Violence of any kind is bad. But, screaming television anchors and industry captains ‘demonising’ trade unions for the violence in the Noida industrial belt during the recent two-day strike, may be looking thus far and no further.

For, if they did care to look beyond their air-conditioned studios and offices, they would not have missed a more serious and palpable danger lurking on the fringes of India’s modern cities – the ‘tinderbox’ , consisting of a huge young workforce, which sees itself at a huge ‘demographic disadvantage’, excluded from the ‘fruits of progress’ created by their hard labour. Television footage, pictures, print media reports as well as police briefing said that a majority of those shown throwing stones, smashing glass and burning cars were youngsters, between 18 and 25 years old.

DEMOGRAPHIC DISADVANTAGE

Call them ‘goons’, petty criminals, misguided, whatever, but one thing is clear – these are residents of a fast urbanising India, working and living in ghetto-like conditions. Noida, or for that matter Manesar, are just the tip of the iceberg, says a union leader. With spiralling prices, erratic work hours, job insecurity, appalling living and working conditions, and, most important, no outlet for voicing their anger or frustration– this was waiting to happen, he adds.

What is more worrisome is that even seasoned trade unions admit they felt helpless once the situation went out of control. Labour experts put the blame on the Government for turning a deaf ear to workers’ demands, such as right to association and violation of labour laws by managements. In fact, after the Maruti Manesar incident last July, in which one official was killed, many labour experts had warned of simmering labour relations across the country.

A Haryana Government-sponsored investigation was done into the Maruti violence, but no one knows a word about its findings. What one does know is that 2,500 workers, of whom over 500 were permanent, were sacked! A new workforce was put in place, and the company’s cash registers started ringing again.Interestingly, on February 21, the second day of the strike, the ‘new’ workforce in the Maruti Manesar plant also joined the strike action by 50 unions in the belt. “After the Manesar incident, the workers feel the need to stick together, lest they too are targeted in future.

“How else can you explain the fact that all the new workers in Manesar decided to come out in support of the strike,” said a union leader. It was only after they decided to participate in the strike that the management decided to declare February 21 as a holiday, he claimed. The story does not end here (the two-day strike), AITUC leader, Gurudas Dasgupta said, at a press conference, adding that a “new social force” was emerging.

‘TIME BOMB’

It is time the Government and corporate managements pondered as to why labour relations are volatile, especially in the fringes of the Capital – Noida, Greater Noida, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Manesar, Dharuhera etc. The trade unions, who have ‘crowd control’ over workers in the organised sector, also need to think of ways to give direction to the restless, angry energy among the young workforce, most of whom are migrants or belong to nearby villages that have turned ‘labour reservoirs’ for the factories and industries that have mushroomed in the area. It’s a virtual time-bomb sitting on the fringes of modern cities. Yes, creating more jobs is necessary, but is just that enough?

(This article was published on February 27, 2013)
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