For Laborers – Especially Women and Youth – Things are Only Getting Worse Under Neoliberalism

In India even though theoretically the understanding of women's labor issues may be comprehensive, in practice it is still restricted only to the concerns of upper middle class.

In the last year, or in the one before it, the news of the death of a woman security guard employed in the private sector appeared in the newspapers. It was published because in spite of being at the final stages of her pregnancy, she was denied a leave by the company.

As the reports said, the company was stuck to deducting the pay in exchange for providing the leave, and in the struggle for trying to earn money for each day, the woman till her final breathe – languishing in malnutrition and having been denied appropriate rest – continued to labor in the company. These reports appeared for a few days, and with time, they disappeared faster than they even came. Instead, the events following it should have been nationwide campaigns by women and labor groups demanding justice, discussion and analysis in the universities of the contemporary labor situation, and marches by college students who are going to be a part of the labor market in the future against this tragedy.

Through the silence which pervaded after the event, it can be understood that in India even though theoretically the understanding of women’s labor issues may be comprehensive, in practice it is still restricted only to the concerns of upper middle class.

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How Neoliberalism has added to the thousands of years of patriarchy and theocracy must be getting discussed in universities. If it isn’t, then it should. The rights achieved by centuries of struggles of women are being snatched away by the current Neoliberal establishment in the context of the laboring class of women.

For Women, especially of working class, the question of motherhood stands as a problem because the private employer is absolutely conservative in its approach. This conservatism can be categorized as nothing less than inhuman. Inhumanity, is indeed the stable undercurrent flowing in the entire system. And the biggest victims of this system are the women of the working class.

There are laws. There are excellent laws and facilities in the government sector regarding motherhood. And perhaps in parts of the private sector too.

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But, the important question is whether the private sector is even compliant or bothered about these laws. The realities show that it is obvious that the private sector tears apart the laws, and the concerns and protests of the workers die down in the noise of this society.

Stability, is the first demand in the road to achieving lawful facilities in the private sector. There have been so many amendments and roll backs in labor laws that the private sector now hires a miniscule amount of permanent employees.

Contractual, day-wage, ‘ad-hoc’, these are some of the ways through which over 90% of the workers find employment in the private sector. These employees don’t receive any benefits or facilities. We will be further baffled if we see the list of changes and amendments done by the Modi Government during the time of Coronavirus itself. As soon as we begin to talk about the issues of labor, we are labelled communists, and then it doesn’t take long to become anti-nationals too.

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Modi Government has given the freedom to the corporate overlords to turn the permanent, stable employment relationship into a contractual, ‘informal’, unequal relationship. The law giving freedom to companies employing less than 300 people to fire any amount of people without any need of government consent stands as a testimony to this. When I say that the youth should have lead marches all over the country to protest against the death of the security guard, it is because soon they are the ones who are going to be looking for employment. The majority will have to join this contractual relationship, get condemned into the inhuman process of ‘outsourcing’, and try to survive with the daily wages. They should see the tragedy of women in this system they are going to join.

The Uninformed Youth

If we do a survey of 18-25 year olds regarding how and to what extent the labor laws have changed in the past years, we’ll find more than 90% of them unaware. This is when almost all of them have to later find jobs in the society whose economic, social and human paradigms are changing. From stable to contractual, from contractual to outsourcing, from benefits and social security to revoking of entitlements, these are the realities which today’s youth is not in touch with and in denial of but which they will have to confront sooner or later.

However, this is not to say that they are to be blamed for their ignorance. The manufacturing of their ignorance is part of the strategy which the establishment creates against them. The political preferences of their parents is harming their future, and a large part of their generation is itself lost in the maze of ‘Whatsapp University’. A topic of research can indeed be about when exactly a generation became so complacent and unaware about its own future.

This article was originally published in Workers Unity in Hindi and has been subsequently translated by Ananya Kumar.

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