The Practical and Impractical

Faridabad Majdoor Samachar, September 2012
(Translated from Hindi)

Practicality in these Times:

* Waking up a three/four/five-year-old at 5/6/7’o clock in the morning. Forcing the child to clear its bowels when neither body nor soul is willing. Forcing the child eat even if s/he is unwilling. Washing the sleepy child’s face. Forcing the unwilling child into a uniform. To be practical, parents suppress their own desires and their child’s childhood. In order to keep them practical, schools teach children how to sit still – they destroy childhood.

* To be practical in our times one has to accept a habitation made of cement, steel and paint. Practicality demands roads outside and electricity within. Children long for mud and sand. They long to run and jump around.  To bring up a child properly, 50 people of varying ages are required but only one or two or three or four are available. So practicality requires a child be checked at each step, at all times. Practicality is transforming each child into a bomb.

* For a bright future practicality requires the child be sent to school. A good school is one whose students fetch a good price on the market. A good school is an expensive school. Practicality compels us to choose between a good and a not-so-good school. Whether it be a better or a worse school, post-school tuitions are an accepted practice. The child is able to spend little time with grandparents. It is in the nature of schools to break down relations between generations. Practicality requires the mushrooming of old-age homes, and the elderly waiting to meet their death.

* A society characterised by hierarchy, market and money, and wage-slavery requires everybody to be both cunning and intelligent. Especially when one is young, practicality requires the ability to sell oneself –to hide anger behind an ever smiling face. The intense and turbulent reality of market and money shapes the practicality of everyday relations. To live up to our images, constantly trying to hide our reality produces shallow, superficial, temporary relationships.

Can there be a practice of life different from such a practical life of hierarchical, commericalised, monetised, wage-labour-based society?

# Straight-forward, simple, truthful behaviour is impractical in our times. Deep, long-term relationships are today impractical. What one does to become a wage-worker, to remain a wage-worker is practical; but not to have any wage-worker, i.e. end of wage-slavery is impractical. To challenge hierarchy, market-and-money, and wage-slavery is definitely impractical; however, it is an expression of the force, of life itself. The growing impracticalities throughout the world today are increasingly challenging the practicalities. As an example, let us take a look at a beautiful expression of impracticality in the activities of the Maruti Suzuki workers from June 2011 to July 18, 2012:

* On June 4, 2011, the workers of the A & B shifts got together to remove the company’s and the state’s control over the factory. Forming networks and chains the workers established their own control. Production stopped, and permanent workers, trainees, apprentices, contract workers associated among themselves with a new intensity. The company got cold feet and the government stood aghast at the workers’ impracticality. The practical people in support of the company and the state were joined by the pro-workers’ practical people to call for normalising the situation. The normal situation meant resuming production, making cars. To be practical means exchange, measurement and bargaining. The workers continued to remain impractical; they remained so for 13 days. The workers were treading an unfamiliar path. The practical side became dominant because this unfamiliar path could not acquire a definite form and production restarted in the factory after the negotiations.

* The management is very practical, while among workers the presence of impracticality is always felt. Standing up for contract workers, the permanent workers gave another proof of their impracticality in the month of July. The company made preparations and wove a net to force practicality down the workers’ throats. They surreptitiously brought new recruits. On the night of August 28, which was a Sunday, 400 policemen and management staff were sent in to fire the brahmastra of expulsion, suspension and signing of a good-conduct bond on the workers who would turn up the next morning. Workers were outside the factory. The police, management staff and new workers were inside. If, on the one hand, there were attempts to restart production in the factory, on the other, the association between permanent workers, contract workers, trainees and apprentices was strengthened. Three thousand workers organised themselves. Whenever the impracticality of workers manifests itself, pro-worker, yet practical, people and organisations become hyperactive, trying to teach workers practicality. The Company was overconfident because it was playing a tactic that has been tested many times in Mumbai, Faridabad, Gurgaon, etc. Remaining limited to the Maruti Suzuki factory in Manesar was weakening them, yet the young workers seemed capable of prolonging the conflict for quite some time – this once again brought in the practical people from both sides to exert their pressure. In order to make workers relearn the lessons of practicality, a new agreement was signed on September 30.

* The new workers recruited in the month of September continued to remain in the factory. After the agreement, all workers (permanent, trainee and apprentice), save the 44 expelled, re-entered the factory, but 1,200-1,500 contract workers were not allowed inside by the company. The management was ready to break the networks that had formed among workers and to replicate a strategy that had worked successfully in 2005 in the Honda Motorcycle and Scooters Company – the permanent, trainee and contract workers had waged a united struggle in Honda, yet the management took back the permanent workers, but retrenched all the existing contract workers, employing new ones in their place, and stopped keeping trainees altogether.

* The impracticality of the workers reasserted itself on October 7. Including the Maruti Suzuki plants, workers liberated 11 factories in the Industrial Model Town of Manesar from the control of the management and the state. The forces of practicality pushed themselves in through all kinds of measures and on October 8, workers loosened their control over seven factories, which the companies recaptured. October 8 onwards, with the struggle limited now to four factories of the Suzuki group, the workers’ control started acceding to practicality. Yet in the words of a worker: “The time we spent in the Maruti Suzuki factory between October 7 and 14 was very good. No stress regarding work or commuting to work. No anxiety to catch a bus. No worries about cooking. No more trouble about when to eat our meals. No need to count days in the week or to keep track of the date. There were many intimate conversations. We had never been as close to each other as we came in those seven days.”

* The practicality of the state and management took a step back and made concessions to the impracticality of the workers. A third agreement was signed on October 19. Contract workers returned to the factory. And also, the time for assembling a car was increased from 45 seconds to a minute.

* Practicality started designing a new ploy. Three workers of Suzuki Powertrain had played a key role in forming links with the workers of Maruti Suzuki Manesar in the month of October. Because these three workers had taken a strong stand against the state and the company, and the October 19 Maruti Suzuki agreements, they had to be sidelined to clinch the agreement in Powertrain on October 21. The three protesting workers were suspended, and in order to establish the ones who had put down their signatures, a three-year agreement was reached between the Powertrain management and the union. Regaining confidence in their control, the management finally fired these three workers on April 17, 2012, while those who were involved in the agreements maintained order among the workers. Then the bosses decided to merge Suzuki Powertrain and the Maruti Suzuki companies – this was done in order to weaken the rebellious workers. By keeping those who were brought into the factory in September 2011 and by starting a B-plant, the bosses had by now weakened the strength of these workers. By registering and recognising the union, the management had already made a solid arrangement to create a rift between the permanent and other workers. The bosses were on the way to re-establish practicality among workers by provoking and fomenting managed explosions.

* Of course, the concessions gave some reliefs too, but nothing much really changed in their lives; however, Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers had the determination to change their lives, make them better.   Despite concessions on the company’s part, lives of Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers remained lives of workers, unbearable as ever. And so on July 18, 2012, the workers targeted two symbols of the status quo – the factory and its management.

* The impracticality of past generations brought many significant junctures in the social process. If one were to speak of workers, then in 1871, in France, workers established the Paris Commune – the army, police and judiciary were dissolved, the jails were torn down, and the workers were up in arms. The supporters of hierarchy, market-and-money, and wage-slavery did destroy the Paris Commune by massacring thousands of workers, yet the Paris Commune continues to show the way today. In 1905, in Russia, impractical workers did step forward on the path shown by the Paris Commune by constituting the Soviets, and suffered much violence. The Soviets emerged once again in 1917. In October 1917, dissolving the army, the police, the courts and the jails, general workers took up arms and the Soviets became the harbingers of a new society. But due to adverse conditions, practicality reared its head once again and a standing army by the name of the “Red Army” was re-established in 1918. The establishment of an army and an increase in its strength implied a decline in the power of the workers’ soviets. Instead of being destroyed altogether, the Soviets were made powerless; they existed as a smokescreen that contributed to the maintenance of hierarchy, market-and-money and the system of wages.

We find ourselves increasingly being surrounded by circumstances similar to those of July 18 at Maruti Suzuki Manesar. Such a situation is increasingly being obtained to the world over. Can there be anything more satisfying for us in our struggle against hierarchy, market-and-money and wage-slavery, and for a new social order? We are face to face with destruction, the end, and a new beginning – can there be a better present, a better near future for humanity?

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