Friday, August 29, 2008

Workers Unite, CPM’s Divided

Born to a father, who in his own right left his legal profession to be a full time communist and a trade union leader, I was introduced to political slogans such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, which translates as ‘Long Live Revolution,’ and ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’ at a very young age –when children of my age at the time were perhaps just getting introduced to Sinbad, the Sailor.

Those were the times when words had meaning and actions had purpose. And I loved those slogans for both – the meaning and the purpose they held.

But in time, as I grew up ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ gradually lost meaning – perhaps due to the overuse of it and in places where it had no meaning and purpose. I could never see a revolution at work anywhere. And, after all those strikes and slogan mongering, issues were settled finally by a compromise talk, often compromising the issue itself, or the very purpose, of the so called revolt.

But ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’ was one that remained in tact in me– with all its meaning and purpose. Workers were to stand united, because communism was beginning to wane since the late eighties and the imperialist west was fast invading the world with their profit-oriented capitalist claws and insatiable greed. The rights of workers were to be preserved – it had taken years for the humanists of the world, who once termed themselves communists, to get them the basic rights to live a decent human life. Not to mention the plight of workers before, a researchable story.

Joining an Indian private company in my home state of Kerala, a stronghold or a vice-grip for Communist ideals, I revelled in awe at the way communism and trade union changed the lives of workers – All Pay and Little (No?) Work!

I joined as an engineer trainee in 1993, and got to know engineers and managers who borrowed money from fourth-grade workers on interest to pay their house rents or vehicle loans. The workers were rich doing overtime for double pay; the managers lost time and money doing overtime. I saw the utter remorse of managers, as I awed the dignified complacence in workers.

Managers were not workers, they were part of the management; I was told. They could not join or participate in worker unions under the employment contract. They could face termination if they ‘revolted’ at work.

I began to like the slogan ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’ more…If that could extend to managers as well, how it would have helped their lives too. Most of the managers worked 12 hours a day, as against the 8 hour shift for workers –if they got their rightful due, it were so good.

But fearing job loss they chose to be divided, happily paying their salaries in interest to workers.

To digress a bit, though not unconnectedly -- While I started climbing the management ladder, I was granted a feeling I was part of the management. You know, people who could control the course of the organisation – a feeling of pride.

But no sooner I was told in a meeting – ‘See Devika, ‘the management’ has decided….’ I realised I belonged to nowhere -- Not the management, not the working class; when I decided to dump the job. By the time I was in Delhi.

Here, I got introduced to a different class of workers, though the capitalist management remained the same.

Workers – un-united they were -- who try all means to please the management for getting their dues. Toiling their evenings in extended work-hours with no or meagre extra benefits, running on domestic errands for the managers, and, and, and ….I could see no dignity in their face, when they stood before a manager, with beseech in their eyes…

I liked the slogan more, even urging them at times --‘Workers of the World, Unite!’

The recruitment letters to managers, including me –ununited, not to say – resembled those issued to warriors, shielding the nation. “You shall be on call, any time 24X7”, with the unsaid clause the pay packets shall be for the 8hours/day agreed in the recruitment contract… I saw many being pushed down or out of the management ladder as they grew in age…and those who stayed invariably made it a point to subscribe to group health/life insurance policies. Life was surely risky...

I liked the slogan more --‘Workers of the World, Unite!’ even extending it to ‘Managers of the World also, Unite!’

And the day, I saw the chairman of my company sitting in his cabin gazing the floor, shrewdly counting the manager-legs that crossed the door at 6pm towards their home; I knew I was a target. I decided to dump that job too…

And began to like the slogan more and more, as I ventured the world of freelance work - life of a worker, aiming for a decent life, is hard! Rightful pay for lawful work is a dream; some realise it, some just keep seeing the dream…

But now I read: the CPM – the Communist Party of India (Marxist)– the guardian of Indian working class stands divided on the right of workers to protest. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the new age ‘Budha’ (enlightened soul) of CPM and the Chief Minister of West Bengal who is trying hard to get the Singur deadlock out, has said that he does not support bandhs. The WB state secretary Biman Bose said that Buddhadeb was not talking on behalf of the party, which continues to hold ‘right to protest as a fundamental right of workers'.

True, bandhs and hartals have grown to disproportionate levels in India’s two communist states—Kerala and West Bengal – levels uncondonable. The CPM is paying a price for taking their ideals to uncanny heights. What does a worker rightfully claim if there is no industry/workplace to work??

Today, The Hindu reports that two senior leaders (though not Buddhadeb himself) of the party – Bimal Bose and Shyamal Chakravarty – said that Buddhadeb has ‘accepted’ the view of the leadership of the CPM and that ‘chapter (was) closed.’

Well, to me, the onlooker that I claim to be, the chapter isn’t closed. Its just beginning to open…Perhaps, Buddhaded succumbed to the Polit Bureau knowing the fate of Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. Or, perhaps the CPM won him over somehow for the fear of losing its top-class leaders in a row!

The division within the party is evident and showing elsewhere too -a creepy urge for money and power is gripping the party. It stands divided on many issues that were once the basis of its formation. While their petty in-party schisms raise no interest, the stake this time is high. The Indian working class may eventually lose a right that was gained after much revolt, through one of the ‘real’ revolutions in world history.

On this note, I, a victim of the system in my own right, and a humble onlooker urge:

‘Workers of India, Unite!’ – CPM, your guardian, is set on course to divide, and guarding you is becoming less of a priority to them. A right to claim a rightful life – fair pay for fair work -- is just ‘your’ responsibility!


‘Managers of the World, Realise!’ – You are just an other worker, though a ‘glorified’ one at that. The choice to assert your right, is your right alone, though!

PS: I have not said about the vices of present day trade unionism and labour union, not because I’m the daughter of a trade union leader, but because it’s a long topic and needs to be dealt with separately….some other time, perhaps!

I am only proud to be known as the daughter of my father – a trade unionist and communist, who stood for the rightful rights of the worker, even as he realised the need and role of industries in a developing society. As I gain in age, I hold his views close to my heart, as the fine memories of him.
And, lastly: The profuse use of 'I' in this post is to stress the subjective view point. You can always have yours...