Bihar Workers, Keep Your ‘Albert Pinto’s Gussa’ Intact After Polls

Just as in the film ‘Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai’, Bihar’s workers should continue their struggle.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Image of Bihar map and poster of 1980 film ‘Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai’ used for representational purposes.
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Historically, trade unions have been successful in raising the voices of the workers, as we see in the 1980 Naseeruddin Shah-Smita Patil hit film Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai.

The effort made to reduce the bargaining power of workers can essentially be viewed as a direct attack on decades of workers’ struggle.

In the recent Bihar elections, we saw the workers, a large proportion of whom are unemployed and return migrants, expressing their dissatisfaction with the incumbent government of Nitish Kumar, enabling Tejashwi Yadav to garner a large proportion of the votes. Even though the latter did not manage to win the election, it should not dilute the workers’ cause. It is important for them to go through the same realisation that Albert (played by Naseeruddin Shah) experiences in the film, that is, to identify their common oppressor. In fact, what workers need today is Albert Pinto’s ‘gussa’ (anger).

Why Albert Pinto Didn’t Believe In Workers’ Protests – And What Changed His Mind & Heart

Albert Pinto disapproves of workers who go on strikes. He believes that as a worker, he should not question the authorities, and that the only way of attaining upward mobility along the economic ladder is by working hard.

He tries to emulate a rich person whom he considers to be his friend, in spite of their differential social and economic status.

On the other hand, Albert’s father is a textile mill worker involved in a strike, demanding higher compensations be paid to the mill workers. He is discouraged from participating in the strike by his wife who is skeptical of the trade union members ‘fulfilling their agenda’, while Albert dissuades him to be a part of it because he believes that strikes are the resort of insincere and unruly workers.

The ongoing strike has culminated in the factory’s closure, and has disrupted the production process, rendering the workers jobless. However, Albert’s thinking soon undergoes a profound shift.

When he feels humiliated at his rich ‘friend’s’ house, he realises that there is in fact an unbridgeable divide between their social and economic positions. Additionally, on learning that his father, along with other strikers, was beaten up by henchmen hired by the mill owners, he turns his ire against the mill owners instead of the workers.

Subsequently, on realising the abysmal health and working conditions of the mill workers after visiting their homes, he starts arguing against the false narrative being sold to the general public by the mill owners, that workers are to blame for the prevalent disruption.

Finally, as the strike enters twenty-fifth day, Albert is seen actively taking part in the fight for the rights of the workers against the mill owners. This scenario depicted in the film Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai is still relevant in India – even after almost forty years.

Who Is The ‘Ideal’ Worker?

Workers are dubbed ‘ideal’ when they are subservient to their authorities, not questioning the employers’ generally pro-business decisions. This ‘ideal’ workforce is typically an outcome of what has often been referred to as ‘flexible’ labour laws. Easing the process of hiring and firing of workers by employers ensures the availability of workers who are willing to accept jobs with low compensation and security, due to insufficient opportunities in the job market.

This results in the formation of a docile labour force, working to the advantage of employers whose primary motive is to maximise profits. The drive for profit-maximisation incentivises employers to push down workers’ compensations which include wages, pensions, bonus, and other social securities.

Accordingly, in the film, the profit-maximising mill owner refuses to pay bonuses and higher wages to the workers. Thus, a conflict of interest exists between workers and employers.

‘Miscreants’ are typically workers like Albert’s father, who, along with the members of trade unions, voice the opinion of the workers in this conflict.

In this light, it is important to realise the crucial role played by trade unions who collectively bargain with the employers for better payments and working conditions, thereby consolidating the consciousness of the working class.

This is often viewed as a hindrance in the process of profit accumulation of the employers which materialises through the exploitation of workers. In the film, we thereby see a ‘miscreant’ worker in Albert’s father, and a marked transition in the character of the male protagonist – from being an ‘ideal’ worker to a ‘miscreant’.

Importance Of Trade Unions

The ‘ideal’ workforce is so termed, because its presence is convenient for the business owners as it is supposed to promote  a conducive environment for undertaking business. Often viewed as a requirement for furthering the growth of an economy, such a workforce is considered desirable. In this process, the popular narrative aligns the common sentiment against trade unionism. We get a glimpse of this in the film where such a narrative is propagated effectively by employers and mill owners, who are egged on by the government.

In India today, three new labour codes introduced by the incumbent government, are expected to facilitate a business-friendly environment in India. However, such flexibilities come along with an increase in exploitation through diminishing of their bargaining power.

One of these new policies, which is also relevant to the film, is the curbing of bargaining power of the trade unions. The film underlines the significance of trade unions through which workers like Albert’s father voice their dissent, demanding their rights to be met by the mill owners.

India’s New Labour Laws & Fear Of Exploitation Of Workers

The new labour codes have significantly dented this bargaining power of workers by curbing their right to strike, and affecting the composition of trade unions. This will make it increasingly difficult for workers to put forward their demands to the employers.

As it is, trade unions are observed primarily in the formal public sector, the employment in which is already low. This new requirement is thereby seeking to curb the formation of trade unions altogether. Therefore, this law effectively legitimises the control mechanism undertaken by factory owners, and aims at substituting ‘miscreant’ workers with ‘ideal’ workers.

In the name of increasing investment for the purpose of development, the government has therefore given factory owners a free hand in dealing with the ‘nuisance’ created by workers, by getting rid of workers like Albert’s father.

Thus, we see that in the profit-maximising motive, what is ideal for the employers, in fact, takes the form of the exploitation of workers. And this is why, to reiterate, the workers of Bihar (and elsewhere), regardless of election outcomes, should continue their struggle against their oppressors.

(Satyaki Dasgupta is a graduate student at Colorado State University, Colorado. Annesha Mukherjee is a Ph.D research scholar at Centre for Development Studies, Kerala. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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