May Day, Stormy May Day
One of the things that gig workers whom I have talked to for stories have constantly pointed out is the facelessness of the system they are dealing with, where complaint resolution has to be done through a mobile application. Last year, when Swiggy agents (named as "Delivery partners" by the company) in Kerala went on strike in protest against a drastic cut in their incentives amid the pandemic, most of them were confused as to where to go to protest.
That's how the capitalist system has evolved from the times when workers won all the rights that we hold dear now through collective bargaining. Many of the new age white-collared (And even blue-collared) workers fashionably diss trade unions, without realising that much of the rights that they enjoy now, from eight hour work days to periodic breaks and the smallest of the benefits were all won after years of struggle by these very trade unions. None of these were offered to the workers on a platter one fine day.
Now, the evolved capitalist system makes the workers feel good by calling them partners, and making them feel like they are their own bosses, but at the very same time tying them to an application almost every hour they are awake. Ofcourse, the workers have the freedom to switch off the application, but they stand to lose the money for that hour, not really a choice when they have loans to be paid off for the motorcycles or cars which they use for their work (of food delivery or taxi service). Nor are there any benefits if they fall sick or are injured during work, for they are their own "bosses".
Now, sectors where labour laws still apply are in no better shape. The Sanghi Government at the centre has over the past seven years chipped away at most of the worker-friendly clauses and used the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic to push through anti-worker, pro-corporate labour codes without any discussion. The clauses that were removed include everything from workers' safety to limitations on working hours to freedom to form trade unions and giving notice for protests. Some of these clauses which were dumped had been existing from the time of the country's independence. Unlike the protest against farm laws, there was hardly any larger discussion in the country regarding this, with much of the mainstream media closing their eyes to mammoth protests of workers across the country in almost all the sectors.
Ironically, this was also the period during which scores of journalists lost their jobs across a majority of media houses, with hardly any whimper of a protest. Maybe, this is a wake up call for those who retained their jobs to stop targeting the trade unions and maybe try to give them some coverage, atleast out of selfish interests. We are going through a period which has witnessed the biggest number of job losses across all sectors, partly induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and partly due to employers taking advantage of the pandemic. We also witnessed lakhs of migrant workers being forced to walk thousands of kilometres, with some of the perishing on the road, thanks to an unplanned, surprise lockdown announced by the clueless, narcissistic leader.
It is in this bleak scenario that we are celebrating this May Day. It is a reminder that the struggle for workers' rights is far from over, rather new beginnings have to be made in new, evolving sectors.
Let this be a long May day, which will extend to tomorrow (counting day cue), and beyond...