Workers burning to death as India shines

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A devastating fire broke out in Stephen Court House in the heart of Kolkata in the afternoon of 23rd March, 2010. It has been reported that the fire started from a lift and spread in no time to the whole fourth floor of the huge seven storey building and turned it into an inferno. The fire spread to other top floors also. Frightened and perplexed people ran for safety in whichever way they could after seeing the advancing flames and smoke. Some jumped to death or serious injury. Some died due to asphyxia. Some burned to death. According to the latest report (up to 29th march, 2010 evening) 43 people have died and a lot more have been injured, some very critically. According to the police authority the number of the dead may still increase as the search operation in the debris of the burnt floors is still to be completed.

The fire brigade was quite late to come and not adequately equipped. In spite of that the fire fighters heroically fought against the raging fire and rescued many trapped persons. Local people, particularly the youth, helped some people get out of the inferno, risking their own lives even before the fire brigade came to the spot.

This building is more than 100 years old. According to a minister of the government of West Bengal there are more than 250 rented apartments and 400 offices in this building. The floor area is divided into cubicles with wooden partitions. Packaging materials were kept on the staircase. Air conditioning machines and LPG cylinders added to the fire hazard. According to reports in various newspapers the electrical wiring system in the whole building is in a very precarious situation and can lead to sparking and breaking out of fire at any moment.

This is the workplace of lots of working class people. There are three call centers and one software firm here. All these are located on the fourth floor. According to a report in The Statesman of 25th March, 2010, among the victims killed in fire there are at least ten IT professionals aged between 18 and 24 years. From other reports in the same newspaper and other newspapers it is quite clear that almost all the victims of the killing fire are working class people. Some parents have lost their only son or only daughter. This heart rending extremely pathetic scene cannot but shake very forcefully and painfully the mental world of any sensible person and provoke their thought to find out the root causes and real way out of recurrence of such a hellish inferno in work places, not only in Kolkata but in other cities of India and abroad.

Nasty politicking of political parties of the right and left

Next year is the election year for electing a new legislative assembly for West Bengal. The leftists have been in power continuously for the last 33 years. Increasing numbers of people in all walks of life are being more and more disgusted with the ruling leftist combine. The rightist combine is very active now in utilizing this anger and the grievances of the general masses of people to clear the way to their sole goal of capturing governmental power. They are quite likely using every omission or commission of the present government to the fullest extent. They are trying to convince the people that the ruling leftist combine is responsible for all the problems of socio-economic and political life. They are leaving no stone unturned to show themselves as the only savior of the exploited and oppressed people. They are working overtime to create a notion that everything will be okay if only they come to power in the next election. Now they are shamelessly using even this extremely pathetic, sorrowful incident, the dead, the injured, the bottomless grief and bereavement of the affected families, for scoring a point in the nasty political game for capturing political power.

On the other hand the ruling front is involved in the game of buck passing within various departments and authorities. There is all sorts of mud-slinging against each other, both by the ruling and opposition combines and various departments. But one thing is common in all the speeches, arguments and points made by all these actors. All of them are hiding the truth and trying to keep the working class and toiling masses in the dark about the real cause and solution behind their show of sympathy and concern.

Causes of this inferno

All the political leaders, newspapers, technocrats, bureaucrats, experts etc are pointing to the apparent causes. According to them the age of the building is an important factor. In their opinion lack of proper maintenance, renovation, illegal construction of two new top floors through collusion of corrupted officials in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, fire brigade, urban development ministry, have played a big role in this disaster. Some have focused attention on the failure in raising a well prepared, well trained, motivated and well equipped fire brigade. The absence of proper fire prevention and controlling arrangement, emergency evacuation system in the whole building where so many people work and live has also been responsible to a significant extent for this disaster. During the course of investigation it has come to light that an electric short circuit during welding for putting up grilles, a collapsible gate and iron lockers in an office room on the fourth floor, has caused the fire. This work was being carried out in spite of objection from some residents. All these are of course responsible for this devastating fire. But what are the causes behind these apparently obvious and visible causes?  

Worsening living and working conditions   

Fires are frequently breaking out in workplaces in various parts of India. Sometime back a fire in a leather factory in the suburb of Kolkata killed about a dozen workers some of whom were child labour. All these ill paid temporary workers were locked up in a factory room so that they could not flee. This factory cum living room caught fire at night when the overworked workers were asleep. Another big fire broke out in a very old big building in a very important business sector of Kolkata some months back. Fires are very often breaking out in the slums of big cities all over India and killing lots of working class and toiling people. Work related accidents are often taking place in various factories and mines in various parts of the country and throwing lots of people into the jaws of death. In neighboring Bangladesh lots of people died when several garment factories caught fire. Very often we get reports of accidents in workplaces and deaths of lots of workers in China. In natural calamities like cyclonic storms, earthquakes etc. most of those thrown into the jaws of death are the working class and toiling masses. This is no different even in the most developed country like USA when the cyclonic storm raged over New Orleans.

World capitalism is now passing through its inevitable historic phase of decline or decadence. It is more and more difficult for each faction of capital within and outside India to find sufficient markets for its products to reap sufficient profit. There is only one way of achieving this sole objective of the capitalist mode of production. This is cheaper labour power and working conditions. In these days of intensifying competition both in the national and international market every capitalist producer either of commodities or services is running frantically after the cheapest labor and working conditions to get the necessary market and derive maximum possible profit. This is the life blood of the capitalist system. This is the cause behind outsourcing, setting up of so many call centers, industrial units by capitalist corporations of the heartland of capital in China and India, and the immense attraction of India and China for capital from the developed countries. This is the real story behind the continuous uproar of ‘India Shining' and becoming a global power. This is also the reality behind the success of China. Workers are frequently being thrown into workplace infernos and dying in work related accidents and diseases solely because of this. According to a recent report in The Statesman one person in shining India dies of Tuberculosis every minute. The goal of more profit and capturing more markets is totally antagonistic to creating good working and living conditions and adequate safety measures for the working class. Capitalist states and governments in each and every country of the world take it as their holiest task to defend and advance the interest of capital. Every activity of these states and governments without any exception is directed towards this. They have little concern for the safety and security of the lives of the working class people. Their inevitably corrupted officials in general and political parties, ruling as well as opposition, cannot also have any concern and will for the betterment of the living and working conditions of the working class and toiling masses. Thus there can not be any real solution of this type of frequently occurring devastating fire and fatal accidents in workplaces so long as the decadent world capitalist system is intact.

What then is the real solution?

Production solely for the market and more and more profit and not at all for satisfying social needs is the real culprit. It is the root cause of all other socio-economic and political problems, increasing unemployment, imperialist tensions, conflicts, war, terrorism, deterioration of environmental conditions, global warming etc. This very system has now become the biggest obstacle in the way of further unhampered development of production towards the goal of satisfying the needs of each and every member of the human species in all parts of the world. Moreover this system is leading the whole of human society towards slow but total destruction. This is inevitable if globally united, conscious collective struggle is not carried out to put an end to this senile, reactionary system. Only the conscious and internationally united working class is capable of carrying out this historic mission to save humanity from all the intensifying problems of life and livelihood. There is no other solution.

Saki, on behalf of CI, 30th March 2010.

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