Prasanna on unorganized labour

3, Jun’20 in National Webinar in memory of George Fernandes

Organized by George Fernandes Foundation & Institute of Social Science

I would like to point out that there are two aspects to this problem of unorganized labour or migrant labour. One is finding an immediate solution to the problem, which most politicians and social workers are working for: to give some succor to them, provide them with some relief, distribute food packets to them, arrange some transport for them to either go home or come back. I believe there is lot of efforts to get them back to the city so that we can once again put them into the machine, as its nuts and bolts.

The other aspect of the problem is that there is a larger issue connected to this. In the last couple of decades, it is becoming clearer and clearer that we need a paradigm shift, if we have to save our world. We need a paradigm shift, if we have to save our environment, our ecology, our social system, our political system and the moral system. Of course, we are better off than most other countries, in-terms of the philosophical aspect of the problem. Because after all, we have tried to introduce this paradigm shift in our Freedom Movement itself, under the leadership of Gandhi and many, many enlightened people; including J C Kumarappa and so many others. We tried to actually imagine a world which will be sustainable, natural and egalitarian. Of course, that dream did not come true, and we have almost seventy years of politics after that, in what we call the independent India. However, in Independent India we just did politics, and completely forgot about the constructive activity or constructive program or the construction of the society from within the society itself, by the people themselves.

Today, we have landed in this deep crisis because of that. The whole world too has done that. I think the paradigm shift I was talking about which is badly needed, is centered around, how we look at labour. I would say that we have to make a complete shift in our attitude towards labour, in our attitude towards the village people, in our attitude to the peasant, in our attitude to the weaver, the cobbler, every other, what I call as the handmaking person. We should treat them as the future, as technicians for a system of production of the future. Not just as somebody who should be given food, food packets or who should be taken care of for his travel back to his homeland. I am not romanticizing, when I say this, I know they have huge problems; I know villages have huge problems, our villages have become unbearable. But then, there is one aspect of the village which I call the handmaking aspect of village, which is still amazingly retained in India as opposed to most of the developed countries. We should go behind the migrant labour, back to their villages, and learn the hand skills from them, the handloom from them, the rain-fed agriculture from them and various other handmaking technologies from them. And then provide the systems that are developed in the big cities with much expense, much intellect over the last few decades. The city should provide the mind – the good mind – not the bad mind. And the village provides the body, the good body.  This way, I think it can be done.

I belong to an organization called Gram Seva Sangh, which is an organization of organizations. Constructive organizations, working and mostly centered in Karnataka, but also outside of Karnataka. What we are trying to do, is to create an atmosphere for what I talked above. We have coined the new term called “Sacred Economy”. Sacred Economy is actually the reformation of the Gandhian model of economy, or the model dependant on the handmaking systems. Why have we reformed it, remodeled it, it is because, in the 21st century it will be almost impossible to go back to the handmaking system suddenly. So we have said, alright, let us have a labour centric economy, but since we cannot completely rule out automation, we can have some of that too. So in Sacred Economy we fixed the proportion not more than 40% of automation, and not less than 60% of labour. In fact, in this proportion most of our MSME comes into the picture, which means most of what we call the semi organized labour and the small industries in cities also come into it. Therefore in the Sacred Economy, the fully handmaking system, E.g. Khadi becomes completely sacred, but the other systems progressively become less sacred, but stay within the gamut of sacred. This way if we have to persuade the Government to adopt Sacred Economy, so they do not need to break down the other systems of production. But then they need to give a policy advantage to the Sacred Sectors.

In fact we firmly believe, Sacred Economy is the solution for all the three ills we are dealing in this world. It solves the problem of equity, because lot of people now coming into the cities, because of loss of jobs in the villages, will now get sufficient jobs wherever they are living. This means, we will be creating a decentralized society which will be made of much smaller units. It solves the climate crisis because energy intensive industries are disincentivized and thereby a lot of wasteful consumption of energy comes down.

And thirdly, this constitutes a better economic model in the post-economic collapse era after Covid-19. Let us understand that the economy that is ruling the roost today, which we have termed as the Monster Economy, has died. Monster Economy is dead! In fact, we are saying that if you try to revive the monster economy, the only way to do so is to put it into a ventilator. Eventually it is going to collapse.

The notion of the sacred Economy is also a solution to the economic crisis facing the world. So I want to talk to, not just the ordinary people, but economists, and the business people, and tell them, “You forget about lots of profits! Work for smaller profits and a better way of life. From you, we seek all your great systems for production, logistics, distribution, etc. I respect the big industries for the systems that they have created. We will remodel those systems and provide them to the village people, to the small sectors, to make the small sector viable economic model. This is what Sacred Economy is!“

I would like to push for it as long-term strategy, to solve the problem of migrant labour. I am not against the short-term policy of giving them succor, even we have done it to a small extent. But let us not be stuck with short term measures like relief & succor. You know, then we will be just doing that. Today it will be Migrant labour, tomorrow it will be some other, third day it may be climate problem, monsoon coming, or something, Let us therefore actually put our efforts behind the serious paradigm shift which will make this world a better world!         

  • Prasanna

Social Activist, Theatre Person, Mentor of Gram Seva Sangh

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