How pro-labour states in India actually ended up with higher unemployment, lower wage rates and lower per capita income. Bengal,and kerala
In a paper published in 2005, Timothy Besley and Robin Burgess of the London School of Economics demonstrated how pro-labour states in India actually ended up with higher unemployment, lower wage rates and lower per capita income. Bengal, which in the 1960s rivalled only Maharashtra as India's richest state, would have to be a prime example of this. The story has been grim for the state since then as it took large, determined strides backwards.
These days Bengal tops another list - it has the largest percentage of people below the poverty line. Why? Just take a look at the "locked-out corridor" in and around North 24-Parganas. The closed factories in this industrial belt stand testimony to the Left Front government's misplaced priorities which saw the rise of militant trade unionism, epitomized aptly by the slogan: "Cholchey na, cholbey na (It's not working, it won't work)."
The shut-down era - with the hammer & sickle posted on crumbling facades forming a backdrop - was somewhat documented in Mrinal Sen's Padatik. The leftist cinema of the time captured the tenure of Jyoti Basu, whose 23 years in power (1977-2000) created a national record, conveniently glossing over more dismal figures.
By the early 1980s, Bengal accounted for only 7.6% of India's factories. According to one estimate, the state in the 1990s saw at least 120 lockouts every year. Compare this with about 20 in other states. As a result, Bengal lost an average two crore man-days every year in that period. And Bengal's share in India's industrial output fell from 10% in 1980 to less than half that in the mid-1990s.
"Aggressive trade unions ensured that capital took permanent flight from Bengal. Managers were battered. Bata and Philips were just a few examples. (Jyoti) Basu would privately admit the union onslaught, but did nothing," says an RSP leader, who doesn't want to be named.
The last decade saw the emergence of the 'neo-Left Front' and a new CM. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, branded the CEO of Bengal, even made scathing remarks like "The word 'gherao' was our contribution to the Oxford dictionary." But he discounted the rows of closed factories and concentrated on wooing big-ticket investment instead. The 2003 industrial census revealed around 26,000 units in the state were closed, putting five lakh workers out of job.
Despite Bhattacharjee's efforts, he couldn't prevent the birth of a Left union in the fast-growing IT sector in 2006. Citu general secretary and CPM leader Kali Ghosh, who always contradicted the former CM's resolve to exempt IT from the purview of bandhs, says, "Yes, there was a debate. But Citu strongly felt that even IT workers had the right to strike." He insists this didn't hurt the state. "Infosys is here. The Tatas had come. Bandhs and trade unionism didn't affect industrialization."
But there could be hope still. State labour minister Purnendu Basu of the Trinamool Congresssays, "We are formulating a new labour policy that will not allow unions to call bandhs or agitations without prior consultation with the management."