The two decades of neo-liberalism has changed the nature of work and working class struggles. To the working people, this restructuring has meant immiserisation of small and marginal peasants due to the continuing agricultural crisis leading to migration along with large scale land expropriation, with active involvement of the state for development of new industrial areas, leading to more forced migration in rural areas, and increasing informalisation in the urban centres accentuated with large scale in-migration, shifting of industrial centres to new industrial enclaves and increasing fragmentation of the workplace leading to significant weakening of collective bargaining capacity of unions. With migration being a key factor in fuelling this downward spiral, it gives rise to problems that far exceed the economic drag down but has social, cultural and political implications. Migration, across the country, has given rise to xenophobic politics.
Discrimination by gender and by caste, communities, regions, language and religious faiths, instead of declining over the years, has sharpened with neo-liberalisation. The trade union response to this has been at best of token resistance. The fact that the trade unions are constructs of the larger society and both patriarchy and discrimination are inherent, created the fissures in the organisations and hence eventually in the trade union movement.
The fragmentation of production by transnational corporations across countries to maximise profit beyond its possibility within national borders has also pitched workers from one country against those from another, especially between those from the global North and the South. Bridging this gap between workers spread across continents along the supply chain is a treacherous challenge before trade unions. This too has its xenophobic element as well as international political dynamics determined by international relations between nation states. But as more and more transnational corporations fragment their production across countries to cut costs, pushing wages and conditions at work lower, it becomes critical to build links between workers’ organisations across these countries to resist this race to the bottom.
These today are the greatest challenges before trade unions in organising at workplaces and beyond. This is a struggle that trade unions are today battling within their organisations and with employers and at every level of society.
The ‘Rethinking Work’ project examines the causes of changing nature of work, employment relations and forms of control, charts these changes since the 1990s, reviews policy changes effecting this, assesses responses and identifies support structures beyond workers’ organisations. Changes in the nature of work and employment relation have involved changes both in patterns of work time and distribution of workplaces and workplace organisation and control.
‘Fighting Inequality’ is a project of the CWM that focuses on bringing out direct narratives of workers about their everyday lives and conditions of work. It examines whether inequality in the local, national and the international context undermines democracy and economic stability; and whether it creates barriers to collective advancement. These narratives encourage other workers to reflect upon the role of learning in their working lives and to identify and describe the specific processes by which workers organisations can remove barriers to learning and the factors that influence this. These studies often have long-term and wider impact of learning on work and expectations at work, democratic engagement, including participation in workers’ organisations. This project lays emphasis on precarious work and especially on women workers.