In terms of the life cycle of news media, the general labor strike that occurred throughout India on Sept. 2 is now geriatric. The fact that as many as 180 million workers collectively went on strike will soon be just another footnote in the annals of a fully globalized world, waiting at the end of history, and clinging to the hope that it might one day be the subject of a well-done dissertation.
If you are like me, you didn’t even know the strike happened until several days after it was over, and then you sat around wondering why no one seemed to be talking about the significance of the largest labor action in world history (at the top of a very long list).
The strange thing is, regardless of your ideology or your agenda, what happened in India should have been highly spin-able. Instead, the scope and impact of the strike remains largely ignored outside of India’s own domestic news outlets, which continue to cover it quite extensively. Why that is the case is deceptively simple: The political economy of India, like the political economy anywhere, is complex and full of dialectical tension, the contextual depth of which, unsurprisingly, goes well beyond the knowledge base of most people outside of the country, including this author.
The complexity of the issue makes it extremely inaccessible, not just to Western media and their audiences but to policy makers and their constituents as well. This, in turn, impacts how all of us interact with and behave in discursive spaces centered around the politics of labor. When confronted with such complexity, we, as consumers of news, often don’t understand, so we often don’t care. When we don’t care, we don’t click, and a story is buried. It happens all the time in a world defined by internet ad revenue.
Additionally, the image of seemingly never-ending rows of organized labor marching 20 people wide is typically a subject that Western news conglomerates and governments quite happily try to avoid, particularly when those laborers are people of color and especially when they are unabashedly socialist. The act of attributing any social significance to the actions of organized labor, even the smallest amount, would only create opportunities to call into question the assumption that liberal democracy and liberal global capitalism are the fundamental codependent elements upon which progress depends. This is, after all, the end of history, and such an image doesn’t fit.
Both of these phenomena work simultaneously, effectively ensuring that we are collectively incapable of having a dialogue about the political economy of labor, whether it be one centered around domestic issues or one that seeks to explain the global economy. This handicap is our privilege, and the blinders we wear are our crutch. As a result, we — the citizens of a global society — no longer know how to ask the kind of questions required for a functional dialog on labor relations.
One keyboard warrior’s objection
I bring all of this up because the unfortunate combination of an audience that is largely uninformed and mostly disinterested in labor issues with a lack of rigorous coverage from credible, unbiased news outlets ought to be seen as troubling. We should worry for no other reason than the fact that similar labor actions centered around ideological opposition to the the current paradigm of laissez fair liberalism, forced austerity and policy reforms — that emphasize export-dependent national economic growth through the deregulation of labor and privatization — are happening almost daily. They happen not just in India, but all over the developed and developing world.
Each of these events, relegated to the end of history (i.e. the end of ideologies and their respective forms of governance), has an impact either directly or indirectly on the political economy of you, dear reader. For this reason, the ongoing interplay between global capital, national economic interests and local labor is arguably one of the most important conversations of our time. It is a problem that we won’t (or don’t know how to) have this conversation, despite how loud the citizens of other countries and even our own workers have been while trying to get our attention.
To be honest, I consider myself just as incapable as the next person, but after reflecting on the events of Sept. 2, I thought I would try to start a dialogue. If not for the sake of acknowledging the significance of as many as 180 million workers engaging in a general strike (a staggering number that represents about 15 percent of the global workforce and $2.7 billion dollars per day worth of production across India’s largest industries) then at the very least as the tiny objection of one keyboard warrior to the negligence implicit in ignoring such an event.