CK Saji Narayanan
IT is for the first time in India’s history that a two days’ successful strike has taken place i.e. on 20, 21 February 2013. Workers in the country have made it historic. Last year there was one day strike, but the Government and Prime Minister tried to ignore it. But this time Prime Minister was forced by circumstances to respond at the last moment by constituting a four member Ministers’ committee to hold talks with Central Trade Unions. Labour militancy and the age of industrial conflict and strikes are back in India apparently due to greater and growing discontent among workers today.
India has seen militant trade unionism in the 1970s and 1980s. After the reform process started in India in 1990s, both the Central and State Governments were seen withdrawing from social sectors, economic sectors (by deregulation), banking sector, Industrial relations, PSUs (by disinvestment) etc. During the last two decades of reforms, our country witnessed job losses for lakhs of workers, massive closures, VRS, contractualisation, unorganised workers without social security, suicide of two lakh farmers etc. After two decades of lesser strikes, the new era of strikes had started. Circumstances forced 11 Central Trade Unions under the leadership of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh to pursue the aggressive path of holding two days strike.
Swami Vivekananda has described strike as a sign of awakening of labour. He said: “But times have changed. The lower classes are gradually awakening to this fact and making a united front against this, determined to exact their legitimate dues. The masses of Europe and America have been the first to awaken and have already begun the fight. Signs of this awakening have shown themselves in India, too, as is evident from the number of strikes among the lower classes nowadays. The upper classes will no longer be able to repress the lower, try they ever so much. The well-being of the higher classes now lies in helping the lower to get their legitimate rights.” (Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. VII P. 148-149)
After the two days strike, the very same workers who abstained from work for two days will work overtime to clear off the backlog. Still employers organisations are claiming that there is loss of Rs.26000/- Then whose money is lost? Who will gain? It is the money of big corporates or private big business houses which may be lost, and not of the common man who are suffering from the skyrocketing price rise, or farmers who are on the verge of suicide, or the workers who are denied minimum wages and social security. So the age old theory that strike will cause loss to industry has least relevance. This strike is for the common man, the workers and the farmers.
Many parts of India is witnessing breakdown of labour relations. Industrial relations of the country is turning to a collapse thanks to the breakdown of tripartism in the country and due to the lethargy of the Government. Violation of labour laws has resulted in killing of managers in places like Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki, Allied Nippon factory, Precol in Coimbatore, Yanam in Pondichery, Assam plantation etc. This is called “Gory Reactions” which is widely seen in Central China. But our country which gave birth to Gandhiji who used non violence as an effective weapon of protest should not be desperate to resort to such violent means. Such violent reactions take place in work places where central Trade Unions are generally weak. As a responsible central trade union, BMS condemns all sorts of violent actions whether on the side of management or workers.
In Manesar Maruti plant, management has been indulging in constant violation of labour laws with the assistance of Government. Contract labour law, equal remuneration Act etc. were violated and tripartite agreement was not implemented by the management. The request to form trade union has been rejected by management and registration has been denied by labour administration. There was meagre number of permanent workers and increasing number of temporary and contract workers. They were compelled to work with low wages and poor working conditions. Workers were suffering from dictatorial and abusive behaviour of supervisory staff. Management even engaged outside goondas to manhandle protesting workers. Management arbitrarily altered the workload and work rules without consulting trade unions. Workers were forced to execute good conduct bond to continue in their jobs.
There was de-recognition of unions and massive dismissal of workers. In one instance, 500 permanent workers were dismissed en-masse without any enquiry. Police, labour administration and local administration acted at the command of employers. Letters of management were served by the Police. These are not only violation of labour rights but violation of human rights too. Japanese ethos is not followed by Japanese management personnels, once they are in India. Time tested values of Industrial Relations and Human Resources development systems were ignored by the management. All these have led to the gradual breakdown of tripartism and collapse of industrial relations in the area. Unrest is breeding and growing among workers especially among the younger workers. Management, Government and Government machineries like Police and Labour administration are equally responsible for workers unrest. This is quite unprecedented in the recent history of Indian Industry.
Central Trade Unions are weak in the area. Total absence of a Government machinery to settle disputes as in other parts of the country also led desperate workers to resort to violence as a means of redressal. It is quite disturbing that both violations and violence are increasing around national capital in areas like Noida. India is bleeding at Noida. Now again the Government has provoked all the central Trade Unions by the arrest and detention of its workers for no reason at Noida. Hence Trade unions are forced to intervene in the issues in Noida.
The HR professionals, the critics and Trade Unions are divided with for and against arguments on the actions and the way of handling Industrial relations issues by the Maruthi Suzuki. BMS believes that strike should always be the last resort. The question arises whether there is any alternative for strike?
Academic experts on HR propose three models of Industrial relations viz. 1. Unitary or authoritarian approach 2. Pluralist or adversarial approach and 3. Marxist model- annihilation of the exploiting class. But all these are defective western models with common historical and philosophical background. Our basic law regulating industrial relations is the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. It is based on the principle of “master-servant relations”, which is a model imported from the west. The European history had the periods of slavery and feudalism. The “master-slave relationship” of the said period reformed into “master-servant relationship” after the industrial revolution. This model has been adopted in India through our ID Act. Further, western paradigm looks at nature, women, labour etc. as mere commodities. The use of the word “labour market” implies that labour is a commodity for sale. Concept of HR (Human resources) also looks at labour merely as a “resource”. The procedure existing under the ID Act to manage industrial relations is based on the adversarial concept. i.e. management and labour are considered as two conflicting parties and Government’s role is to act as an umpire in that fight called “collective bargaining”. The concept of ‘might is right’ or ‘survival of the fittest’ is implied in the concept of ‘collective bargaining’. There the more powerful will win the bargain. Even though several of our labour reformers proposed change in at least the name of the ‘Industrial Disputes’ Act into ‘Industrial Relations’ Act, till today that could not be materialized. The change from the concept of ‘three parties (tripartite)’ into ‘three social partners’ is also less recognized. Industrial relations cannot be just a bundle of laws and rules. It is basically a question of attitude or work culture. Hence the western model of industrial relations cannot address the modern issues in the sector.
So a shift in paradigm is required. Then what will be the model that our ethoes would propose?
Santhiparva of Vyasa’s Mahabharata mentions that the said question was raised by Dharmaputra to Bhishma while Bhishma was lying in the bed of arrows. Dharmaputra asked a very complicated question: “How do a king rule his kingdom?” The modern management experts might propose various complicated theories, doctrines or models. But Bhishma smiled and gave the most simple answer: “Rule like a father!” (piteva pasi dharmajna). Even a child can understand this answer as he has seen his father affectionately looking after the family. Thus the model that Indian paradigm has to contribute to the world regarding almost all types of mutual relations is “family relations”. Hence we consider our Nation as Bharata mata. The education has the Gurukula system where Guru and his wife are treated as father and mother by the students. The problem of atrocities on women can be addressed if every other woman is considered as mother- “matruvad para dareshu”. International relations are based on “vasudhaiva kutumbakam”. The relationship of man with nature is also based on the Atharv Veda concept of ‘mother earth’- ‘Prithvi mataram’ or ‘putroham prithivya’.
In the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972, our Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi quoted Atharva Veda mantra and popularised the slogan “Mother Earth”. Thereafter the US school buses carried the slogan “Mother Earth” to educate their children about the attitude towards nature. It was a new experience for the west which heard only about “exploiting nature”. It was a spark of a different paradigm!
Regarding industrial relations also, from the beginning, BMS had been proposing the concept of “Industrial Family”. The most successful model of Industrial relations in the world is that of Japan. Japan which was destroyed in World War II could within a span of 10 years, rise from ashes and regain its glory to became the most industrialized nation, mainly because of its peculiar culture of industrial relations. There both management and workers dedicated themselves for the development of their industries and Nation. “Made in Japan” (1986) is an autobiography of Akio Morita, the founder of Sony Corporation, which is often treated as a text book of the said Industrial relations in Japan. He explained the success of the Japanese philosophy of ‘people management’ as ‘to create family like feeling’- “The most important mission for a Japanese manager is to develop a healthy relationship with his employees, to create a family like feeling within the corporation, a feeling that employees and managers share the same fate.” In Japan employers show a high level of work culture and thus strike is almost unnecessary. There even token protests by workers are heavily honoured. Thus work culture is not worker’s culture alone; it is the culture of management as well.
There should be “self-restrictive, alternate and effective redressal mechanism” to render strike unnecessary. Thus industrial relations like any other human relations is a question of attitude. Hence HR should be ‘Human Relations’ and not ‘Human Resources’. ‘Tripartism’ should give way to the concept of ‘three social partners’. ‘Industrial harmony’ is a better word than ‘industrial peace’. The Communist model of class war theory says perpetual conflict is the basis of industrial relations. It has also proved to be false theoretically and in practice. Hence Industrial Disputes Act is to be replaced by an ‘Industrial Relations Act’, based on our National ethos. Collective bargaining of two parties should be replaced by National Commitment of both the partners.
Bipartism should be promoted at all level. Only if bipartism fails should tripartism come into picture. Bipartism means direct relations between worker and management without the Government having any role. Spread of Bipartism requires a paradigm shift to a sort of stateless society. A cultural shift from patriarchal society to matriarchal society is required. Patriarchal society is where violation of laws and rules are punished. Matriarchal society is where it is not the laws but Dharma which is the driving force of progress. For that, change in values and mindset is required. A new industrial culture is to be created. Fortunately in India it is easily possible than many other societies. India has the minimum police stations. There are tens of thousands of villages which had worked without police assistance for a long period. In Bali there are hotel rooms which have no lock and keys. Now let us think about litigation free villages, liquor free villages etc. This is least Governance leading to a stateless society.
(The writer is president of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh)