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Year 2001, No 4
December
September 11 and Its Aftermath
Noam Chomsky speaks in Madras on September 11 and its aftermath
By Noam Chomsky
Impact of Globalisation on Working Women in the Unorganised Sector
First Vimal Ranadive Memorial Lecture
By Jayati Ghosh
"My beating by refugees is a symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy war"
Robert Fisk in Afghanistan
Doon's tailors and the National Fabric
Do their lives measure up?
By Anil Nauriya
In Early December Every Year
By Dilip D'Souza
War-drummers at work, again
By Harish Khare
Breeding Little Hawks
By Javed Jabbar
History vs Propaganda
By Romila Thapar
The Campaign Against History
By Sumit Sarkar
A Convert’s Complaint
Analyzing Naipaul’s Views on Islam
By Zafar H Anjum
US, tum aur hum!
Amir Ali quotes Ghalib on India's Foreign policy
By Amir Ali
  Globalisation and Survival  
Impact of Globalisation on Working Women in the Unorganised Sector

First Vimal Ranadive Memorial Lecture
10 April 2001





I feel extremely honoured to be invited to deliver the first Vimal Ranadive memorial lecture and thank the CITU for giving me this opportunity. Vimal Ranadive was a courageous and visionary woman who spent all her life fighting for the cause of the working class and especially working women. She continues to be a great source of inspiration to activists in the country, and I am privileged to be able to pay homage to her memory.



This subject is a vast one, and not one to which I can do justice in a short time. I would like to put forward a few points on the major impacts and also will be concerned with what can be done in this situation either to mitigate the adverse impacts or take advantage of possible opportunities. After all, at this point after a decade of experience of the process, everyone knows what the problems are; particularly working women know the problems. It may be more important instead to consider the extent to which these policies are “essential”, whether there are practicable alternatives so that it is more than a simple waste of time to oppose these policies.



The policies of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation have been implemented in the Indian economy for the last ten years. The truth is that this is a globalisation process which is primarily to the benefit of large capital. This is not globalisation of the working class, of uniting the workers and creating international solidarity. It is true that technological changes have contributed to greater ease of communication and access to knowledge from around the world, for people generally. But the economic processes associated with global integration have also meant that the difficulties of the working class – across the world - have increased. While the mobility and freedom of capital to cross national boundaries and engage in activities of choice has increased in the last few years, the same is not true for most workers. The mobility of most workers, especially those who are less skilled, has decreased. In fact, not just geographical mobility but even the difficulties involved in changing a profession or of moving from one job to another have increased many times for workers in general and working women in particular.



Thus, it is really the globalisation of capital that is taking place in India and in other countries. This has three types of impact. First, when any Government – whether in the developed or developing world - wants to attract or retain capital inflows, it has to do certain things. To begin with, to make the site “attractive”, it is typically argued that it is necessary to offer tax concessions. This is why so many Governments, particularly the BJP-led Government at the centre in India, think that they have to reduce taxes. In the last ten years, the tax- GDP ratio, i.e. the percentage of tax to the total national income in the country, has come down from nearly 12 per cent in 1990, to only around 9 per cent last year. was 12%. This is this a substantial drop, without which our overall fiscal situation would have been much healthier and there would have been more resources to provide essential public services to the people.



But quite apart from that, even 12 per cent tax-GDP ratio was pitifully small in terms of an international comparison. In western Europe on average this ratio is 40% and even in other Asian countries it is above 30%. Even in African countries it is more than 20%. Now in India this has been reduced to 9%, because the various Governments want to make capital happy. The present BJP Government has been undertaking measures which effectively lower the tax-GDP ratio, and make the tax burden more regressive, even more vigorously than the previous governments. This has a very bad impact on the common people, and on women in poorer households in particular. The direct taxes, which apply to the big corporate houses, are cut down drastically but the burden of indirect taxes on the common man is increased. For example, in the latest Central Budget, the taxes on air conditioners and cars and other vehicles used by the rich have been decreased - the rates have actually been reduced by half, but the Government has doubled the taxes on essential items used by common people, like soap and other basic goods.



Thus, on the one side tax concessions are given to capital, both foreign and domestic. Then there is the fear that mobile capital – and finance capital in particular – does not approve of large fiscal deficits. Out of fear of capital going elsewhere, the Government tries to reduce this deficit, which can only be done through reducing expenditure, since tax increases are also disliked by mobile capital. This means that the expenditure on essential services like health, education etc is cut down. This is why, whenever we ask why basic public services like clean water, public health facilities etc are not available in our village or city, we are told : “where is the money? The Government has no money.” There is no money to spend on any essential service, because that money has been given away (that is, not collected) in the form of tax relief to the rich.



The most affected services are those which affect women more. That is, if the expenditure on health is cut down, there will be worse facilities in the Government hospitals and women’s access to medical services will become less. Not only will their own health care suffer, but they will also spend longer hours of unpaid labour looking after the ill persons in the household because they will not be adequately cared for by the public hospitals.



Similarly, when there is no drinking water or other water for domestic use readily available, people will have to walk longer distances or wait longer hours at public taps to get water. Who will go? It is the women who typically will have to go, because they tend to be the ones responsible for the provisioning of such basic goods within the household. In such types of public retrenchment, public transport facilities are also affected. People will face more difficulties in getting their daily requirements. This also affects women because they are usually responsible for organising items of daily consumption in the family.



So, on the one side the essential services, which the Government should provide, are not available; those that are available cost more. If you go to any Government hospital and meet the doctor, you will be asked to buy the medicines, to bring the injections etc. If you require an operation, you will have to buy all the medicines and the other necessary things, because they are not available in the hospital. Otherwise the operation cannot be performed. Earlier the Government made some services available; but it is less and the less the case. Therefore, women have to work more, walk more and altogether the unpaid labour of women has increased on a large scale. This is the main impact of globalisation-induced public expenditure cuts on working women.



But there are also other very important effects. The greater bargaining strength of internationally mobile capital has allowed both local and international capitalists to impose tougher conditions on their workers. Not only does this reduce the power of workers, including women workers, to demand minimally decent conditions of work and pay, but it also can affect the legal institutions within which such bargaining occurs. Thus, across the world, capitalists are demanding changes in labour laws to make the labour market more “flexible.” Even in India at the moment, there is great pressure to enact a new labour legislation that will protect the interests of employers rather than those of workers, which was the basis of the earlier labour law. Otherwise, it is argued, capital will not come. It will go to Myanmar, Bangladesh or any other country where the wages are lower and workers have even fewer rights. Quite often, the conditions of women workers is the first to deteriorate in this manner, through reduction of maternity leave, worsening safety conditions in the workplace and inadequate compensation of industrial accidents, and so on.



Another important effect is in the external trade sector, of import and export liberalisation. One important consequence of the lifting of quantitative restrictions on imports on a range of goods in both agriculture and manufacturing, combined with relatively low tariff bindings on a range of products, is that products which are produced with fairly subsidies in other countries, can be “dumped” in our economy. Meanwhile, there is strong propaganda that we must export at any cost and that we will be able to export only when we can produce goods at less expense, which is taken to mean that the worker is to be paid less.



It is strange to observe that in the last three years, the BJP-led Government, which began its tenure pretending to be “Swadeshi” in its motivation, has made imports so easy that even they could not foresee the impact of this process on different sectors. The impact is so disastrous in agriculture that as you all know, every day there is some report of farmers committing suicides in some part of the country or rural household members dying of what is actually starvation or diseases induced by low food intake. On the one side there is a collpase of food security and on the other food grains are rotting in the FCI godowns. Workers are roaming here and there in search of work, but they do not get work, because employment opportunities are simply not being generated by the system.



One of the main reasons for this strange situation is the import policy. In the last five years, the price of agricultural products from foreign countries has come down because the developed countries have continued to give their farmers huge subsidies. Whatever there may be in GATT or WTO, they give as much subsidy as they want. Now, our Government tells our farmers that they have to become “competitive”; they must compete with the imported products. Our farmers were getting as little per cent subsidy compared to between 50 and 75 per cent going to farmers in Europe, USA and Japan. Now even that small amount of subsidy has been reduced. Of late, using the word ‘subsidy’ in our country is considered to be a sin. It is being said that farmers must pay higher amounts for electricity, water, fertilisers etc. So, on the one hand, all subsidies are being removed and the production cost has increased and on the other, imports of subsidised agricultural products at cheaper prices is freely liberalised. As a result our farmers are unable to sell their products. They get only the minimum price declared by the Government. The Government buys from the farmers and fills the FCI godowns. It is not used even for programmes like food for work, so that some employment can be generated and some basic facilities can be created in the villages.



This is especially important the major sections of the unorganised women workers are in the agricultural sector and these policies affect them adversely. As a consequence, over the past decade, and in the last six years, the rate of employment generation has very low and falling. In the rural sector, in the last six years, the increase in employment is less than 1 per cent per year, in fact the annual rate of increase of all jobs, in both agriculture and non-agriculture, has been only around 0.7 per cent. And our population growth rate has been approximately double of that in the rural areas. Associated with this, wages in the rural agricultural sector, where most of the women are working, have come down. The latest statistics show that in the last five years, the wages of women have gone down. The difference between the wages of men and women has increased. The wages of both men and women have decreased, but the wages of women have decreased more. This is one effect of imports on employment.



The second effect of imports is on the small-scale industries. And the conditions of the small-scale industry have become very bad. Since the last 5-6 years, 2 lakhs small-scale industries are closing down every year. The tariff rates have come down as a result of this import- export policy. There is dereservation of the items reserved for the small-scale industry but for the big automobile industry much protection is provided. That is their policy. The big automobile industry run by the multinational corporations is to be saved but it is not necessary to save the small-scale industry, where most of the workers are employed. Once again, most women who are employed in manufacturing are employed in small-scale units, mostly in the unorganised sector. We can see therefore see the effects of these policies in the urban areas also, where there is not much increase in employment. The increase in job creation in the 1990s, at only around 1.6 per cent per year, is the lowest in the last 50 years. This is also less than the rate of growth of the population. As a result, unemployment rates of both men and women have increased quite significantly over the 1990s. This is something quite notable in a country where there is no form of social security or unemployment insurance, and where most of the poor can rarely afford the luxury of open unemployment.



The question of unemployment is very much linked to the policies of globalisation. In fact, because of the decreasing role of the Government and the import- export policies, not only is employment affected, but unpaid labour (mostly performed by women) has increased.



There is a very big government policy emphasis on exports. The whole process of globalisation has two declared aims which are in turn supposed to deliver growth and development - one, to get foreign capital inflows and second to increase exports. Bu the irony is that the rate of growth of exports in the 1990s is even lower than it was in the supposedly bad old “closed economy” days of the 1970s, when the rate of growth of exports was double of what it has been in the nineties. The composition of exports has also changed. Earlier, large portion of the exports [70%] used to be items in the secondary sector and diverse such as chemicals, machine tools etc. Now, it has changed and most of the export is of those traditional items, which we used to make earlier, like textiles and gems and jewellery. Even primary product exports have become significant once again.



Another feature of such export orientation, as in other Asian countries, is the involvement of more women workers in this production. In the Export Processing Zones we can see that women (and especially those of a particular age group –18 to 22) are the majority. They are available at lower wage rates than those for men working in equivalent jobs, are often willing to work cheap with no unionisation and can be exploited in many ways. Of course, the involvement of women in export production in India is a little different from the high-exporting East Asian economies. In the Indian EPZs, women workers form the majority, but in the whole export production sector, they are less.



Instead, there is a different and less visible involvement of women in manufacturing production which comes from the sub-contracting system and home-based work. Where is the involvement of women? You can see women in Ghaziabad and greater NOIDA sitting at home stitching buttons on T-shirts, which will be the final product of a company like Benetton or even smaller less famous manufacturers, or women making shoe laces which will be part of the final shoe output sold by the multinational Nike. This is the kind of production, where women workers are at the lowest rung and get only piece rate work. The wages here are effectively very low. They are exploiting themselves, doing as much work as possible, working longer hours and taking the help of their children and the entire family.



This type of work has increased quite substantially. Earlier, such subcontracting was confined to relatively few items – pappads or footwear and the like. Now a wide range of medium and large producers, up to the multinationals, are outsourcing a larger share of their activities. After all, this is a strategy, which is most convenient for employers, with the only caveat being the difficulty of homogenous quality control in such circumstances. The employers have to spend very little to ensure workers for this activity. No transportation or any other facilities are necessary. There is no question of employers having to worry about working conditions, job security, and safety at the work place etc. There is even no contract as the workers are doing piece rate work. In the last few years work participation of women has increased in this home based sector. This has become a problem for unionisation also. As workers are not working at one place it is difficult to organise them and fight for better conditions. We have to work out strategies to organise these women in unions and to carry forward the struggle for their rights.



According to Government statistics, another sector where women’s employment has increased is part time work in the service sector- women who provide domestic services or the women who clean the offices of big firms etc or in the entertainment industry. All these jobs are such that organising the workers is very difficult. Employment is increasing in such sectors where to form unions and fight for their rights are next to impossible. On the other hand, as discussed above, the availability of basic services is coming down. So with poor and declining public health care facilities, one has to go to a private doctor. Similarly, the basic needs of water, electricity and roads or transport facilities are becoming unaffordable for many in the working class. One estimate says that in the last ten years the transport charges in the cities have increased four times. All these have increased the burden on the workers. As a result of all these the real wages have come down and working conditions have deteriorated.



So what is to be done? The proponents of these policies say that there is no alternative and as we have seen all the Governments at the centre during the last ten years have followed the same policies. It is not the case that the UF Government has done something else or so. The Congress Government has initiated these policies. But the present BJP-led NDA Government has done the worst. It is almost as if it is sitting in the lap of big capital. All this may give the impression that such policies are indeed inevitable. Is it so?



In fact, it is very important to note that it is not inevitable. This is one of the faces of globalisation, which should be totally opposed. In many countries, we can see that the conditions of the workers are the same. But it is not so in all countries. There are countries also, where all these things did not happen even though they are also involved in producing for an international market, are benefiting from access to the latest technology and are integrated with the global economy. The problems we face in India have been avoided in some of these countries. Thus, in India, the price of food items has increased dramatically in the last ten years; in some other countries, however, it came down. In our country, living conditions worsened and poverty has increased; but in other some countries, such as Costa Rica in Latin America, they did not. Why is it so? This is so because here it is the globalisation of rules and conditions in favour of capital, for the big corporate companies.



The priorities of the Government have to be changed. First of all, the basic facilities for the common people should be provided. The tax-GDP ratio has to be increased. The argument against this is that we cannot increase taxes because capital will not come. But in fact it is not as if that capital is coming now. The Government is doing all this in the hope that capital will come. Even if we double the tax-GDP ratio, it will still be less than that in the rest of Asian and near to Sub-Saharan Africa and half of that in European countries. If tax is increased the expenditure can be increased, instead of effectively spending most of the fiscal deficit money on interest payments of old debts and on defence.



If we increase the tax-GDP ratio to the level of the 1990s, i.e. to 12%, we will get 3% of the GDP. This is equivalent to our total Central Government defence expenditure. What can we get from this? This money will be enough to connect all the villages in the country with roads; provide safe drinking water, a primary health centre with three doctors and school up to secondary level to all the villages in the country. It is not that only these services can be provided; in the process it will generate employment. That is we can solve the problems of providing better services and employment together.



Then why does the Government continue to favour the current more inequitable policies? They say that it is to attract big capital. But is it a fact? Experience shows that wherever there is already a dynamic and strong economy, international capital reaches on its own. Take the case of China, which attracts more foreign investment than all other developing countries put together, and which is growing very rapidly on the basis of massive government infrastructure spending and systematic export promotion. Foreign investors are ready to wait for 4-5 years to invest there. But we in India could not attract much investment in spite of bending over backwards and providing so many concessions to capital. If it all they come it is only to buy our assets cheaply as in the case of BALCO. This shows us that if we achieve growth and development on our own terms, we need not provide such concessions to foreign capital; they will come by themselves.



Then the reasoning that the cause for our problems is only globalisation is not correct. It is the policies pursued by the Government. The Governments ruling the country for the last ten years have been working for the big capitalists; not for the other classes like the workers, peasants etc and not even for the small capitalists.



But it still remains that because we live in a democracy and the governments need to legitimate their authority, one day those in Government have to approach the people. It is our duty, the duty of our organisation to reach to the people and tell them, to convince them that this kind of globalisation is not essential; that we can have a different kind of globalisation. What the Government is doing now is for the big capitalists inside and outside the country and against the interests of the people. In particular, specific policies of the Government operate to worsen the material conditions of working women in ways I have outlined above. We should raise our voices of opposition against these and generate sufficient social and political pressure to force the Government to change these policies.



Before this lecture, I was going through the life story of Vimal di. It is evident that she was not someone who passively accepted adverse circumstances or unfair tendencies. Rather, she was a fighter to the core, and always used to raise her voice against injustice and for the rights of the working masses and women, and was not afraid of making a big stir to achieve those goals. We must follow her example and strengthen the struggle for pro people policies. That will be the real tribute to Vimal di.







I feel extremely honoured to be invited to deliver the first Vimal Ranadive memorial lecture and thank the CITU for giving me this opportunity. Vimal Ranadive was a courageous and visionary woman who spent all her life fighting for the cause of the working class and especially working women. She continues to be a great source of inspiration to activists in the country, and I am privileged to be able to pay homage to her memory.



This subject is a vast one, and not one to which I can do justice in a short time. I would like to put forward a few points on the major impacts and also will be concerned with what can be done in this situation either to mitigate the adverse impacts or take advantage of possible opportunities. After all, at this point after a decade of experience of the process, everyone knows what the problems are; particularly working women know the problems. It may be more important instead to consider the extent to which these policies are “essential”, whether there are practicable alternatives so that it is more than a simple waste of time to oppose these policies.



The policies of globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation have been implemented in the Indian economy for the last ten years. The truth is that this is a globalisation process which is primarily to the benefit of large capital. This is not globalisation of the working class, of uniting the workers and creating international solidarity. It is true that technological changes have contributed to greater ease of communication and access to knowledge from around the world, for people generally. But the economic processes associated with global integration have also meant that the difficulties of the working class – across the world - have increased. While the mobility and freedom of capital to cross national boundaries and engage in activities of choice has increased in the last few years, the same is not true for most workers. The mobility of most workers, especially those who are less skilled, has decreased. In fact, not just geographical mobility but even the difficulties involved in changing a profession or of moving from one job to another have increased many times for workers in general and working women in particular.



Thus, it is really the globalisation of capital that is taking place in India and in other countries. This has three types of impact. First, when any Government – whether in the developed or developing world - wants to attract or retain capital inflows, it has to do certain things. To begin with, to make the site “attractive”, it is typically argued that it is necessary to offer tax concessions. This is why so many Governments, particularly the BJP-led Government at the centre in India, think that they have to reduce taxes. In the last ten years, the tax- GDP ratio, i.e. the percentage of tax to the total national income in the country, has come down from nearly 12 per cent in 1990, to only around 9 per cent last year. was 12%. This is this a substantial drop, without which our overall fiscal situation would have been much healthier and there would have been more resources to provide essential public services to the people.



But quite apart from that, even 12 per cent tax-GDP ratio was pitifully small in terms of an international comparison. In western Europe on average this ratio is 40% and even in other Asian countries it is above 30%. Even in African countries it is more than 20%. Now in India this has been reduced to 9%, because the various Governments want to make capital happy. The present BJP Government has been undertaking measures which effectively lower the tax-GDP ratio, and make the tax burden more regressive, even more vigorously than the previous governments. This has a very bad impact on the common people, and on women in poorer households in particular. The direct taxes, which apply to the big corporate houses, are cut down drastically but the burden of indirect taxes on the common man is increased. For example, in the latest Central Budget, the taxes on air conditioners and cars and other vehicles used by the rich have been decreased - the rates have actually been reduced by half, but the Government has doubled the taxes on essential items used by common people, like soap and other basic goods.



Thus, on the one side tax concessions are given to capital, both foreign and domestic. Then there is the fear that mobile capital – and finance capital in particular – does not approve of large fiscal deficits. Out of fear of capital going elsewhere, the Government tries to reduce this deficit, which can only be done through reducing expenditure, since tax increases are also disliked by mobile capital. This means that the expenditure on essential services like health, education etc is cut down. This is why, whenever we ask why basic public services like clean water, public health facilities etc are not available in our village or city, we are told : “where is the money? The Government has no money.” There is no money to spend on any essential service, because that money has been given away (that is, not collected) in the form of tax relief to the rich.



The most affected services are those which affect women more. That is, if the expenditure on health is cut down, there will be worse facilities in the Government hospitals and women’s access to medical services will become less. Not only will their own health care suffer, but they will also spend longer hours of unpaid labour looking after the ill persons in the household because they will not be adequately cared for by the public hospitals.



Similarly, when there is no drinking water or other water for domestic use readily available, people will have to walk longer distances or wait longer hours at public taps to get water. Who will go? It is the women who typically will have to go, because they tend to be the ones responsible for the provisioning of such basic goods within the household. In such types of public retrenchment, public transport facilities are also affected. People will face more difficulties in getting their daily requirements. This also affects women because they are usually responsible for organising items of daily consumption in the family.



So, on the one side the essential services, which the Government should provide, are not available; those that are available cost more. If you go to any Government hospital and meet the doctor, you will be asked to buy the medicines, to bring the injections etc. If you require an operation, you will have to buy all the medicines and the other necessary things, because they are not available in the hospital. Otherwise the operation cannot be performed. Earlier the Government made some services available; but it is less and the less the case. Therefore, women have to work more, walk more and altogether the unpaid labour of women has increased on a large scale. This is the main impact of globalisation-induced public expenditure cuts on working women.



But there are also other very important effects. The greater bargaining strength of internationally mobile capital has allowed both local and international capitalists to impose tougher conditions on their workers. Not only does this reduce the power of workers, including women workers, to demand minimally decent conditions of work and pay, but it also can affect the legal institutions within which such bargaining occurs. Thus, across the world, capitalists are demanding changes in labour laws to make the labour market more “flexible.” Even in India at the moment, there is great pressure to enact a new labour legislation that will protect the interests of employers rather than those of workers, which was the basis of the earlier labour law. Otherwise, it is argued, capital will not come. It will go to Myanmar, Bangladesh or any other country where the wages are lower and workers have even fewer rights. Quite often, the conditions of women workers is the first to deteriorate in this manner, through reduction of maternity leave, worsening safety conditions in the workplace and inadequate compensation of industrial accidents, and so on.



Another important effect is in the external trade sector, of import and export liberalisation. One important consequence of the lifting of quantitative restrictions on imports on a range of goods in both agriculture and manufacturing, combined with relatively low tariff bindings on a range of products, is that products which are produced with fairly subsidies in other countries, can be “dumped” in our economy. Meanwhile, there is strong propaganda that we must export at any cost and that we will be able to export only when we can produce goods at less expense, which is taken to mean that the worker is to be paid less.



It is strange to observe that in the last three years, the BJP-led Government, which began its tenure pretending to be “Swadeshi” in its motivation, has made imports so easy that even they could not foresee the impact of this process on different sectors. The impact is so disastrous in agriculture that as you all know, every day there is some report of farmers committing suicides in some part of the country or rural household members dying of what is actually starvation or diseases induced by low food intake. On the one side there is a collpase of food security and on the other food grains are rotting in the FCI godowns. Workers are roaming here and there in search of work, but they do not get work, because employment opportunities are simply not being generated by the system.



One of the main reasons for this strange situation is the import policy. In the last five years, the price of agricultural products from foreign countries has come down because the developed countries have continued to give their farmers huge subsidies. Whatever there may be in GATT or WTO, they give as much subsidy as they want. Now, our Government tells our farmers that they have to become “competitive”; they must compete with the imported products. Our farmers were getting as little per cent subsidy compared to between 50 and 75 per cent going to farmers in Europe, USA and Japan. Now even that small amount of subsidy has been reduced. Of late, using the word ‘subsidy’ in our country is considered to be a sin. It is being said that farmers must pay higher amounts for electricity, water, fertilisers etc. So, on the one hand, all subsidies are being removed and the production cost has increased and on the other, imports of subsidised agricultural products at cheaper prices is freely liberalised. As a result our farmers are unable to sell their products. They get only the minimum price declared by the Government. The Government buys from the farmers and fills the FCI godowns. It is not used even for programmes like food for work, so that some employment can be generated and some basic facilities can be created in the villages.



This is especially important the major sections of the unorganised women workers are in the agricultural sector and these policies affect them adversely. As a consequence, over the past decade, and in the last six years, the rate of employment generation has very low and falling. In the rural sector, in the last six years, the increase in employment is less than 1 per cent per year, in fact the annual rate of increase of all jobs, in both agriculture and non-agriculture, has been only around 0.7 per cent. And our population growth rate has been approximately double of that in the rural areas. Associated with this, wages in the rural agricultural sector, where most of the women are working, have come down. The latest statistics show that in the last five years, the wages of women have gone down. The difference between the wages of men and women has increased. The wages of both men and women have decreased, but the wages of women have decreased more. This is one effect of imports on employment.



The second effect of imports is on the small-scale industries. And the conditions of the small-scale industry have become very bad. Since the last 5-6 years, 2 lakhs small-scale industries are closing down every year. The tariff rates have come down as a result of this import- export policy. There is dereservation of the items reserved for the small-scale industry but for the big automobile industry much protection is provided. That is their policy. The big automobile industry run by the multinational corporations is to be saved but it is not necessary to save the small-scale industry, where most of the workers are employed. Once again, most women who are employed in manufacturing are employed in small-scale units, mostly in the unorganised sector. We can see therefore see the effects of these policies in the urban areas also, where there is not much increase in employment. The increase in job creation in the 1990s, at only around 1.6 per cent per year, is the lowest in the last 50 years. This is also less than the rate of growth of the population. As a result, unemployment rates of both men and women have increased quite significantly over the 1990s. This is something quite notable in a country where there is no form of social security or unemployment insurance, and where most of the poor can rarely afford the luxury of open unemployment.



The question of unemployment is very much linked to the policies of globalisation. In fact, because of the decreasing role of the Government and the import- export policies, not only is employment affected, but unpaid labour (mostly performed by women) has increased.



There is a very big government policy emphasis on exports. The whole process of globalisation has two declared aims which are in turn supposed to deliver growth and development - one, to get foreign capital inflows and second to increase exports. Bu the irony is that the rate of growth of exports in the 1990s is even lower than it was in the supposedly bad old “closed economy” days of the 1970s, when the rate of growth of exports was double of what it has been in the nineties. The composition of exports has also changed. Earlier, large portion of the exports [70%] used to be items in the secondary sector and diverse such as chemicals, machine tools etc. Now, it has changed and most of the export is of those traditional items, which we used to make earlier, like textiles and gems and jewellery. Even primary product exports have become significant once again.



Another feature of such export orientation, as in other Asian countries, is the involvement of more women workers in this production. In the Export Processing Zones we can see that women (and especially those of a particular age group –18 to 22) are the majority. They are available at lower wage rates than those for men working in equivalent jobs, are often willing to work cheap with no unionisation and can be exploited in many ways. Of course, the involvement of women in export production in India is a little different from the high-exporting East Asian economies. In the Indian EPZs, women workers form the majority, but in the whole export production sector, they are less.



Instead, there is a different and less visible involvement of women in manufacturing production which comes from the sub-contracting system and home-based work. Where is the involvement of women? You can see women in Ghaziabad and greater NOIDA sitting at home stitching buttons on T-shirts, which will be the final product of a company like Benetton or even smaller less famous manufacturers, or women making shoe laces which will be part of the final shoe output sold by the multinational Nike. This is the kind of production, where women workers are at the lowest rung and get only piece rate work. The wages here are effectively very low. They are exploiting themselves, doing as much work as possible, working longer hours and taking the help of their children and the entire family.



This type of work has increased quite substantially. Earlier, such subcontracting was confined to relatively few items – pappads or footwear and the like. Now a wide range of medium and large producers, up to the multinationals, are outsourcing a larger share of their activities. After all, this is a strategy, which is most convenient for employers, with the only caveat being the difficulty of homogenous quality control in such circumstances. The employers have to spend very little to ensure workers for this activity. No transportation or any other facilities are necessary. There is no question of employers having to worry about working conditions, job security, and safety at the work place etc. There is even no contract as the workers are doing piece rate work. In the last few years work participation of women has increased in this home based sector. This has become a problem for unionisation also. As workers are not working at one place it is difficult to organise them and fight for better conditions. We have to work out strategies to organise these women in unions and to carry forward the struggle for their rights.



According to Government statistics, another sector where women’s employment has increased is part time work in the service sector- women who provide domestic services or the women who clean the offices of big firms etc or in the entertainment industry. All these jobs are such that organising the workers is very difficult. Employment is increasing in such sectors where to form unions and fight for their rights are next to impossible. On the other hand, as discussed above, the availability of basic services is coming down. So with poor and declining public health care facilities, one has to go to a private doctor. Similarly, the basic needs of water, electricity and roads or transport facilities are becoming unaffordable for many in the working class. One estimate says that in the last ten years the transport charges in the cities have increased four times. All these have increased the burden on the workers. As a result of all these the real wages have come down and working conditions have deteriorated.



So what is to be done? The proponents of these policies say that there is no alternative and as we have seen all the Governments at the centre during the last ten years have followed the same policies. It is not the case that the UF Government has done something else or so. The Congress Government has initiated these policies. But the present BJP-led NDA Government has done the worst. It is almost as if it is sitting in the lap of big capital. All this may give the impression that such policies are indeed inevitable. Is it so?



In fact, it is very important to note that it is not inevitable. This is one of the faces of globalisation, which should be totally opposed. In many countries, we can see that the conditions of the workers are the same. But it is not so in all countries. There are countries also, where all these things did not happen even though they are also involved in producing for an international market, are benefiting from access to the latest technology and are integrated with the global economy. The problems we face in India have been avoided in some of these countries. Thus, in India, the price of food items has increased dramatically in the last ten years; in some other countries, however, it came down. In our country, living conditions worsened and poverty has increased; but in other some countries, such as Costa Rica in Latin America, they did not. Why is it so? This is so because here it is the globalisation of rules and conditions in favour of capital, for the big corporate companies.



The priorities of the Government have to be changed. First of all, the basic facilities for the common people should be provided. The tax-GDP ratio has to be increased. The argument against this is that we cannot increase taxes because capital will not come. But in fact it is not as if that capital is coming now. The Government is doing all this in the hope that capital will come. Even if we double the tax-GDP ratio, it will still be less than that in the rest of Asian and near to Sub-Saharan Africa and half of that in European countries. If tax is increased the expenditure can be increased, instead of effectively spending most of the fiscal deficit money on interest payments of old debts and on defence.



If we increase the tax-GDP ratio to the level of the 1990s, i.e. to 12%, we will get 3% of the GDP. This is equivalent to our total Central Government defence expenditure. What can we get from this? This money will be enough to connect all the villages in the country with roads; provide safe drinking water, a primary health centre with three doctors and school up to secondary level to all the villages in the country. It is not that only these services can be provided; in the process it will generate employment. That is we can solve the problems of providing better services and employment together.



Then why does the Government continue to favour the current more inequitable policies? They say that it is to attract big capital. But is it a fact? Experience shows that wherever there is already a dynamic and strong economy, international capital reaches on its own. Take the case of China, which attracts more foreign investment than all other developing countries put together, and which is growing very rapidly on the basis of massive government infrastructure spending and systematic export promotion. Foreign investors are ready to wait for 4-5 years to invest there. But we in India could not attract much investment in spite of bending over backwards and providing so many concessions to capital. If it all they come it is only to buy our assets cheaply as in the case of BALCO. This shows us that if we achieve growth and development on our own terms, we need not provide such concessions to foreign capital; they will come by themselves.



Then the reasoning that the cause for our problems is only globalisation is not correct. It is the policies pursued by the Government. The Governments ruling the country for the last ten years have been working for the big capitalists; not for the other classes like the workers, peasants etc and not even for the small capitalists.



But it still remains that because we live in a democracy and the governments need to legitimate their authority, one day those in Government have to approach the people. It is our duty, the duty of our organisation to reach to the people and tell them, to convince them that this kind of globalisation is not essential; that we can have a different kind of globalisation. What the Government is doing now is for the big capitalists inside and outside the country and against the interests of the people. In particular, specific policies of the Government operate to worsen the material conditions of working women in ways I have outlined above. We should raise our voices of opposition against these and generate sufficient social and political pressure to force the Government to change these policies.



Before this lecture, I was going through the life story of Vimal di. It is evident that she was not someone who passively accepted adverse circumstances or unfair tendencies. Rather, she was a fighter to the core, and always used to raise her voice against injustice and for the rights of the working masses and women, and was not afraid of making a big stir to achieve those goals. We must follow her example and strengthen the struggle for pro people policies. That will be the real tribute to Vimal di.








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