In this piece, Lalan, a worker in Nagpur, India, reflects upon his experiences, past and present, of so called “accidents” at work, and their relationship to capitalism’s demand for profit. Originally written in Hindi, translated by Arvind Ghosh.
It is now almost 400 to 500 years since capitalism came into existence on this planet. It was much strengthened after the 1789 French Revolution and reached its highest stage, Imperialism, by early 20th century. In their insatiable drive for profit and a market for their goods, the imperialist nations initiated two world wars in which tens of millions of people perished. Most of the people who died at the fronts of these war were the army-men i.e., children of the exploited and oppressed masses. Millions of civilians died in indiscriminate bombings of cities (including the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), as well as the Nazi Holocaust. This uncontrollable hunger for an ever increasing profit still drives the imperialists all over the world to instigate more and more wars causing widespread death and devastation.
In the industrial sphere too, many “accidents” take place all over the world in which workers lose their lives in the whirlwind of capitalist production and the non-stop drive for profit. According to this capitalist logic, production for profit is supreme and must continue uninterrupted at the cast of great suffering to workers and their dispensable lives. The inevitable consequence is death for workers who are then blamed for their carelessness! At other times, unforeseen circumstances are blamed and the owners as well as management of the enterprise go scot-free, absolved of all responsibilities. This happens not only in private enterprises but also in government enterprises like the military. Here are a few recent incidents:
- Death of 6 contract workers in Central Ammunition Depot at Pulgaon. Work which was previously done by the defense personnel is now done by contract workers who lack training. Whereas the workers of the defense sector earn a salary of 35,000-50,000 Rupees (Rs.) per month, the contract workers are paid roughly 5,500 to 7,800 Rs. for doing the same work out of the 25 % of leftover scraps after demolition of defective All rules and regulations are shelved to get the work done with cheap labor at great risk to the lives of workers.
- Death of 14 workers in Bhilai Steel Plant: Here, maintenance work was being performed while keeping the gas running in the pipeline so that production was not hampered — whereas observing safety norms would have implied the stoppage of the gas supply while undertaking maintenance work. This was not the first such incident in a steel plant in India. There has been many more such “accidents” in steel industries all over India, including in the same Bhilai Steel Plant. Other industries are not exempt either.
- Death of 700 workers in the coal mines of Chasnala in 1975. Here, a place marked as a danger zone was re-opened for extraction of coal. The wall could not take the pressure of water and the mines were suddenly flooded, resulting in the death of 700 workers.
- Death of 3784 people in the Bhopal Gas leakage in 1984: The gas pipeline had become weak and needed to be replaced. However, gas was allowed to flow through the pipeline and, due to a huge leakage, the worst industrial disaster occurred resulting in the death of 3,784 people in the city of Bhopal including workers at the factory. The ill effects of the gas continue to this day.
- Similar incidents have taken the lives workers in other parts of the world as well. We can safely say that in recent decades, the total number of deaths in industries like the military, mining, and engineering, all over the world including the U.S. and Russia may have amounted to many hundreds of thousands.
Deaths of all these workers in different industries are not merely accidental. Behind all these deaths lies the drive of the capitalists for higher profits. In fact, the root cause of these deaths and disasters is the existence of capital as a social relation. Capital will change places, move from one country to another, buy out and issue threats to the administration; no crime is forbidden to it if the share of the profit is lucrative! The state as well as capitalists is the sponsor and defender of the major crimes committed today. The state is supposed to protect us against terrorism, but where do the terrorists get their arms and ammunition if they do not have factories of their own to produce arms? The bombs may explode in factories or in a crowd.
Today, along with the process of developing automation, capital drives to make workers into machines. Production goals are fixed in connivance with the union leaders with which the workers have to comply with. Accidents are deemed acceptable in the race to reach the company’s target. In the ensuing accidents workers lose their lives or their limbs. In connivance with the lords of labor i.e., the union leaders, who are mostly exempt from work, workers have lost their identity in order to become mere machines of production, paid in order to survive and be able to present themselves for work the next day so that the accumulation of capital may continue. Today, the looting of labor-power and natural resources at the cost of ecology, increasing working hours and reduction of wages has become the norm. Anyone who dares to put obstacles on the way of capital accumulation is either bought or terrorized or pushed towards death. This game of death does not stop by any change in political power since the politics of power is a Machiavellian game, wherein corruption reigns supreme along with religious superstitions and obscurantism. This is why Narendra Modi cannot be an alternative to Manmohan Singh nor can Rahul Gandhi be an alternative to Modi in India.
Marx says in The Communist Manifesto:
“The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
In order to get rid of all these ills of the existing society, we have to end the capitalist mode of production along with the bourgeoisie freedom to exploit and loot the working class and the oppressed masses worldwide. In order to understand and accomplish this task we the workers have to concentrate on initiating dialogue amongst ourselves and move towards a united and collective struggle against capitalism. We have to do it not in one country, but in the entire world; and worker activists, revolutionary intellectuals, organically linked with the working class need to assume responsibility to help bring this about!
Let us move forward together to achieve our goals!