Monday, May 25, 2020

Suggestions for LJA intervention on behalf of migrant workers

A Note on possible/desirable activities that can be taken up
by LJA activists for the benefit of returning Migrant Workers

The returning Migrant Worker population represent a hard working section of rural youth who have migrated to urban centres(towns, cities, metros) over the past decades to eke out a livelihood so as to help sustain their family members, who were ’left’ back in their villages. This population have been largely working in the construction, production and service sectors of the urban economy through acquired knowledge and skills. As a result of the Pandemic and lockdown, they have been ‘displaced’ from their urban homes, jobs and workplaces and have chosen to go back to their villages . However, they continue to possess these acquired knowledge and skills and would still be able to contribute to the economy without the need for ‘training for skill development’. Many of them would want to go back to their urban jobs and many of their employers would also want them back.

The numbers of such workers is estimated to be about 40 million largely from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Those who have survived the ordeal of the forced "long march" would have reached their villages by the end of this month.
They have lost faith in the State, their employers in their states of migration and in the belief that the urban population and the market system has any element of empathy and 'human' values. That belief/hope has been violently shattered and they have trudged home, probably in the hope that such empathy and human values still remain in their villages! That is to be seen in the days to come.

LJA, which has been deeply involved in championing the rights of Lokavidya Samaj; such as the 'Right to a dignified life based on Lokavidya', "Sab ki Aay Pakki"(a guaranteed universal basic income), Lokavidya Bazar and Lokavidya Swaraj etc; needs to swing into action to bring these ideas into the collective consciousness of the Samaj using the heightened awareness on all these issues among these returning migrant workers, as a catalyst.

First and foremost would be the need to organize food distribution(grains, pulses, oil etc) to the families of these returning migrant workers for the next few months so that they don’t die of starvation.
LJA activists in these rural areas could play an important role in initiating, guiding and overseeing such distribution, in conjunction with workers of BKU, PDS, ICDS, Anganwadi  etc

I would like to suggest some areas of action that can be focused upon, during the next few months, based on the skills of the returning migrant workers. Such activity could help generate motivation and new skills among the rural population and possibly set in motion , regenerative rural transformation of village and cottage industry. It could also provide the necessary fillip for decentralized production( the ‘produce locally’ campaign) and reduce the need to ‘migrate for work’.

Workers who wish to return

The main issue concerning such workers is: under what conditions would these workers be willing to return ? These condition would include, in the main, assured safe housing and assured timely payment of a minimum wage. This process would involve serious negotiations with their employers/job-providers, mediated by individuals and organizations in whom both sides have trust.( This is akin to the situation handled by Gandhiji in 1928/29 with regard to the Ahmedabad Mill workers’ strike- with the final settlement arrived at to the satisfaction of both workers and Mill owners)

LJA together with other activists in Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Kolkata could play an important role in initiating and guiding such negotiations. This work must start as soon as possible.

Workers who wish to remain

Wherever possible, it must be attempted to setup functional decentralized units of urban factories and manufacturing industries, depending on the skill-set of returning workers, in identified panchayat areas. This would ensure that such workers find a place in the production/manufacturing chain asap.
LJA activisits in these rural areas together with other NGOs could play an important role in initiating and guiding such ‘decentralization’ of workplaces, while providing gainful employment to these ‘destitute’ workers.

Some examples:

1. Returning workers of the garment manufacturing industry:
A small cluster of such workers can be provided the (minimal) infrastructure required to continue their productive activity, such as, sewing machines(even hand-operated) housed in a small building in some convenient area close to their residences. The ‘raw’ material such as pre-cut garment pieces, thread, buttons etc could be supplied to them at the workplace(through local couriers) and the finished garment collected and transported back to the urban centre. Payment being made on delivery of finished garment etc.
The capital required to establish this infrastructure and logistics could come from Venture Capital(VC) in conjunction with the urban factory; a business model could be worked out to the best satisfaction of all.

2. Returning construction workers:
All building activity such as low cost housing, toilets, roads, warehouses etc can be taken up using the skills of returning masons, building workers etc. Once again the capital outlay for building material, tools, equipment etc could come from VC and a business model drawn up in conjunction with with Govt agencies such as R&B Dept, PM Awas Yojana, Swachh Bharat Mission, MGNREGA etc

3. Workers from other ‘centralised’ industries,
Wherever production can be carried out in a decentralized manner; such workers can be encouraged to continue practising their acquired skills by designing distributed production centres(depending on the size and character of the skill set of returning workers) using VC ; with appropriate business models developed to suit each type of productive activity.

4. Workers from the service sectors of the urban economy
A number of returning workers have been involved in the urban ’service sector’ as delivery men, couriers, drivers/transporters etc and their skills and experience can be marshaled to man the logistics of these decentralized production centres.

The establishment of Gyan Panchayats

Wherever possible,attempts must be made to set up functional Gyan Panchayats involving migrant workers and local village members. All activities to be taken up must be discussed in these Gyan Panchayats and working plans drawn up for immediate implementation. This would facilitate the process of establishing Gram Swaraj/Lokavidya Swaraj and, hopefully, facilitate the process of the Samaj to regain control over it's life and activities.


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