Submitted by Editor on Tue, 2016-04-19 22:22 The successful protest by garment workers in Bengaluru against the central government’s move to curtail employees’ right to withdraw their PF has one big lesson to both the state and central governments – don’t take the people for granted. Over the last two decades, slowly but inexorably, workers’ rights won through hard struggles over a century or more have been curtailed at the altar of the holy grail of growth. A large part of the blame for such a development needs to be borne by the unions, which were stuck in a time warp and refused to change, reorient, reinvent and reposition themselves in a new world driven by incentive. Caught between the union dinosaurs and the predatory corporates backed by the government, the workers saw their real incomes eroding, deeply affecting their quality of life. The courts too refused to side with the workers, even in cases where cases of that involved workers’ rights, wherein there was blatant violation of fundamental rights. That encouraged governments to further dilute laws protecting workers. In taking a unilateral decision to restrict the employees’ right to withdraw their PF money for their needs, the Modi government only continued that policy of eroding workers’ rights initiated by its predecessor UPA dispensation. Surprisingly enough, although the policy was part of the budget proposals, even the central unions, leave alone the opposition parties did not bat an eyelid. The policy was flawed. How could the government think that it could lay its hands on the workers’ savings, the employers’ contribution of PF part of that savings, and get away with it? Would the government dare to take away, say 12�f corporate corpuses, promising to return the funds after 25 years, with a minimal interest? What is unforgivable is that the government did not even think it was worth it to consult the workers. But even a worm turns. Rumours that employees could not withdraw their PF savings till they retire circulated like flash fire among the garment workers in the stretch from Silk Board to Electronic City. The garment workers had reason to panic. Most of the garment factories are sweat shops and predatory employers who believe in taking than giving. How could they leave their savings with them till they retire? What is the guarantee that the employer would even deposit his share of PF? What happens to employees, who in any case, have no security of job? The women workers were the most worried. They must have felt that there was a conspiracy to deprive them of their hard-earned savings. And it is they who led the agitation. There were five surprises. First, the resistance to the PF law amendment was spontaneous, and not led by any of the unions, either of the Left or the BJP’s Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh. Second, it came from the most vulnerable of the workers anywhere in India – the garment workers. Third, it was women who were in the forefront, protested vehemently and vocally, and bore the brunt of the policy brutality. Fourth, the backlash it did not come from unionized Kerala or Bengal, but from laidback Bengaluru. Fifth, although inconvenienced by the strike, a large part of Bengaluru’s middle class sympathized with the strike. Discussion threads on blogs and news websites and portals were full of solidarity for the workers. That surely scared the daylights out of the NDA government. Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, speaking from far-off Delhi twice in a day, first announced that the PF law amendment would not be immediately implemented. But by evening, the fear deepened, and Dattatreya announced that the proposal would be revoked. Perhaps the ongoing elections in states including Kerala and West Bengal were also a factor in the hurried revocation. So, the lesson of the whole episode is that you should not take people for granted. But whether the centre has learnt the lesson, or only pretended to learnt it, remains to be seen.