Tue Jul 23, 2024
July 23, 2024

Statement on the Delivery Worker’s Strike in Kolkata 

On the 19th of January delivery workers in the suburban neighbourhood of Salt Lake struck work against the Indian delivery company Swiggy. The strike has since spread to many areas of the city.

By Mazdoor Inquilab – India

The cause of the strike is the extremely low pay for delivery workers, (euphemistically called “delivery partners” by the bourgeois press). In the words of a striking worker, they manage not more than 200 rupees per day, after costs of fuel for their transports are deducted. That amounts to a little over $2.50. That would amount to poverty wages. 
Till 2020 the company guaranteed a base price of Rs. 35 for the first 4 kilometers of a delivery, beyond which they were paid Rs. 5 per kilometer. During the lockdown that price was reduced to Rs. 20 per kilometer. In addition to this, the company also stopped the special incentives for 14 to 28 deliveries a day. All this added to a greater financial burden for the delivery workers, while the company was making record profits. Swiggy is currently valued at $10.7 billion. 

The context : 

India has been witnessing runaway inflation in connection with the global rise in prices following the pandemic. This has been compounded by the greed of the Modi government which seeks to maximize revenue by keeping high taxes on petroleum. The price of petrol in Kolkata has crossed Rs. 100 per liter (that is about $1.4) and the price of diesel, till now the cheaper fuel and the mainstay of most busses and vehicles in the city, has almost touched Rs90 ($1.2) per liter. In a job that requires the workers pay for their fuel, and requires complete reliance on transport, such high fuel prices would erode the little they earn by way of deliveries. 
The acute inflationary situation in the country has added to the workers’ burden, while the company is only concerned with their bottom line and trying their best to squeeze out the greatest profit from their overworked delivery workers, who have to work 10 to 12 hours to get by. Siggy’s business boomed during the pandemic and lockdown periods, as people were less willing to go to restaurants to eat and relied more on ordering online, this brought in record profits for the company, while their workers suffered. 

The gig economy 

The bourgeoisie props up the idea of a gig economy as a great new opportunity to create new entrepreneurs, and generate jobs for millions of unemployed youth to get a head start. In reality the so-called ‘gig economy’ is nothing but the product of a parasitical economy where industrial capital is slowly devoured by finance capital. With it, goes organized labour, replaced by a disorganized working class in a very dispersed economy. Lenin painted a picture of this grim future under imperialism in his book Imperialism the highest stage of capitalism : 
“The greater part of Western Europe might then assume the appearance and
character already exhibited by tracts of country in the South of England, in the Riviera
and in the tourist-ridden or residential parts of Italy and Switzerland, little clusters of
wealthy aristocrats drawing dividends and pensions from the Far East, with a somewhat
larger group of professional retainers and tradesmen and a larger body of personal
servants and workers in the transport trade and in the final stages of production of the
more perishable goods; all the main arterial industries would have disappeared, the
staple foods and manufactures flowing in as tribute from Asia and Africa. . . .” 
What Lenin could see in 1916, has now come to pass. Different economies are at various stages of such transformation, but the pattern is generally the same. In the specific context of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) , we have what used to be one of Asia’s most industrialized cities, which suffered a rapid de-industrialization after independence and partition, in such conditions the ‘gig economy’ thrives, finding a large pool of the reserve army of unemployed workers to exploit for maximum profits. 
This situation has been exacerbated by the destruction of militant unionism over the course of the decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Now, the bourgeoisie is enjoying the fruits of their victories over the working class, by creating the worst conditions of employment. The fate of the gig-workers in companies like Swiggy, is shared by contract and casual workers, who are exploited by taking advantage of loopholes in labour laws, which ultimately favour the capitalist over the worker. Especially since the pandemic there have been large scale protests and strike actions in ride share services like Uber and Ola, a protest action on the 1st of September 2020 saw 2,00,000 drivers go on strike in the national capital of New Delhi. 

The way forward 

The pandemic has revealed the inequality and exploitation at the core of capitalism, and exploded the myths of the gig economy. Though workers are protesting, there is no national movement uniting them together for improving their conditions, or bringing about necessary regulations for improving the conditions of their work. This is where national unions and worker’s parties can play a role, neither is stepping forward to mobilize and organize the workers on a national scale. 
However, there is no alternative to go forward, but to organize and agitate. It is only through united militant action that the capitalists can be challenged. 
We express our full solidarity with the delivery workers, and support their demand for increased pay. We also propose that a strict enforcement of the 8 hour day, and the 40 hour week be implemented for delivery workers, and rideshare workers, as well as a living wage of not less than 300 rupees per day with a sliding scale adjusted to inflation. This is the bare minimum for the working class in our century. The fight for the eight hour day has gone on for a century and half  now, yet we have to keep fighting for this, the most basic of rights. The capitalists simply hate the idea  of giving the worker even a second more of extra leisure, that they will go to great lengths to keep us slaving for their greed. Ultimately we should strive towards the implementation of a 6 hour day, in light of more advanced technologies available to us. 



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