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Since the inception of the WTO in 1995, India enthusiastically explored export-promotion strategies through multilateral trade reforms. However, the country has moved towards the regional trade route since 2004, primarily owing to the slow progress of the Doha Round negotiations. As a result, the whole architecture of international trade law and governance is being redesigned in the Asia Pacific region. This paper focuses on the pivotal role played by India in this rebalancing. Given the stress on services exports and investment requirements, India focused on entering into comprehensive agreements encompassing merchandise and services trade as well as investment provisions. Presently, India is involved in the ongoing Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] negotiations, where ASEAN remains at the core. The current analysis evaluates the Indo-ASEAN trade patterns and evolving dynamics over the last decade through select trade indices, and comments on the future of the RCEP.
In the previous chapters, we have enumerated the factors that have influenced the bargaining between labour and capital in West Bengal (WB). It has been underlined that economic conditions along with the role of trade unions and the state through their interactions determine the nature and outcome of bargaining. While Chapter 3 provided our observations from the field with regard to collective bargaining in WB, Chapters 4 and 5 enumerated the economic conditions and the role of trade unions and working class politics, respectively. In this chapter, we look at the role of the state in collective bargaining.
The state has an intrinsic role in capital–labour bargaining because of its historic claim to legitimacy enabling it to play the mediating role in the relationship between social groups to facilitate common development and welfare. In the production system this intervention between capital and labour is institutionalised through the Industrial Relations (IR) system. The tension and fluidity in capital–labour relation in a capitalist system arises primarily from three distinct but interrelated factors: indeterminacy of labour contract (since the performance of labour cannot be perfectly observed and therefore monitored); inequality between labour and capital; and the dynamic nature of workplace with coexistence of conflict and cooperation (Colling and Terry 2010). Since such contestations and inequality of power and wealth between labour and capital exist, the need for an institution that is relatively autonomous to the dynamics between labour and capital arises in order to provide a stable IR framework. Industrial Relations as the institutional framework of capital–labour affiliation manage such relations according to political–economic dynamics.
The role of the state has varied across countries and time depending on the dynamics of the state–market relationship. Many states, such as Germany, Sweden and India, have had significant involvement in collective bargaining, while countries such as the UK and the US have been marked by minor and non-decisive role in IR. In all countries, however, the state has a role in IR through legal enactments and institutions that establish the context and standard of IR (Streeck and Thelen 2005).
In the last chapter, we have discussed the various strands of literature on collective bargaining, delineating the two contradictory strands of argument—one pointing out that collective bargaining is a relic of the past, while the other indicating its increased relevance, albeit with a change in its form. In this chapter, we look at the processes of collective bargaining in West Bengal (WB) and try to see how these two trends play out in this context. Our interrogation of collective bargaining in WB, however, is rather on a different plane as compared with the existing literature. On the one hand, the literature on collective bargaining has largely been outcome-based, studying agreements between management and trade union or labour and capital, as the mechanism to understand the nature of collective bargaining. On the other hand, the study of labour has focused on labour activism—organising the workers in protest against the management or the state. Between these two spectra lies the entire terrain of the everyday—a space which has largely been ignored in the study of collective bargaining (for example, Sen 2009).
We argue that collective bargaining cannot be understood simply as a moment in time actualised through an agreement. Rather, the agreement can be thought of as the end of a process of everyday negotiations and struggles between capital, labour and its unions, and the state. Indeed, a study of these agreements, the issues they raise, the concessions granted to labour and the commitments of the management are important sources of information to understand the issues on which bargaining happened between labour and capital. But in order to understand the processes, the negotiations, and the struggles between labour and capital, we need to move beyond the agreements and study the everyday processes that shape collective bargaining and the resultant agreements. Moreover, to treat the agreement as the end of the collective bargaining is also incomplete. Often, their actual implementation remains a source of constant dispute between labour and capital, as we will see in this chapter.
The bargaining power of trade unions depends on a complex set of factors. In the last chapter, on the basis of our field-level data, we have underscored the importance of the triad of market, technology and the state in determining the outcome of the bargaining between labour and capital. In this chapter, we focus on the issue of the market, both labour and industry, in the context of West Bengal (WB), at the macro level.
The macroeconomic context within which the trade unions operate determines to a large extent whether the trade unions are successful in negotiating with the management in terms of fulfilling their demands. Marx had elaborated on the idea of the reserve army of labour and postulated how the varying size of the reserve army of labour results in variation in the wage rates. With a vast reserve army of labour, the wage rate is lower compared to a situation where the reserve army of labour is smaller in size. In the words of Marx, ‘the general movements of wages are exclusively regulated by the expansion and contraction of the industrial reserve army, and these again correspond to the periodic changes of the industrial cycle’ (Marx 2010). Thus, the Marxian argument postulates a negative relation between the wages and the size of the reserve army, which, in turn, depends on the ‘periodic changes of the industrial cycle’.
If we consider workers to be organised into trade unions as collective agents, then the wage rate of the workers becomes a negative function of the unemployment rate in the economy. In other words, if the unemployment rate, or the size of the reserve army of labour, is high, the bargaining power of the workers is low (Rowthorn 1977). Assuming that the unemployment rate is positively linked with periods of industrial stagnation or decline, it follows that the bargaining power of trade unions is negatively correlated with periods of industrial stagnation or decline. Therefore, if the macroeconomic environment within which the trade unions are functioning is that of the presence of a large reserve army of labour and a stagnant industrial situation, then it can be inferred that the bargaining power of the trade unions would be low in such an economy. It is well known that the state of WB has witnessed a steady relative industrial decline.
This book primarily examines the status of trade unions and the collective bargaining institutions in the urban labour market of West Bengal (WB) within an analytical framework that views capital–labour relations as an outcome of the interplay of the triad of market, technology and the state with its collective bargaining institutions. The framework that we have adopted here is sufficiently general in the sense that it is capable of explaining capital–labour relations elsewhere as well. West Bengal is the only state in India that had been, until recently, under left rule for more than three decades, and has long been known for its pro-worker stance. The analytical strategy that has been adopted in this book allows us to move back and forth between the general context of weakening of trade union power as a consequence of the changing scenario in the national and global economies on the one hand, and the specific context of a subnational region like the state of WB within the federal system of India, on the other. The regional focus of the study is motivated by the understanding that distinct differences in labour market conditions and in the associated complexities of labour institutions do exist across subnational units in a large developing country like India. Differences at the subnational level in economic prosperity, degrees of urbanisation, structural changes as reflected in the changing shares of primary, secondary and tertiary sectors in total output, and employment—all influence the labour market, labour organisations and collective bargaining outcomes. It can be argued that trade union organisations largely derive their characteristics, heritage, identity and strategic options from the specificities that characterise the region in which they function. This diverse array of influencing factors, which can roughly be called ‘economic’, influences and is further influenced by the political, social and historical factors. Understandably, the way all these factors are supposed to interact to produce the trajectory of capital–labour relations in a subnational context is not easy to delineate, as they pose difficult methodological challenges.
Achin Chakraborty, Professor of Economics and the Director of the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK),
Subhanil Chowdhury, Assistant Professor of Economics at IDSK.,
Supurna Banerjee, Assistant Professor in Political Science at IDSK,
Zaad Mahmood, Oxford Department of International Development and is also Assistant Professor in Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata.
The large-scale violence at the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki and at Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India a few years ago, and similar incidents reported elsewhere, are indicative of the fact that the role of labour institutions in India in resolving conflicts between the workers and the management and facilitating collective bargaining to reach an amicable settlement needs closer scrutiny. We are of the view that, while thinking about labour market reforms, the growing sense of injustice and discontentment among the industrial labour force needs to be faced with greater sensitivity and caution than what is prevalent in the overall climate of apathy towards the problems of the so-called privileged organised labour.
Given the fact that the vast majority of the working people in India is outside the net of any social protection and workers’ rights, it is not difficult to understand the general apathy in the society towards the concerns of the organised workers. The literature on organised trade unions is often mired in the rhetoric of indignation of two extreme kinds—either at the plight of the workers who are losing their hard-earned rights or at the presumed privileges enjoyed by the so-called labour aristocracy. Going beyond the rhetoric, this book takes a hard-headed look at the collective bargaining institutions and the processes in the Indian state of West Bengal (WB) with an analytical approach that combines the macro aspects of the economy of a region with the micro observations on the processes from the field. Our humble claim is that even though the empirical material for the book is primarily drawn from the state of WB, we have tried to present enough analytical observations using secondary material so that the book would be found useful by anyone interested in issues of labour market, trade union organisations, collective bargaining institutions and the role of the state.
The book is the outcome of a collaborative research effort of a truly interdisciplinary kind. While Achin and Subhanil are formally trained in economics, Supurna and Zaad are trained in political science/sociology.
This study has examined the role of trade unions and the collective bargaining institutions in the urban labour market of West Bengal (WB) within an analytical framework that views capital–labour relations as an outcome of the interplay of the triad of market, technology and the state with its collective bargaining institutions. The fact that the power of the trade unions in influencing the capital–labour relations has declined throughout the world is now a commonplace observation. In an increasingly globalised world, nation states seem to have been competing to take away the hard-earned gains of people and making various attempts to level the organised labour down to the predicament of unorganised workers. There is often a ring of inevitability around this argument favouring levelling down, as if it is driven by forces outside our control. Trade union action in pursuit of the interests of the organised labour is widely believed to create a privileged class of workers out of proportion with the Indian realities, detracting from the all-important goal of economic growth. There has been a long tradition in the discussions on Indian trade unionism that tends to emphasise ‘responsible trade unionism’ vis-à-vis its other—supposedly ‘irresponsible’ or ‘destructive’. The literature repeatedly makes contrasts between the ‘adversarial’ roles that the trade unions are believed to play and the ‘accommodating’ roles that they are expected to play.
Against the backdrop of a steadily declining share of the organised industrial sector in WB vis-à-vis India, we have relooked into the so-called labour militancy argument in explaining the decline. A close examination of the secondary data and application of quantitative techniques reveal a kind of path dependence of industrial development (relative decline, to be precise) in the state with an initial trigger in the form of freight equalisation policy and contracting public sector investment back in the past. The rise of adversarial trade unionism of the past, if we accept this characterisation of earlier trade unionism in WB, might be a consequence rather than a cause of the relative decline.
Limits of Bargaining is an original addition to the political economy analysis of capital-labour relations in the organised industrial sector in the context of economic liberalisation in India. It analyses the dynamics of the capital-labour bargaining process in the context of the changing nature of the state and market as a result of adoption of policies of liberalisation and globalisation for the last two and half decades. It examines the nature of collective bargaining and analyses the underlying structural-political conditions that shape the capital-labour relations. Based on original empirical material from West Bengal, a state long considered pro-labour, the book presents bargaining between capital and labour as endogenous to the interplay of the triad of the market, technology and the institutions of the state. It illustrates everyday interactions between labour and management, different unions and outside actors that shape collective bargaining, and highlights the negotiation, appropriations and compromises that shape bargaining at the operational level.
The relationship between capital and labour is a dynamic process, varying from a peaceful relation to a conflicting one where either party, namely labour and capital, tries to safeguard its interests. This ongoing conflict is shaped by both economic and non-economic factors. In this struggle, workers are organised in trade unions that are supposed to reflect the collective interests of the working class. The relationship between the workers and the trade unions, the political beliefs of the leadership, the organisational aspects of the trade unions, the approach of the state and the general political climate all determine the outcome of the bargaining between capital and labour, in addition to the economic factors. In the last two chapters, we have looked into the issue of microlevel bargaining between labour and capital and the economic climate in West Bengal (WB), within which this bargaining is taking place. The last chapter also pointed out that the argument that ‘labour militancy’ is responsible for the industrial stagnation in the state is wrong, alluding to the fact that the strength of the trade unions in the state is actually on a decline.
In this chapter, we concentrate on the role of the trade unions and the working-class politics in WB. First, we give detailed empirical data on the strength of the trade unions in WB to further corroborate our understanding that ‘labour militancy’ is a thing of the past. However, given the change in the strength of the trade unions, is there a premium for being a member of the trade union? We try to answer these questions and locate the contours of tension between the workers and the trade unions and identify the terrain of politics in which the trade unions function. Finally, through this analysis, we also try to understand the current nature and discourse of ‘working-class’ politics in WB.
Evidence of weakening of the trade union movement in West Bengal
As has been already pointed out, WB is a state with a long history of workers’ movement governed by the Left for more than three decades. The general perception of WB in the mainstream media and academic discourses has been that of a state mired in the militant trade union movement. In this section, we try to understand the strength of the trade union movement in WB.
As a mechanism or institution of negotiation of the terms and conditions of employment, collective bargaining is dynamic. The subject matter of collective bargaining is contingent on changes in macroeconomic conditions and political developments. Intuitively the meaning and subjects of collective bargaining have been subject to alterations in the context of liberalisation. A survey of the literature on collective bargaining in India reveals two broad and contradictory strands of argument. On the one hand, traditional collective bargaining as a mechanism of negotiation between employers and employees has increasingly come under attack. Conceived as an institution to cover all negotiations between employers and employees to determine working conditions and terms of employment, it is argued to be a vestige of the older industrial production system, inefficient and to some extent redundant in the new economy (Vijay Durga Prasad 2009). On the other hand, the revival of collective bargaining has been one of the key issues of labour market reforms along with the relaxation of regulatory rigidity. Collective bargaining has been considered the desired mechanism of industrial negotiation that was hitherto marginalised due to political factors. In fact, collective bargaining has been hailed for its service to Indian industries by introducing changes in labour relations and allowing for restructuring in both public and private sectors in response to the changed economic situation (Venkata Ratnam 2003).
The debate over collective bargaining in India is in conformity with the observations of scholars in the global context. One strand of contemporary literature suggests that transformations of work and employment present major challenges to traditional workplace collective bargaining models that developed in an earlier industrial era based on full-time employees in long-term employment relationships. Organising strategies within this model were premised on large, centralised workplaces, regular shift changes and a large, stable, homogeneous workforce (Herod 2007). In the new economy, however, there has been a reorientation of the productive, reproductive and institutional structures reflected through developments such as deregulation, deindustrialisation, rise of services, use of ICTs to reorganise business, new forms of ‘flexible’ work and employment, and offshoring (Martin 2007; Perrons et al. 2006). As a consequence, traditional life-term employment is replaced by flexible employment, as work processes have been fragmented through complex subcontracting leading to spatial dispersal of workers across multiple work sites, and high levels of job mobility (Benner 2003).
Electrical effects can impart a cross-stream component to drop motion in a pressure-driven flow, due to either an asymmetric charge distribution or shape deformation. However, surfactant-mediated alterations in such migration characteristics remain unexplored. By accounting for three-dimensionality in the drop motion, we analytically demonstrate here a non-trivial switching of drop migration with the aid of a surfactant coating on its surface. We establish this phenomenon as controllable by exploiting an interconnected interplay between the hydrodynamic stress, electrical stress and Marangoni stress, manifested so as to achieve a net interfacial force balance. Our results reveal that under different combinations of electrical conductivity and permittivity ratios, the relative strength of the electric stress with respect to the hydrodynamic stress, the applied electric field direction and the surfactants alter the longitudinal and cross-stream velocity components of the droplets differently. The effect of drop deformation on its speed is found to be altered with the increased sensitivity of the surface tension to the surfactant concentration, depending on the competing effects of the electrohydrodynamic flow modification and the tip stretching phenomenon. Further, with a suitable choice of electrical property ratios, the Marangoni effects can be exploited to direct the drop in reaching a final transverse position towards or away from the channel centreline. These results may turn out to be of immense consequence in providing an insight to the underlying complex physical mechanisms dictating an intricate control on the drop motion in different directions.