In Solidarity With Maruti Workers
Convention Demands Industrial Democracy and Upholding of Labour Laws
The AICCTU and AISA held a Convention on September 7th at the Indian Social Institute, Delhi, in solidarity with Maruti workers. The Convention was on the theme, ‘Intensified Assault on the Working Class: Challenges Before Democracy.’ It was attended by workers from the Delhi-NCR area, students, as well as concerned citizens and activists.
Several Maruti workers addressed the Convention, describing the exploitative conditions of work at the Manesar plant, in which they were given just 7 minutes to have tea and use the toilet, where pay was cut for every leave taken, and where the bulk of workers are employed on contract and paid less than permanent workers for the same work, in violation of labour laws. They described the incident of 18th July, pointing out that the Maruti management had introduced bouncers into the factory in order to intimidate the negotiating union leaders. They alleged that the violence was unleashed by the bouncers, who were responsible for the fire in which a manager lost his life due to asphyxiation.
The workers asked, “We are being described as criminals and killers. But can we ask – was it not illegal and provocative of the management to suspend an innocent worker and then introduce bouncers in the factory?”
Comrade Matthew, former President of the Maruti’s Plant I Union who was terminated after the struggle in 2000-2001, also described the repression faced by workers at that time.
Rakhi Sehgal of the NTUI painstakingly recounted the many unanswered questions and inconvenient facts regarding the 18th July incident that contradict the ‘official’ version. There is ample evidence to suggest that bouncers in workers’ uniforms were introduced into the factory by the management in connivance with the police. She highlighted the fact that the investigation was being conducted by police officials who themselves are under a cloud regarding their role on 18th July. She said that the workers of the Maruti factory firmly believed that the 18th July incident was a conspiracy to finish off the Union. A significant majority of the Maruti Manesar plant’s workers are from southern Haryana, from a belt where they receive some support and backing from their agriculture-based families, and are therefore more difficult to intimidate or suppress. Therefore, it is likely that the management wanted an excuse to replace them, once and for all, with more pliant migrant labour.
Speaking at the Convention, S Kumarasami, the All-India President of AICCTU, and also the President of the union of the Pricol Automobile workers of Coimbatore, described the struggle of the Pricol workers from 2007 onwards, and the incident of 2009 in which an HR manager was killed. He said that in a situation where workers are having to work in a state of virtual ‘rigorous imprisonment,’ deprived of legal rights, basic democracy, and an atmosphere of intimidation, where unionisation and peaceful struggles are suppressed, and managements seem to enjoy impunity in the eyes of Government, it was all too natural for conflict to erupt. Such incidents were bound to increase as long as industrial democracy is suppressed. He said that the Pricol workers sustained their Union and their struggle in the face of repression, by forging strong links with the struggles of local people.
Describing the situation in Manesar now, Comrade Kumarasami said ‘industrial terrorism is being unleashed on the working class,’ with ex-army personnel and police being deployed right on the factory floor. Just as corporate plunder was being encouraged, as shown in the coal, 2G and mining scams, capital backed by the State is also focusing on maximum extraction of profit by maximizing exploitation of workers. The result, he said, was ‘21st century technology and 19th century labour conditions.’ He called for the Trade Union movement to reach out to the vast army of contract and apprentice labourers and for the working class to forge links with the struggles of contract workers as well as non-factory workers and common people.
He highlighted the demand for the TU Act 1926 to be amended to make it mandatory to give recognition to the majority union in each factory as chosen by workers by secret ballot.
Labour historian Prabhu Mahapatra mapped the shifts in the production process, through Fordism (Assembly Line production) which reached its crisis in the 1930s to the Japanese Toyotist model whereby a core of loyal workers are surrounded by layers of precarious workers. He said that the 2000-2001 strike in Maruti was in fact a crisis of the Toyotist model. In the post-Toyotist phase, he said, contracting had been brought into the heart of the production process, with workers of various types working under the same roof, and even permanent workers finding their wages and working conditions depressed. Though capital keeps adapting its production process, inevitably, conflict follows capital, he said, because capital is the mother of conflict. And most remarkably, workers learn from their own experience. That is how young Maruti workers, with no experience of politics or unionisation, ran a strike for several months last year. The Maruti struggle, he said, was born out of the workers’ own realization that the fate of permanent and contract workers were linked and struggle must be united. He called for a unity of struggles, based on a ‘community of shared fate,’ between permanent and contractual workers on the factory floor, and adivasis and workers all over the country. He felt that the Trade Union movement should not have separate unions for permanent and contract labourers, rather, it should be the norm for permanent and contract workers to be part of the same union. He recalled Rosa Luxembourg’s last leaflet before her martyrdom, in which she wrote that workers’ history is the history of a series of ‘historical defeats’ – but is from these defeats that future victory will bloom!
Atul Sood, a professor of economics from JNU, pointed out that Gujarat was a preferred destination for capital, yet strikes and lockouts in Gujarat in 2010-2011 were greater than in many other states! Clearly, capital preferred Gujarat, not due to less industrial conflict, but because the State is most authoritarian there, and backs the exploitative managements to the hilt. In Haryana too, he said, there is a move towards a private security regime to complement repressive policing – all in the service of capital.
Senior advocate N D Pancholi of the PUCL, spoke about the tremendous suppression of workers’ struggles in and around Delhi, and called for civil liberties’ and democratic rights’ groups to have a closer engagement with these struggles.
Ranjana Padhi, feminist activist, spoke about how the struggle of the young Maruti workers was truly inspiring. She recalled the vibrant solidarity initiatives taken up in the days of the 2000-2001 Maruti strike, and called for working towards more such initiatives for the present struggle as well.
The Convention was also addressed by the Maruti workers’ lawyer Rajendra Pathak, and Santosh Rai, President of the Delhi State unit of AICCTU.
Among those who joined the Convention in solidarity with Maruti workers were Jawed Naqvi, columnist, Arundhati Roy, writer, Sanjay Kak, filmmaker, Madhuresh (NAPM), Prof. Vijay Singh, activist Gopal Krishna, Sandeep Singh, President of AISA, Sanjay Sharma, Delhi State Secretary of CPI(ML) Liberation, Prabhat Kumar, Central Committee member of CPI(ML) Liberation, and several teachers of DU, students of Jamia Millia Islamia and other universities in Delhi.
A member of the New Delhi Bureau of the party organ of the Communist Party of Japan also interacted with the Maruti workers and covered the Convention for his paper.
The Convention adopted a series of resolutions: appealing to all democratic organisations and citizens for support for the Maruti workers’ struggle; demanding immediate withdrawal of police and paramilitary from industrial areas in Gurgaon-Manesar; demanding release and reinstatement of all the workers; demanding an independent judicial enquiry into the 18th July incident; demanding that the Haryana Govt and Central Government be held responsible for upholding labour laws and industrial democracy and penalizing companies that violate these laws; ending exploitation of contract labour; and amendment of the TU Act 1926 to make registration of the majority Union mandatory.