May Day Reflections

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May Day – the International Workers’ Day, is just round the corner. It is quite an irony that a movement for industrial workers emancipation in the 1880s in the United States, demanding for the first time an 8-hour working day norm, is today a holiday everywhere in the world except the United States, besides South Africa and Canada. Conditions for workers must have been universally bad in those days of the Industrial Revolution, for the workers unrest that began in Chicago spread in lightening speed to much of the rest of the world. And so Chicago’s Haymarket Revolt, today has given us May Day holiday, and the international working class a legal protection against being forced to work more than eight hours a day without compensations. Much has happened in the century and half that has elapsed, and workers have a lot more privilege than could have possibly been imagined then, but this has not lessened the contributions of the pioneers of the Haymarket Revolt. A lot many of us would be joining the celebration even here in Manipur, including undoubtedly holiday-loving workers in the government services who seldom work, much less eight hours a day. In the state’s fledgling private sector, there are many of us who do put in eight hours and more a day, some of us for seven days a week, and for emoluments much less than those in the government. For this category, May Day’s meaning cannot but be all the more savoury. The fact of the matter is, in our situation, the government is able to take care of its employees much better than a larger section of the private sector, and it is not a wonder at all that government jobs are still prized, and few who can get one, seldom stray out into the uncharted territory of the private sector. This is predetermined by the state of our economy, and there is hardly anything we can do about it just as yet to reverse the order. It will have to come as part of a long-visioned strategy of precisely the government, and the entrepreneurial courage of the people by and large.

But there are new challenges ahead for a mufossil state like Manipur. One of the most immediate is the upcoming 7th Pay Commission which will further widen the divide between the government and private sector jobs. As has been the pattern in the past, initially it will also create a yawning gap between the Central and State government salaries, creating unrests. But hopefully this time this issue will be given some sort of parity, although quite unlikely. Rumours have it that not only would the gap between the Central and state government employees be widened, but also those between top executives and the third and fourth grade employees of the Central government itself, an unfortunate pattern kept intact to serve the vested interests of the top echelon of government employees who control the levers of governance. If the latter speculations are true, the Central government too would be adopting and cementing the philosophy of the multinational corporate sector which is now quite familiar in India. It is indeed true that top categories of employees in the corporate sector are extremely highly paid, much more than their counterparts in the government services, but it is also equally true that the service conditions of lower rung employees of these corporates compare a lot less favourably with their counterparts in the government services, not only in take-home salaries, but also in terms of job security, retirement benefits etc. Since organisational hierarchy in any company or organisation, including the government is pyramidal in nature, substantially hiking salaries at the top cost much less than even a marginal hike at the middle and bottom. But would this corporate logic be justice for a welfare government? One of the complaints is, the pressure for an exodus of government employees at the top for the private sector is mounting. Well, let it also be considered that in the corporate world, unlike in the government, absolute accountability is the norm, and even the highest executive can be fired as easily as another can be hired. We do hope the government is not thinking of giving the best of both the world to the babudom – hiking up salaries but not accountability or mandatory performance indices. We do hope the other issues of disparity with the state employees as well as hierarchical gap amongst employees are also addressed earnestly as and when the commission submits its final recommendations. Sadly, nobody seems to want to believe that more than general low salaries, it is inequity amongst citizens which is the cause of much of the unrest all over the country.

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