Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

THE ORGANISATIONAL QUESTION OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ODISHA – A Note

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This is a note for a TU workshop in Odisha to be held in December (2014)

1. The mobility of capital and precarity of labour characterise the neoliberal transition of the economy. It is the fear of capital’s mobility that regiments governments to do everything in their capacity to make capital stay. Odisha’s government has similarly demonstrated its willingness to submit the tremendous natural wealth in the state to attract corporate capital, disregarding and even crushing every popular opposition.

2. In these more than two decades of implementing neoliberal policies, entailing a process of accumulation by dispossession has transformed the rural areas into an appendage to this developmental process. The dispossessed communities have been mobilised to support this process in the name of employment generation.

3. However, what we see today is a complete transition of rural areas into a vast reserve of “relative surplus population”, completely at the beck and call of corporate interests as cheap and dispensable workforce. This has changed the character of social and land relations in these areas. The integration in neoliberal capitalism has reinforced the subsistence character of agriculture. Instead of the productivistic and industrial character of capitalist agriculture, which can be found in restricted pockets, we find the function of the village economy being predominantly to sustain surplus population – to subsidise the cost of reproducing labour power of the floating and latent reserve army of labourers, thus ensuring an abundant supply of cheap labour force. This is statistically evidenced by the fact that Odisha is among a few states where the primary source of rural income is wage-labour, not profitability on agriculture.

4. It is this context in which the new social movement must be recognised and strengthened. The intensified process of proletarianisation that made various segments of population anxious in the 80s-90s and provided a ground for the rise of competitive identity struggles, is now rendering an opportunity for coordination and networking across identitarian and segmental divides.

5. The hegemonic institutions and ideologies continue to enforce divisions, of which Odisha has been a hotbed in recent years. But the prospect of countering this too has become stronger. Those who were working with tribals, dalits, forest dwellers and other marginal sections of the society, asserting their traditional exclusivist rights and livelihood are increasingly realising the re-signification of their work in the new context.

6. For instance, the institution of MGNREGA, whatever be its role in realpolitiks and in the management of migration, has made a drastic contribution in reenvisaging rural struggles. Wage and employment suddenly emerged at the core of rural struggles, and rural workers their vanguard. This fact has given new meanings to the activities that these workers do to sustain themselves – in forest, on land, in cooperatives, in SHGs, as migrants. A continuum can be easily visualised across reproductive and productive engagements of these workers that can provide an opportunity for recognising forms of struggles and organisations that can coordinate with one another. It is this critical awareness about workers’ struggles and organisations which needs to be strengthened and disseminated. This awareness is not something that can be reified and frozen, it needs to be transformed into a constant alertness and sensitivity towards the dynamism of class struggle.

7. Organisational forms are frameworks through which we try to grasp the daily struggles of the working class, which are waged at various levels of collectivity. When we talk about the “unorganised” nature of the working class today, it is essentially the crisis of existing organisational forms which are finding it difficult to comprehend the patterns in daily class struggle and in new forms of self-organisation and self-activity that evolve within these struggles. This crisis is productive in the sense that it gives an opportunity to the institutionalised labour movement to reground itself in the new conjuncture of class struggle characterised by informalisation, casualisation and contractualisation of the work process, which has drastically recomposed the working class.

8. As stated earlier, today in Odisha, too, we find a stable State totally committed to neoliberal development and industrialisation systematically transferring the infrastructure and natural resources for corporate profiteering. It is a tremendous task before the already marginalised labour movement here to organise itself to confront this sudden expansion of capitalist hegemony in every sector of economic activity. We find an intensification of primitive accumulation through old methods like land acquisition, deforestation, etc, coupled with new instruments of financialisation (chit funds etc.). This has intensified the process of proletarianisation, which along with an expansion of urban and semi-urban economies has drastically transformed the role of the village economy and agriculture – that of predominantly sustaining surplus population or footloose labour.

9. The increasing population of unemployed and underemployed youth being exploited as cheap and casual labour is an important element of the recomposed working class today. With no job security and an intensified competition for jobs of cheap, casual and contractual nature, today’s workers are vulnerable to all kinds of manipulations by state agencies (that includes political formations) which are reflected in sectarian conflicts on communal/caste lines, between ‘native’ and ‘outsiders’ etc. A recent significant case of such manipulation was visible in Talcher where the old contractor and the new contractor of loading/unloading activities in Talcher mines who were associated with main parliamentary political parties in Odisha used workers for violently settling their scores. It is in this lethal situation that the labour movement finds itself today, already mired by marginalisation and fragmentation on political lines. It poses the importance of autonomous workers’ organisations grounded in daily conflicts between labour and capital.

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Written by Pratyush Chandra

November 4, 2014 at 5:26 am

Posted in India, Labour, Orissa, Working Class

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