S V Singh //
Covid-19 virus has delivered a knock- out punch to the tattering capitalist economies the world over, more so in India. Lethal pandemic is proving to be equally deadly to the human beings and economies. Much hyped ‘vibrant- 5 trillion Indian economy’ is bruised, battered and bleeding from the nose, quite literally. The worst and instant impact of a drowning bourgeois economy is always felt on the employment position. CMIE data confirms that the unemployment figures as on first week May 2020 stood at 27.11%; 29.22% in urban sector and 26.69% in rural sector although reality is far more worse as the present government has acquired expertise in fudging the data. Figures for the state of Jharkhand stood as high as 59.2% and Bihar 46.2%. The caption, ‘Unemployment level is the highest in last 45 years’, that was decorating front pages of all newspapers last month, is not true. Forty-five years means, 1975 which means Emergency. Present times, though, very much resemble Emergency Days in several ways, like, even a slightest dissent is sedition now as it was during those dark days but the unemployment rate in 1975 was 8.2% only which is no -where near to the present level. The correct headline should have read, “unprecedented unemployment, never witnessed in the history of India”. The largest segment of our entire population consists of the unemployed only, those who are keen and willing to work but having nothing to do. The army of the unemployed is over 30 crore strong but if we take into account the disguised unemployment among the marginal farmers then more than half of the population will have to be counted as unemployed. Let us examine this gigantic problem of unemployment in all its shades.
- Structural Unemployment
Why does capitalist economy cannot exist without periodic crises and unemployment? Tragedy of capitalism is ‘development of a few’ and pauperization of the vast majority; overproduction and hunger go on simultaneously. This disease is not new of the present times only when this system is in perpetual crisis since last 45 years. It is ages old and chronic. The great leader of the proletariat, Frederic Engels diagnosed this disease way back in early 1990s as he writes as a Note to the Capital Vol. III, “To the growing rapidity with which production can be increased today of large scale industry there stands opposed the ever greater slowness in the expansion of the market for these multiplied products. What the first can manufacture in a few months the later can absorb in a few years….The consequences are general, chronic over production, prices pressed down, falling profits and even none at all; in brief, the long-vaunted freedom of competition is at an end of its resources and must itself openly announce its own disgraceful bankruptcy.” ‘Periodic crises’ of capitalism in short means; increasing Constant Capital and lowering Variable Capital continuously; is compulsion of capitalist production and lowering rate of profit is the result; ‘overproduction’ and destruction of means of production, mass unemployment are the unavoidable consequences. Even ‘Healthy’ capitalism used to face periodic or cyclic crises every about 8-10 years, every crisis resulting in mass unemployment. During those days, however, crises were followed by boom so a portion of the retrenched mass used to get employed only to be retrenched again in next crises. Since 1991, however, capitalist economy is in perpetual crises, systemic crises without even façade of any boom or so called ‘green shoots’ visible anywhere like in a case of chronic TB patient lying on the death bed. Jobs are getting snatched away continuously since last 29 years. Rate of retrenchment is getting higher and higher as the capitalist crisis is getting deeper and deeper with every passing year and, then, came this deadly pandemic of Corona Virus forcing a general lock down and over 2.7 crore youth joined the vast reserve army of unemployed in a stroke in the month of April itself. Total job loss caused by Covid-19 is difficult to assess but the reasonable figure would be over 8 crores. What to talk of boom or green shoots, even the pre-Covid stage is not possible. The crises managers of the system are getting crazy as no solution is there in sight for the root cause, this morbid disease of capitalism, vaccine for Covid-19 will be found out sooner or later. Modi government came to power in the 2014 on the promise of providing 2 crore jobs every year and the gullible youth got swayed away by that promise, fell over one another while rushing to polling booth to vote BJP to power hoping to get employment letter soon there -after. The harsh and cruel reality has left the youth of the nation devastated. The crises managers of the system, those paid servants of the bourgeoisie have, now, begun saying shamelessly that we have to learn to live with unemployment as we are learning to live with Corona virus. Government has stopped talking about unemployment, indulges in every possible trick to divert attention from this problem knowing fully well that there is no panacea to provide jobs to the ever growing reserve army of unemployed within the framework of capitalist mode of economy.
2. Disguised unemployment
Besides registered and unregistered job seekers, there are several other segments of society who are unable to earn adequate for their survival. This is disguised unemployment comprising of sizable population who qualify to be included in unemployed order to arrive at the correct picture. We examine two major segments among these.
(a) Marginal and small peasants: A peasant who owns up to 1 hectare (2.5 acre) of land is called marginal farmer and one whose agriculture farm is more than 1 but less than 2 hectare (up to 5 acres) is called small farmer. Both small and marginal farmers account for 86.2% of the total farmer population of India. According to the research done by a renowned journalist P. Sainath, there are total 95.8 million households engaged in cultivation. This should be multiplied by 5 to reach at approximate cultivator population which comes to 479 million i.e. 47.9 crore. 86.2% of 47.9 crore means 41.3 crore. The total number of small and marginal farmers and the persons dependent on them is, therefore, 41.3 crore. The politico-economic system in vogue in agriculture sector is also capitalistic like in industry, though there have been systemic regulations and capitalism was not allowed free play in farming like in western countries for fear of displacement of such a large number of people from agriculture in one stroke would have posed a problem that seemed beyond the capacity of the state to manage. The perpetual crisis of capitalism is not providing that leverage now and more and more free play is being ensured to the corporates in farming sector too by the government. For example, following their avowed principle of converting ‘calamity into opportunity’, the government has recently brought in various systemic changes in agriculture sector. Amendments have been made to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. States have been urged to dismantle the Agriculture Produce Market Committees and to bring ‘fair’ pricing providing freedom to farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country in open market which means at market driven rates and ‘e trading’ is also allowed as in share market. These poor and destitute small and marginal farmers are able to earn a meagre ‘profit’ by continuously reducing their own consumption, by employing their kids and women in the fields as free labor (bonded labor) for as many hours as possible in a day that too only when there is no adverse weather or natural calamity which happens very rarely. The living conditions of this segment of marginal and small farmers are more pitiable than rural proletariat. They are often forced to take advance from a trader even before their produce is harvested. Can they take their meagre produce anywhere in the country to get ‘fair price’? Can a marginal farmer, who has never seen how a classroom looks from inside, indulge in ‘e trading’? “His (marginal farmer’s) surplus came, not from his full corn bins but from his empty stomach…..An ordinary day laborer, on a big farm goes about his work and thinks to himself:’ I wish it was knocking off time.’ The small peasant, however, at all events in all busy seasons, thinks to himself: ‘Oh, if only the day were an hour or two longer” Writes Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. III. The marginal and small farmers are the most cruelly exploited and their exploiters are they themselves!! They have the shortest life span, most of those who commit suicides are they only as they always remain half fed, half clad, burdened with loans. They rare cattle but they are forced to sell their entire milk to earn bread and they also have to ensure, unfortunately, that their kids do not even touch a drop of milk. This entire lot of small and marginal farmers has to be counted as unemployed only. They all have only two options; either to starve to death in their thatched dwellings or move to towns to sell their labor power as proletariat.
(b) Self Employed: One of the most fancy items for propaganda of legendary ‘VIKAAS’ (development) of Modi Government is, “don’t be seeker of a job, be provider” as if all those who are doing their own petty business, foot path vendors of a thousand shade are leading a ‘king’s life’ and providing job to whosoever passes by them!! Let us examine. Demonetization was the first blow that hammered daily wage laborers, petty hawkers, footpath vendors and scores of other people engaged in their own business to somehow manage square meal a day. Since their miniscule transactions have, obviously, been always in cash, most of them did not survive demonetization and joined the vast ranks of the unemployed or proletariat. Over 50 lakh lost their job due to demonetization according to a report. The nasty demonetization was quickly followed by the dreaded GST. Beating of drum at 12 pm in the night of 30th June 2017 to introduce GST was a mega befooling exercise, actually a death knell for small business in our country. Most of the small business is consumed by the big corporates which was the real motive behind introduction of GST. The petty ‘businessmen’ then had no- where to go except accept stand at nearby labor chowk as vendor of the only commodity left with them, their labor power or simply increase the number of the unemployed. The job of annihilation of the petty bourgeois traders is complete by allowing 100% FDI into the retail sector. The party that hysterically opposed the introduction of FDI in retail and forced the parliament not to function for over a month, didn’t blink before introducing the same act on the strength of its brute majority in parliament. As per the ‘natural’ law of development under capitalism nothing, eventually, stays between bourgeoisie and the proletariat. What to talk of the poor petty traders even the giant corporates are falling apart only to leave fewer and fewer to swell in size. The recipe to sell ‘pakodas’ was, therefore, suggested as a mockery of the unemployed only after ensuring that, it is no more possible.
3. Seasonal/ Concealed Unemployment
There are several industries which function in a season and not round the year. For example, Sugar Industry operates from November to April only. It employs 2.86 lakh workers in our country. All these employees who are counted as employed are rendered jobless after the season i.e. May of every year only to be recalled in November. They can only be termed as 50% employed and most of them do not get anything paid during the lean season. According to The India Employment Report based on NSSO survey and brought out by IMA, there are more than 11 crore workers employed in seasonal industries and are only partially employed and never get documented as unemployed. According to the same report there are about 18 million (1.8 crore) workers, who, although keep working at dhabas, restaurants, household jobs, brick kilns and other several industries, as they have to some -how survive but get no fixed salary or any benefit available to workers whatsoever. These about 2 crore lives are virtually unemployed or only partially employed if we measure it technically. This report reveals one very significant truth. Let us quote that line, “Employment, itself, has stagnated in 2010 decade, moving from 467 million in 2011-12 to 462.5 million in 2015-16.” Another painful aspect of the concealed unemployment is witnessed when recruitment of even temporary peon takes place. For vacancies of 368 peons there were 23 lakh applicants most of which were post graduates, engineers, PhD holders. What a shameful spectacle it is!! Even the PhD holders and Engineers are queuing up to get job under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme these days.
4. Deadly pandemic and mindless lockdown devastated employment
Industries, already, running at a fraction of their production capacities were subjected to forced lockdown without any planning whatsoever. It was death knell to the crores of workers and millions of production units. Unspeakable sufferings reined over crores of migrant workers for months together. As per CMIE data, over 12.2 crore jobs are lost because of lock down. It is now easy to count employed persons than the unemployed ones.
5. Jobless Growth
The hard and cruel reality is that there is no growth since 2007 when a deeply crisis ridden economy faced another crisis. It’s no more a cyclic crisis which is embedded in the very nature of capitalism, it is now a terminal crisis which will now go along with capitalism to its grave. No market remains to be explored anywhere in the world, nothing is left to colonize anymore and to fleece. There is absolutely no chance of market expansion unless there is social ownership over social production and production is driven by the social needs and not to satiate the lust of profit of a shark corporate. Whatever ‘growth’ of 4-5% is shown is result of jugglery of data is, actually, due to speculation in share market. Along with capitalist crisis, jobless growth too has become systemic now.A report published in The Economic Times dated 31.01.2019 makes an interesting reading in this regards. We are quoting, “Two, the government of Narendra Modi has been exceptionally cagey about this (unemployment) number: jobs, or the lack thereof, is a political hot potato. The regime has gone to great lengths to hide these figures from voters. Things boiled over Monday, when acting chairman P.C. Mohanan and J. V. Meenakshi of the Delhi School of Economics, quit India’s National Statistical Commission (NSC) the apex number collecting and analysis department in India, alleging repeated sarkari intervention in its functioning.” Such is the state of affairs of the working of the present regime who will be known for its legendary data fudging capabilities.
6. 46 PSUs are on Sale/ White Collar job will wither away Wholesale
Out of total 270 Public Sector Undertakings in our country, 46 PSUs including Bharat Petroleum are put on sale this year itself. This mega sale of the valuable public assets would have been completed by now but the virus hindered the process. This report though needs updation as these figures pertain to the pre-Corona times when the economy was ‘throbbing’. Now, when the economy is officially on dialysis and when even the reserve from RBI is extorted and consumed, number of PSUs under the hammer is going to go up from 46. Those who are going to come under the axe now would be white collared, necktie clad, ‘aristocratic’ workers enjoying safe, secured, high paying cozy jobs. Those who don’t like to be seen with the sweat smelling proletariat. Capitalism is no more in a position to care likes and dislikes of anyone for that matter. One who sales one’s labor power for a wage is a wage slave, a labor. It is pertinent to mention here that government’s decision, to merge Public Sector Banks into 5 large banks which is almost implemented, is going to reduce staff strength by 25%, means about 3 lakh jobs will disappear. These PSUs which are now being doled out for a song are built by the sweat and money of the people of India. Money used to build these PSUs is extracted by levying exorbitant taxes from crores of hungry people of the country. Some vocal liberals, the ‘Khan Market Type’ people think that only the rich and the middle class pay the taxes. This is a myth built on prejudices and apathy towards the poor and needs to be exploded. Each and every item that is consumed by the poor from morning to evening like; tea, biscuit, sugar, gas, flour, dal, rice, oil, cloth, soap, bidi, match box has 18% GST included in the cost. Even the wood consumed in funeral pyre has 18% GST included in the cost. One has to pay tax even after death. Since the poor are 90% of the population, their share to the Indirect Tax is higher than the rich. Share of direct taxes (Income tax, wealth tax etc.) is only 35% in the total tax collection and 65% is Indirect Tax (GST). Moreover, true to its class character, government is reducing rate of direct taxes and increasing the indirect taxes which means burden on the rich is being eased while it is increased on the poor. This self- eulogized national government of NDA had created a separate Disinvestment Ministry in its first avtar and now this has become a very busy ministry as more and more disinvestment proposals are processed without caring a hoot about its impact on the employment front. The government that grabbed the power promising 2 crore jobs every year has actually snatched jobs from 10 crore people.
7. Stop Extortion from the Unemployed
Thanks to one reputed TV reporter Ravish Kumar for conducting series of programs on condition of unemployed, the nation could know how the destitute jobless youth are being hoodwinked, harassed and fleeced mercilessly by the recruitment boards. Modus Operandi is like this. Advertise for a job for say 50000 vacancies. At least 5 crores will apply. Charge an application fee of Rs.500 per form and an amount of Rs.2500 crore will be collected. First, keep postponing the exam for 2-3 years, then conduct exam and keep the result waiting for another 2-3 years. Someone, then, moves the court and the whole process gets held up for ages. It’s not only the money that is extorted but also the trauma for which the youth is subjected to, vitiates their thinking, diverts them from the path of struggle into the blind alley of frustration and depression as they keep waiting for their job till eternity. This is a dangerous method of playing with the tender emotions of the youth who are already distressed. These are not stray incidents but a distinct pattern is evident. It happens with very recruitment ‘drive’ in UP without fail. Earlier thousands of girls got ‘recruited’ as police constables, remained in that stage for years and now over 69000 youth who possess degrees required for a teacher were declared ‘selected’. Court intervention, then, with held the process as usually and none of them could find a job. Exactly similar is the working of Indian Railways and all other recruitment boards. Indian Railways have, in fact, played with the lives of as many as 3.67 crore by keeping them waiting till eternity for their recruitment letters. These recruitment boards themselves are lying defunct and their own employees are not paid at all or get salary because of such criminal dishonesty with the youth of the nation. Had there been a responsible government even in bourgeois parameters these acts should have been thoroughly investigated and guilty should have been punished most severely.
8. Stress, Frustration, Depression, Lunatics, Suicides, Alcoholism, Drug addictions & Heinous crimes are triggered by mass unemployment
This bloody system has made youth forget LOVE and prefer DEATH. Not a day passes when we do not hear the heart wrenching tales of the youth committing suicides. Extreme individualistic thinking, rabid consumerism, lusty aggressive onslaught of ads of consumer goods targeting youth, no hope visible even in distant future, no ideals, complete alienation, indifference and absolutely no concern with society; these are the traits of the present bourgeois culture. This phase of decaying capitalism drowned in unsolvable crisis has nothing to offer except this. It’s not that only the so called poor or average students are in depression. According to a RTI query published in The Hindu, as many as 27 students committed suicides in IITs during last 5 years. According to another report published in The Hindu dated 29.01.2020, on an average 28 students commit suicides daily in our country. “I graduated from New York University in 2011 full of hope-and also with a good chunk of student loan debt. At the time, I owed $68000 despite having made payments on my undergrad loans for the five years prior. A year later, that hope dissipated and I was in full -fledged depressive episode. I ended up in Portland, Oregon, after my dreams of getting a full- time job in the arts in New York City didn’t pan out…This was not exactly how I envisioned my life with a Master’s degree from my “dream school”…I felt a mixture of shame, guilt, depression and all- consuming anxiety” reads one suicide note, in USA, the Mecca of Capitalism. Such suicide notes have become so common over there. Over 200 million people suffer from depression in our country, can you believe? It is over 15% of the total population. Acute stress to migrant workers during lockdown led 300 workers commit suicide, although these are official figures and reality is far more serious and grave. Appalling tales of families unable to cope with financial losses owing to job loss or collapse of business, committing suicides have become routine and the coming period looks still grim.
9. “Employment to All”, unleashing nation -wide protracted mass movement, is the only course left
Unprecedented unemployment, unfortunately, did not trigger unprecedented mass anger as a natural effect and no noise is heard of any mass movement till date at least. But it is only the restrictions on the movement due to repeated lockdowns and increasing danger and scary spread of the Covid-19 infection that is stopping that. It is bound to happen sooner or later as there is no option left. The huge army of the unemployed is restless and rearing to fight. Political activists have to rise to occasion. Stakes are huge. It is a question of life and death to over 500 million people. Strong waves of nation- wide joint democratic mass movements have to be unleashed without losing time. Youth have to be saved from becoming foot soldiers of the fascists. Mass awakening has to take place on two demands:
Give employment to all or pay Rs. 15000/month as unemployment allowance!
Situation like present is never witnessed before. Post- Corona world will not be the same, this is for sure. The rulers also are aware of that and the dark clouds of war are already looming large. Revolutionary forces cannot afford to let the reactionary forces take over as that will certainly take the whole world to still darker alleys of Fascism, may be worse than what happened in the thirties of the last decade. Reactionary juggernaut has to be defeated decisively and irrevocably, once and for all. Dedicating his renowned work, “Position of Working Class in England” to workers of England, the great leader of world proletariat, Frederic Engels writes, “Go on then, as you have done hitherto. Much remains to be undergone; be firm, be undaunted- your success is certain, and no step, you will have to take in your onward march will be lost to our common cause, the cause of Humanity!”
Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 3/ July ’20)
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