Bolsheviks’ revolution in particular. To be sure, Miéville, like everyone else, concedes that it all ended in tears because, given the failure of revolution elsewhere and the prematurity of Russia’s revolution, the historical outcome was ‘Stalinism: a police state of paranoia, cruelty, murder and kitsch’. But that hasn’t made him give up on revolutions, even if his hopes are expressed in extremely qualified form. The world’s first socialist revolution deserves celebration, he writes, because ‘things changed once, and they might do so again’”