Systemic Collapse or Emancipation?

GurgaonWorkersNews – Newsletter 43 (September 2011)

Gurgaon in Haryana is presented as the shining India, a symbol of capitalist success promising a better life for everyone behind the gateway of development. At a first glance the office towers and shopping malls reflect this chimera and even the facades of the garment factories look like three star hotels. Behind the facade, behind the factory walls and in the side streets of the industrial areas thousands of workers keep the rat-race going, producing cars and scooters which end up in the traffic jam on the new highway between Delhi and Gurgaon. Thousands of young people lose time, energy and academic aspirations on night-shifts in call centres, selling loan schemes to working-class people in the US or pre-paid electricity schemes to the poor in the UK. Next door, thousands of rural-migrant workers uprooted by the agrarian crisis stitch and sew for export, competing with their angry brothers and sisters in Bangladesh or Vietnam. The following newsletter documents some of the developments in and around this miserable boom region. If you want to know more about working and struggling in Gurgaon, if you want more info about or even contribute to this project, please do so via:

IMPORTANT: Struggle at Maruti Suzuki in Manesar continues!
In this newsletter we document some ‘older’ workers’ reports, amongst others on collective mass actions in the garment export factories in the Delhi industrial belt in March 2011 and some thoughts on the current situation in the call centre industry – while the struggle at Maruti Suzuki continues. We will try to give a more detailed picture in the coming issue. For current information check out:

In the September 2011 issue you can find:

1) Proletarian Experiences –
Daily life stories and reports from a workers’ perspective

*** Workers’ Reports from Gurgaon/Faridabad Factories –
Short reports given to and further distributed by Faridabad Majdoor Samachar in spring 2011. Most of the accounts are from workers in the garment export industry based in Gurgaon

*** Systemic Collapse or Emancipation? On Accidents –
Commemorations for victims of two ‘accidents’ in Gurgaon and Okhla and further political questions

2) Collective Action –
Reports on proletarian struggles in the area

*** Small Upsurge of ‘Spontaneous’ Collective Actions by Garment Export Workers in Okhla, Gurgaon, Manesar –
Seven reports on direct collective actions in the garment export industry in March 2011. In order to enforce the payment of the (new) minimum wage, workers in several factories went on short wildcat strikes.

3) According to Plan –
General information on the development of the region or on certain company

*** Shifts in the Call Centre Industry: Gurgaon Tata Workers’ Report and Global Re-Locations –
We look briefly at local and global changes in the call centre industry in relation to the current crisis. We document a call centre workers’ report from Gurgaon.

*** A Prelude? Current Problems of the Real Estate Giant DLF –
DLF was the main private company ‘which built the new Gurgaon’. This was before the global real estate bubble burst. Currently the fundaments of DLF are shaky.

4) About the Project –
Updates on Gurgaon Workers News

*** Suggested Readings: A Few Texts for the International Revolutionary Debate –

The global and historical character of the current crisis forces us to coordinate both debate and practice ‘for workers self-emancipation’ on an international scale. Following texts are selective, but we think that they can stand as examples for ‘general theses’, ‘concrete analysis’ and ‘historical debate’ of class struggle and revolutionary movement.

On the current and historical crisis of capitalism

On capitalist crisis and challenge for communist movement

Theses on proletarianisation, food production and (food) crisis

On recent uprising in Egypt

On recent uprising in Tunisia

On recent movement in Spain

Recent contribution for revolutionary debate on Russian Revolution

Last, but not least!

To abolish the global work/war house will take more than informative exercise! If you live in Delhi area, please be welcomed to take part in Faridabad Majdoor Talmel – a workers’ coordination. We distribute Faridabad Majdoor Samachar on ten days each month in various industrial areas around Delhi. You can also participate in the workers’ meeting places which have been opened in various workers’ areas. If you are interested, please get in touch. For more background on Faridabad Majdoor Talmel:


1) Proletarian Experiences –
Daily life stories and reports from a workers’ perspective

*** Workers’ Reports from Gurgaon/Faridabad Factories –

Shahi Export Worker
(15/1 Mathura Road, Faridabad)
The main problem in this factory is production, production, production. The production targets are way too high. At the feeder each worker has to give his production results to the foremen once every hour. If the production target is not met every hour the supervisor shouts at the workers and threatens them with dismissal. In the sewing departments, in the finishing department… at any place the targets are fixed. There is a lot of pressure, no one wants to sworn at. On 16th and 17th March, when the thread cutting workers did not meet their target before the meal break the supervisor did not allow them take the break. In the second finishing department, which is under the corrugated iron roof, a woman worker fell unconscious on 18th of March, because it was too hot and she was over-worked. How will things look like in the summer months? Last year in summer on one day 50 workers fell unconscious. On 5th of March a supervisor swore at a pressman for not having met the target – other press men surrounded the supervisor and threw him on the floor. On 12th of March the production manager slapped a supervisor for not having achieved the production target. Currently there is less work in the sewing department, but male workers in the finishing department start shift at 9 am and work till 1 am. In February the company ordered overtime on three Sundays. There is a canteen in the factory, by they offer neither meals nor tea. Most of the 2,000 workers employed here are female. If you arrive a minute late or punch out a minute too early they cut 50 Rs to 80 Rs from your wages.

Eastern Medikit Worker
Eastern Medikit has several factories in Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon. The wages of the casual workers are always paid delayed. In the factory on Plot 205 in Phase I the casual workers refused to start working on 17th of March 2011, because they had not been paid their February wages. After two hours of ‘work stoppage’ the manager said that wages will be paid the next day. The company plan was to pay an advance of 500 to 1,000 Rs before Holi and the rest of the February wages after Holi, but they had to pay the whole wage on 18th of March.

Gaurav International Worker (Garments)
(Plot 236, Udyog Vihar)
Every month between 400 Rs to 500 Rs get embezzled from workers’ wages. When eight to ten workers went together to the personnel department they were told: why do you come together, come one after the other. When you go on your own they swear at you and ask you: why do you come and make a fuzz about 100 Rs or 200 Rs? Two or four of the old workers were paid the outstanding money, but the rest of us were not paid. Working times are from 9 am to 10:30 pm every day – they hold you back in order to make you work longer. Only the first two hours overtime are paid double, the rest single. We manufacture garments for GAP, Asmara and Dealers. The bosses say that when the representatives of the clients come to visit the factory we should say that there is no overtime, only one or two hours here and there and that we eat our meals at home in the evening. Apart from the 2,000 to 3,000 workers hired directly by the company there are 400 to 500 workers hired through contractor in the finishing department. They don’t get ESI or PF.

Kalamkari Worker (Garments)
(Plot 280, Udyog Vihar Phase II)
Here 400 permanent workers and 1,600 workers hired through contractors are employed. The company does not hand out a pay-slip. We work 125 hours overtime per month, the permanents are paid one and a half, the rest of the workers are paid single rate. The workers stay the same, but after six months they are put on a different pay-roll and the cards are changed in order to avoid having to make them permanent or pay them seniority bonus. The toilets are dirty.

Modelama Worker (Garments)
(Plot 417, Udyog Vihar Phase III)
Daily working time is from 9:30 am till 10:30 pm and at least 12 days per months we are held back and we work till 1 am. For the tailors and the checkers the first two hours of overtime are paid double, the rest at single rate. The other categories of workers are paid only single rate. If you take leave at 6 pm and go home, the next day you have to face verbal abuse. They only start ESI and PF once you have worked for the company for three months. If you leave the job, in order to get the PF form filled in by the company it takes a lot of running around. The helpers received 4,350 Rs in February 2011, meaning that the 155 Rs DA from January was not paid.

Stickpen Worker
(Plot 318, Udyog Vihar Phase IV)
In this factory us 150 workers produce writing pens on two 12 hours shifts. On Sundays the day-shift works 9 hours, the night shift 12 hours as usual. Overtime is paid at single rate. The helpers receive 3,200 Rs per month. Only 2 – 4 workers get ESI and PF, these are the permanent workers, the rest are casuals. The drinking water is bad. The toilets are dirty.

S.A.N. International Worker (Garments)
(Plot 203, Udyog Vihar Phase I)
We work from 9:30 am to 10:30 pm every day. Then we might have half and hour or an hour off, then again work till 1:30 am. Often, when we are caught up in work pressure they don’t even grant this break for taking meals. Then we work till 6 am the next day. On Sundays they let us go at 5 pm. The tailors work 125 hours overtime a month, the guys in the finishing department 200 hours, paid single rate. If they make you work till 1:30 am they pay 25 Rs extra for food. If you have to stay till 6 am, they pay 50 Rs. There are about 700 workers in the factory, but there is no canteen. The tailors don’t get ESI or PF. There is a lot of dirt in the drinking water. The doors of the toilets are broken. We are hired through contractor, but we don’t know who it is – it’s possible that the general manager himself is the contractor.

Sherry Clothing Worker
(Plot 400, Udyog Vihar Phase IV)
If you take one day off they cut two days from your wage. The management swears at us. The helpers are paid 4,200 Rs, the tailors are on piece-rate. The toilets are dirty.

Aaina Fashion Worker
(Plot 893, Udyog Vihar Phase I)
The helpers are paid 3,500 Rs, the tailors are on piece rate. Of 200 workers only 4 are permanents, the rest are casual workers. The boss tells us that he will close the factory, that he will shut it on the 31st of March, he tells us to look for a different job, that we should leave now and come back on the 7th of April to get our final payment. One of us went and asked: “If we lose the job, why don’t you pay us now?”, but the accountant got angry and hit him. After that the worker went to see the manager of the plant, then the director, but then the big wigs kicked him out from the factory.

Vodafon Worker
(Plot 102, Udyog Vihar Phase I)
For running their company office Vodafon has subcontracted cars and drivers. The drivers have to wait outside of the gate by day and night, during summer, winter and monsoon. Vodafon hasn’t installed a rest room for the drivers.

*** Systemic Collapse or Emancipation? On Accidents –

Two accidents in Gurgaon area earlier this year pushed the ‘constant emergency’ and the ‘fragile temporary absence of accidents’ back into our heads.

On 25th of January in Okhla industrial area a fire broke out on the fourth floor of a arment export factory. Thirty workers in the finishing department died. Most (garment) factories there operate with boilers, solvents or other chemicals. Most factories are crammed with people, most factories only have one entrance/exit, which, in many cases, is locked during working time. After the accident ‘concerned’ journalists reported: “It is surprising that despite occurrence of such a major mishap in the area, no step has been taken so far by the concerned civic agency to stop the illegal and dangerous business in the area, which the owners cannot run without having nexus with the local police. “The business at the factory resumed just a day after the mishap,” said a worker, adding, “there are more than 100 illegal garment manufacturing units in the area which are still operating without any disturbance.” “Instead of standing with us, the police is making their all possible efforts to save the owner of the factory. More than 20 people from our locality have lost their lives, but the police’s count is less than 10,” said Hamid Ali (50), who lost his 18-year-old daughter in the boiler blast.

On the 17th of February an under-construction 6-storey building collapsed on Plot 100 of Udyog Vihar Phase I Gurgaon. It took 24 hours to get the right machinery to search for victims. The road was closed till the 22nd of February and people were obstructed from observing the ‘rescue operations’. Officially two security guards were declared dead. Rumurs spread that several families had slept in the construction site that night. The construction company Millenium Construction Private Limted built a factory for Unitech Infosys. The media: “Though the officials were not certain as to what could have led to the structure’s collapse, use of sub-standard material is being investigated.”

The incidents of ‘accidents’ are neither accidental nor isolated. Regarding the question of accidents we think that systemic problems require a systemic analysis – we therefore encourage to read the following article by Amadeo Bordiga concerning the question of ‘capitalist catastrophes’:

2) Collective Action –
Reports on proletarian struggles in the area

*** Small Upsurge of ‘Spontaneous’ Collective Actions by Garment Export Workers in Okhla, Gurgaon, Manesar –

In the following we document seven short reports on collective wildcat action by workers in the garment export industry in March 2011. The strikes happened on the background of the Delhi government having increased the minimum wage on 1st of February 2011: from 5,200 Rs to the new Delhi minimum wage of 6,084 Rs for helpers, and from 6,000 to 7,410 for skilled workers. We can briefly derive three conclusions: workers don’t have and do not need an institutional union frame work to impose themselves; the structural weakness of the sector leads to a quick lash-back from the employers which can only be countered by coordinated organised efforts, e.g. when the company relocates work; piece-workers have frequently been able to impose higher rates by strike action, but we have only witnessed strikes of (monthly/daily) waged workers ‘on a mass scale’ when the official minimum wage has been increased; so far there hasn’t been a general ‘wage strike’ of that dimension without the impulse of the government increasing the rate; to our knowledge (monthly/daily) waged workers had to rely either on frequent job changes or sporadic strikes to ‘improve’ conditions; the general tendency is: increasing pressure on wages through global competition and introduction of ‘chain system’ (division of labour and mechanisation).

Om Jyoti Apparels Worker
(B-241, Okhla Phase I)
When the company gave out the two slips with overtime and attendance on 4th of March we became aware of the fact that the company will pay according to the old rate of 5,278 Rs (6,448 Rs). We demanded to be paid the new rate of 6,084 Rs (7,410 Rs). The management kicked out four workers from the factory. The mood was down… On 5th of March after the noon break we stopped production in the factory. In the finishing department there are 4 – 5 ‘incharges’ (department foremen), we encircled them and in order to escape from our anger they took refuge in the general managers office. The son of the chairman, he is the director, then said that the government had not sent the documents with the new pay rate yet and that the company will pay the new rate in March and also the area bonus for February. The company started relocation production work to NOIDA (a close by industrial area, but part of Uttar Pradesh, where the minimum wage is considerably lower). Saying that there is no more work the company dismissed 35 tailors on 15th of March and 16 workers of the cutting and finishing department on the 23rd of March… there are 250 workers left at Om Jyoti Apparels, out of which only 50 get ESI and PF.

Wearwell Worker
(B-61, Okhla Phase I)
The company paid the old minimum wage rate in February. On 11th of March workers stopped work for half an hour in order to protest. On 12th of march, when workers again stopped production after two hours the management put up a notice saying that in March the new rate will be paid and that the February area bonus will also be paid.

Orient House
(F-8, Okhla Phase I)
On 28th of February during the lunch break all workers assembled in front of the factory. They started shouting that they want to be paid the new rate. The management arrived at the gate and gave assurances that the new rate will be paid. Workers said that instead of some verbal assurances they wanted something in written. The bosses demanded that some representatives should come forward in order to negotiate. Us 700 workers said that we don’t have any representatives. The workers did not take up work… After one hour the company put up a notice saying that it will pay the new rate. (Translation from ‘Nagrik’ 16 – 31 March issue)

Shahi Export Worker
(F-88, Okhla Phase I)
In the factory there are more than 5,000 sewing machines. Most of the workers are female. When they announced the new rate the commotion amongst the workers increased. The company then put up a notice saying that the new rate will be paid.

Details Worker
(D-30, Okhla Phase I)
The company kicked out a few tailors on 25th of March after 15 days of employment. There was resistance. They then were paid their outstanding wage according to the new rate of 7,410 Rs.

Edigear International – Adidas, Reebok, Puma, Benetton Worker (Garments)
(Plot 150, sector IV, IMT Manesar)
We start working at 9:30 am and punch out at 6 pm ‘for show’ and for the official documents, actually work continues. At night from 8:45 to 9:00 pm there is a meal break, then we work till 1 am, often till 5 am. During January, February till the 18th of March 650 tailors, 100 cutters and 350 workers in the finishing department turned day and night into one. The tailors work till 1 am every other day, the 80 women workers stay from 9:30 am till 8 pm and Sundays from 8 am till 6 pm. In the finishing department the male workers worked till 1 am every night, on 14 days per months they worked till next day 5 am. In January the pressmen worked from 9:30 am till 5 am next day on 26 days. You have to turn up after your 4 1/2 hours break and start again at 9:30 am. After Holi only 11 out of 19 pressmen returned, some had fallen ill. After Holi 300 tailors, 100 finishing department worker and 40 cutters did not come back to work. We manufacture stuff for Adidas, Puma, Reebok and Benetton and there is a great demand, but currently a great lack of workers. There is no canteen in the factory. If we work till 1 am we are paid only 25 Rs extra for food, if till 5 am only 40 Rs. They should pay at least 50 Rs and 100 Rs for full-night food money. Workers currently refuse overtime and they say that the company should increase the wages, so that more workers will come and work. The workload is enormous and wages are paid delayed. On 14th of March, after February wages had not been paid, workers went inside the factory, to their workplaces, but workers did not start work, in any department. They had agreed on that amongst each other. On the next day, the 15th of March, workers again went inside, but did not move a finger. The general manager and the managing director promised that wages would be paid by the 18th of March, so work was resumed on the 16th. The bosses were told that if wages would be delayed again, people would look for a different job and they would have to find new workers. Now they said that they will pay punctually on the 7th of the month.

Sargam Worker
(Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon)
One month before Diwali the company dismissed 90 per cent of all workers in the factories on Plot 153 and 210 in Phase I, on Plot 224 in Phase IV and Plot 540 in Phase V, Gurgaon. In this way the company managed since 2008 not to pay the annual statutory bonus to 90 per cent of the workforce. In response on 14th, 15th and 16th of March workers in the Sargam factories stopped working and demanded the bonus. In the plant on Plot 210 on 16th of March at 1:30 to 2:30 pm, when production was still interrupted, management said that it will give a written announcement for the payment of the bonus. Now, on 24th of March the bosses say that they will kick everyone out tomorrow, on the 25th of March…

3) According to Plan –
General information on the development of the region or on certain company

*** Shifts in the Call Centre Industry: Gurgaon Tata Workers’ Report and Global Re-Locations –

Call centres can be seen as ‘the industry of globalisation’. The came up in the 1990s as a product of Taylorisation of office work: information technology enabled to undermine the ‘individual skills’ of accountants, bank and other office workers. Contrary to what a lot of lefty ideologist thought the technological restructuring lead to a massification and concentration of work-force. By the end of the 1990s call centres went global, jumped the English speaking global wage scales from the global north to south. The patriotic populism of most of the trade unions proved helpless facing global relocations. India became the global back-office and call centre. Call centres combined ‘excess capital’ (finance, dubious personal services etc.) with an excess educated working class (students, graduates etc.). Unemployed post-graduates in Tunisia phoned for French Telecom, their Indian work-mates did the same for British Telecom. With the crisis one of the main pillars of call centre industry – the finance sector and personal services – came under pressure, so did wages in the global north. Currently we can witness rapid changes and shifts within global call centre work. In the following we give a sketchy overview on recent trends. Gurgaon is probably still the biggest call centre hub world-wide, so we are glad to document a short letter by a worker at Tata Consultancy Services based in Gurgaon.

a) Re-relocation back to the US and UK – Falling wage levels and populism
b) ‘Indian’ call centre companies opening call centres in the global north – Investing in the industrial decay (Manchester)
c) Call centre industry shifting further into the lowest wage regions, example Kashmir and Bhutan
d) Strike by call centre workers at Sparsh after relocation to small Indian town
e) Intensified outsourcing of accountancy and personnel departments and supply-chain management by major corporations
f) Squeezing space in ‘Indian call’ centres to counteract rising rent prices
g) Foreign workers in Indian call centres – Report of a worker from the USA
h) Strike by workers at Verizon in the US
i) Worker’s report from Tata Consultancy, Gurgaon

a) Re-relocation back to the US and UK – Falling wage levels and populism

There is a lot of talk about ‘on-shoring’, meaning that US or UK companies would close their call centres in India and re-open it in the US/UK. Most of these cases are actually blown up and don’t represent a major trend. The reasons given are often populist 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 there are some shifts taking place. We document some of them:

Indian call centres: not as cheap as the UK
(4th of July 2011, ET)
“But with Indian salaries expected to rise 13 per cent this year, at least one UK company has decided it’s cheaper to operate out of northern England than in Mumbai. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, New Call Telecom said it was leaving Mumbai to open a call centre in Burnley, Lancashire after being attracted by low commercial rents and cheap labour costs there. Salaries in India aren’t that cheap any more. Add to that the costs of us flying out there, hotels and software, and the costs are at an absolute parity. Mr Eastwood added he also expected to save money through better staff retention in Burnley. In the UK we will pay workers the minimum wage. Given the current economic environment, we will get good “sticky” employees who will also receive bonuses linked to performance. The new call centre will operate out of rented property and employ up to 100 people. Some days later banking giant Santander announced to bring its call centres ‘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 from this month. 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. That investment follows a decision announced at its annual meeting two years ago that it too would be moving some offshored customer support jobs from India back the the UK. 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.”

The following example demonstrates the ironic side of things: banking call centre relocation back from Asia because local workers are better in putting pressures of local workers in debt:

“The decision to bring the work – which had been handled from the Philippines under contract by Accenture has boosted employment at United’s offices in Warrington and Whitehaven in north-west England.
Russ Houlden, chief financial officer, said a review of United’s debt collection strategy had prompted the move – and a recognition that local staff were best positioned to deal efficiently with customers with genuine problems in meeting their bills.”

b) ‘Indian’ call centre companies opening call centres in the global north – Investing in the industrial decay (Manchester)

“On 14th of July 2011 the Indian firm Aegis announced to create 600 jobs by opening call centre in Manchester, UK. The contact centre will handle calls on behalf of Aegis clients, most of which are blue chip companies in sectors like healthcare, travel and hospitality, retail and technology.”

“As Indian companies grow in the U.S., outsourcing comes home
By Paul Glader, 20th of May 2011
New York – Ray Capuana paces the rows of cubicles in a haggard high-rise a stone’s throw from Wall Street as his people hustle the phones and hope for a bonus check. His employees are not bond traders, though. They are call center workers. Many are African Americans without college degrees. Some lack high school diplomas. They work for a Mumbai-based company called Aegis Communications. India’s outsourcing giants – faced with rising wages at home – have looked for growth opportunities in the United States. In this evolution, outsourcing has come home. The pay runs $12 to $14 an hour, with bonus checks of up to $730 a month. At $12 to $14 an hour with possible monthly bonuses, workers can make four times what call center workers in India do. But Essar executives say it’s worth paying more in wages to leverage a large U.S. presence to gain contracts with banks, health-care companies and governments that require the work to be done here.”

Importing cheap labour
Actually at least in the US most of the ‘Indian’ companies import some of their work-force and undermine local wage levels.

“In the past, if, say, BNY Mellon inked an IT contract with Infosys, Infosys would handle 70 percent of the work in India and send 30 percent of its project staff to the United States on temporary work visas. These Indian workers often live in ethnic enclaves on the outskirts of a city, work long hours and earn less than an American would for the same work. Companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Genpact and Infosys are the largest users of the H-1B visa program and have collectively brought as many as 30,000 workers into the country in a year on H-1B or other visas. The workers are often paid “home-country wages” in America. “That’s as low as $8,000 a year” with housing allowances, he says. The employers own the visas – so the workers can’t bargain for wages, and if they lose their job they have to leave the country.”

c) Call centre industry shifting further into the lowest wage regions, example Kashmir and Bhutan

In the end it’s a question of wages, and wages are low when workers conditions are miserable. Aegis not only opens call centres in Manchester, they and companies like Genpact are the global tracker dogs for an ‘educated low waged work-force’. They have to enter the fields of social disintegration and decaying dictatorships:

Kashmiri call centre gives flicker of hope to a bleak future
(12th of August 2011 ET)
IS one of the world’s most volatile regions – a flashpoint between two nuclear-armed states that has become an economic backwater.
Now, India’s IT revolution has arrived in Kashmir with the opening of the state’s first call centre, in the city of Srinagar. The 230-seat centre, which handles calls mostly from customers in other parts of India. The call centre is operated by Aegis, an outsourcing company owned by Essar Group. Much of its work involves handling calls from customers in India’s booming mobile phone market, which is adding 15 million subscribers a month. With 500,000 unemployed, there is no shortage of willing job applicants, while wages in Kashmir are among the lowest in India.

Despite slowdown, BPOs look for expansion in Bhutan
(24th of August 2011, FE)
While the industry body, Nasscom, sticks to its projection of 16-18 per cent growth in IT exports in 2011-12, industry leader Genpact is all set to foray into Bhutan. “We are all set to open our office in Bhutan and we hope to start the operations soon. Tiger (NV Tyagarajan) and his team are already working on it,” said Pramod Bhasin, vice-chairman Genpact. “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, government of Bhutan.

d) Sparsh workers strike again!

In March 2009 workers at Sparsh call centre went on strike against low wages.

The call centre closed and a smaller call centre was opened in a small town in Rajasthan. About two years later and several hundred kilometres in distance Sparsh again faced workers’ anger:

BSNL call centre employees on strike
(22nd of June 2011, Times of India)
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 management was in touch with the employees but no solution came until the evening. 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.

e) Intensified outsourcing of accountancy and personnel departments and supply-chain management by major corporations

Obviously it becomes more interesting when global call centre agents or back-office workers not only handle ‘global clients’ 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 Bahn. Some recent examples from Gurgaon:

“Capgemini inaugurated its new Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) centre in Gurgaon, its first BPO centre in North India and sixth in India
(23rd of July 2011, FT)
Spread across an area of 35000 sq. ft, the new BPO facility in Gurgaon will increase Capgemini’s BPO’s total capacity in India to over 4500 seats. The existing BPO staff in Gurgaon will deliver Global Order Management services to Nokia Siemens Networks, a leading global enabler of communications services, to support the company’s global Supply Chain Management.”

“Genpact acquires Nissan’s HR operations
(2nd of June 2011, ET)
India’s largest BPO firm, Genpact, on Monday bagged a seven-year HR outsourcing contract from its existing client Nissan by acquiring its shared services center for human resources in Yokohama , Japan. The acquisition will boost Genpact’s presence in Japan and the center ( Nissan Human Information Service )) will be renamed as Genpact Japan Service . The amount paid for acquisition was not disclosed by Genpact. Genpact 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 and Dalian.”

f) Squeezing space in ‘Indian call’ centres to counteract rising rent prices

Apart from cutting wages, free food, bonuses etc. a lot of call centres in India, particularly in high-rent urban areas, start to reduce the work and breathing space of their workers.

“IT, ITeS firms pack more employees in confined work space to save on real estate costs
3rd of August 2011)
“Under pressure from their clients, or parent organisations, to reduce bills amid increasing rentals and employee salaries, these 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 clutch of ITeS companies, office space is being shared between IT workers and the call centre workforce (as the latter work the late shift to synchronise with US timings). And a few firms have even been asking employees to work out of the library. At the Gurgaon offshore office mentioned above, 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 workrelated 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. A Kumar, an employee at one Gurgaon ITeS centre, adds: “In the morning, the lifts are so packed it feels like you are travelling in a Mumbai local train.” “In the West, people come out on the street to protest when governments allow higher bird density in poultry farms. Over the past five years, rentals for IT and ITeS firms in the main metros have gone up by between 20% and 90%, according to real estate consultant Jones Lang LaSalle India. Salaries, on the other hand, have seen a 15-20% growth year-on-year. A junior employee with generic skills in India costs about $20 an hour, or $40,000 a year. An equivalent resource in the US comes for $60,000. A senior executive resource in India costs $30 an hour, or $60,000 a year, while an employee with a similar experience and skill in the US costs $90,000 annually. The result? 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.”

g) Foreign workers in Indian call centres – Report of a worker from the USA

And obviously there are quite a few foreign workers employed in Indian call centres now. A readable account of a US based worker from Gurgaon:

h) Strike by workers at Verizon in the US

They have been one of the proletarian back-bones of global communication workers and one of the first call centre workers who went on a mass strike in 2000.

They had to go on strike again this year in August, after Verizon announced to cut health care and pension. We know little about whether this strike had repercussions within the global telephone lines, whether Verizon call centre work was done by invisible (and probably unknowing) ‘scabs’ at the other line. This mass work-force which is still semi-integrated with the ‘hard-ware’ workers like electricians or line-maintenance could have reached out to a global work-force. We know too little about the strike and given the lack of first-hand accounts or reports by comrades we document the conclusion of the WSWS:

i) Worker’s report from Tata Consultancy, Gurgaon

“Two brief accounts from Gurgaon where call centres continue with their exploitative practices
Tata, the salt to software conglomerate is no stranger to controversies. From the killing fields of Nandigram to driving the endangered Olive Ridley turtles to near extinction the Tatas have seen them and done them all. Outsourcing behemoth, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which operates in both information technology and business processing outsourcing (BPO) domains, has kept alive the age old Tata tradition of exploitation of workers – this time in Gurgaon call centres. As an employee of TCS, I have documented two such practices.
One of them relates to increasing the notice period. A notice period is the time which the employee must serve on resignation before he is relieved from company services. As per labour laws these are a part of the employment contract and cannot be increased to the disadvantage of the employees without employee consent. Rachel, an agent with TCS, narrated an incident when she found a better offer with a rival call centre and resigned from TCS. To her consternation, she was informed that her notice period had been unilaterally increased by TCS from two (as was mentioned in her employment contract with TCS) to three months. She was not informed of this change in the terms of her employment (which is completely illegal in the first place) and she came to know about it only when she had resigned. Since she had already committed on a joining date to the rival call centre – which she was unable to meet – she was left with no choice but to take back her resignation and continue working with TCS. On the first glance this may not appear to be a serious violation of employee rights. Reality however is different. Since call centres are not unionised the agents have no negotiating power. This creates fertile conditions for exploitation by the management all of which is well documented in call centre literature. The only real power that an employee possesses is to resign. By depriving the employees of this power they are further subjugated to management whims leading to possibility for pervasive exploitation.
Timesheets are meant to document the man-hours logged by agents at work. Agents fill them at the end of a day’s work. Call centres extensively use them to determine the salary payout to the agents. Abhishek, an agent with a voice based process for domestic client narrates that their team was asked to fill 8 working hours of work even as they were asked to put in 10 hours. What it meant was that they were paid for 8 hours work while they were putting 10 hours. What is more interesting is that there virtually no protests on what was a patently exploitative mandate. As Abhishek notes, the typical reaction of an agent was of docile acceptance coupled with the acknowledgement of lack of negotiating power vis-a-vis the employers.
These two instances only go to reveal the extent of exploitation of the workforce and an urgent need for unionisation in the call centre space.

PS- Some names have been changed in order to prevent the victimisation of my sources. Again this goes to show the oppressive nature of neo-liberal global capitalism that is pervasive in Gurgaon.”

*** A Prelude? Current Problems of the Real Estate Giant DLF –

The real estate company DLF was the symbol of the ‘Shining India’ of the post-1990 period, the shooting star on the stock-markets and the builder of neoliberal city Gurgaon. The most recent news about DLF might be an indicator of the current condition of the ‘Indian boom’ and will have an impact on the local (political) ruling class, which has been forged in the gold rush of ‘land deals’. We should keep an open eye at further developments.

DLF to sell 13-acre Gurgaon plot for Rs 300 crore to ease debt burden
(19th of August 2011, ET)
India’s largest developer DLF is selling a 13-acre plot in Gurgaon, Haryana, as part of its plan to ease its debt burden through asset sales. About 1 million sq ft of commercial space can be built on the plot, which is expected to fetch Rs 300 crore for the realty firm. DLF’s net debt increased by Rs 100 crore during the April-June quarter to Rs 21,524 crore. The firm had said that it plans to sell developed assets, including IT parks and its hotels business as well as hotel plots to raise Rs 7,000 crore over the next two years. The company reported that the money from the sale of non-core assets was Rs 165 crore in April-June quarter. The company is also trying to sell land in other cities such as Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Chennai. DLF has also appointed Goldman Sachs as an advisor to sell Aman Resorts, a luxury hotel chain of 23 hotels across 12 countries it had acquired in November 2007 for $400 million. Real estate giant DLF may have to pay Rs 900 crore extra penalty if the Competition Commission of India (CCI) finds it guilty of abusing its dominant market position in three more projects in Gurgaon.

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