In India outsourcing has two aspects. Generally, we are talking about India, which is developing, and in which an economic boom supported by information technologies is in process. This is the reality, but only an elite is benefiting from it.
All the foreign companies, American or European, have branches in India where new cities are emerging. These are cities outside the cities, known as “High Tech Cities”. They are not being built in the image of India but of America, or in the image of a Europe that does not perhaps even yet exist in Europe.
Admittedly, these companies pay “well”. Compared to the young Europeans who earn 1700 – 2000 Euro per month, a young man or a woman in India readily agrees to work for 300 – 400 Euros per month.
These jobs require a mastery of English, “English” English or “American” English, but not “Indian” English which is synonymous with absence of skill. When one wants to get a job in a company, it is thus necessary to take courses in “English” or “American” English, and these are very expensive. It requires almost six months of ones parents’ salaries, who invest everything in their child in order to provide him or her with a certificate of “good” English. Not all Indians can afford it.
In India, given the caste system, only persons belonging to the higher castes, who are already rich, can benefit from the right to participate in this new world. It is not Dalits, the untouchables, or the poor who will take part. In a caste system based on classes, it is the top class which sends their children to this new world.
Once selected, they live in a world of MacDonald, of Pizza Hut, etc., because those who work in the new world only get meal tickets for eating at MacDonald or Pizza Hut. It is necessary for both boys and girls to dress in European clothes. The saris and salwar kameez worn by Indian girls are not allowed. They must change their first name; when they receive a call from the United States or from London in the call centres, they must say: “I am Mary” but not “Laxmi, Savitri, or Kamla”.
Work at the call centres is geared to American working hours. The day starts here at 10 p.m. and continues up to 4 a.m. in the morning. All the young people work at night. They live in a complete time lag. They are cut off from Indian social life and from their families. They refuse to come back and live in their parental home. Small European and western-style buildings, with swimming pools, are constructed for them. They prefer to live in groups of 3-4 persons, in these new sites, within an imaginary world.
But only one social class has access to this world. They are trained to think of themselves as an elite, such that they reject trade unions. Unlike Europe where unionisation exists, these young people do not want to raise questions as workers, since they do not want to be recognised as workers. They think of themselves as part of an aristocratic lineage.
But there is also the other type of outsourcing – in the textile, clothing and shoe-making industries.
There, all is tragedy; it is another world, the world of the poorest. People come to obtain goods against money. They then work on the premises of the factories. Clothing work is paid at piece-rates. The workers are not paid from day to day but at the end of the week. If they are paid at the end of week, so much the better; otherwise it will be the following week. It is possible to install six electric knitting machines under a tent; twelve women work at them in relay, cutting and assembling. At the end of day, fifty to hundred pieces, finished in the evening, are sold to the companies. Clothing is then labelled according to the companies which will market them. Trade Mark, Noida, Surat are centres of this kind.
These workers are paid neither the minimal wages of the company, nor that of the country. They are unceasingly put in a situation of competition. The whole family works, the children, mother and father. In this “macho” society, the husband does the cooking if the woman must make the pieces to be sold.
The example of Honda is interesting to note. It is a large company located in Gurgaon, in the state of Haryana, less than 10 km from New Delhi; it employs nearly 4,000 workmen. One signs a statement before entering into a contract that no attempt will be made to form a trade union. In the event of problems, there is thus no recourse. Any attempt at unionisation involves the loss of employment.
However, on account of the difficult work conditions and particularly low wages, the salaried employees dared to create a trade union and to organise a petition. Seven members of the employees’ trade union were laid off. A spontaneous strike, mobilising the workers of the entire company, took place. It asked for a reinstatement of their trade union leaders as well as the improvement of work and wages, the second demand coming almost immediately after the first. Management reacted by a lockout and had recourse to the intervention of the state and its police force to intimidate the strikers and their families. The leadership systematically refused to dialogue. Attempts at mediation made by the government to find a solution failed. The police force created terror in the entire city, and a police shooting killed seven workers. Finally, all the strikers had to sign a promise to give up any trade-union organising before being reinstated in their jobs.
This kind of situation exists in all the special economic zones (SEZs). They are zones of slavery where the multinationals deal with people in a deplorable manner. The majority (60%) of workers are girls and women. The laws of the country, either those related to work or to living conditions, are not in force there.
It would be an error to counterpose political and economic democracy to participatory democracy. It is an error made in the European trade-union movement because there all is working out too well. After the Second World War, the workers of Europe, in great majority, acquired many rights and advantages thanks to the trade union movement which, through all their economic agitations, retained a political vision. With the rise of reformism, the trade-union movement started to work inside the system for economic gain, isolating the worker from the real world where he/she is confronted with rising prices, with bankfailures, wars, etc. The unions were content to highlight the economic aspects of these crises while refusing to explain them in their political context as problems of capitalism. This was responsible for a drift of the trade-union movement in Europe and for a mistrust of the word “politics” which frightens people who do not understand that all economic crises have their basis and their causes in the politics of the system. There is a fear of dealing with politics as if it were something “untouchable”. However, the economy does not function without politics, and vice versa. To create a wall between the two is artificial, and doing so has led to the collapse of trade unionism which still hesitates to face the new problems confronting it.
Today, we the workers of the developed or developing world are all victims of the rapacity of imperialist globalisation. Unemployment, casualisation, privatisation and all the other allied problems are a result of the politics of the free market, euphemistically called, “neoliberalism”, i.e. capitalism.
Krishna Murthy Padmanabhan is a member of Lal Zhanda, the Coal Mines Mazdoor Union, affiliated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)