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As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, denting economies and devastating medical infrastructures, the role of the trade union movement in India and its widely accepted irrelevance in the changed circumstances, merits a deeper analysis. What is the role of trade unions in a new globalized, privatized, and liberal socio-economic order that seems to have found popular acceptance in most emerging societies?
Looking at the long queues of litigants at the labor courts, it would appear that trade unions have lost the will to fight it out in the field with strikes or direct action. They now prefer to get engaged in protracted disputes settled by litigation committees or tribunals.
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“The reality is that in the new so-called liberal economic order, the workers are totally at the mercy of the employers who can fire anyone at will. Job security is an outdated concept. With most government departments these days outsourcing services, the bargaining power of unions has been drastically reduced,” says Abhinay Prasad, president of the Self-employed Workers and Vendors Association, of Agra.
In a country populated by farmers and an unorganized workforce, the relevance of celebrating May Day remains highly questionable, if not amusing, adds former trade union activist Shravan Kumar Singh. “Who is fighting whom? Trade unions as ‘schools of revolution’ is a dated concept. The leftists these days feel left out from all spheres of public discourse. They hardly have any contribution to make in a system where roles are not clearly defined and the economic classes not clearly segregated, as Marx would have wanted,” Singh added.
As the number of self-help employers is going up steadily, it becomes difficult to decide who is exploiting and who is being exploited. “But our fight is chiefly against the government agencies and the police who harass and often turn to exploit vendors or petty shopkeepers,” says an aging trade union leader.
“Trade unions everywhere are losing their revolutionary character and are seen degenerating into litigation committees, striking deals, and bargains with management. Their preoccupation is no longer waging a class struggle or sharpening the political consciousness of their members but winning small mercies from the establishment,” opines a former left-leaning commentator Paras Nath Choudhary.
Strikes are no longer in fashion. This is because trade union leaders are now members of the management boards, with a responsibility to keep the wheels of industry running in their collective self-interest, adds Ram Kishore, president of the Socialist Foundation. “These days we do not see any effort by the working class to wage a relentless struggle for restructuring society according to Marxist thinking. Karl Marx visualized that the working class would eventually become the vanguard of the socialist revolution, with trade unions acting as the organizing centers for uniting the forces of workers competing with one another and to give them elementary class training.
But experience has shown that these institutions have emerged neither as independent centers of power nor as schools of socialism and solidarity. Of late we have seen a tendency of most unions to appear “apolitical”. Many have refused to make political statements that could lead to a change of governance. Union leaders do not realize that the genuine interests of workers lie not so much in the percentage of dearness allowance or gain in salary structures but in the real purchasing power of money which depends on the political and economic policies of a government.
In practical terms, the main function of union leaders is to “keep the fellows in order” to help keep the industrial wheel running at any cost. It is not surprising therefore that in the industrialized West, trade unions are considered an extremely vital part of the establishment and involved in the decision-making process. Today’s grim reality is that as institutions of labor activism, they cannot challenge the system or even question the existence of a society based on a division of classes. The history of the trade union movement in India proves that the unions can never be a vehicle of advance towards socialism. They are tied to capitalism and therefore cannot transform or rebel against the given system.
The isolated case of a big union’s involvement with the changing of the system was the 18-day long railway strike in 1974 by George Fernandes that hastened or created conditions for the imposition of emergency. Clearly, the trade union movement is at a crossroads. It has to redefine its agenda and its ideological parameters. Organizing rallies to promote sectarian interests is one thing, but getting involved with a larger struggle to usher in socialism and leading the working class to dismantle the feudal-capitalism complex is quite another.
Trade Union leaders no longer want to play a political role. The old model of a trade union always being in conflict with the establishment has changed. Now there is close coordination and co-existence. This has put the ordinary worker in a permanent state of tension and uncertainty.
The labor class can not afford to fight as alternatives are no longer available, due to the shrinkage of the job market and the economy not really looking up. Clearly, the trade union movement is at a crossroads. It has to redefine its agenda and its ideological parameters. Organizing rallies to promote sectarian interests is one thing, but getting involved with a larger struggle to usher in socialism and leading the working class to dismantle the feudal-capitalist complex is quite another. (IANS/SP)
Great historic events that have shaped the world and changed the outlines of countries are often not recorded in memory, or so we think. Wars made sure to destroy evidence and heritage, and the ones who survived told the tale of what really happened. Folklore, albeit through oral tradition kept alive many such stories, hidden in verse, limericks, and rhymes.
Ringa-ringa-roses, a common playtime rhyme among children across the world, is an example of folklore that has survived for many centuries. It tells the story of the The Great Plague of London which ravaged the city between 1665-1666.
The Plague broke out from improper disposal of garbage and poor sewage conditions. Fleas from the rats that lived in the sewers spread the disease that killed more than half of London's population. Many people fled from their homes as there was no medicine available for those who were infected.
Beak-shaped masks worn during the Great Plague of London Image source: wikimedia commons
It was around this time that masks began to be invented. The first masks were shaped like beaks, and were worn not to protect the wearer from the disease, but to the prevent them from being able to smell the decay and death around them, which they called 'miasma'. The beaks were filled with floral herbs that allowed doctors and nurses to tend to the sick without being reviled from the smell.
Children are often seen forming circles by holding hands and reciting loudly,
Pockets full of posies
We all fall down"
An illustration of the Great Plague of London, 1665 Image source: wikimedia commons
When the last line is sung, they break the circle and fall down. The roses and posies are believed to be the preferred fragrances inside the masks, and a single sneeze (a-tishoo) was enough to infect the one who was exposed to the disease. Consequently, they fell down, ill, and later died.
An alternative version of this rhyme is sung about the fall of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the aftermath of World War II. The roses and posies are interchanged with geranium and uranium, to symbolise what was used in the atomic bomb. But this version is not as famous the original.
Keywords: Rhymes, Ringa-ringa-roses, Great Plague of London, WWII, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Folklore
In modern times, many social movements aim to bring reform to the society we live in, on the basis of certain existing patterns. Patriarchy is something that many aim to cleanse our cultures of, to usher in the era of social and gender equality. Despite all these so-called movements, in southern India, certain societies that patronise matriarchy have existed since before India's independence. The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country.
Kerala remains separate from the rest of India in many ways. Be it literacy policy, form of government, or cultural practices, this state does not always conform to the ideal that India is known for. Even so with their social structure. Certain tribes have remained matrilineal, where the decision-making power rests with the eldest female of the family.
The Nairs and Ezhavas of Kerala, and Bunts and Billavas of Karnataka are matrilineal societies that continue to thrive in a patriarchal country. Image source: wikimedia commons
A male member, who is the close confidante of the matriarch is chosen. He plays a crucial role in representing the male members of his family, and his opinion is highly valued. He is called karavanan. The men reside in separate rooms or in separate houses, and do not interfere in the upbringing of children. Property is also passed down along the lineage of the eldest female. Among the Nairs, matriarchy is more prominently adhered to than the Ezhavas, who have some patrilocal connections.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Their matrilineal descent is known as Aliyasantana.
The story is told of a demon who threatened to destroy a kingdom if the king did not sacrifice his sons, but the king's sister comes forward to offer her children in sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom. The demon is touched and does not destroy the city. Since then, the kingdom, or the property is inherited through female lineage.
In Karnataka, the Bunts and Billavas belong to the Tuluva ethnic group. They are also a predominantly matriarchal society, founded on the belief in a legend. Image source: wikimedia commons
In the recent past, many of these matriarchal societies have been reduced to matrilineal societies by certain governmental laws. They fall under the patriarchal scheme of the rest of the state but have reserved the right to pass on property and heritage through the female line. In the North east of India, matriarchal dominance is far more resilient than the south.
Keywords: Bunts, Billava, Nair, Ezhava, Aliyasantana, Matrilineal, South India, Karnataka, Kerala
Apple inc. Is an American multinational tech firm specialized in consumer electronics, computer programs, and internet services founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne in 1976 to manufacture Wozniak's Apple iComputer. It is the world's top tech company in turnover (totaling $274.5 billion in 2020) and its most valuable corporation. Apple is the fourth-largest PC seller by unit sales and the fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.
Apple has revealed a slew of new products at a special launch event that has been long-awaited. On the day of the live event, Apple announced the iPad mini, Apple Watch Series 7, iPhone 13 mini, and iPhone 13, as well as the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Apple has revealed a slew of new products at a special launch event that has been long-awaited. | Photo by Daniel Romero on Unsplash
In the first major product announcement during the event, Apple introduced the newest edition of the iPad and a 5G-capable iPad Mini.
iPad: The 10.2-inch iPad is equipped with a solid A13 processor that delivers 20 percent quicker performance than the preceding version. According to Apple, it is now three times faster than a Chromebook. A new 12MP ultra-wide camera with Center Stage, which utilizes machine learning to optimize the front-facing camera during FaceTime video chats, as well as more incredible accessory support, including compatibility with the first-generation Apple Pencil, are among the new features. For 64GB of storage, the iPad costs $329.
iPad Mini: In addition to reduced borders and more rounded edges, the 8.3-inch iPad mini also has improved front and back cameras. A liquid retina display, USB-C compatibility, magnetic support for the Apple Pencil, an enhanced speaker system, and new hues such as pink and purple are all features of the new Apple iPad Mini. The starting price is $499.
In the first major product announcement during the event, Apple introduced the newest edition of the iPad and a 5G-capable iPad Mini. | Photo by Leone Venter on Unsplash
The other major unveiled products include:
iPhone 13 and other variants: The iPhone 13 range is almost identical to the iPhone 12 lineup, with a 5.4-inch iPhone 13 Mini, a 6.1-inch iPhone 13, a 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro, and a 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max. It was also revealed that the Watch Series 7 has a smaller "S7" processor, which may allow for a bigger battery or other components to be housed in a smaller footprint. The gadgets have a revolutionary design that includes a dual-camera system, placed diagonally. Apple's iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have longer-lasting batteries than the previous generation of devices. In addition, Apple claims that the iPhone 13 will have a battery life that is 2.5 hours longer than the iPhone 12, and the iPhone 13 mini will have a battery life that is 1.5 hours longer. A more energy-efficient display, an upgraded 5G chip, and functionality called "Cinematic Mode," similar to the famous Portrait mode function but is only available for movies, are among the other enhancements. The A15 Bionic chip present in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini is also used in the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro and 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max, also 6.1-inch devices. However, it also has a five-core CPU, which promises graphics that are 50% quicker than previous models. Other notable features of the Pro devices include a brilliant Super Retna XDR display with a higher refresh rate and long-lasting battery life. Now, for the price, it will start at $699 for the iPhone 13 mini with 128 GB of storage, $799 for the iPhone 13 with 128 GB of storage, and the Pro and Pro Max have starting prices of $999 $1,099, respectively.
Apple Watch Series 7: The new Apple Watch Series 7, which is smaller and has a larger screen than its previous model, was introduced by Apple on Wednesday. There is a 20% increase in screen size over Series 6 on the new watch. A complete keyboard that you can touch or slide to write out text messages can show 50% more text. It starts at $399.
Keywords: Apple, iPad, iPad Mini, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone Mini, Apple event 2021