Saturday, January 11, 2014


The Knock of Communism in the Electronic Age

(FMS, June 2013)

• It was during the period of wage workers being employed in production for the market – when the system of wage labour was growing from a sapling into a young plant – that Karl Marx revealed the inevitable necessity of communism and of wage workers as its social bearers. That the production and reproduction of material life is the result of collective efforts of millions of people has been of crucial importance for every social system. No god or king, no son of god or messiah, pope or khalifa, no scholar/saint/martyr, has been of such critical importance. Though the individual is important, it is the millions who are decisive. When social relations become fetters for a society’s productive forces, the rumblings for change grow louder and louder. Situations emerge of change or perish. While particular individuals and well-formed organisations do matter, conscious and active interventions by millions are of critical importance in the processes of social transformation. Challenges to this historical materialist analysis - despite its limitations - lack any force whatsoever.

• In Marx’s own time, individual ownership of factories was becoming a shackle on productive forces. Increasing turmoil brought the abolition of private ownership of factories on society’s agenda in Europe. Marx took this to be communism’s knock for ending the system of wage labour. But the end of private property and substitution of factory owners by companies led not only to the continuous development of steam and coal machines, but also to a progressive enhancement of productive forces through machinery run by oil and electricity.

• Alongside the continuous innovations in machinery and an increase in the number of and types of factories and companies, there was growth and expansion of schools and universities. The number of teachers, technicians-engineers, scientists, doctors and lawyers grew rapidly. The fundamental goal of this articulate and active social group was to statise everything. With the slogan of the abolition of private property (which was already rapidly dwindling), one section of the teachers/engineers/scientists/doctors/lawyers began to see itself as the vanguard of the workers. Kautsky, whose premise was that workers cannot attain a communist consciousness through their own movements and efforts, and that it can only come by studying philosophy-history-science-economics, was the theoretician of their organisation, the Second International. Those who adopted the Kautsky-Lenin premise that consciousness is brought to workers from the outside, saw themselves as teachers of workers.

• The worldwide expansion of the system of wage labour due to growing productive forces gave birth to and exacerbated many kinds of discontents. In 1917 in Russia, the widespread activity of workers against market-money, wage-labour related poverty/starvation, violence, divisions/discriminations, brought the Soviets into being. Following the footsteps of the 1871 Paris Commune by disbanding the army and arming all workers, the Soviets were the harbingers of communism. But soon, the establishment of a standing army, secret services, police, jails, and courts by the statist forces reduced the Soviets to a nominal existence. Under Lenin’s aura, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara became symbols of statisation. Their success revealed their bankruptcy – instead of ending the system of wage labour, statisation accelerated its expansion and enlarged the army-police-jail-court apparatus.

• Though steam-coal, oil and electricity based productive forces spread the system of wage labour to many parts of the world, in large areas, a major part of the population remained one of peasants-artisans. In South America, Africa and Asia, wage workers remained a small part of the population. While in Europe and North America, artisanal occupations and peasant agriculture had virtually disappeared by 1920-1930, in China and India, even in 1980, peasants and artisans played an important social role. In these circumstances, the worldwide and extensive mass upsurges against hierarchies, the money-market and the system of wage labour, could not emerge from the morass of statisation, despite the violence of the second mass slaughter of 1939-1945 and bloodshed in hundreds of wars in various parts of the world. And all efforts to make wage-work bearable, have been making wage-work increasingly intolerable. In this situation, waves of revolt all over the world in 1965-70…….

• The intervention of electronics in the production process began 40 years ago. Around two hundred years ago, the use of steam and coal energy in the place of human and animal muscle power was such a big leap in the productive forces that it severed the producer from his/her tools and established wage labour. Oil and electricity run machines were further big leaps in the productive forces. But the leap brought about by electronics is enormous and incomparable. In addition to invalidating Marx’s 1860’s analysis that production relations of wage labour had become fetters on productive forces, electronics has left no room for the propositions of their having become moribund since 1890 or of their expansion having come to a halt since 1914 or 1930. Over these forty years, electronics has transformed all spheres of social life the world over so extensively that discussions of a few years ago seem antiquated. The material published in Majdoor Samachar during 1990-2000 appears to us to be not just 10 or 20 years old, but rather ancient.

* Bus fares in Brazil, a statue in a park in Turkey, the rate of oil in Indonesia, nepotism in Bulgaria, corruption in Kenya, the price of oil in Nigeria, the protests against the one percent in the U.S., the desires of immigrant youth in Sweden, the wishes of native children and the young in England, the downsizing of government jobs in Greece...Tanzania – Iraq – Afghanistan – Pakistan – Russia – Cyprus – France – Spain – Germany – Italy – Saudi Arabia – China – Bangladesh – India-Egypt-…… here and there, in myriad forms, raising numerous questions, issues have begun multiplying at an astonishing pace. A very large number of people are joining in. An issue triggered off by one thing, soon includes many others- everything coalesces. By the time the authorities tackle the initial one, very many issues come to the fore, and people stop listening to the authorities. There are no leaders of the ebullient, surging and agitated crowds. Playful duets of joy and rage are engulfing the entire earth with melodies, with music of infinite rhythms and beats. The blending of festivity and rage is attracting increasing numbers, as it brings to fore the immense possibilities of life, the music of life. The police and security forces are unable to restrain the people. Governments of all hues are proving incapable of controlling people.

* Each government has strengthened its army and secret services also. The relations between soldiers and officers are akin to those between workers and managers. The U.S. government’s army’s own soldiers are revealing its secrets, and recently, the U.S. government finds itself in a soup over a little lifting of its veil of secrecy by a man named Edward Snowden who was an important functionary of its secret services. All regimes are shaky, and their condition is becoming so bad, that governments in Greece and Cyprus have taken twenty percent of the money from peoples’ bank accounts. 2011 and 2012 have somehow passed. But only half of 2013 has been crossed. Carrying images of seriousness – presidents- prime ministers- leaders- generals- chairmen- directors- managers- scholars- experts are extremely worried, none of them knowing how much the world will change in the remaining six months of 2013.
* The cocktail of joy and rage, festivity and fury, is today the throb of life. A glimpse of the joy and rage of factory workers was visible in Okhla, Delhi, on 21st February 2013. This is the tumultuous time of unique and together, for all and everyone. It is the pre-dawn of the ushering in of the new.
Electronics entered the production process in the U.S., Europe and Japan in 1970. Ten years later in China. Ten years after China, electronics entered the production process in India… In 1992 there was a discussion amongst managements in Japan about temporary and permanent workers. Permanent workers are costlier but they have some loyalty towards the company. Temporary workers are cheaper but they have no loyalty towards the company. These were the issues in that discussion. It was because of their increasing weakness that companies and governments found it beyond their capacity to have permanent workers (employees). The world over, in these last twenty years, the numbers of temporary workers have grown very rapidly. Moreover, the entry of electronics in the sphere of production has accelerated greatly the pace of inventions also. The increasing probability of the coming of new machines has further shrunk the space for permanent workers. The factory, which was increasing in size for over two hundred years, electronics has made it simple to break it in many parts and to relocate them in different places. The increase in the numbers of temporary workers does not reflect the strength of companies and governments, but rather their weakness. The absence of any loyalty whatsoever towards the company, the experiences of a large number of 20-25 year old wage-workers in dozens of factories-workplaces, residential-experiences in 3-4 towns-villages, dispels many an illusion and makes these workers very dangerous for companies-governments. Here an attempt is being made to give a glimpse of the changes and the possibilities through some examples from Faridabad and Gurgaon. Over the last twenty years, the number of workshops and factories has increased greatly, the number of casual workers and workers hired through contractors has grown at an exponential pace. During this period, the number of factories in Gurgaon has grown much faster than in Faridabad, together with a remarkable growth of call centers –BPOs, and the number of wage-workers in schools-hospitals-hotels-transport has become very large. It may be noted that in the year 2000 there were just three ESI dispensaries in Gurgaon, while in Faridabad there were two ESI hospitals and sixteen dispensaries.

* In the East India Cotton Mills located in Faridabad 300 clerks recorded the attendance, calculated monthly wages, bonus, gratuity, ESI, P.F. and advance payments of the 7000 workers there. With the coming of desk-top computers, two operators replaced the clerks. The East India Cotton Mills downed shutters in 1996 – most composite mills in India where spinning, weaving, processing, dyeing and printing were done in one place have shut down, even as in the same period, the production of cloth has increased manifold. Most workers in the cotton mills of Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Indore, Kanpur and Delhi used to be permanent. Today, in Surat alone, in thousands of places, one million workers weave cloth at piece rates on power looms, and in about a thousand other workplaces, another million workers dye and print cloth in two shifts of 12 hours each. Of the two million textile workers in Surat, not one is permanent.

* In Faridabad in 1995, just after the takeover of the Kelvinator factory, the Whirlpool company retrenched 2500 workers with the support of the union. There were 6000 permanent workers in Kelvinator, today there are 800 permanent workers in Whirlpool, and three times more refrigerators are produced. Only assembling is done at Whirlpool, the compressor and plastic divisions were sold to other companies. Permanent and temporary workers work side by side on the assembly lines – the salary of the permanent worker is 35000 rupees, while that of the temporary is 6500 rupees.

* In the Eicher Tractor factory in Faridabad the company had awarded the workers in 1989 for assembling a tractor in 15minutes on the line. The speed of the line was continuously increased and a tractor began to be made in 7minutes. The company set up another tractor factory in Bhopal in the year 2000. Increasing problems in reducing the number of permanent workers in Faridabad – the company shut down the factory itself here in 2003.

* Till 1990 the Escorts group located in Faridabad was among the ten top companies in India. With the coming in of electronics, a re-engineering of plants was done. Lathes were replaced by C.N.C. machines, and the conditions for large scale retrenchment were created. 98% of the workers in production work were permanent. In these circumstances, there was a management-union agreement to throw out workers on a large scale, but Escorts workers subverted the plan. The management’s proposals of 105 days wages per year of service, full pay till the retirement age of 58 years, were rejected by the workers. Yamaha, J.C.B. and Class separated from Escorts. Retirement and no new recruitments was the only path left for the company. The system of getting work done outside the factories and employing large numbers of temporary workers expanded.

* The Maruti Suzuki company in Gurgaon began employing temporary workers in production work in 1997. In 2000, after instigating and then crushing the workers, the company in 2001 and 2003 ousted 2500 permanent workers. In 2011 there were 15% permanent workers and 85% temporary workers in Maruti Suzuki.

* In the Hero company’s spare parts factory in Gurgaon, 4500 workers hired through contractors, sat down in the factory one day in 2006, demanding the abolition of the system of hiring workers through contractors. They continued sitting in the factory for four days. The management asked for representatives of workers for negotiations, and through them, diffused the matter. After some time, on 18th September 2006, in the Honda factory located in IMT Manesar, leaders announced a long term management-union agreement. The next day, on 19th September, in the 6.30 am morning shift, permanent workers went to their work places, but the workers hired through contractors went and sat in the canteen instead of going to their work places. Their co-workers of the B shift had assembled at the factory gate in the morning itself. Honda management – union – police – administration – courts on the one side and temporary workers on the other. The workers sat inside the factory for five days. Amongst them, some workers were those who had sat inside the Hero factory for four days.

We will discuss Delphi, and especially, Maruti Suzuki, in the next issue.

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