Wednesday, November 21, 2012

India - workers struggle

GurgaonWorkersNews - Newsletter 52 (November 2012)

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 giant answering machine of the world. We summarise some of our experiences relating to call centres in Gurgaon. If you work in a call centre 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 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 down...

Stay Rude!

*** Ten Years After and a Global Crisis Later... - Preface to Indian Edition of 'Hotlines: Call Centre, Inquiry, Communism', by Kolinko

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. This question will not be answered through distant research, but active participation in workers' struggles... read on!

News from India's Special Exploitation Zone -

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