There was a time not too long ago when India’s millennial elites, born into an age of globalization, hailed the “technological revolution” as a one-way ticket to infinite opportunity. Today the economic miracle has been derailed, and young workers are starting to demand a refund.
In recent months, workers have reported that mass layoffs at Indian tech hubs are becoming routine as companies shed engineers and slash wages and benefits. Companies that previously invested heavily in emerging Indian firms for global outsourcing contracts seem to be recoiling from a volatile global labor market, and India’s rapid economic expansion is hitting snags.
The global digital bubble’s seemingly inevitable pop has also been sped along by Trump’s protectionist rhetoric and promise of “reshoring” offshored jobs to the United States. This week, even as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks business on his maiden visit to the Trump White House, the administration is also moving to tighten the criteria for the H-1B visa, a federal program that has drawn in tens of thousands of foreign professionals, particularly technicians and programmers from India—often at relatively low pay rates.
Some companies appear to be yielding to Trumpism. The tech-service firm Infosys, for example, announced plans to hire 10,000 US-based workers, presumably in lieu of more offshoring. While firms are denying that they are deliberately cutting their Indian workforces, Bloomberg reports that the head of one Bangalore-based recruiting firm “anticipates terminations will accelerate and top 150,000 or even 200,000 next year.”
Trump’s populist base may welcome the idea of excluding Indian labor migration, but visa workers and those working for overseas contractors now find themselves on the losing side of globalization.
The glimmer of hope to come out of this moment, however, is that India’s coders have been building new organizing platforms. Workers have been organizing regionally in Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra and West Bengal for fair contracts and improved working conditions. One formal union has emerged—the Communist New Democratic Labor Front (NDLF) launched an IT Employees (ITE) wing in January. So far there are only 200 members, established recently in Tamil Nadu, which has a tech workforce of roughly 200,000, according to organizer S. Kumar, writing via e-mail from Tamil Nadu.