Not a week has passed since the 33 day long lockout in the Manesar plant of India’s largest car maker Maruti Suzuki, that the workers are once again on path of struggle. Since the afternoon of October 7, around 2000 permanent, contractual and trainee workers have struck work and started a sit-in inside the factory premises. Outside the factory gates hundreds of contractual workers too are sitting on a ‘dharna’ since Friday. Showing solidarity with the Maruti workers, workers of other two factories of Suzuki company in the vicinity namely Suzuki Powertrain and Suzuki Motorcycles too went on strike as a result of which production has been stalled at these three factories including Maruti. Production in some other factories of Manesar was affected as a result of work stoppage by workers. All workers of shift ‘A’ and ‘B’ have joined the sit-in strike. Only workers of shift ‘C’, who are very less in number, are outside the factory gates but they too are with the strike.
It was clear from the day (1st October) when workers were coerced to sign an agreement which totally was in favour of the management that the workers will have to remain prepared for another round of attacks. The true face of Maruti management came into picture on the very next day when they refused to take back the contractual workers who had remained away from work during the lockout. Maruti management promised to take back the contractual workers on October 7 after the intervention of the Labor Department when this issue was raised by the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union. But on Friday when they went for the work they were stopped on the factory gates and were refused to enter. After this they started a ’sit-in’ outside the factory gate.
The management went on to use cheap tactics to harass the permanent workers too. Many workers were shifted to different areas of the shop floor or handed new work on the assembly lines for which they neither have any experience nor training. And when this started affecting the production, the workers were threatened that they are intentionally y ‘going slow’ to hamper production. Media is being fed with reports of “sabotage” by the workers. It should be kept in mind that the ‘good conduct bond’ which the management forced the workers to sign, says that if any worker ‘goes slow’ or hampers the production process in any way, he can be thrown out without notice. The 44 permanent workers which are still under suspension were ousted on the same charges. To further harass the workers the bus service for the workers was withdrawn from October 3. As result of this it became difficult for the workers to reach on time as most of them have to travel long distances and the state of public transport in Gurgaon is very bad. Remember as per the semi-fascist rules of Suzuki management, up to Rs. 1500 can be deducted from the worker’s wages if he is late by only a few minutes.
After seeing what happened with the contractual workers, the permanent workers too realized that the management is hell bent on crushing them and the management is not going to adhere to its assurance of not being vindictive towards the workers. After this they decided to go on strike. Sonu Gujjar, president of Maruti Suzuki Employee’s Union said that workers have rejected the agreement signed on 1st October, as the management has first breached the agreement. There are four main immediate demands of the striking workers - 1. All contract workers should be taken back on work. 2. To immediately take back the 44 suspended workers. 3. To stop the harassment of workers by arbitrary changes in their work areas. 4. Bus service to be restored.
Labor Department officials were in “talks” with management since Friday, but the management is adamant on its stance. Haryana government is again parroting the Suzuki officials and has started to threaten the workers.
Indeed, these developments were not totally unexpected. The workers did not achieve anything in the agreement signed to end the 33 day lock-out. They had to accept the agreement from a position which was even weaker than when they started their protest on 29th August. The management shrewdly played the tiring out game during the month-long agitation and then coerced the workers with full help from Haryana government to sign the agreement. Workers had to sign the same “Good Conduct Bond” against which they started their struggle. Moreover, management denied to take back any of the 44 regular workers . Again, there was no talk about the issues of the Union and contract workers. In fact, the management had shown some flexibility during talks on September 16-17-18, but after that they toughened their attitude noting the inner weakness and directionlessness of movement . Most of the workers were already unhappy with this agreement and the management added fuel to it by their vindictive tactics. Thus, the workers’ embarking upon the path of struggle once again was just a matter of time.
Bigul Mazdoor Dasta has been appealing to Maruti workers from the time of their previous struggle that the only way to launch an effective fight is to make it a broad-based one. We talked frequently to their leadership and with a large number of workers and we also distributed three letters saying that their fight is not confined to some corrupt officials of the management and of local labour department, as many of the workers were thinking. Their fight is against the Suzuki Company, Haryana Government and the neoliberal policies. Japanese companies are infamous all over the globe for their fascistic management techniques and they are ready to any extent to crush the workers. In order to make Haryana a favored destination for foreign investment, the Haryana government has constantly shown its blatantly anti-worker face, be it the brutal suppression of 2006 Honda workers strike or other recent workers’ struggles. The economic policies being pushed through by the Indian government cannot be implemented without the super-exploitation of the workers. They must also know that workers’ rights, including the right to form a union are under attack all over the world. So this assault on the rights of Maruti workers can be fought back only through a broad-based working class unity and by conducting the struggle in a planned and organised manner.
We constantly appealed to the Maruti Suzuki workers that they must decide a concrete action program for their agitation and call upon the lakhs of workers working in different factories of Gurgaon-Manesar Industrial belt. We also put forward some concrete suggestions to conduct the struggle in a phased manner. We suggested that a ‘Mazdoor Satyagrah’ should be launched led by the Maruti Suzuki workers and it should be made into a broad struggle against the increasing tyranny and strong arm tactics by management and administration, violation of union rights, corruption in the labour department and super exploitation of workers in the entire Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal-Bhivadi industrial belt. Apart from sending formal letters by the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union seeking support to all unions in the area, workers should form squads and conduct factory gate meetings and door to door campaigns in worker colonies to enlist their support. Thousands of leaflets and posters should be printed. In the next phase of the struggle, all the workers in the National Capital Region should be called upon to participate in the struggle. All the workers in the automobile sector of the country must be called upon to raise their voice against the oppressive and inhumane working conditions at their respective workplaces. An appeal should be issued to automobile unions all over the world to lend support to this struggle. We told the Maruti workers that we have seen from experience while distributing leaflets and holding street corner meetings in their support that their agitation has a widespread support but a well planned action program and active mobilization is needed in order to convert this silent support into a force of struggle.
The issues raised by the Maruti workers are common issues of workers in Gurgaon region – in all the factories workers face forced overtime, inhuman workloads, salary cuts , contractualization, violation of union rights and are forced to work in a slave like environment and they have fought from time to time for these demands. Even basic labour laws are not followed anywhere. If the Maruti workers had given a call to the lakhs of workers working in the vast industrial belt and if the central trade unions had supported it genuinely and with their full strength, a mass mobilization would have been possible. However, the central unions neither had any intentions of developing it as a militant movement nor they have any wherewithal left in them to do so. They wrote articles hailing the struggle in their party organs or TU bulletins while their local leadership was busy in the game of one-upmanship. But sadly the leadership of Maruti workers was also unable to grasp the seriousness of the situation and the importance of conducting the struggle in a planned and organised manner.
The developments of the last few days have once again shown that the workers of Maruti Suzuki must prepare themselves for a difficult and broad fight ahead. The kind of support they got from workers of other factories on the very first day has shown that if they are able to reach out to the large sections of working class population with a concrete call this movement can be developed into a broad-based struggle. This alone can ensure victory for them
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