Some Recent Working Class Struggles in India

M ay Day 2006 in India would be observed amidst a new spurt in workers' struggles. Manmohan Singh Government at the Centre as well as the state governments of all hues are letting loose severe repression on struggling workers. Most of these struggles have been by workers in MNCs and big business houses. And many of these struggles are not on wage issues but mostly against managements' attempts to curb trade union rights of workers and on issues of contract or temporary workers. Let us take a brief overview of some major struggles since May Day 2005.

Chidambaram is offering generous concessions to the rich to buy cars at cheaper rates in the name of making India a small car hub but automobile workers in many places are on warpath. After Gurgaon it was the turn of workers of another MNC, Toyota Kirloskar Motors in Bangalore to face repression. The workers had given a valid strike notice to go on strike from March 23 and the State government ‘banned' the strike through the Principal Secretary (Labour) with the claim that Toyota was a public utility! The union has postponed the strike because the Labour Department meanwhile intervened and called for conciliatory talks. The Toyota Kirloskar management has earlier dismissed three workers and suspended 27 others – without adhering to any legal procedure – for forming a union. The workers went on a flash strike in protest on January 7 and occupied the factory. When the management brought in the police who encircled the factory, workers threatened to blast LPG cylinders and forced the police to retreat. Subsequently, 1300 workers were arrested by the police when they took out a protest march defying police prohibition. Toyota workers in Tokyo organised a demonstration in solidarity with the Bangalore workers.

Gurgaon-NCR was the seat of several struggles in the last one year. The Honda Motorcycle and Scooter Limited (HMSL) struggle in Gurgaon was just preceded by a heroic struggle by the workers of Omax Auto (most of them contract workers). In May 2005, the workers of Hitachi Electricals went on a strike. The HMSL struggle was soon followed by an agitation by Maruti Udyog Limited (Suzuki-owned) workers also on the issue of employing contract workers illegally in jobs of perennial nature. (See the separate box for a report on the recent struggle of HMSL contract workers) Maruti Udyog Employees Union (MUEU) was also demanding that 92 workers dismissed during 2000 struggle be taken back for work and MUEU which was de-recognised after that struggle be recognised again.

In distant Gujarat , workers of Apollo Tyres went on a strike in May 2005. The Modi Government declared the strike illegal. The workers of Premier Tyres in Tiruvananthapuram also launched a prolonged agitation in June-July last year against downsizing despite the management's threat to close down the unit. On February 13, 2006 , workers of NRB Bearing in Hyderabad went on a strike. In March this year, the workers of LML (scooters unit) in Kanpur went on a strike. In November 2005, workers of MICO-Bosch unit in Nashik went on a strike mainly demanding the 472 temporary workers be regularised.

Last year, on June 7, workers in the transport section of Tata Motors in Jamshedpur went on a flash strike against suspension of a union leader who protested against outsourcing. The mighty Tatas management, which used to make a bogus claim that they never had any industrial dispute for decades, had to bow down before the might of the workers and was forced to give up plans for outsourcing. Later, in December 2005, the union forced the Tatas management again to regularise 400 temps (temporary workers).

Apart from automobile industry, there were struggles in several other industries also. Workers of textile major S.Kumar's plant in Mysore went on a strike on May 31, 2005 . Workers of synthetic yarn giant Grasim, owned by the Aditya Birla Group, went on a strike in October 2005 in Harihar, Karnataka. On January 29, 2006 , workers of Gujarat Ambuja Cements went on a strike. In March this year workers of Hero Cycles and a few other cycle units like Avon Cycles and Rockman Cycles in Ludhiana launched struggles against the managements' tactics to break their unions. In February 2006, the workers of Mahindra Ugine Steel in Raigad district of Maharashtra went on a flash strike against the management's attempt to break their union and promote a pro-management union. In March this year, the workers of Oswal Wollen Mill in Ludhiana went on a strike demanding reinstatement of sacked workers. Workers clashed with the police and the police had opended fire but luckily no worker was injured. Workers of Seewri unit of Hindustan Lever were also on an agitation against illegal closure by the management. The workers of Kakatiya Cements in Hyderabad also launched a strike in March.

Even as we are going to the press, the BEST (bus transport) workers in Mumbai have launched a valiant struggle defying ESMA. In the days to come, more and more workers will nail the bourgeois propaganda that workers and trade unions have weakened beyond salvage in the era of globalisation.