Day 26: Condition of workers


Day 26

Three types of readings constitute the days besides a few work related calls – a literary work in Hindi, one in English and then newspapers and media reports on workers. I am read Shrilal Shukla’s Raag Darbari and Olga Tockarzuk’s Flights, in turn. The blend is interesting. I want to record something about the third type here – workers and their lives during lockdown.

The condition of workers in informal and contractual jobs occupies significant space in the media lately. Individuals making way to their homes on foot, on cycle, stealing themselves in container trucks and other unimaginable ways is disconcerting. I spend time reading these. The integral of these individual stories is making a picture of what it means to be a worker in India. Perhaps, it is no good to be a worker on a temporary job, contractual basis without social security and wage guarantee anywhere in the world. But the strike dead, optionless situation that leads workers to take these jobs up is still staring at policymakers and governments which might want to do something about it. 

The mirage of unity and solidarity has been chased by the left and labour unions for far too long. If they were honest enough to reflect, they would have seen that conventional unionism and solidarity has lost its touch with reality. For instance, atomisation of workers and limited or no overlap of assigned tasks at work is a design feature of new jobs. A delivery worker is no longer required to work in tandem with another delivery worker. All of the elements of the chain, though bear resemblance of a chain, are distinct elements with accountability and consequences only to themselves and directly to a human-manipulated intelligent algorithm. Those calling for that good old ‘workers of the world unite’ (as I did too) do not understand that this unity is difficult to forge in the era of re-designed and highly individualized jobs. Another example, there is no factory floor anymore! How do you organize workers? Where do they meet? New age labour activists speak of organization through social media like Facebook and WhatsApp. Try that! In a single language system it works. In India, there is little chance that a worker speaking Telugu with limited English can touch base with a worker speaking Odiya with similar limitations in English. How will this limitation be overcome? It won’t be as long as the activists feel an inane set of social media platforms are an effective form of unity and solidarity building among workers. We only get academicians writing long posts on such FB pages with irrelevant references to arcane labour theories which exist only because someone wanted to do a PhD in labour studies. I intend to pursue a PhD too. I might add to such disconnected, snapshot research reports too. The complaint here is about being bold enough to walk away from the dimly lit and impervious house that conventional ideas in labour and sociology of work has made for themselves and for understanding contemporary labour and lives. 

Here are some that I read – 

Last call of man who died walking: Lene aa sakte ho toh aa jao –

Tamil Nadu man walking home from Maharashtra dies in Hyderabad –

India under lockdown: Migrant labourer pedals 1,700 km in 7 days to reach home –

22 Migrant Workers, Kin Have Died Trying to Return Home Since the Lockdown Started –

India’s lockdown extension sparks migrant worker protests –

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