GurgaonWorkersNews no.52 – November 2012
November 4, 2012
GurgaonWorkersNews – Newsletter 52 (November 2012)
In the recent issues of GurgaonWorkersNews we tried to capture how different sections of the working class in India relate to each other, which tendencies of generalisation exist and which kind of divisions still prevail. In no.49 we focussed on the situation of the rural proletariat and the work-scheme of the state regime, in no.50 on struggles of industrial workers in the garment, electronics and construction sector, in no.51 on the struggle within the concentrated automobile industry.
In the current issue we publish the preface of the Indian edition of ‘Hotlines: Call Centre, Inquiry, Communism’, published by Phonemebooks. We try to give an overview on the changes in global call centre industry between 2002 and today, the decade when India became the main call centre of the world. We summarise some of our experiences relating to call centres in Gurgaon. The preface is followed by a report of a computer worker from India employed on a short-term work-visa in the UK, describing the experience of ‘relocation of labour power’. Finally we circulate the current leaflet of Mouvement Communiste concerning the struggle at Ford plant in Genk, Belgium, which Ford management wants to shut. If you work in one of the call centres of this world, feel invited to send us a report about your experiences. We will try to publish a collection of reports in the newsletters to come…
The ‘Hotlines’-book can be ordered here:
Call centres were the archetype of a workplace for the capitalist cycle between the early 1990s and late 2000s. Located in the dominant sectors of the cycle in the global north, e.g. banking, insurances and personal services, they were able to absorb and combine both surplus capital (which had escaped the shrinking profit margins in the industries); and surplus labour (in form of the unemployed graduate and dismissed industrial worker). Call centres became de facto outsourced university departments where students were forced to work off their student debts and get used to their future perspective as precarious wage dependents. The call centres’ outer-face resembled less the factories of the past; but rather their culture of ‘work-time/leisure-time’-balance was supposed to turn the collective experience of work into a question of individual life-management. They formed part of the general propaganda proclaiming the ‘end of the working class’, which prevailed since the 1980s – while at the same time concentrating and ‘proletarianising’ large sections of previously ‘white-collar’ workers under one roof and subjecting them to a Taylorised ‘factory-mode’ of production. Instead of individualising neo-liberal subjects, call centres simply extended the industrial system into the office world and collectivised a section of the working class who previously saw themselves as ‘educated employees’, such as bank clerks or administrators. As a labour intensive and mobile industry, call centres quickly combined labour in different parts of the globe.
We published the German version of this book in 2002 as a balance-sheet of three years of collective efforts. In hindsight it is astonishing that at the time we mentioned little about call centres in India. Only two years later this would have been impossible – see below. Call centres were as much the embodiment of the hailed ‘post-industrial’ boom of capitalism, as they were subjected to its ephemeral nature. In 2001, the bursting ‘New Ecomomy’-bubble sent shock-waves through the sector and washed call centre jobs towards the lower wage regions of the globe. With the financial crisis in 2008, ‘off-shored’ call centres in the English-speaking global south were equally shaken, new geographical shifts and technological re-structuring took place. Since then the ‘wage competition’ between call centres in impoverished and deprived regions in the crisis-ridden global north (rust-belts) and in the small pockets of development in India, the Philippines or South Africa has intensified.
However, the struggles of an emerging global working class have also intensified. After more than a decade of defensive struggles in the sector, automobile workers at Honda in China in 2010 and their colleagues at Maruti Suzuki in India in 2011 pushed things forward. Their struggles over-lap with emerging movements against the impact of the crisis in the USA and Western Europe (occupy-movement, large scale mobilisations in Greece, Spain etc.) and the uprisings against ‘neo-liberal dictatorships’ in Northern Africa. So far these struggles only over-lap on the common background of a global crisis; they don’t yet communicate directly. During the late 1990s call centre jobs had been re-located from France to the French speaking ex-colonies, like Morocco and Tunisia. But they only absorbed a faction of the unemployed local youth – the generation that lead the social explosions of 2011. For us the question remains whether call centres, as part of the global industrial structure, can become the ‘telegraph stations’ of this emerging global strike movement [http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/wildcat/90/e_w90_in_our_hands.html]. This question will not be answered through distant research, but active participation in workers’ struggles.
This is why we are pleased that friends in Delhi re-publish this book. At first, call centres in India were criticised only for being part of a ‘cultural degradation’ and ‘westernisation’. Soon enough the focus turned on the actual working conditions and the fact that, once seen not as a temporary stop-gap between graduation and future career, but as a life-time wage-prison, call centre jobs become less attractive. This book is only partially about call centres; and mostly about the relation between communist theory/inquiry and practice. It documents an attempt to reconcile both, based on our own proletarian subjectivity. In India, due to the specific class constellation, the gaps between professional political activism, ‘the conditions in one’s own class situation’ (as students or intellectual workers) and ‘working class reality’ are still huge. We hope that the book can contribute to the debate on how to overcome these separations.
Since this book has been published our collective efforts changed with the world around us. We distributed leaflets in front of the Hewlett Packard call centre in Holland in 2002. Five years later we stood in front of a call centre of the same company in Gurgaon, India, distributing a small pamphlet which summarised some of the call centre workers’ struggle experiences in Europe. We worked in market research call centres in London in 2003 and in 2007 re-located ourselves to a market research call centre in Gurgaon, where real wages were significantly higher at the time. Between 2003 and 2007 we tried to extend the ‘inquiry and collaboration’ of communist collectives through a newsletter; [http://libcom.org/tags/prol-position]. We attended international meetings and took part in the translation and debate on Beverly Silver’s book ‘Forces of Labor’ [http://www.wildcat http://www.de/dossiers/forcesoflabor/fol_preface.htm, which inspired us to relate practically to the emerging global character of the working class. Some of us went to China [http://www.gongchao.org], others to India [www.gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com]. We kept in touch within the political collective of German ‘wildcat’ [www.wildcat-www.de].
By the end of the decade times started to rock again… In these times we need collectives engaged in working class reality, with open minds and hearts. Get a job together, read Marx, write job diaries, share your experiences and let’s meet in the future…
Kapashera, Gurgaon, India – May 2012
The Big Shift…
After the crisis slump of the ‘New Economy’ at the beginning of the 2000s the international re-location of call centre jobs accelerated. The public media, political representatives and national trade unions presented this as ‘job losses’. Before looking at the actual geographical shifts within the sector, we first question this nationalist-protectionist position. Call centres themselves are in many ways result and ‘accelerators’ of ‘job losses’. From the 1980s onwards, General Motors earned more money by selling credit schemes than by manufacturing cars. The company down-sized factories. Thousands of industrial jobs were wiped out, while a smaller number of jobs were created in the more profitable banking sector where call centres were situated. Call centres themselves reduced the numbers of workers employed in offices and bank branches by introducing ‘labour saving’ organisation of work and technology, which turned formerly skilled white collar work in taylorized jobs.
Within the ‘national framework’ call centres were put into regions of ‘under-development’, such as old industrial or mining areas with high unemployment. This is the general process of capitalist expansion – none of those ‘saviours of labour’, from protectionist politicians to trade union institutions criticised this general process, they only started to cry once ‘jobs went abroad’. Here we also see one of the main shortcomings of the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement; this global ‘movement’ never questioned the protectionist ideology of the labour movement or social democracy by developing a new ‘proletarian internationalism’.
The following summary of a Los Angeles Times article from 2004 illustrates the problems of re-location at the time:
“Clintwood, Va. – This remote Appalachian town doesn’t get many visitors, but every day it sends thousands of travellers on their way.
If you buy an airline ticket off the Travelocity website and need to call with a change or a question, the phone rings here. (…) The Travelocity call centre brought 250 jobs to a community wounded by the decline of coal mining, its mainstay for a century. It plugged the town’s 1,500 residents into the global high-tech economy, offering the prospect of a secure future. That illusion crumbled last month when
Travelocity fired Clintwood, saying it would close the call centre by year-end and move all the jobs to India. (…) The call centre clerks in Clintwood start at $8 an hour. In India, their replacements will earn less than a quarter of that. (…). More than a quarter of the 2.25 million call-centre jobs in the U.S. are expected to go offshore. (…)”.
It had taken the garment textile industry about a century to move from the UK to the US to Asia. Under the conditions of micro-electronics and a more integrated world market the call centre industry went global within a couple of years. The following examples of early summer 2005 represent well the atmosphere at the time.
“Datamonitor predicts that more firms are set to follow the likes of British Airways, Citibank, General Electric and HSBC, all of which have spun off a part or all of their operations to India.” [Datamonitor - 21st of March 2005] “350 call center jobs to go at British Gas: Workers in Oldham have been told that 350 of them will lose their jobs because a new £430 million computer system can do their work better. The company is considering transferring any remaining clerical work that cannot be done by the computer to workers in India.” [www.oldhamadvertiser.co.uk - 21st of July 2005]
“IBM shifts jobs from USA to India: Even as it proceeds with layoffs of up to 13,000 workers in Europe and the United States, IBM plans to increase its payroll in India this year by more than 14,000 workers, according to an internal company document.” [The New York Times - 8th of July 2005]
“NAB shifts call center jobs: NAB outlined the plans to axe 4,200 jobs from its Australian and UK operations as it revealed its half-year financial results. At the same time Lloyds TSB announced it intended to have 2,500 staff in India by the end of this year.” [The Times - 12th of May 2005]
“Call centre operator Sykes Enterprises shrank its U.S. operations and last year added close to 10,000 call centre workstations in Costa Rica and the Philippines.” [Times Business - 2nd of May 2005]
As in the garment sector, capital compared global absolute wage levels for a global product like ‘back office calls’ and was drawn towards the lower wage regions. “Per agent cost in USA is approximately $40,000 while in India it is only $5,000.” ['Outsourcing' - 7th of February 2004]. “Average call centre salaries in the UK are about £12,500 ($22,000) a year, compared with £1,200 ($2,100) in India.” [BBC - 11th of December 2003]. In case of the call centre sector, capital does not even have to take into account the transportation costs for the finished commodity. With call centres, the pre-condition for global re-locations is the stable supply of english-speaking work-force able to use computers and to adjust to the alienation of market research standards and customer services. In addition a certain infrastructure both for the operation (office space, communication networks etc.) and the work-force (accommodation, attractive surrounding) is necessary. In the case of India we can say that in the process of re-location actually more jobs were created, given that you find a much higher share of auxiliary workers in Indian call centres than in the UK such as ‘housekeeping workers’, and huge fleets of company cabs driving people between home and work-place.
These are additional wage costs – with increasing rent prices in the metropolis of the global south and wage pressure from below the difference of ‘per agent cost’ between the US/UK and India will have become much less pronounced than as stated above. Most of the (union) initiatives about of re-location were limited to protectionist propaganda for the ‘defence of our jobs’. We can recall the ‘Pink Elephant’ campaign of the CWO [Communication Workers Union, UK] when British Telecom announced to slash jobs in the UK to shift them to India. We don’t criticise the fact that workers fight against redundancies and threats of relocation, like at Wanadoo in France in 2005, when the management planned to shift work to Morocco. But too often unions tried to conjure up nationalist sentiments; talking about ‘British quality’ of call centre services and similar bull-shit. “We already know the answer to any survey that the government has commissioned and so do the British consumers,” said David Fleming, the national secretary of Amicus [trade union, UK]. “Services will suffer, cost savings will not be transferred to the consumer, poor business decisions will be made in pursuit of short-term cost savings and company brands will be damaged by outsourcing” [BBC - 12th of February 2005]. There have only been a few campaigns where activists tried to break down the national perspective of their unions, e.g. when a US- delegation of unionists visited colleagues in India or campaigns of Spanish and Argentinean activists in the early 2000s, when the Spanish telecommunication company Telefonica tried to play workers off against each other on both continents.
The New Workers…
Call centre companies shifted jobs in space, but not only the absolute wage levels dropped on the way, also the class composition of the work- force changed. The English-speaking call centre workers in India were mainly recruited from young graduates of the ‘middle-waged’ class, with a clear social and cultural division to the general working class. This has not been the case in the US and Europe. This entailed that although the wages paid in Indian call centres were very low compared to those in the global north, the wages compared to the general wage level in India were high. This and the general working conditions (night-shifts, male and female employment etc.) created the material basis for a fundamental shake-up of generational and gender relations. Working in a call centre, the nineteen-year-old daughter of a teacher or hospital doctor earns more than her father. The fact of having the first job after school or university in a call centre, the night- shifts, the technological control and general pressure, the shared flats, the purchasing power, the expensive food in the neighboring shopping malls, the long hours in cabs, the frequent job changes, the more open gender relations at work, the burn out, the difficulty to keep the perspective of an academic career or to find jobs as academics… are experiences of a new proletarianised middle-class generation. To these general experiences others are added. We had gatherings with call centre workers in their flats, they arrived in Gurgaon coming from various states in India and they worked in different call centres in the area. One guy had been put into an Australian detention centre for several months and has not seen his two-year-old son for a year, since being deported. Another guy, a heavy metal guitarist, originally from Mizoram grew up under a militarised state of emergency. Someone was about to open his own small call centre, having worked four years night-shift he has the money and business connections. Our conversations mainly evolved about the sense of this new life, the question of love-relationships opposed to classical married life, the shattered illusion that a well paid work is a fulfilling one, the threatening perspective of depending on call centre jobs, the lack of other opportunities, migration. The following working life story of a work-mate we met in one of Gurgaon’s call centres during lunch breaks expresses the experiences of this new generation of workers.
(Female worker, 22 years old – May 2006)
“In April 2004 I was still living in Bhopal when I had my first job interview with a call centre company in Gurgaon. After a first interview over the phone I was invited for a second interview in Gurgaon. I went with my mother. The company said that they were interested, but that they currently had no job, that I should wait another week. A friend of mine arranged me a different job, so I moved from Bhopal to Gurgaon. I first had to convince my family, but when my father saw that the flat is fine, they let me go. It was for the first time that I went to a big town. In the following one and a half years, I worked in fourteen different call centers and by changing jobs I increased my monthly wage from 8,000 rupees that I earned at my first job to 20,000 rupees, my current wage. All jobs were outbound, I was calling the US, Canada or the UK. First I had a quite glamorous picture of call centers, you know, free cabs and meals and all. But all that changed after a while, after working six days a week from 2.30 am to 12.30 pm plus travel-time. I started working in small call centre with ten employees, later I worked in companies with up to 2,000 employees. The smaller call centers are less organised, they often do not give you a contract, and they do not pay in time. And do not get promised incentives as well. They also often do not pay the Provident Fund (unemployed/pension insurance), they do not give you a PF-number, although it is obligatory. They also hire more or less anyone who can speak a little English.
In the smaller units I called for Rogers Canada, they do business in telecommunications, or I called trying to convince people in the US to make use of the Government Grant Profit. They are supposed to pay 299 USD into this scheme, but often it turns out to be a con-trick. The shift-times for the US are tough; you work from 11 pm. to 6.30 am. I called for Three-G-Network or OneTel, selling mobile phones to private households in the UK. A lot of call centers here call for telecommunication companies.
Most of the call centers had automatic dialers, meaning that you cannot influence when a call is made. Sometimes you have to make 400 to 500 calls per shift. Bigger companies like Infovision or Technova sometimes share a building, so that you have one row of Infovision workers the next from Technova. Big companies have their own buildings, unlike smaller companies, which often share a single one. It can happen that in one row there are people working for seven different companies. Infovision also has several branches, one still in the US, three or four in India. Some people start working while they are still living with their parents. For them it is pocket-money for party or gadgets. For them it is also not such a problem if wages are not paid on time. But I guess that 60 to 70 per cent of the people actually have to pay rent, they came from various places in the North, if there is no money, they are in trouble.
Once at Icode Customer Management wages were not paid in time. It is a small call centre, only 25 people worked there. The management made cheap excuses, said that the client was not paying, that money will come in soon. That happened several times before people got despondent. During a night-shift people decided not to work as long as they were not given their wages. The manager actually went and got cash money from the bank and paid people the next morning. Later several people left this company, now there are only ten workers left. Similar things happen at bigger call centers, as well.
There was trouble in taking leave also. For example my brother was ill and I had to go back to Bhopal. The team leader said it was fine, but when I came back he asked me “Who allowed you to take holiday?” Sometimes I just left the job because I needed a holiday; and took a new job on returning. You can find jobs through internet, newspapers or you hear about them from friends. There are call centers like Wipro or Convergys which are seen as better and more established call centers, also because they have good clientele, for example BT or Orange. The problem is that they are far away from Gurgaon, one has to travel at least two hours plus and then work a ten hours shift. The atmosphere in the call centers is a bit like in college. There is a culture of parties, people share flats, keep in contact via google-groups. Sometimes it is fun, people come to work after a party still drunk, falling asleep, waking each other up when a CIO comes. Sometimes it is childish, even embarrassing. Boys play their games, make jokes about girls. We are also mistreated when calling the US, but mainly from private people, not from employees. We do not know much about working conditions in call centers in the US, also we did not talk about it much. We have only seen the senior US managers from time to time; that is it. When I observed that more and more people are entering into the call centre business I felt that only speaking English was not enough, because so many people could speak English. I learnt French. In call centers you mainly learn about working time and discipline, you are physically busy, but mentally free. You do your task. I also tried to get a job teaching French, but that is difficult and the wages are not that good. I finally joined Evalueserve, here you are under less pressure. In a call centre, if you do not sell, you are fired. A lot of people try to continue their studies while working in a call centre, about 40 per cent study through correspondence. But it is difficult, a lot of people stop after a while. Also for managers working in a call centre is not a step towards career, they can stay within the industry, but outside, the call centre experience is not valued.”
The lines of divisions…
Although the experiences of workers in English speaking call centers seem fairly homogeneous, the experiences and conditions in the wider sector are not. We see main lines of segmentation within the sector: between in-house call centers and outsourced processes; between English speaking international call centers and Hindi speaking domestic ones; between call centre agents and ‘service workers’ (cleaning, driving); between the call centre workers and the other industrial workers situated in the same industrial zones.
Most of the bigger companies not only off-shore their work to India, but outsource it to tele-service companies like Wipro, Convergys, Genpact, IBM. American Express in Gurgaon, for example, has an outsourced process at Convergys, at the same time and just across the street it runs its own in-house call centre. IBM has an in-house call centre and at the same time acts as a service provider for Amazon and various bigger airlines and travel agencies. Wipro employs 1,200 people in the Dell process while Dell is opening its own centre only few kilometres away. It is unclear yet whether Dell will keep on running both processes parallel, but during conversations we heard that workers in the area are also affected by re-locations of their work. Some workers reported that the process they had worked was re-located to a call centre in Hyderabad in South of India.
While workers in English speaking call centers start with monthly wages of Rs.17, 000 and can earn up to Rs.30, 000, workers in domestic Hindi speaking centers earn between Rs. 7,000 and 11,000. There is a parallel boom of English schools and American accent learning classes. Many workers feel compelled to learn another European language in order to compete on the market and counter-act the pressure on wages.
Another major wage gap exists between call centre agents and service workers (canteen, security, drivers. cleaners). Their wages are extremely low and their service work is supposed to keep the call centre workers content despite stress and night-shift burden. Most of the perks of call centre employees, such as free food, transport, leisure activities, are based on the shoulders of low-paid manual workers. In January 2010 housekeeping workers hired through contractors at FIS call centre (handling calls for American Express) were paid a basic wage of Rs 3,300 per month, Rs 12 per hour overtime, they received no ESI health insurance card, no Provident Fund – as statutory.
The spatial proximity between call centre and factory is obvious, as obvious as the social abyss that still opens between them. The work in call centers has lost its ‘intellectual’ attractions, it consists basically of industrial mouth movements and Taylorised emotions, but the social gap between different sections of working class is significant and can also be expressed in monetary terms: in 2007, while call centre workers earned around Rs. 20,000, an unskilled building worker in the Dell call centre building site earned 1,000 to 1,500 Rupees per month, working 80 hours a week; a textile or metal worker employed through a contractor earned about 1,500 to 2,500 Rupees for the same working hours; the official minimum wage for unskilled worker in Haryana for a 48 hours week was about 3,000 Rupees, a contract worker at Maruti or Honda was paid between 3,000 and 5,000 Rupees for 50 to 60 hours per week; a guy at Pizza Hut serving the call centre agents got 3,700 Rupees for a 60 hours week. Pre-condition for bridging of this gap, is that call centre workers start to act as workers, which they have started to do within their sector, but which rarely crosses it and becomes visible to other industrial proletarians.
The new aspirations…
Capital moves, looking for profitable conditions, trying to escape the contradiction of workers’ collective aspirations and resistance within profit production. In its flight it re-establishes the contradictions on a higher and wider social level. Call centers are no exceptions from that rule. The sheen of call centre jobs in India wore off quickly, so did the illusion of the representatives of capital to have found an investment paradise of docile and cheap labour. As during the times of industrial revolution, it was the ‘middle-class’ which first voiced the already existing discontent amongst workers, and they voiced it in their narrow-minded moralist ways:
“Author Praful Bidwai said that in effect the centers reduced the young Indian undergraduates to ‘cyber-coolies’.”They work extremely long hours badly paid, in extremely stressful conditions, and most have absolutely no opportunities for any kind of advancement in their careers,” Mr Bidwai told BBC. “It’s a dead end, it’s a complete cul-de-sac. It’s a perfect sweatshop scenario, except that you’re working with computers and electronic equipment rather than looms or whatever.” [BBC - 11th of December 2003]
Meanwhile call centre workers ‘voted with their feet’. “Staff turnover at Indian call centers is worse than that at UK operations, with Indian graduates only willing to stay in a job for an average of 11 months, compared with three years in the UK.” [BBC - 12th of February 2005] “An annual attrition rate of 50 per cent plus is par for the course and a company that boasts of an attrition rate of 30 per cent struts about like a prima donna. The attrition is forcing BPO companies to pay more. Wages have risen so quickly in India that it’s not much cheaper in comparison to Canada as an off shoring location. [The Telegraph - 20th of April 2005] “Indian back-office firms are facing a growing challenge of holding on to employees, even as they hire tens of thousands every quarter. Staff tends to account for half of a back-office operation’s costs and the battle for talent has led to an annual 10-15% rise in employee’s salaries. Employees often hop to new jobs for slightly more money, and many do not view back-office work as a career. Companies provide free transport, subsidised meals and housing to retain staff, and try to enliven the environment with musical entertainment, yoga classes and costume contests.” [The Hindu - 08th of July 2004]
This workers’ behaviour was common in Europe, as well, during the time of the boom. We only rarely hear of collective steps of workers within the call centers to improve conditions – which does not mean that they don’t happen. The following example from August 2005 illustrates the collective and creative nature of possible steps:
“Not satisfied with their earnings, some BPO employees feel they can outsmart technology and earn bonuses for themselves. Some employees at Convergys were sacked because they managed to ‘create’ fake favourable ratings apparently from customers of SBC Yahoo, a popular ISP in the USA who has outsourced customer services to Convergys. The employees created new email IDs in the name of SBC Yahoo customers they were sent a positive feedback to their company from this email ID. Apparently this was discovered when Convergys noted unusual patterns of excellent ratings for some employees. On pinging, it was found that these feedback forms had been originating from an Indian server (used by Convergys, Gurgaon) rather than from the US servers from where they actually should have come. Money seems to have been the greatest lure for such employees, as an excellent rating can get them bonuses of up to Rs 4,000 a week”. [Times of India, 21st of August 2005]
The new struggles…
There have been open collective struggles in call centers in India in particular once wages were not paid in time or workers were sacked. In May 2005, three cops were injured when call centre workers threw stones during a strike at Hope India Ltd. in Mumbai – unfortunately we never found out more about this unrest. In July 2007 workers at Gnome Business Solutions call centre in Gurgaon protested against being dismissed from one day to the other. “After a round of slogan-shouting outside the office of the BPO – Gnome Business Solutions at the Global Business Park on MG Road, Gurgaon – the management issued the sacked workers post-dated cheques by way of a final settlement. For many among the retrenched, this wasn’t the first jolt of their young careers. “Many in this group were earlier working with another call centre, Avancore. Last Diwali, it declared a two-day holiday. When they returned to work, the call centre had vanished.” Industry leaders say the episode is part of a larger trend. According to Deepak Kapoor of BPO News, an industry-related website, a study done by the organisation shows more than 60% of small BPOs in India – those employing between 20 and 100 people – close down within months of their launch.” [Times News Network, 4th of July 2007] A similar incident took place in NOIDA on 10th of January 2010, when a fake BPO company took money for employment from some students. When the students noticed the scam they did not allow the company owners to move out the building till they paid them back. Eight students suffered minor injuries in a subsequent clash with the police personnel at Knowledge Park-I. The students alleged that the police was helping the company and ignoring their complaints. We documented an actual collective strike at a domestic call centre in Gurgaon in the Hindi workers’ newspaper Faridabad Majdoor Samachar no.267:
Sparsh BPO Service Worker
(409 Udyog Vihar Phase 3)
“We currently operate through 20 state-of-the art facilities across nine locations in India. Our dedicated workforce of over 16,000 motivated professionals provides qualitative solutions in the areas of transaction processing and calls centre services, aiming to achieve excellence in every transaction.”(From company web-site: http://www.sparshindia.com/)
The call centre is in a 12-floor building, several thousand workers are on the phone 24 hours on three shifts, phoning for BSNL, Airtel, Airsale, Reliance Com, Orient Bank of Commerce. For 26 working days per month they get Rs. 4,800 after 8-hours shift they are often made to stay two hours longer, for which they are not paid. The company does not pay for transportation and those workers who use the ‘employee cabs’, 1,000 Rs per month is deducted from their wages. In addition Rs.210 is deducted for PF and Rs. 80 for ESI – but no ESI card is given. The food break is only for 15 minutes – there are two 5 minutes breaks for tea. There is never enough time, but no matter what, you are suppose to work. You cannot make the customer wait, that’s what they say. Against this the workers stopped working at the end of March 2009, they stopped it for three days. They went inside the office, but they did not log in. The management reacted by smashing 4-5 computers and trying to blame the workers for it, saying that they will file a police case and send them to jail. Bit by bit they started to kick people out – in the end there must have been about 2,000 workers. Actually a lot of workers handed their resignation, but the company refused to take it – instead they said that the workers just left the job. After having worked there for more than two years employee went to the office in order to get his PF form signed, but just threw it away and said that he left the job without giving notice and he won’t get the PF. The company keeps 200 workers for housekeeping. They work 12-hours shifts, 30 days per month and get only Rs. 4,887 – no ESI and no PF. The company has another office at 195 Udyog Vihar Phase 1. The employees work for Vodafone, Shubh Yatra, Bhartiya a Jivan Bima Nigam and some others.
[Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar no. 267]
Here things gets even more interesting. Sparsh closed down the Gurgaon call centre soon after this strike and re-located it to a small town in Rajasthan. About two years later several hundred kilometres away Sparsh again faced workers’ anger: “AJMER: Employees of state’s first call centre – BSNL – went on strike alleging the organization for illegal deduction of money. They said they got payments lower than what was promised to them during their appointment. The call center was inaugurated by union IT and telecom state minister Sachin Pilot. About thirty people working with call centre ‘Sparsh’ walked out of the office on Friday morning. They shouted slogan against the officials. “They promised to pay Rs 5,500 at the time of appointment but they are paying us Rs 3, 700 only,” Minali, an employee, said. They also accused the HR and operation officials of harassment, “They have zero tolerance. Even when the system fails they deduct half day’s salary,” another employee said. When contacted, the officials refused to talk and said there was some misunderstanding, which they were trying to solve.” [Times of India - 22nd of June 2011]
Another dispute at the other end of the globe expressed the increasing internationalisation of call centre companies in concrete and – taking companies like Mittal and Tata into account – the development of an intertwined multinational management of capital. In November 2009, in Timisoara, Romania, the French telecom giant Alcatel-Lucent announced that one third of the work-force will be outsourced to the ‘Indian’ It-service giant Wipro by early 2010. Wipro runs major call centres in Gurgaon and other cities in India. The workers in Romania then formed union to defend their rights and ‘terms and conditions’. On 10th of November 2009 a joint-action of Alcatel workers in France, Germany, Italy and Romania took place against job cuts. In September 2009 Wipro shut down an IT research and development-centre in Sophia Antipolis, France. About 60 engineers got the sacked.
Blog of the Wipro/Alcatel union in Romania
Article on Wipro job cuts in France
The flight into the desert…
We can see two main current structural problems of capitalist: where to find a fresh supply of labour which could be combined with a new mode of production, a new productivity regime? By the mid 2000s capitalist started to complain about wage pressure and labour shortage in China and other Asian countries. This is obviously a shortage of a certain kind of labour. Capitalist wanted to fly forward, to capture a new virgin section of working class (peasant workers) which can be subjected to intensified conditions of exploitation, but the regions of the globe where capital could find such a working class have become sparse. Similarly, the hailed ‘Toyotism’ of the 1990s, which was supposed to revolutionise the old ‘Fordist’ mode of assembly-line manufacturing of the ‘American century’, had lost its ‘lean sheen’ by the turn of the millenium. Manufacturing today is more dependent on the brutal contradictory pace of the line than ever before.
Call centers ran into this structural problem of fresh labour supply and production model with full speed. By the mid-2000s the propagandist of capital announced that call centers will move away from towns like Gurgaon, Bangalore or Manila – where call centers had just arrived – and settle down in smaller towns and rural areas in order to cope with wage pressures and ‘high office rents’. This could never happen due to, only, theoretical availability of skilled mass labour in these areas. The desperation of capitalist to find these untouched reservoirs of labour turned farcical when trying to re-valorise fields of social disintegration and decaying dictatorships:
“Now, India’s IT revolution has arrived in Kashmir with the opening of the state’s first call centre, in the city of Srinagar. With 500,000 unemployed, there is no shortage of willing job applicants, while wages in Kashmir are among the lowest in India.” [Economic times - 12th of August 2011 ET]
“We believe that our country is an ideal destination to start a BPO because of the conducive atmosphere we have. To begin with, we have a stable government that is eager to set up an outsourcing industry. Apart from Genpact, we are also in talks with Wipro and few other players to start their operations in Bhutan,” said Kezang, executive director, ministry of information and communications.”
[Financial Express - 24th of August 2011]
Similarly the call centre industry in India repeated the propaganda of ‘tele/home-work’ as an alternative mode of production to the mass concentration of call centre workers under one roof. The industry had churned out the futile talk and had failed to turn it into practice in the US and Europe before.
“With just one laptop or desktop computer with internet and phone connections, people could operate from their rooms, attend to inbound calls that otherwise land at the call centre. With this, housewives, who would never otherwise dream of joining a BPO, would be able to take jobs and do it from their homes,” said Mike Manson, director of the ‘Innovative Company’. “Virtualisation of voice technology would help setting up of one-seater or 3-5 seater micro BPOs in tier 3 and 4 cities from where the BPO companies are drawing talent pool,” said Sriram Srinivas, vice-president. “This would not only benefit the employee to save on overheads such as rentals and high cost of living in metros like Gurgaon but also helps the company reduce cost on things such as employee transportation expenses.” [Financial Express - 13th of May 2011]
Experiences in the US and Western Europe taught us that even in call centers, capitalist production is still mainly a ‘socially enforced’ type of productivity: despite rent costs the mass office is still more productive due to mass cooperation, flow of creativity, discipline and surveillance.
Having to face up to lack of fresh labour supply and the general absence of new modes of production, capital’s flight ahead became more and more of a disoriented stumbling. And then approached the big crunch – and Gurgaon’s call centre workers have been the first who saw big shit hitting the global fan:
“In a glass tower on the outskirts of New Delhi, dozens of young Indians are on the telephone, calling America’s out of work, forgetful and debt-stricken and asking for cash. ‘Are you sure that’s all you can afford?’ one operator in a row of cubicles asks politely. ‘Well, how do you take care of your everyday expenses?’ presses another. Americans are used to receiving calls from India for insurance claims and credit card sales. But debt collection represents a growing business for outsourcing companies. Armed with a sophisticated automated system that dials tens of thousands of Americans every hour, and puts confidential information like Social Security numbers, addresses and credit history at operators’ fingertips, this new breed of collectors is chasing down late car payments, overdue credit card debt and lapsed installment loans. Debt collectors in India often cost about one-quarter the price of their American counterparts, and are often better at the job, debt collection company executives say.”
[Economic Times - 24th of April 2008]
The big bang October 2008…
The financial crash of autumn 2008 shook the main sectors of call centre work in particular and the global wage cascade in general. In the glass-towers of Gurgaon’s industrial areas the impact of the melt-down was direct: the conditions of the call centre workers phoning for the US and European market worsened suddenly. And not only the call centre workers felt the blow, also their unknown brothers and sisters in the garment sector were very much aware of the dwindling numbers orders coming from the export markets. The political climate changed and one of the populist reactions of the Obama US-government – apart from demonstrative vegetable growing on the lawn of the White House teaching the unemployed working class in the USA their future modes of survival – was the protectionist promise that ‘jobs will stay in the US in future’. Was it a promise or a threat? Actually the crisis pushed down wages in the global north to such an extent that they became close to competitive again compared with IT-service related wages in the south. The division of labour had to be re-configured and capitalist had to transform the pressure of the crisis into a new global wage scale.
The Union of Information Technology Enabled Services (UNITES) estimates in January 2009 that between September and December 2008 10,000 jobs were lost in the IT industry and anticipates a further 50,000 cuts in the first half of 2009. As if to mimic the US Enron scandal that buried the new-economy bubble in the US, the Satyam scandal came at the right time to finish off the last doubts about the state of the sector in India.
“Rajeev, a Senior Customer Care Executive at Convergys has worked at five different call centers in the last seven years. He’s looking for a change again, but this time not out of choice. “This is the first time I feel I am heading nowhere. I have been asked to leave because of something I haven’t done,” he said. Rajeev is one of the 450 employees fired in the last two weeks by a Gurgaon BPO called 24/7 Customers. Reason being that this UK-based mobile phone company has decided to cut back its India operations. The Orange crisis has led to lay-offs at two other Call Centers, Convergys and EXL services. And this comes after 400 people were let go last month by another BPO giant, Keane India, after a merger and a scaling down of size.”
[NDTV - 13th of July 2008]
“Mid-tier IT company Hexaware Technologies is in the process of shutting down its Gurgaon centre where about 130 employees currently work.”[Sify - 14th of August 2008]
“Convergys is shutting down its Malad facility in Mumbai which employs around 400 people, Patni Computer Systems laid off 400 people citing non-performance, while Fidelity Management and Research Company India plans to shut down its Gurgaon facility by September this year which employs around 350 people.”
[Economic Times - 17th of August 2008]
We spoke to a call centre worker during his cigarette break in front of Convergys in June 2009, asking him about the impact of the crisis: “Since this recession has started, companies are not offering more than Rs. 16.000 – 17.000. Before this, they were offering Rs 20.000 plus. And apart from this they are making people to work for longer hours. If 50 companies were hiring, now only 10 or 15 companies are hiring. American Express, for example, chucked out a large sum of employees and they hired new batch, but they are paying very less to them. Even we have seen, in our company also there are a process of layoffs. Recently 50 people have been asked to leave because of the recession. They were getting very good salary. They weren’t new, but still they had to leave. The situation is not as bad as compared to US or England. At least the people are able to manage – able to survive. And I think, as the recession is getting over very soon – another 5-6 months, things will definitely change.” They did not. In November 2011 in Gurgaon alone around 2,500 workers at Nokia-Siemens Networks lost their job, most of them paid salaries only slightly above the minimum wage. Globally the company cut over 20,000 jobs between November 2011 and February 2012. In Germany 3,000 workers were sacked. Blamed for the job loss was the ‘price war’ with Chinese vendors.
Call centre companies in India tried to translate the (credit) crunch into a (literal) squeeze of their workers, by reducing space per person in call centers and cabs, by cutting wages and additional perks. “The IT-enabled services (ITeS) firms are taking stringent measures to cut costs. They are reducing space per employee, and decreasing the size of common areas like cafeterias and conference rooms. At a Gurgaon offshore office, space per employee has been reduced to 60 sq ft from 100 sq ft; at large IT companies, 125 sq ft per employee is a standard. Workstation width has dropped from 3-4 feet earlier to 2 feet. All this is leading to severe work related stress. “I can’t move my hands in the fear of hurting someone. And all day one has to hear colleagues talking about issues from boyfriends to food recipes to childcare, which is not just distracting, but irritating,” says Rajsekhar. (…) Margins in business process outsourcing (BPO) have been stagnating at 18% for the past years even as revenues declined in 2011. For IT services the drop in profitability is worse: margins have plunged from 32% in 2006 to 18% in fiscal year 2011.”
[Financial Express - 3rd of August 2011]
On-Shoring? What the f…
Talk about ‘on-shoring’ made the rounds from 2010 onwards, meaning that US or UK companies closed their call centers in India and re-opened them in the US/UK. Most of these cases were blown up and didn’t represent a major trend. The reasons given for the ‘on-shoring’ are often populist, catering to both the patriotic sentiments and the ‘client pride’ (local accents, ‘good quality’ etc.). In general the share of IT-BPO service work done in India still increased, the global market share stood at about 55 per cent in 2010. Nevertheless, with the crisis deepening in the north some shifts were taking place. High unemployment levels have driven down wages for some low-skilled outsourcing services in some parts of the US, particularly among the Hispanic population. Genpact, India’s main call centre operator employed around 1,500 call centre workers in the US in 2010 and announced that “company expected to treble its workforce in the US over the next two years.” “”We need to be very aware [of what's available] as people [in the US] are open to working at home and working at lower salaries than they were used to,” said Mr Bhasin, the chief executive of Genpact. Wipro, the Bangalore-based IT outsourcing company, started to recruit workers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa during the global economic downturn.” [Financial Times - 17th of August 2010]
Similar news came in from the UK. In June 2011 the banking giant Santander announced to bring its call centers ‘back’ to the UK: 500 jobs would be created by the switch of call centre work from India to staff based in the UK cities of Glasgow, Leicester and Liverpool. “This year, BT has also created several hundreds of jobs in the West Midlands through the opening of a new call centre in Sandwell in the West Midlands. UK insurer Aviva moved back some jobs from its Indian BPO partner WNS to Norwich, UK, earlier this year. Although it did not give a reason, people familiar with the matter said it was facing quality issues. In June 2011 the Indian firm Aegis announced to create 600 jobs by opening call centre in Manchester, UK.”
[Economic times - 4th of July 2011]
Not only ‘jobs’ come ‘back home’ to the US, in some cases call centre workers are brought over from India, employed by ‘Indian’ call centre operators within the US. “Companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Genpact and Infosys are the largest users of the US-American H-1B visa program and have collectively brought as many as 30,000 workers into the country in 2010. The workers are often paid “home-country wages” in America. That’s as low as $8,000 a year with housing allowance. Similar to the situation in the UAE, employers keep the visas – so the workers can’t bargain for wages, and if they lose their job they have to leave the country.” [Financial times - 20th of May 2011] We can see the whole dimension of current shifts of actual work-places and workers.
The future potentials for class re-composition…
As we have read on the walls of Athens after the riots: “The Future is Unwritten!”. We will not be able to tell how exactly the global crisis will develop, but we can anticipate its impact on the specific class composition [http://www.wildcat-www.de/wildcat/64/w64opera.htm] in the garment, manufacturing and call centre zones in Gurgaon and other industrial metropolis in India.
While having a stroll through Gurgaon, the main revelation is that the planners of the industrial zones have not studied European revolutionary periods in the late sixties, or the struggles in Latin America or the movements in South Korea in the 80s. Or they think that due to the general deeper divisions in Indian society, putting call centers with ‘student-workers’ right next to huge motorcycle and garment factories will not create explosive potentials in case of bigger turmoil. While we were distributing a call centre workers’ brochure in 2007, the temp workers of the Hero Honda factory organised a wild occupation of the plant which went on for five days [http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no4/#fn2]. Right opposite the factory is a bigger call centre with 1,000 young students, capable of communicating in international languages and with access to modern means of communication, having to work ten hours night-shifts under severe pressure, while looking at the police sleeping in the shadows of the occupied factory. Only a couple of weeks later we heard of trouble in the call centre because incentives were not paid in time. We were not able to verify the rumours but during a visit at the site a lot of young workers complained about having to travel and wait for two hours in cabs before shift starts and about delays in wage payment. During times of revolutionary upheavals the students first had to “discover” the workers, here they work right next to each other and are in similar ways connected to the global movement of capital, e.g. the IBM call centre is right next to the Delphi plant, the world’s biggest car supplier, and in the US both companies are in deep economical shit.
In October 2008, at one point in time, workers in one space – who might otherwise have thought that they have little in common but chai stalls – faced a common situation: cut in bonuses or piece-rates, suspension of free company meals and transportation in call centers, threat of job cuts. The potential for a socially explosive tea-party of english-speaking call centre night-shift youth, migrant garment and construction workers and young skilled workers in the car part plants entered the Industrial Model Towns – a mass base of actual ‘internal threat’. If call centre workers and other industrial workers would come closer together in movement, this would be a true cultural revolution of the hierarchical relationship between intellectual and manual labour in India and give the working class struggle a whole different dimension and potentiality. What would be the material condition for such a coming-together, apart from the crisis impact?
We think that the workers in domestic call centers could play a specific role. Their wages are low, often even lower than the wage of (skilled) garment workers – but they use the same means of production as the international call centre agents and could therefore ‘explain’ the form of exploitation to other industrial proletarians who otherwise see call centre ‘staff’ just as the better-dressed middle-class youth. Another direct (international) link between call centers and other sections of workers is outsourced ‘admin-work’. Workers in these ‘back-offices’ not only handle ‘private consumers’, but form part of an actual global productive cooperation. For example a back-office in Gurgaon organises all shift-shedules for the German railways ‘Deutsche Bank’. In June 2011 India’s largest IT-related service provider Genpact got a seven-year contract from Nissan. The centre in Gurgaon will “provide payroll, benefits, staffing, training and other key HR services to Nissan’s 54,000 employees. Genpact already manages procurement for Nissan from its offices in Gurgaon.” In July 2011 Capgemini opened a back-office in Gurgaon with 4,500 seats, amongst others the centre will “deliver Global Order Management services to Nokia Siemens Networks to support the company’s global Supply Chain Management.” [Economic Times - 27th of July 2011]
Apart from this we can also refer to the development of a global (proletarian) youth movement, expressed in various ways, from university occupations in the UK and Chile, to Tahrir and Tottenham riots and the ‘Occupy’-movement. This movement will find some repercussions within the open-space offices and reverberate under the head-sets of the global call centre generation. During 2007 we distributed about 1,000 pamphlets in front of call centers in Gurgaon – at the time workers surely complained about the general boredom of the job, but their anger seemed to be rather individual. Since then the world has changed, the global crisis has given a mighty blow to the relation between individual fate and fate of society. Based on these material connections of the production process (global back-offices) and based on the developing youthful anger, organised efforts around this existing international communication network are necessary and possible. Let’s organise around the proletarian conditions within it. Let’s help turning it into the ‘telegraph stations’ of the currently emerging global strike wave.
For Workers’ Self-Emancipation – For Communism!
I come from a poorer working class background. My family makes and sells sweets. I was the only child which received higher education. In the early 2000s I received my BETEC graduation, after a four years course. We learned C-language programming, Java. The whole course had cost my family around 300,000 Rs. Companies came to the college in order to recruit workers. I found a job in NOIDA two months after my graduation.
When starting to work I had to learn a lot of new things, mainly web-development. We programmed web-sites and web-applications for Indian medium-seized companies. We worked between 9 and 9.5 hours per day, every second Saturday off. Initially the company had offered 250,000 Rs per year, but after joining they said the actual wage was 180,000 Rs. That was in 2006. The company employed about 500 to 600 workers. There where little discussions about wages on a collective level. People negotiated about wages individually or looked for better jobs. Young workers look for jobs all over India. I stayed with the company for four months, then found a job in Hyderabad.
I went alone to Hyderabad, but found people from Delhi area there. In Hyderabad the work again was different. We had to start as freshers again. The company did programming jobs for multi-national clients. They gave us two and a half months training. During this period we were living in company flats, they paid us 14,000 Rs. After the training they paid 18,000 Rs, but we had to pay for rent ourselves. In Hyderabad the main client was an US energy and gas company. I worked for this client for two years, after that we worked for Philip Morris, from the company’s branch in Gurgaon. We programmed an application for Philip Morris which enabled them to process company data, e.g. the accounts and exchanges with small shops and retailers.
The company in India likes to send people to work with clients abroad. They make more money then. The client companies want workers from India to come to work at their place in US or the UK usually when a new process starts and things have to be developed. There is a lot of communication and coordination necessary, this is better done under direct surveillance and cooperation, rather than through the net communication. Recently the company in India signed a two and a half contract with a UK bank. During the initial transition period they wanted workers from India as ‘coordinators’ in the UK bank office. We were sent on one year work visas. We are still employed by the Indian company, but work in the offices of the client.
In India my last wage was 35,000 Rs per month. Here in the UK, a small town of the UK, I get 1,800 pounds per month. We have to pay rent from that. The control is higher here, if the client management wants changes, they have to happen immediately. I coordinate with my work colleages and supervisors in India, mainly through mail and video-conferences. We work 10 to 10.5 hours a day. Every four weeks we are on ‘night-call duty’, meaning that if something is wrong with the process we get a call and have to come out at night. During that week that happens during on average three nights. It disturbs your sleep, even if you only expect a call.
In the office there are 60 locals and 40 workers from India. Some of the locals also work for the outsourced company, but most of them work for the UK client, a bank, directly. The local workers get between 200 to 300 pounds per day, our client company gets 100 pounds for us per day, we get around 60 pounds. There are no comments from the locals saying: “You work for so little money” or “You take our jobs”. Relationships are formal, they relate only to the work. We program applications which increase the speed of certain services, by making them automatic. For example if people want to switch bank accounts. I live with Indian work colleagues. Two of us share a room. There is not much to do after work. It is a small town.
The guys from India are ‘happy’ to be here, because the pay is better, although they miss friends and family and although ‘the place is silent’. We all remember the slight shock in 2008, when after the financial crash a lot of programmers temporarily lost their job. The companies in India said: ‘the client did not send any money, you have to go’. There was no resistance. During the last six years, I would guess that 60 per cent of my class mates from college have been working abroad at some point. Wages in India have not really increased since I graduated, going abroad is the only chance to earn money, also in order to pay back the debts of education.
Ford Genk: FIGHT AGAINST CLOSURE?
LET’S FIGHT HARDER TO MAKE THE BOSS AND THE STATE PAY!
On 24 October, Ford announced the closure of the factory in Genk and probably those in Southampton and Dagenham as well. Ford is restructuring all of its production sites in Europe. In Belgium, that’s 4,300 working at Ford Genk and close to 6,000 working for subcontractors who’ll lose their jobs some time in 2013/2014. In Britain close to 1400 workers are under threat. Once again, the unions, the town hall bigwigs, the MPs, the Flemish Region officials, the ministers are “astonished” and “scandalised” by this decision and act like it’s a case of vile treason by some nasty boss, “foreign” as well… who scarcely two months ago gave them a “guarantee” that the new model of the Mondeo would be produced in 2013 !!!
It is “a veritable catastrophe”, a “social bloodbath”…, there are no words strong enough. While the situation of the car industry in Europe, and particularly that of Ford, never ceases to get worse, they moan, organise symbolic “citizens’” protests, and promise some crumbs as consolation, planned redundancy schemes, redeployment, while above all calling on the workers to remain calm and “responsible” and to stay at home, while they negotiate with Ford. It’s not like this that we can fight effectively against the consequences of closures and redundancies.
Workers, comrades, all these people are FALSE FRIENDS !
The boss is not going to change his mind! Before even making vehicles, Ford, as a good capitalist business, must make profits. With a posted loss of close to 1.5 billion dollars in Europe this year, Ford has to do something. The rate of utilisation of its sites in Europe is only 50 to 60%, while to make a profit a car factory needs to be running at at least 80% of its capacity. At Ford Genk, this rate is only 48%, far behind the Spanish and German sites (Saarlouis and Cologne, which are comparable in terms of costs of production). And the vehicles produced at Genk are coming to the end of their life. Briefly stated, an analyst (Colin Lagan of UBS) has calculated that the cost of closing Ford Genk will be 1.1 billion dollars, but will save between 500 and 700 million dollars per year. This is the implacable logic of capital, but Ford can’t hide the fact that restructuring is essentially happening on the backs of the workers. First and foremost, you can only count on yourselves, on organising yourselves, among yourselves with your workmates and with people from the sub-contractors which are also affected by the long process of restructuring of the car industry. After having accepted wage cuts and a speed up of work two years ago – to save jobs! -, your backs are to the wall and there is no other solution than struggle, to go on strike. You need to keep the stock of parts and cars under your control to use as a bargaining chip so as to screw as much money out of Ford as possible. After the announcement of the closure of Volkswagen-Forest, in November 2006, it was enough for a work stoppage and the fear which it created for those laid off to get millions in redundancy money. The workers of Volkswagen-Forest got, on average, 144,000 euros each, and those of Opel Anvers, 153,000 euros.
The operating profit of Ford will be more than 2 billion dollars in the third quarter of this year. So there’s plenty of margin for more than the 77,000 euros redundancy money proposed, which will be less than 50,000 euros net, because the state which “supports” the workers is going to take its cut in the form of taxes. We have to fight against the state to make it drop the taxes imposed on redundancy payments. The state and the region, completely “mired in debt”, are not going to come to your aid. The capitalists and their state prefer to save the banks rather than the companies which don’t make enough profit. You must not consider yourselves as only car workers but as workers who face the attack of the bosses seen by other workers, above all in the Belgian context where all the nationalisms and regionalisms are there to divide us. Whether workers are Flemish or Walloon, factory closures will have the same consequences for everyone. Nationalism, in Flanders like anywhere else, is not the solution. The workers have no country: the “nationality” of the workers is their class.
The government has been ready to help the Belgian car industry financially, but not the workers expelled from production. What we propose is the opposite: wages must be guaranteed by the bosses and by the state whatever happens to their factories. And this goes for all the staff affected directly or indirectly by the restructuring plans. The objective is ambitious and political, but this is what is at stake here.
Take your struggle into your own hands, without waiting for a hypothetical and illusory “trade union solution”. What compromise can they propose, faced with the final stage of closures? We have to make them pay! Only struggle can do it!
Mouvement Communiste/Kolektivn proti kapitálu, 4 November 2012