Friday, November 20, 2015

Washermen of Puttaparthi are part of its ecosystem/society; Automation threatens jobs & livelihood

[Update: I have rephrased the paragraph below in my own words]

Automation and globalization seem to be important factors contributing to making it difficult for not-well-skilled people (especially those from economically & socially challenged sections of society) to get and keep a good and well paying job in the developed economy countries of the world.

Ravi: Of course, emerging economies like India have their HUGE challenges as well though globalization currently seems to be working in its favour (materially). Automation though may be an even bigger challenge in terms of jobs to eke out a living for youth in India than it is in developed economies. In Puttaparthi it is as simple as coin operated laundromats being a threat to so many (manual) washermen families - perhaps that's the reason Puttaparthi does not have a coin operated laundromat even today (though some families have washing machines at home).

Today (20th Nov. 2015) the sun was out in Puttaparthi after a few days of the sun being hidden by clouds and rain. As it is Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba birthday (23rd Nov.) celebrations time there are a lot of visitors in Puttaparthi town already. I was walking along the road that's on one side of the Chitravathi river bed (usually dry but now has some water though not running water), enjoying the sun and its warmth. I saw a lot of washing put out to dry near the Chitravathi river and clicked some snaps of it.

These pics tell the reality of washermen (who do ironing too) families making a living with their manual washing (and ironing) in Puttaparthi. They are part of the ecosystem and society of Puttaparthi. As I have been using the same washerman for around a decade now, he is a good friend of mine now and I also know his family! Beats going to a coin operated laundromat (like the ones I used in my stays in Europe & USA in the 80s and early 90s), anyday, anytime!

I responded to a comment on my Facebook post,, having the same content as the above contents of this blog post as follows:

Well, I am certainly all for reducing the burden of hard work on rural and urban poor of India. (It may be similar elsewhere in the (materially) developing world but I do not know for certain and so am limiting my comments to India, in this regard). Western Europe, I guess, is a post-feudal society; As a whole, India has still not emerged out of feudal society though democracy has done wonders for the material benefits and rights of the poor & marginalized in India (as compared to what it was when India got independence from the British in 1947).

Automation has to be done very carefully in India with a good and effective migration plan and full consultation and concurrence of those whose livelihoods and way of living are threatened by it. Unfortunately, that does not happen well enough in India. Fortunately, democracy and the trade union movement is quite strong now in India. So when automation threatens livelihood of the poor, they organize under trade union and/or political leadership and block it.

So far, Sweden may have had it good with automation. But I don't think that can be said of many countries in Europe and even USA. People who lack the skills to participate in the modern economy of well developed countries like USA and some countries in Europe, find it very difficult to get a job. Simple manufacturing jobs are very hard to get, which may not have been the case a few decades ago. That joblessness leads them to wrong paths sometimes. The figures for youth unemployment TODAY in some sections of the populace in USA (African-Americans) and some countries in Europe (immigrant background youths) are SCARY! The analysis is that it is so high among them due to them not having requisite skills. But then nobody seems to have delivered a good solution so far in terms of imparting them skills which will give them good and decently paid jobs! Where will these youth go? These are TOUGH questions, it seems to me.

To this if you add in the issues of rising wealth and income inequality in some parts of the developed world (and some parts of the developing world, including India), it seems to me that something is wrong in the direction in which the world economies are going in terms of automation and globalization. The challenge in most parts of the world for most of the youth (and unemployed) populace there, is not to reduce the workweek to 30 hours a week, but to get and keep a good and well paying job of 40 or even 45 hours a week!
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