Cull the Crocodiles

The Financial Express Editorial today ‘Striking at Job Creation’ makes no new point yet it is noteworthy for a different reason.

The Editorial has a message spelt out clearly by its sub-title ‘Trade unions continue to behave irresponsibly.’ The trade unions have declared a nationwide strike on September 2. They will be protesting against the labour law reforms and also land acquisition bill.

The Editorial argues that labour laws are rigid and have to be more flexible, if we are to attract investment in manufacturing. An interesting quote is “A recent study by CRISIL noted that a push for labour-intensive manufacturing, through changes in labour laws, along with an improvement in physical infrastructure and power can create nearly 11 million jobs by 2020 compared with a loss of four million under status quo.

A recent article in Economic and Political Weekly titled ‘Where Have All the Workers Gone? Puzzle of Declining Labour Intensity in Organised Indian Manufacturing concludes that it makes economic sense today to automate than employ labour.

Is this any new argument? Certainly not. We have read them over and over again. Yet the editorial is significant for one reason.

The din is rising, voices are getting bolder
Loksatta, the most popular Marathi daily, carries interesting and well written and studied editorials. Increasingly those editorials are getting sharper tone, and courage to write what was taboo earlier. Loksatta editorial team is led by Girish Kuber who earlier worked as the Political editor with Economic Times. Kuber wrote an editorial castigating the trade unions for mindless opposition and advising the readers [a large number of them belong to the working class of various colours of collar] that it was necessary to embrace this change – the labour laws must be changed. That language in a vernacular daily was never seen earlier, just as we had rarely [read never] seen The Financial Express and the like openly castigating trade unions calling them ‘irresponsible.’ The editorials stand out for shouting hoarse against what was taboo earlier.

Our National Culture of Obstinacy
That leads me to ask readers of this blog: “Do you think a well-argued discussion is possible today?” We begin with the law makers whose behaviour is not exactly worth emulating. Whether it is parliament, or an assembly or even within a political party, a discussion soon degenerates in to extreme positions, perhaps begins with extreme stances. ‘Either you will agree with me or I will create road blocks’ is the stance of Congress, but it is not original invention – all are guilty of it.

The public image of Congress was that of a non-performing spectator of events; the public image of Modi Government is that of a road roller who want to crush anything that comes in the way. Prudent way lies somewhere in between, it is one of persuasion and of understanding. Of generating agreement or, at the least, of not being disagreeable.

Take other aspect of any dispute. Every dispute, Indians believe and with some justification, can be taken to Supreme Court. And we do it. Accepting a compromise is simply not our way. It was not the way of Dr Datta Samant who used to literally dictate terms of agreement to employers, and it was also not the way of employers who owned Phoenix Mills, Kamal Mills and the like. Accepting compromise was also not the way, it appears, of the employees of Pfizer who were offered 30 grams of Gold plus 50 lakhs of rupees as VRS compensation; [eighty seven Pfizer employees never accepted VRS creating complications], it was also not the way of several employers like Raymond who closed down factories with pittance of a compensation.

If we have to make progress, we have to learn to make quick and timely compromises and move on. That requires not just an attitude of pragmatism but also a will to accept arbitration. Arbitration is a quick method which is not accepted by both the parties for various technical and other reasons. Is there a discussion about making it work? No! Will the Government, Unions or CII-FICCI-ASSOCHAM explore ways to make it work? No!!

Essentially we have created a culture of obstinacy. It is fashionable to declare values of an organisation on its web site and in brochures. How many have declared ‘flexibility’ as a value, and among them how many have made efforts to explore its true application in everyday life, will be an interesting subject of research.
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Cull the Crocodiles in Our Mind
I was reading the news report on ABC’s website. It says that the growth of crocodiles in Kimberly in Western Australia is a cause of worry, the population has tripled in recent times. Movement in the river system is almost impossible in some areas.

There is a call to cull the crocodile population.

This call resonates with me, perhaps it does with you too, and do you know why? 

Vivek S Patwardhan

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