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The Indian Labour Movement Needs Rejuvenation

Created by Pranav Raj

Will the Indian labour & communist movement be able to use this opportunity to rejuvenate themselves?
Last year I watched a lot of political interviews. This was possible because of the scheduled assembly elections in my state & the luxury of time that I have because of prolonged lockdown. These interviews covered nearly everything; From Chirag Paswan’s role as salt in ‘Gathbandhan’s daal (Coalition’s food)’ to Gupteshwar Pandey’s ‘Gareebi (poverty)’ story.

But among all these, two interviews stayed with me- The first one of Sushil Modi, where we saw a major & experienced player recount his journey from the era of emergency to today. And the second one was Kanhaiya Kumar’s interview, purely because of the euphoria & public frenzy that surrounds him.

Kanhaiya kumar

Kanhaiya Kumar pointed out that trade unions have lost their relevance with changing production systems.

In his interview, Modi raised a valid point that how in their attempt of getting international, Indian communists lost their national character as well. In an answer to that Mr. Kumar although didn’t acquit his fellow comrades but tried to draw attention towards an issue that how the labor/workers union lost their relevance in changing economic/production systems.

A Loss Of Relevance

This was in reference to the IT revolution of the 1990s which completely changed the workplace dynamics & made worker’s unions irrelevant and obsolete. With an increased focus on individual aspirations, this system pitted the earlier brother -in -arms against each other.
Before the advent of this system, the companies and firms hired a number of people for the same position with the same pay scale & barring a few exceptions all these co-workers enjoyed the same perks & same emoluments. Thus they often joined hands against the management for collective gains.

But the advent of the era of CTC and packages made these brothers each other’s competitors. According to this policy, the company’s started offering a few workers the salary which was manifold the average salary of the previous regime. And this was publicized so much that no one even bothered to find out whether the rest of the cohort was getting paid way below the average salary.

This was a psychological trick to make workers feel that if you are getting underpaid & not getting some perks, it is not because of the firm’s dishonesty but your incompetence as the same perks are being extended to other workers in the same firm. This philosophy worked wonders as we saw that in a span of a few decades, how the majority of the planet’s wealth got concentrated in few hands. And this led to the beginning of the worship of the wealthy rather than wealth and this super-rich came out of their board rooms and permeated every aspect of our lives. If we leave the politics apart as it was always infested by money & accompanying corruption, we saw the rise of business tycoons as demigods.

Every Indian dreamt of going the Ambani way & every startup wished to grow Facebook’s way. Vijay Mallya & Subroto Roy replaced kings & princes from examples of magnificence & opulence. And just like the inevitable it was, these people fell. Even in that scenario when every citizen of this country was judging & passing their judgments on these individuals it was taboo for the employees of these people to do so at least officially.

Free Rein Of The Corporate Sector

In simple terms, the IT revolution unleashed a corporate system that broke the unity existing between the co-workers by making them competitors. And thus successfully converted the co-operative Labour market into a competitive one. Doing away with these checks made these firms so powerful that they themselves started considering themselves equivalent to sovereign governments. The articles in business magazines claiming that turnover of Apple inc. is more than the GDP of some countries that don’t work in isolation.

Rather they give rise to real-life conflicts like Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi v/s Jeff Bezos of Amazon which claim lives like those of Jamaal Khashoggi. Even as of now we are witnessing a similar situation in China when a (not so sovereign) Government is in conflict with a larger than life-sized Business Tycoon. These are just a few instances of public behavior. In private or personal life the behavior of these corporations has been much more unethical & corrupt. These stories vary from hush money payments by Google over sexual harassment allegations to the honey trap scandal of Yes Bank.

A New Hope

The list of such new era misconducts by businesses would go on. But the main point which I wanted to raise was that because of Worker’s unity getting nullified in the era of the tech-aided corporate rat race of individual aspirations these organizations got a free hand to turn autocratic.

In such a scenario, the news that the employees of Google have formed a workers union comes like a whiff of fresh air. This news becomes even more significant when we find that this event has occurred in Google – a pure tech-based firm that has been the progenitor of this rat race. Let’s hope that this small step would prove to be a giant leap and give new life to labor movements across the world in times when automation is knocking at the door.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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