Resurgence of unionism in eew-economy India
If Managements were allowed to have their say, in the days to come by, Executives and Managers would be required to clean the office, do trouble shooting functions like plumbing and fixing the leaking faucet and take turns in manning the security room at nights. It is no longer cool to be hot Media too has played a tremendous role in shaping opinion in this regard. Movies in the 70s and 80s like Mazdoor and Namak Haraam glamorised poverty and made it fashionable to be oppressed. These films fostered the growth of the angry young man, who played the labouring David pitted against the capitalist Goliaths.
Today, movies like Dil Chahta Hai have made it “uncool” to be poor and helpless. Contemporary cinema now depicts the blatant consumerism that has flows in the veins of every Indian. The aspiration to belong among the elite is so overwhelmingly strong that it has eclipsed the need to stand up for one’s own rights at the workplace. Moreover, a rise in the number of educated people (including management graduates) has given rise to the perception that no one is under-privileged. Earlier, the parameters of demarcation of the privileged and under-privileged were clear.
These were based on demographic variables such as education, income and caste. It is commendable that discrimination, especially those that are caste based, no longer exists in our society (at least among private companies). But it is absolutely unacceptable to use equality as a means to suppress workplace rights. The scenario is sadly reminiscent of George Orwell’s classic “Animal Farm”, where a false sense of ownership and power is cultivated in the minds of the plebiscite by the Management. The statement “… all animals are equal. But some animals are more equal… ” strikes a grim chord in this context.
The hotter the iron, the softer it gets Downsizing is another ace up the Managements’ sleeve. Managements have quoted plunging bottom lines as the reason for their inability to increase manpower. Downsizing has been increasingly and effectively adopted as a cost-cutting measure. And this decrease in recruitment combined with exponential increase in the number of graduates has created cut-throat competition among potential and current employees. For two decades, following the failure of the mill workers’ strike, Managements have capitalised on the broken morale of the employee.
Job insecurity among employees is so high that they would rather agree to the terms of their Managements than lose their jobs. Employees today are so careful about not losing their jobs that voicing their grievances is for all practical reasons non-existent in companies. And the occasional murmur of discontent fails to make any impact because of lack of collective participation. The resulting scenario is that employees slog and toil, handle multiple functions, work during weekends and holidays, come early to office, stay up late, take back work home and yet do not make demands.
Livelihood at the expense of life A decline in manufacturing firms along with a growth in service firms has erased the demarcation between blue-collared and white-collared employees. Every other day marketing gurus keep churning out phrases like “customer satisfaction” and “customer delight” and “customer thrill”. This actually translates into “boss satsifaction”, “boss delight” and “boss thrill”. In their quest to depict a positive attitude towards work, employees have almost forgotten to say “NO” to disguised harassment.
In their quest to win the rat race, employees have turned a blind eye to the fact that they might win the race, but they still remain rats. Today’s undercurrents are tomorrow’s tsunamis The signs are there for all to see. The undercurrents are slowly gathering strength. Two decades of shameless exploitation by Managements have created a cauldron of suppressed emotions that is waiting to explode. In the coming decade, employees will no longer accept statements like “we are a flat organisation” and “we believe in multi-tasking” sitting.
Managements across India have to wake up to the fact that they no longer can dictate terms and mislead employees. The sooner they realise this, the better for their own good. The fight for one’s basic rights, be it in society or in the workplace can never stop. It can be dormant temporarily, but it can never cease to exist. It can adopt new ways to express itself and make itself heard, but it will never vanish. The time has come for employees across organisations to unite and stand up for their own good.
Recently new economy India was given a rude wake-up call by the Left-affiliated unions like AITUC and CITU that are vociferously demanding that unions be permitted in the BPO/IT industry, which they claim are violating employment norms and throwing labour laws to the winds by not adhering to basic work place rules, thereby resorting to violation of employee rights. In late 2005, this sparked off a nation-wide debate on the matter culminating in one of India’s leading national dailies carrying the debate in its editorial section.
The issue has risen once again and will continue to do so unless thought leaders realize that each time they choose to belittle it, they will only add fuel to the resurgence of unionism. To conclude… The next decade in corporate India will witness the establishments of such unions as ‘The sales executive association of India’ or the ‘The software programmers Mazdoor union’. The emergence of such unions will open the eyes of society to the fact that as long as Managements exist in the world labour exploitation will never vanish. It only takes on new forms. And that uniting against such exploitation is the only way to seek solutions.