Precariat is the most neglected part of the workforce today; not just in India but all over the world. My blogs on BPCL, Temporary workers’ lives and Contract Labour carry their stories. However, writing their stories is easier than taking up a precarious job and write about the first-hand experience. That is what makes James Bloodworth’s ‘Hired’ different. And the byline ‘Six Months Undercover in Low Wage Britain’ tells the uniqueness of the book.
James Bloodworth is an English journalist. ‘The main purpose of the book was to give a sense of what it was like to work in Britain’s precarious low wage economy.’ But it could not be understood in as a standalone experience. These jobs affected local populace – the town or the city, they brought in migrants from East European countries. The story is not much different. The issues of migrant labour and cities suddenly came in limelight last year, with all magazines and newspapers carrying reams of material on their living and working conditions.
Precarious jobs exist in every industry, more prominently in the ‘service’ industry. Delivery boys of Flipkart and Zomato, caregivers in the hospitals, countless staff of BPOs and even the Uber drivers are modern day examples of how neo-liberal economics has affected people. The problem is that the Governments have turned Nelson’s eye to the problem, and the Society has acquiesced, the burgeoning middle class is self-centered, nobody takes up their cause. See Flippant About Carters
When Flipkart and Myntra delivery boys went on strike in late July 2015, this is what Gole (MNS Union Secretary) said, “The toilets of these offices are in pathetic state. These delivery boys have long and erratic working hours without any overtime allowance. As incentive, they are paid Rs 3 per shipment. One can’t even buy a vada pav with that.” Avinash Kamble, the union leader of Flipkart staff, alleged that they have been “fooled” ever since they were hired. “I joined in 2011 on a salary of Rs 7,200. Till date (that is, in Aug 2015), I have not even got Rs 3,000 as increment. At the time of joining, we are told that we have to make 30-40 deliveries a day. But, as soon as we report to work, we are asked to make 60-70 deliveries. They tell us not to come to work if we don’t fulfil out targets.” Myntra’s staff union leader Nilesh Shirgavkar said: “We have no time to eat, let alone rest. When we reach office, we have to use dirty toilets.” (Indian Express)
The situation is ‘low wage Britain is no different. Coca-Cola bottles filled with urine were found on the racks of Amazon because there was no time effectively for a ‘bio-break.’ Health care industry is more worried about ‘productivity’. It forces them to question if the caregiver used her discretion and spent more time with a needy old patient. They make a phone call and seek explanation. And Uber is seemingly giving a choice to the drivers, but in practice they dictate terms and even have novel ways to ‘punish’ them. The punishment comes in the form of less business and it hurts. And payments in all cases are bare subsistence wages. Didn’t we also see all this in the case of Wistron?
Unions are weak and unable to change anything. Bloodworth is right when he says, “The labour movement itself sowed some of the seeds by traditionally sidelining groups beyond the stereotypical working man….. There was always a section of the left that viewed the working class in purely instrumental terms. They were a weapon to be wielded against the bourgeoise rather than human beings who required liberation.” And goes further to observe, “One of the paradoxes of the fall of the Berlin wall is that, while it represented a revolutionary liberation of human beings from under the yoke of totalitarianism, it also resulted in the unshackling of a particularly virulent strain of capitalism.”
That strain of capitalism is too well entrenched to remove. Governments need it to get investments. The focus on the way a common man lives is lost. Governments use brute force to implement ‘rule of law’. Unfortunately, ‘rule of life’ which Justice Krishna Iyer supported is forgotten and not in the vocabulary today.
For this reason, as well as for understanding how precariat is impacting people and the society from the author’s personal experience, this book makes great reading.
(Hired – Six Months Undercover in Low Wage Britain, James Bloodworth, Atlantic Books)
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.
“Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No Child ‘Out of School’, Reduction in migration by 50%.”