Another voice against the day: A young worker's story

Submitted by Django on January 1, 2011

We met a 20 years old worker who lives and works in Manesar, near Gurgaon. It is his individual story, but it is at the same time the story of a dominant part of global working class today: the migration between village and town, the wandering between different jobs and sectors, the dissolution of old social structures, the necessity to form new ones. Their existence bridges the knowledge of agricultural work, the knowledge about the misery of village life, the skills of modern industry and industrial struggle, the anger towards the urban betrayal. Seen on its collective and antagonistic background their story smashes all antiquated, but re-animated concepts of the ‘peasant-workers alliance’ – a concept, which essentially upholds the ‘mediating and allying role’ of the ‘left-wing of bourgeoisie’. Any attempts of professional and institutional trade unionism will fail their meandering workforce shifting between textile, automobile, printing or whatever production. In the face of their social experience, any claim that workers’ consciousness is necessarily reduced to the ‘economic dimension’ will be doomed to wither in the shadow of irrelevance. So far the temporary falling-back into the village might have prevented a mass confrontation with the real-existing conditions in the urban world: a settled existence as an urban wage worker is utopian and nightmarish at the same time. The ‘falling back’ becomes untenable, so does the ‘leap ahead’ into the urban whirlpool. The whirl’s centre is formed of mainly temporary employment in core industries, connected to both, global production-chains and the large fringes of slum economy. The centrifugal forces are growing and hardly allow a settled existence. The new desires and collectivity emerge from the central point and are washed into the periphery. Only if future working class movements are able to keep the social connection between urban industrial centres and periphery will they be able to express a communist tendency. The current social connection is on the shoulders of the migrating workers. The Pearl River generation of migrating workers has become the pendulum of global capital. Their pushs-and-pulls between southern hinterland and global workbench and the rushes of northern austerity crisis will have to crack the systemic borderline of under/development and reiterate the necessity to make the step beyond.

Twenty years old worker
(FMS New Series No. 268)

I get up at five o’clock in the morning, in the middle of sleep…

Since I was 12 or 13 years old, I always got up at five in morning to milk the cows. We had two cows. Then I went three and a half kilometres on my bicycle to deliver the milk to a place outside of our village. Back at home, I would eat and then go and graze the cattle. After having washed and returned the cows, I went to school at about ten o’clock. My parents fought a lot with each other. Since I was in seventh class, my father stopped sending money to us. We lived in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. My father worked in Pehowa, Haryana, painting and plastering houses. For one month, I worked as a helper for the manager of a brick kiln. But selling milk was our profession. When my father did not send any money during all of 2004, I left school. Everyone said, “How long will you survive by grassing cattle, go and learn some work…”

In 2005, I arrived in Gurgaon. I stayed with the son of a relative. I was 15 years old then. For ten days, I had to sit idle. I learned how to make rotis and started to make food for those who went to work at four in the morning. I found my first job in N.K. Rubber factory in Nakhrola. The personnel manager interviewed me. The contractor said that I was still young, but that it would work out. The workers -who had come from Orissa to find a job – filled out my job card, stating that I was 18 years old.

I had to get up at half past four in the morning. I prepared food. Then I went one kilometer on foot. I began work in the factory at eight o’clock. They ran two 12hour shifts. We manufactured soles for shoes. It was assembly line work. You had to stand upright for 12 hours, only half an hour meal break. I hardly managed to keep up. The supervisor got angry. My feet would swell up from all the standing.

During nightshift, you get very tired. I snuck away to get some sleep. The supervisor screamed and the guard went to find and wake me up. Although I had already worked six hours at that point, they cut 12 hours from my wages. I had difficulties sleeping during the day. During the nightshift week, I used to get so very tired by Wednesdays… Now on nightshift week, I often take Wednesday off.

There are six people now sharing the room. From my first wages, I used 1,000 rupees to pay the food bill. With 250 rupees, I bought a thin mat and blanket. With 300 rupees, a gas cooker and some cooking utensils. Then I went to get a different room in Nakhrola. With another one of the guys, I paid 700 rupees rent. The guy left and I spent two months on my own.

The winter began. You leave at half past seven in the morning and return at eight o’clock at night. For fifteen days, you do not see the sun. A thin mat, a blanket, a sheet – I had no proper bed, I slept on the floor. I also had no sweater, so I slept with my jacket on… I could not get any sleep at night. When the morning came…I can still remember how cold it was during winter in 2005. In the factory, it smelled really bad, but it was warm…There, sleep came very easily.

I had been working at N.K. Rubber for four months when the message of the death of my grandmother arrived. I went back to the village. Cutting wheat, thrashing wheat, storing the straw. Cutting arhar, digging out garlic, cutting coriander. Preparing the paddy field, preparing the rice plants and planting them. Go and fetch the cows for grazing, grazing them. At home, there was a lot of difficulty because of the heavy burden of all the work. But if you don’t do it, what will you eat? Suffering at home continued. There was a lot of fighting between my uncle and my father. Because my mother had been staying in the village, we got hold of three bighas of land during the re-distribution.

My earliest memories are from Pehowa in Haryana. They sent my older sisters to a government school and me to a private school. After a year, my sisters returned to the village to stay with my mother. I stayed back with my father. After having prepared food in the morning, my father went to work and I went to school. One day on the playing field, a kid threw a stone and it hit my head. I bled a lot, but there wasn’t anyone to put a bandage on, so I kept my head in some cloth. When my father came from work at eight o’clock, he bandaged my head. I was very sad. I was alone. I missed my mother and my older sisters. My father went back to the village. I had my exam coming up. He had left me in Pehowa, so the neighbors gave me food. I developed a fever – now I think it was because of the stress. I was good at math. My father wanted me to keep on studying in Pehowa. I would go back to the village during holidays. It was a private school so, the holidays were very short. After the marriage of my two older sisters, my mother was left only with my younger sister. I went back to the village and my mother would not let me go back…

When I arrived at Gurgaon the second time, I started again working at N.K. Rubber – this time in the packing department, where I stayed for four months. I also went to Perfecti factory, but nothing came out of it. In order to learn how to run CNC machines, I started at Moog Automotive for a low wage. The supervisor was a cousin of mine. I stopped after twelve days. There was too much quarreling because the cousin kept on screaming at me. I went back to the village. In 2006, I spent the whole winter in the village. Then I went back to Gurgaon. It took 15 days to find a job. I spent a lot of time running around IMT Manesar. I had job interviews at many places.

They hired me at Vishal Retail factory (Plot 16-17, Sector 5). They hired me as a press man – it was the first time that I worked at a steam press. I became a record keeper and then a small supervisor. I learned how to sew. Wages were delayed. The first day after the supposed pay-day, workers stopped working for a while. The next day workers stopped working at eleven o’clock. The general manager said that wages would arrive at three o’clock. Workers started working. The wages did not arrive. Workers stopped again. At eight o’clock at night, people were finally paid. I worked there for a year. Then the factory closed. The contractor disappeared. One year of contributions to the PF lost…

I was ill for 15 days. I had chicken pox. I did not eat, I could not walk, neither sleep. Because he was afraid of infection, one of the roommates left. I was upset about that. I used to cook for him. The other roommate took 15 days off. He cooked food, prepared the medicine, and washed the clothes.

After Vishal retail had closed down, I started at Orient Craft (Plot 15, Sector 5) as a tailor. You had to work from half past nine in the morning till one o’clock at night every day. On Sundays, they made you work from half past nine in the morning till four o’clock the next morning. They paid double for overtime. They sacked me because I took a Sunday off. They said that data was lost on the computer. I had to go to the office again and again to get my outstanding wages. After twelve days working at Orient Craft, I worked seven days at Gulati Export (Sector 4).

Then I started at STI Zenho (161, Sector 40). The company manufactures break pipes for Maruti, Suzuki, and Honda cars. I learned how to operate a bending machine. Most of the supervisors there were women. The behavior of our supervisor was not good. You had to ask in order to go to the toilet. Even after having finished the target, you had to keep the machines running, making extra-pieces. You were not supposed to make pieces which would be ‘rejected’. You were supposed to work eight hours daily overtime. For two or three days, I was concerned with the fact that a woman was my supervisor, then I got used to it. You are forced to work, so you have to listen. After seven months, I took holiday and returned to the village. My sister was ill. At the time of return, I also got news about the work accident of my supervisor cousin. He was kept in the Delhi Jay Prakash Trauma center, got a blood infusion and had to stay for fifteen days. He then had to be looked after by relatives for another ten to fifteen days. After all this, I started again at STI Zenho. After five months, they gave me an enforced ‘break’.

I started at AG Industries (Plot 8, Sector 3). About 100 permanent workers work on three shifts and another 500 workers hired through contractors work on two 12 hour shifts. They manufacture fiber side-covers for Hero Honda motorcycles. The permanent workers wanted to establish a union. So, in January-February 2010, the company kicked out eighteen of them. On March 20th, all workers gathered and stopped working. The police came in two bus loads, they entered the factory, started beating us with lathis and kicked the workers out. One had his hand broken, several others had bleeding heads. At six in the morning, some workers went back inside and started working. The managers also worked. Workers were brought in Hero Honda buses from Gurgaon, from Dharuhera and also from Ghaziabad. New people were hired at the gate. On March 26th, the unions had a demonstration in Gurgaon, with ten thousand people, with speeches. Then again, nothing. After signing the ‘good conduct conditions’, the permanent workers went back inside on the 2nd and 3rd of April, leaving the eighteen other workers outside. After four months of working there, I had an argument with the supervisor. I left the job and went back to the village.

When I told them that I would go back to Gurgaon, my mother and sister cried. I stayed for three more days. When I left, I didn’t tell them. I borrowed money for the travel from a friend. I looked for a job for eight days. I started at Kumar printers (24 Sector 5). Two 12 hour shifts. At every machine, at every corner cameras. There are 50 permanents and 225 workers hired through two different contractors. They do industrial printing. During the Commonwealth Games trouble, 50 to 60 workers left because they were afraid of being harassed by the police. Due to the lack of workers, the remaining workers had to work from eight in the morning till one at night. They also brought 30 workers from Bhiwadi in a bus every day. I haven’t fixed a date yet, but I will go back to the village…