red in my head

sloganeeringThis week, on the treadmill, it has been The Who and Janis Joplin. It was Joplin today, and I finished my exertions to the tune of Ball 'n' Chain and her messianic advise to stay locked on today, to hang on to the moment.

Zen. If I could do what she and zen ask I should feel better, so I'm trying to be present, but I'm also wondering which tomorrow will change these straits of today. Eleven days have passed since the strike in the main factory. Three workmen have come in and joined those who never went out. The supervisors and managers and other leaders are pitching in with their hands, the sum of them producing a fraction of the normal output. The rest are out at the gate, shouting in unison for justice that is rightfully due the company.

They’ve been shouting abuses that I didn't think—for twenty-one years—they knew and used.

And they've been whispering lies: regarding the purpose of the strike; regarding the procedures at the labor office; regarding the outcomes before the Deputy Labor Commissioner; and that the management is sending conciliatory messages. Money in lump sum has been mentioned and who hasn’t a problem for which a lump sum is the exact cure they’re praying for? With such falsehoods they've drawn the numbers of workmen they want, and they’re saying they'll sit at the gate for three or six or nine months.

A good number of workmen are women, and some among them are the most spirited.

They've called the media—the newspapers, the television channels. Early last week the TV channels arrived at the gate. We rushed our press releases to them. The channels carried the story the same night, and one of them took care to mention our version. The next morning, when we went through the gates, the shouts were the loudest of all days.

That morning, in the distance, an arm came through the bars above the wall by the gate and twisted and shook when I walked from the factory to the cafeteria.

My lawyer rued with me how far that defiance has gone: In Coimbatore, a few weeks ago, they killed the Chief of Human Resources of Pricol; in Chennai, the Managing Director of the Ballal chain of vegetarian restaurants was knifed in the kitchen by the cook who was also the union leader; in Tumkur fifteen union-hands beat up seven officers of the company; and the memory has not faded of the lynching with hammers and iron rods, of the CEO of Oerlikon Graziano in Noida, by a band of workmen protesting the dismissal of eleven colleagues for non-performance.

We have dismissed thirteen, for instigating and leading two illegal strikes last year. Our people haven’t shown murderous intent, but I saw the flame in their eyes when I stood before them last week and they cried their slogans at me—fiery eyes that wouldn't look into mine.

Two men came from the press midweek and spent time interviewing them and taking pictures. We brought the two inside and gave them the full story and sent with them the prints of our statements. The story is in the paper today. The photograph has women in the foreground, arms punching the air above, mouthing slogans, looking so wronged. The men are in the rear. The union president has issued a statement that the administrative staff has been harassing women, that the thirteen are wantonly dismissed, and that they have suffered sustained exploitation. Not a word is written of our side of the story in the paper, one of the oldest, among the most respected.

I went through the hour of dismay that every such move from them causes me. Then I walked for an hour and my head cleared. My lawyer called from Bangkok where he has gone for a week and said it is alright, that I should focus on production and that he'd handle the rest. I floated back down to Sunday on that assurance. I'm good now, until the workmen strike me with their next idea. There is talk among them of shaving heads. I'm imagining how that would look. I will not laugh.

I'd not imagined I'd be at war with them one day.

Right now, I’m thinking I’ll abide by Janis Joplin and not peer toward far-off days. This Sunday seems quite fine for today. As regards this moment, I’m mixing Pearl Jam and Van Halen and Coldplay into playlists for the next trip on the treadmill.

I’m also struggling with wishful outcomes that wiggle like worms in the mind; they’re clung to each other and won’t be shaken off.