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Does Prop 22 Do Justice for the Gig Workers?

Forum – A column where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

Does Prop 22 Do Justice to the Gig Economy? No!

In 1959, despite graduating at top of her law class at Columbia, Ruth Bader Ginsberg had a hard time finding jobs because she was a mother. She, later on, went on to work on gender equality laws over the next decades. As a result, today any reference to an employee’s sex in the workplace decisions irrespective of their capabilities will land employers in a world of legal trouble. At its core AB5 is about economic inequality in the workplace. 

Just like gender equality laws from the 70s, AB5 can appear burdensome to employers. On the other hand, Proposition 22 at its core is about Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and other gig economy companies trying to get away with an awful business model of counting their employees as a variable cost. The ads for Prop 22 mischaracterize the drivers as only part-time workers who already have a full-time job.

Based on my personal experience on multiple Uber rides this is completely untrue. These Drivers depend on UBER for a substantial if not all of their income. And based on my conversations with them they barely earn a minimum wage and have no allowance for the depreciation of their cars. Never mind health coverage.  Uber makes it a policy to lobby and pressure lawmakers in every city to support their flawed business model.

Despite this, their stock is down 20% from IPO in May 2019 and have a 1.6B loss against revenue of just 2.6B. I imagine other rideshare companies are probably in similar shape.  Further with self-driving cars fast approaching its only a matter of time before Uber goes driverless making this move a short-term gimmick to support their flagging stock price.  A favorite argument of conservatives is why have worker regulations at all why not let everyone work for “themselves”. This is euphemistically called the right to work in many states especially the southern states.  In 2008, a detailed study of the RTW states was done by the National Education Council and the findings of the study are very damning. The RTW states have: a higher poverty rate of 14.4% versus the 12% in others, lower per capita income of 38K versus 44K, and a higher rate of uninsured people. The uninsured rate differential is probably even higher today because many of these very states rejected Obamacare Medicaid expansion.  Sustainable economic activity is created as a result of entrepreneurship coupled with good regulation. The choice should not be between no job and a bad job.  

Having said that AB5 is far from perfect. The issue with Prop 22 is that it is a proposition.  We have bi-annual elections and representative democracy – the proposition process just circumvents the legislative process.  So I recommend a no vote on 22.

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry. He enjoys following politics and economics.

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Does Prop 22 Do Justice to the Gig Economy? Yes!

In these times of rampant unemployment, gig jobs at Uber, Lyft, Doordash, etc. are providing a lifeline to over a million Californians. Prop 22 will eliminate these jobs as the businesses cannot afford to treat these workers as employees and pay for benefits. Prop 22 preserves the right of these drivers to be independent contractors, something that is supported 4:1 by these drivers. The CA Chamber of Commerce and Silicon Valley Group are among others urging a Yes vote on Prop 22. Gig employment offers flexibility and freedom for workers to set their own hours and also work part-time.

Gig employment is going to be the main employment engine of the future. Governor Newsom should immediately campaign for a Yes vote on Prop 22 and ensure its passage. The livelihood of more than a million Californians depends on it. 

Please vote YES on Prop 22.

Rameysh Ramdas is a resident of the SF Bay Area and has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 


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Pehlwan: The Migrant Warrior

Our latest story at Virtual Bharat is one from our own city—Mumbai. The city of dreams. The city of warriors. The city of migrants. This story is dedicated to the unbreakable spirit of the migrants who make Mumbai the city that it is today. The bustling financial capital, made up of 22 million, that runs on the strength of its migrant warriors. 

Milind Kuber Patil, Nilesh Baban Madale, Shailesh Rangrao Maske, Raju Baban Jadhav, Omkar Kisan Pawar, and Amit Shrirang Ghadage are a few among the migrants who come to Mumbai to make a living, a future, and a name. They have left their families and come a long way from home to fulfill their dreams. And they choose a path of their own making. What sets these migrants apart is that they not only take on the dream and struggles of Mumbai but dedicate themselves to training in the ancient Indian art form – Pehlwani. An intensive sport involving over 8 hours of practice a day, and an intensive daily regime. Their training begins at a young age, presenting hard work and determination as fuel for both the mind and the body. They worship the soil they train on, tending to it every day, nourishing it with honey and minerals before stepping onto it to train.

These pehlwans moved to the Mahatma Phule Vyayam Mandir, an akhada (training centre) located in Chinchpokli, Mumbai, in their teens, with a dream to become the greatest pehlwans of India. They work in the city as coolies, laborers, security guards, and various other daily wage jobs to earn their living. What keeps them going, is their love for their art, and their determination to keep growing.

“Everybody has a desire, and I do too. I want to keep moving forward in life. I am never satisfied with my body, because then I would settle for this,” says Milind. 

Pehlwani or Kushti is an ancient Indian art of combat, thought to have been around in its early form (Malla-Yuddha) since the 5th millennium BCE. The art of Kushti has been evolving for centuries. It came to take its modern shape in the Mughal and colonial eras. Despite this, the core values of Kushti have continued to remain its true fuel. The men who are trained as pehlwans take an oath – stop a blow, never strike. They use their strength and prowess to defend the weaker sections of society.

The pehlwan plays the role of the protector. The training of Pehlwani echoes the wisdom of ancient traditions that aimed to create an aspirational figure for society. A role model for the traditional Indian male. The pehlwan. The pehlawan (the first guardian). As we shoot with the pehlwans, we see not only their incredible training and willpower, but their kindness, diligence, and sheer inner strength, honed by their practice. The film shows the journey of the pehlwan in the city built on the dreams of migrants. With the lyrics of Dopeadelicz ringing in your ears, “Fight like a warrior, win like a champion,” this film is about Mumbai’s own migrant warriors. Watch the film now. 


Virtual Bharat is a 1000 film journey of untold stories of India spanning people, landscapes, literature, folklore, dance, music, traditions, architecture, and more in a repository of culture. The vision of director Bharatbala, creator of Maa Tujhe Salaam, we are a tale of India told person-by-person, story-by-story, and experience-by-experience. The films are under 10 minutes in length and are currently available on Virtual Bharat’s Youtube Channel

A Union of Sikh, Japanese, and Mexican Americans

Mainstream South Asian American diasporic fiction focuses mostly on the post-1965 generation of immigrants, beneficiaries of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which abolished national origins quota and facilitated the arrival of highly skilled workers from India and other Asian countries to help the U.S.

Yet the history of immigration from India, China, and Japan to the U.S goes back much further to the early years of the twentieth century, at least, when many Indians, particularly Sikhs from the state of Punjab arrived in California to work in the logging and farming industries. Although historians like Karen Leonard and Ronald Takaki among others have documented this early history of Asian immigration, very few fiction writers have tapped into this rich history for their fictional explorations. Rishi Reddi breaks new ground by undertaking this ambitious project in Passage West.

The novel follows a group of Sikh men, particularly two friends Ram and Karak from 1914 to 1974. The novel begins with the death of Karak and Ram’s preparation of a eulogy which provides a narrative flashback into the life of his friend. The early part of the novel sets up the geographical landscape of Imperial Valley, California, where the two friends find themselves after stints in the British army, time in Hong Kong, and a brief experience in the logging industry in Oregon, for Ram.

Readers are gradually introduced to tumultuous events sweeping through the world, the growing farming community in the Imperial Valley consisting of Sikh and Japanese farmers, the restrictions to land ownership and citizenship rights, the inability for Sikh farmworkers to bring their families with them leading to the growth of bachelor communities, the growing racial hostility, and violence against Asians in the U.S, expressing itself in infamous incidents like Komagata Maru, a Japanese ship that carried passengers who were British subjects from India and who were denied landing rights in Vancouver, Canada, which was also a British colony and were forced to return to India.

Sikhs on board the “Komogata Maru” in English Bay, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. 1914

We also notice the growth of revolutionary politics with the rising influence of the Ghadhar Party, which consisted of expatriate Indians who raised funds to support armed anti-colonial resistance against the British, going so far as to support Germany during World War 1. 

The emotional core of the novel resides in the compelling description of two forbidden love stories. Both Karak and Ram develop relationships with Mexican women who they meet in the farming community. In spite of the anti-miscegenation laws, religious and linguistic differences, Karak marries Rosa and starts a new family and life with her. Ram, on the other hand, is attracted to Rosa’s cousin Adela but feels torn by his loyalty to his wife, Padma, and the son born out of their brief union. Ram and Padma at the beginning of the novel are deeply in love with each other, but as vagaries of their lives and the cruel immigration laws unfold, their ties gradually attenuate.

The racist immigration system is rendered most visible in their harrowing separation. At a more public level, we see the passage of Alien Land laws that restrict land ownership by non-white races, forcing many farmers to become internal refugees looking for land in other states or underpaid employees of farming corporations.  Even more poignant is the depiction of Sikh and Japanese soldiers joining the U.S. Army in the First World War, being lured to this task by the promise of citizenship. Yet, in spite of their service, they are denied recognition and dignity for their brave service.  Reddi provides us glimpses of the losses faced in the trench warfare as well as the deadly attack of the Spanish influenza of 1918 which claims the life of Amarjeet’s best friend, the Japanese American Harry Moriyama.

The most brutal rendition of racism is offered in Reddi’s depiction of the sustained attempts by agricultural corporations to exploit the Sikh farmers, not having the right of land ownership, by cheating them of their harvests. This results in the climactic episode in the novel which leads to a murder, the near lynching of a Sikh man, and the long-term effects of this traumatic event in Ram’s ability to return to India.

Reddi’s novel is the product of sustained archival research. She has conducted interviews with descendants of Sikh Mexican families, as well as historical research on the harassment, racism, and violence that these early immigrants were subjected to. She seamlessly weaves historical characters and events in the rich tapestry of her novel. This novel dispels the monolithic model minority myth of South Asian Americans. It celebrates the working-class roots of early immigrants from India, the multiplicity of religions and faith traditions that these immigrants came from and united to fight against common injustices.

In addition, the novel highlights solidarities between various minority groups, not only the marriages between Mexicans and Sikhs, which is very different from the mostly endogamous marriage traditions of South Asian marriages but also the solidarities between Japanese Americans and Indian Americans. This is a novel that deserves serious scholarly attention and should be embraced by more courses in South Asian American literature and history. However, even though this novel is the product of intense scholarship, the research does not burden the writing. The novel flows effortlessly. It is deceptive in its elegance and simplicity and powerful in its empathetic portrayal of early South Asian Americans.

Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.