How can Industry survive incompetent policies? The answer is ‘not very well’. In the case of Meghalaya we see this very clearly. Industry has never been a thrust area for this (and hardly any preceding) government. This is probably down to the fact that massive profiteering is easier when industry is unorganized and unarmed. If the industrial policy were ‘proper’, industrial organization would have to be proper. The result as things stand has been a ‘doomscape’ of inconsistent production and subsidy pilfering. No “planner” in the Meghalaya government talks about industry but rather individual capability, that is, an individual person or firm’s ability to raise capital, invest, generate income, and occasionally (very rarely) give employment to the local population. The truth is a wealthy individual or company does not constitute an industry.
Industry involves both Management AND Labour. Today when one talks about industry in the popular press, it is usually along the dictats of the management cadre. This cuts across public and private sectors. MNC management, IAS and PSU officers can often be seen together on TV deliberating upon industry, pointing to stats and speculating about growth and trajectory. They are at home in each other’s company in spite of the alleged animosity PSUs have with private undertakings. In fact, it appears, management within many PSUs seems hell-bent on capitulating and acquiescing towards private sector desires. Divestment, for instance, looks set to be a high priority agenda for this government at the Centre. I have heard all the arguments for divestment a thousand times before. There are just a few compelling ones. However, that aside, my main point for contention in all of this is simple: where does Labour figure in any of these plans?
Forget about the fact that robots can now do the work of a hundred men, forget about mass production and cost effectiveness for a second. Those are not too much of a factor at the moment in Meghalaya where statistically most employment is in the area of non-mechanised, intensive agriculture. What efforts has the government made in this sector at this current junction? It sends officers, engineers and ministers on ‘exposure tours’, ‘technical workshops’, ‘seminars’ etc. These in turn have a gala time clicking selfies and visiting (ahem, ahem) interesting “districts”. All this would be fine if they actually brought knowledge back and didn’t waste government money i.e. my money, your money. Now I am sure to a European, our Meghalaya officers, engineers and ministers might seem like the lumpen ignorant mass of savages they were told to expect but we, the ones from within the state, know their true nature and privilege. We know very well that our farmers, orchardists, artisans etc should be the ones going on these “tours”. After all, these are the people who actually work and struggle within these sectors. They are not a bunch of salaried, unprofessional louts who have been mismanaging the resources and futures of this state’s people.
I am not saying everyone within administration is like that, there are many hard-working people within the government. However the striking thing is how easily it is to become de-motivated within such a system. But that being said, I am hopeful that young energy shall eventually surge its way through the depressing, greyish, banal corridors of the Secretariat. These too have a role to play as an important cog within the wheel of Labour.
Up to a few years ago, employees of the government did not feel the need to worry about organizing themselves. After all, the task had already been done for them especially within Central government offices. They perhaps thought of themselves as separate from the various trade union and labour movements that were underway in different industrial sectors throughout the country. Now, I think it is safe to say, there can be no illusions. They might have felt safe at one point in time but their type of employment is under threat; the younger employees especially are increasingly drawn from the huge contract/casual reservoir and many no longer have any of the protections that their seniors enjoy. On the other hand, Management i.e. IAS, IPS, MCS, MPS etc have been gaining more and more benefits and perks at great expense to the Exchequer. A progressive government must redress this and narrow the income and benefits gap.
Eventually, a lot of jobs might become redundant. But again, perhaps this depends on the system of production and consumerism that we choose as a society. In Meghalaya, it is unclear what sort of economic development model the administration is aiming for. Will it be large scale and mechanised? Or maybe artisanal and sustainable? The government lazily waits around for some tycoon or firm to approach them and it is he/they who set the terms and conditions for investment. It is, clearly, management that is calling the shots at that stage. Between government and investor, management is speaking to management. The work force have no say in the process. And that is where shifts have to be made. Re-schooling labour and assigning more managerial roles to them should be the top priority of any progressive government. Major threats to trade unions come from within, from the complacency and reactionary attitude many have towards their own industry. Most of the time, negotiations happen after an event has been initiated by management, but who says that should be the case? Labour always needs re-skilling.
Meghalaya is suffering because Labour is suffering. The attitudes and world-views of our work-force have been shaped by years of anti-labour policy and departmental inactivity. Instead of organizing within their respective sectors, our employees and workers have had to outsource their grievance redressal to outfits like the various pressure groups. Instead of coal miners organising, we call the KSU; instead of cement plant workers coming together, we call FKJGP. These outfits have never empowered the sectors from within by instructing Labour to organize itself. Instead, they have assisted them just enough so that a dependency is created. Thus labour unions have never really taken the stage for themselves in this place. They have simply become part of the noise.
The greed of the management cadre coupled with their inefficiency stemming out of their ignorance has been disastrous for the state economy. Officers might sanction the creation of a farmer’s market place for example but will not pursue plans for marketing of the products there. The chain between farm and fridge is never realised and the project ultimately ends in a quagmire. As a manager shouldn’t one seek the organization of Labour for the sake of smooth functioning and efficient production? But that is where it gets interesting. I personally don’t think just organizing labour into unions is such a great idea. We need the unions to think along the lines of the managerial cadre as well. Simply organizing worker into a union might not always be such a great idea. They are not automatons after all. But in no small measure, the future seems to be headed towards making them as such. Intervening now and infusing new ideas into them would be a crucial task.