Maruti Workers’ Strike
he 13-day strike of workers at the Maruti Suzuki factory at Manesar (Gurgaon) finally concluded with a significant victory of the workers this June. The management was forced to reinstate the 11 workers who had been sacked for agitating for the right to form a union of their choice.
The existing union in Maruti was the management-approved Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU). Workers had asserted that this union was not protecting their interests, and had formed a new union – the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU). The management had refused to recognise or negotiate with this union, insisting that only the MUKU would be allowed to function.
The Maruti workers’ demand for their legally mandated right to a union of their choice struck a chord with the working class all over the country. The fact that workers were sacked for raising this basic demand highlights the fact that in factories in India, the bare minimum of industrial democracy is suppressed in order to maintain exploitative conditions. After the agreement and the end the strike, the struggle for a union separate from the management-approved one will continue.
The Haryana CM in a meeting with the Director General and CEO of Maruti declared that he would disallow the formation of any union except the one approved by the management. Such a declaration is in itself an open violation of the statutory and legally mandated right of workers to form unions of their own choice. That an elected CM should thus openly endorse the violation of the law of the land and the rights of workers by corporations is a comment on the prevailing ruling class hostility towards workers’ rights.
Workers in automobile units like Maruti Suzuki earn significantly higher wages than other sections of workers. Their sustained strike for nearly two weeks (withstanding threats, intimidation, cutting off of electricity and water) sends a strong message that the question of workers’ dignity, rights to unionise, and industrial democracy are central to workers’ lives and aspirations.
This is not the first time workers at automobile units in Gurgaon have waged struggles for the right to form a union. Maruti workers themselves have had to wage a similar struggle a decade ago, Honda workers faced severe police brutality in the course of a similar struggle, and in 2009, the entire Gurgaon-Manesar belt witnessed a historic strike raising basic issues of industrial democracy. The denial of such basic democracy in spite of protracted struggles of workers has taken its toll in incidents at the Graziano factory in Greater Noida and the Pricol factory in Coimbatore. After a protracted struggle and severe crackdown, Pricol workers did indeed succeed in securing their right to form a union. But this fundamental right of workers is routinely denied in all factories and industrial clusters all over the country.
Denial of workers’ right to form unions and conduct protest actions is a symptom of a serious erosion of democracy and assault on rights. And this assault is being conducted by governments in order to appease corporate power and give corporations a free hand to violate laws and exploit workers.
Gurgaon in Congress-ruled Haryana has long been the Mecca of corporate capital, thanks to the free hand to corporations to flout laws and suppress all industrial democracy with fleets of private ‘security guards’ aided by a pliable police force in their service. While malls and factories flourish, the poor of Gurgaon live in abject denial of basic amenities like drinking water, public transport and electricity. The strike of workers at the Maruti factory in Manesar (Gurgaon) has struck at the roots of this ‘corporatocracy.’