Workers Need Decent Leaders

ashoka mody and bernie sanders book

By Annavajhula J C Bose, PhD

“The silence of the government in responding to the demands of the working class is deafening.” Thus bemoaned recently Sudha Bharadwaj, a human rights activist, trade unionist and lawyer and daughter of the late Krishna Bharadwaj, my economics teacher at Jawaharlal Nehru University in the late 1970s.

And that the Indian leaders and officials have never worked for the weak and the vulnerable including the underclass poor and the working class, has also been bemoaned by Ashoka Mody in his latest book, India is Broken.

Jobs crisis, public goods crisis, and lives and livelihoods crisis are there and worsening due to deepening moral crisis in terms of broken norms and missing political accountability.

There are no politicians such as the rare American Bernie Sanders who ask hard questions about where we are as a nation, and where we are heading.

The earlier Vice President M. Venkaiah Nadu once spoke, by mistake perhaps, about ensuring social democracy along with political democracy but nothing of that sort is shaping up in our beloved country.

Bernie Sanders has lately poured out on why we need to be angry about capitalism, and why we must at least have a social democratic politics and economics for the welfare of the working people.

While the middle class continues to decline, the uber-capitalist economic system today is doing extremely well, for the people who own it—the oligarchs.

These oligarchs have enormous wealth. They have enormous power. In fact, for the 1 percent, things have never been better. They have their mansions all over the world, their private islands, their expensive art, their yachts, their private jets. Some of them have spaceships that, someday, may take them to Mars.

They like the way things are going and, with unlimited resources at their disposal, will do everything possible to defend what they have and maintain the status quo.

They own the democracy we live in. They spend tens of billions of dollars on campaign contributions to major political parties in order to buy politicians who will do their bidding.

They spend billions more on lobbying firms to influence governmental decisions. To a significant degree, they own the media.

That is why the personalities they employ on TV, radio, newspapers, and social media do not ask embarrassing questions, and rarely raise issues that will undermine the privileged position of their employers.

That is why, despite the many thousands of television networks, radio stations, and websites they own, there is little public discussion about the power of corporates and how oligarchs wield that power to benefit their interests at the expense of working families.

There is now more income and wealth inequality than ever before.

The economy is rigged and in this economy we also have more concentration of ownership and price fixing than ever before. In one sector after another, a handful of giant corporations control the market. There is zero accountability on the part of their CEOs.

Uber-capitalism in its rawest form is about greed that knows no limit, about corporations that viciously oppose the right of workers to organize, about the abuses of wealth and power that tear apart our society.

The best example is Amazon and its leader, Jeff Bezos.

In this milieu, many working class protestors in America and elsewhere have realized that political rights like the right to vote, the right to express opinions, the right to practice religious beliefs, the right to assemble, and the like do not guarantee them the right to a decent job, health care, education, food and shelter.

They do not guarantee the right to the basic necessities that allow human beings to live decent and secure lives. Political rights are inadequate to assure equality in the pursuit of happiness.

They have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence

What struck them every time they joined a picket line, and every time they sat down with workers in a union hall, were five realities:

  1.  The factories, warehouses, and stores where workers were forced to strike were subsidiaries of huge, multinational corporations;
  2. The owners of these corporations were squeezing their employees unmercifully despite making huge profits;
  3. The response of workers to that greed was a deep and powerful solidarity. Workers and their families stuck together through the hard times that unfolded during the strikes, making sure that people with chronic health issues maintained their health insurance, that everyone had enough food, and that children of union members got festival presents;
  4. Community after community, no matter in what region of the country, showed strong support for the striking workers; and
  5.  In community after community, union after union, a substantial portion of the workers had become supporters of right-wing nationalism and jingoism.

They are very clear that the uber-capitalist system is grossly immoral.

And so, they are also very clear about the moral values that should be guiding people into the future:

Greed is not good; Massive income and wealth inequality is not good; Buying elections is not good; Profiting from human illness is not good; Charging people the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs is not good; Exploiting workers is not good; Monopolization of the economy by a handful of corporations is not good; Ignoring the needs of the most vulnerable like the children, the elderly, and people with disabilities is not good; Racism, casteism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia are not good; For-profit prisons that make money by locking up poor people are not good; Wars and excessive military budgets are not good; and carbon emissions that destroy the planet are not good.

Little wonder that such protestors are demanding the following things—a guaranteed jobs programme that puts people to work at liveable wages addressing the enormous unmet needs of our society; economic democracy wherein workers have more and more power over the jobs they perform so that they no longer have to function as unhappy cogs in the machine; creation of millions of jobs by leading the world in combating the existential threat posed by climate change and transforming energy systems away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy; rebuilding crumbling infrastructure—roads, bridges, rail, schools, water systems and broadband to make nations safer and more efficient; putting an end to dysfunctional health care system and moving toward a publicly funded Medicare for All system that guarantees health care as a human right, not a privilege; guaranteeing lifetime learning through public education for every citizen of every age from childcare to graduate school; ending grotesque level of income and wealth inequality through a progressive tax system that demands that the wealthy and large corporations finally start paying their fair share of taxes; preserving reproductive rights and guaranteeing that women have the freedom to make the choices that are best for their lives and their livelihoods; ending all forms of bigotry; and creating a vibrant and inclusive democracy that ends corrupt campaign finance system and makes it easier, not harder, for people of all walks of life to participate in the political process.

The social provisioning in this regard will have to come from at least a social-democratic government accountable to people, at least like in Nordic countries. After all, a system that does not work for people’s needs, but works for profits of a few, is not OK.

Sudha Bhardwaj’s sobering analysis of the state of affairs plaguing the Indian working class, 75 years after independence, is on the right track.

The case against such a bold and ennobling working class warrior was a “pure and simple case of victimisation”. Indian workers need such leaders, like Bernie Sanders is needed in America.

Ashoka Mody. 2023. India is Broken. Juggernaut.
Bernie Sanders with John Nichols. 2023. It’s OK to be Angry about Capitalism. Crown. An Imprint of Random House. A Division of Penguin Random House LLC. New York.

(Writer teaches in Department of Economics, SRCC, Delhi University.)

Subscribe to support Workers Unity – Click Here

(Workers can follow Unity’s FacebookTwitter and YouTube. Click here to subscribe to the Telegram channel. Download the app for easy and direct reading on mobile.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.