Statement issued by New Socialist Initiative, Delhi, in Solidarity with the Struggles of Maruti Workers.
Workers of Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) are fighting the most important working class struggle at the moment in India. One hundred forty seven of them have been in prison in for the past one year, without any chargesheet and bail. Their demonstrations have suffered tear gas and lathi charges. Their family members have been threatened and tortured. More than two thousand of them have been unemployed for the last one year. Their demand is very simple: Implement the law of the land. Workers right to form their own union, regularization of contract jobs, and safeguards against arbitrary dismissals, are all on statute books. It is well known that these laws are routinely flouted in the country that calls itself the largest democracy in the world. Yet, the workers of the MSWU are not ready to give up. They are up against the largest car maker in the country, that sold more than ten lakh vehicles and earned more than three thousand crore rupees in profit last year. In complete support to the Maruti Suzuki stands the state government of Haryana; its ministers, bureaucracy and police. Also in support is the corporate media, whose greed for advertisements from one of the largest advertisers in the country is much greater than any commitment to honest reporting. The unholy alliance of capital, politicians, bureaucracy and media is vicious, unscrupulous, dishonest, brutal and arrogant. Workers’ struggle has long ago gone beyond demands for economic gains. At stake for them are their rights as citizens and workers. They are fighting for justice, fair-play, and minimal decency due to every human being.
Maruti Suzuki is a ruthless employer. Seventy five percent of its work force is on contract earning upto Rs 10,000, with no security of employment. It produces one car every 45 seconds, and squeezes maximum from workers, who do not get even breaks for going to toilet. They lose half day's wages for reporting late by five minutes, and even after prior reporting of sick leave they lose up to four days' wages. The struggle of workers of the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki started in June 2011 with a demand for a union of their own. The existing union was based at the other plant at Gurgaon. In workers’ view it did not represent their interests on issues like work speed ups, remuneration, and most significantly contract workers' special concerns. Workers started organising for an independent union very carefully, keeping it a secret from the management, as Maruti Suzuki is known to not tolerate any autonomous initiative by workers. However, company's stooges in the state government's labour office informed it of workers' application for an independent union, and the same day it started harassing workers who had taken the initiative for forming the union. It dismissed eleven workers whose names appeared in the application to labour department. Workers responded by a sit-in protest inside the factory. Company securtiy and police surrounded the factory but refrained from a direct assault to force workers out, as it might have damaged expensive machinery. Cordoned off workers braved it for eighteen days, without electricity, sanitation and little water and food. Other workers' unions in the Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt struck in solidarity and large public meetings were held outside the factory. Finally, the company agreed to take back dismissed workers.
In face of workers' unity the company planned next move of its strategy carefully. Alleging a deliberate slow down and dangerous behaviour on the part of workers’ leaders, it declared an unofficial lockout on August 29, when workers were out of the factory. Workers sat on a 33 days dharna outside factory gates, and away when Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered them to remain at least 100 meters away from factory premises. On October 21, 2011 the company and police managed to coerce 13 of workers' key leaders to leave with a severance package. However, as company's harassment continued, workers' organisation efforts did not stop, and new leadership emerged.
Workers' union, Maruti Suzuki Workers Union finally got recognition on March 31, 2012, and immediately put forth workers' demands for formal negotiations as mandated by law. Company had little interest in negotiating with an autonomous workers' union. Harassment of union leaders and onerous working conditions continued. On 16th July workers decided to work according to rules, that is only for eight and a half hours without overtime. On July 18th, 2012, it seems management came up with a new plan. Workers noticed a number of new people on factory premises, dressed in workers uniform but without any badge. These were bouncers hired by the company. A shop floor manager hurled a casteist abuse on a worker, which led to an immediate flare up and work stoppage. Police was called, but strangely waited outside. In the evening hours while the union leadership was negotiating with the management, a mysterious fire started. In the resulting melee company's Deputy General Manager for Human Resources, Mr Avanish Deb was injured and according to autopsy report died of asphyxia. Without any enquiry, the management, police and corporate media immediately declared workers to be responsible for Mr Deb’s death. Warrants for mass arrests were issued. Even those who were not in factory premises at the time of the incident were picked up. Family members of workers were arrested and tortured to force absconding union leaders to surrender. By August police had locked 147 workers in jail. More than one year after the incident no enquiry has been conducted, no charge sheet has been filed, and none of the arrested workers has got bail. More than five hundred regular and eighteen hundred contract workers were dismissed immediately. Workers have decided to take their agitation to the wider society in Haryana. They have taken rallies through its towns and villages. A Justice Rally culminated in Rohtak, the constituency of state’s chief minister on January 27, 2013. Workers participating in the rally were harassed and arrested by the police. In March workers and their family members sat for an indefinite dharana near the residence of states’ industries minister in Kaithal. On 18th May they were brutally attacked by the police and eleven of them arrested. Undeterred, the MSWU has decided to go an indefinite dharana from 18th July in Manesar until their demands for release of all arrested workers and reinstatement of dismissed workers are met.
The experience of Maruti Suzuki workers encapsulates many of the wider trends under current neo-liberal economic order; while their struggle under the leadership of MSWU contains significant lessons for all workers. The neo-liberal economic order has brought fundamental changes in economy and society. New technologies, and labour organization methods have changed have increased growth and productivity, but almost nothing of the growth has percolated to people who actually make factories run. From 2007 to 2011 while the wages of workers at Maruti Suzuki barely kept pace with the inflation, the earning of its CEO increased more than four times, from forty lakh rupees per year to more than two crore rupees. Smaller and smaller proportion of workers even in high technology industries now have regular employment. Contract workers can be used and thrown away as and when needed by the capital. This is the most brutal face of rule of capital. Henry Ford in the beginning of twentieth century had revolutionized the face of capitalism by building a car that workers of his factory could buy. Little such possibility exists under neo-liberalism. Despite technological advances, it is clear that the spread of prosperity requires a new socio-economic system.
Experiences of Maruti Suzuki workers also show the diabolical relationship of mutual benefit between capital and state in what passes of as democracy in the country. No elected representative of the people of Haryana has come out in support of workers. This is not the only instance of elected politicians standing with exploiters and oppressors. No politician of Haryana has raised voice against castiest Khap panchayats. Dominant castes in many villages have burnt down houses of dalits, yet little action is taken against them. Citizens of the country need to understand compulsions of the current socio-political system under which while the laws related to employment and workers rights are wantonly flouted, the judiciary, police and elected politicians look the other way.
Against such dark reality of capitalism and democratic state under it, shines the bright struggle of workers which shows that humanity has not yet lost all. First, the fighting spirit of Maruti Suzuki workers! What are constantly harassed, two thousand unemployed workers against a company whose one day’s profit is three times what these workers would have earned in a month? Yet such ‘wretched of the earth’ have shown tremendous capacity to oraganise and struggle. If one set of leadership gave up, then workers collective threw up new leaders. Most of the leadership of MSWU is now under arrest, yet their movement has not stopped. Second, the permanent workers of Maruti Suzuki have realized that their wages may be two to three times those of contract workers, yet their interests lie with contract workers. Concerns of contract workers have always been an integral part of the demands put forth by workers of the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki. The two sets of workers have shown tremendous class unity against the old divide and rule tactics of management. Third, by taking their struggle to towns and villages of Haryana, workers have not only shown the real face of high technology capitalism to people at large, this has also underlined the fact that workers struggle is ultimately a socio-political struggle. This has also brought to focus the limitations of the old style trade union movement which had arisen under regulative mechanisms of welfare capitalism. Workers interests can not be quarantined to narrow economic demands as such trade unionism imagines.
The MSWU struggle deserves unqualified support of all right thinking people.
March to Manesar on 18th July to show your solidarity.
Down with Maruti Suzuki, Down with Capitalism!
Long Live MSWU, Long Live Workers Unity!!
Delhi State Executive Committee
New Socialist Initiative (NSI)