Issued by Labour Solidarity Forum
An appeal to all democratic and progressive individuals and organizations to stand up for justice and support the Maruti Suzuki workers’ struggle and other working class struggles in Delhi-NCR in all possible ways.
Incidents of industrial accidents, often fatal but seldom reported by the media, have been occurring almost every day in the Delhi-NCR industrial belt—leading to mounting worker unrest that is described by media as a ‘‘law and order’’ problem and is dealt by the police and state authorities with mounting repression. The more than two and a half year long struggle of Maruti Workers and the brutal state-corporate repression faced by them is also an indicator of the simmering unrest among the working class, directly emanating from neoliberal policy framework of the country.
Life on the factory floor:
Working and living conditions and salary norms of factories around Delhi-NCR industrial belt are atrocious to the extent of being inhumane. In the entire belt, working hours are very long, work is precarious due to the contractual nature of employment, wages are extremely low and workers are given no social security. Incidents of verbal abuse by management and physical abuse by “bouncers” are very common, and the workplace is tense with scrutiny of bouncers and police. Intensity of work is also inhumane- for example, in Maruti Suzuki, a sophisticated car is produced every 40-45 seconds (such is the speed of the conveyor belt in the assembly line production process- which is often increased without the knowledge, let alone consent of workers, and decreased during inspections), no breaks for water, toilet, etc. allowed to workers, an extremely short lunch break, forced overtime work, no paid leaves in case of illness or exigencies, and harsh rules of salary deduction on being late by even a few seconds (See: http://radicalnotes.com/2011/10/21/working-conditions-maruti-suzuki-english-subtitles/).
Last year, a worker in Orient Craft died on the factory floor— while the management claimed it to be a heart attack, the workers maintained that he was electrocuted (http://sanhati.com/articles/9560/). In the same factory (different unit) two years ago, a worker was attacked by a manager by a large pair of scissors, cutting across his arm (http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/i-get-55-paise-for-every-piece-i-tailor-injured-orient-craft-worker/926261/). Both these incidents were followed by violent worker agitation. A week ago (11th Feb. 2015) a worker in Richa Global (Udyog Vihar) was badly beaten up by bouncers—he broke several bones and ribs, and is currently hospitalized. He had arrived for work 10 minutes late and was barred from entering the factory, indicating a termination of his contract. On refusing to leave without his due compensation, he was assaulted and left unconscious. This was also followed by a large worker agitation. In all these incidents, the mainstream media reported only the “workers gone on rampage”, completely missing the context. As if regular worker assault is not enough, dissenting workers are frequently threatened with illegal lockouts- wherein firms illegally close down production, amounting to mass termination of workers (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-08-06/news/33065681_1_haryana-labour-department-human-resource-manager-dues.)
Also, the concept of prison-industrial complex is also being introduced in the country- where labour of prison inmates are exploited for industrial production with profit motive (http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/now-an-auto-harness-plant-in-tihar-jail-114101800042_1.html). Production within the walls of a jail amounts to no labour laws, continuous working hours, and brutally suppressed voices of dissent.
Struggle for unionization:
In an organized attempt to fight such atrocities and for wage revision, workers of various industrial firms in Delhi NRC region have attempted to unionize themselves—however, these struggles are thwarted with terminations, threats, and blatant physical violence by managements. Maruti Suzuki workers of Manesar Plant had, after more than a year long struggle, managed to attain their legal and constitutional right to unionize. Despite all attempts by the management to thwart unionization, by threat and buying off some key leaders, Maruti Suzuki Worker’s Union (MSWU) was finally registered in March 2012 with the aim of safeguarding the basic legal rights of workers and to negotiate humane working conditions.
The corporate-state-media story of “violence”:
It is in this context that the violent incident of 18th of July 2012, in which a high ranking manager died, is to be seen. The union has insisted that this was a deliberate attempt by the MS management, by bringing goons from outside, to weaken the strengthening worker’s movement in the plant- which was unifying the contractual and permanent workers and serving as an example to other production plants in the industrial area. After the violence broke out (the reason behind which has yet not been ascertained by any investigation), the MS management not only terminated 546 permanent workers at one go (without any domestic inquiry process), but also unceremoniously threw out around 200 apprentice workers and approximately 1800 contractual workers. On the instructions of Maruti management, 147 workers were arrested by Haryana Police- which included all the major leaders of the workers’ movement so far, and charged with arson and murder. They have been languishing in Bhondsi Central Jail near Gurgaon, since then, despite the fact that about 100-125 of them were not even present at the site at the time that violence broke out.
The workers of Maruti Suzuki have demanded an independent impartial probe into the incident of 18th July 2012, and into the role of the management in it. Meanwhile, the workers languishing in jail have appealed to the democratic, pro-people forces of the country for support (See: http://kafila.org/2013/03/27/letter-from-jail-maruti-suzuki-workers-union/). They have not been granted bail despite dire personal needs of their families. They are even denied brief payrolls in case of illness or death of family members. Many of them are suffering from diseases like tuberculosis and piles. Their families are suffering socially, emotionally and financially since most of these workers were lone bread-earners in the family.
The significance of Maruti workers’ struggle:
What is most striking about this struggle is its tenacity, to sustain itself in the most repressive and hostile conditions; its ability to bring together permanent and contract workers, and to see political rights, particularly to form their union, as a precondition for their economic empowerment; and having a potential to bring the workers of the entire Delhi-NCR region together on these issues. It is this potential which is making the capital-state nexus jittery. The fact that they have been able to garner support from large section of masses, from countryside to metropolis, from farmers to students, apart from fellow workers, signifies an important and crucial turn in workers struggle in our country.
Continuing and intensifying attack on labour:
Despite the recent attack on the working class in the form of labor law reforms (which increase contractualization and precariousness of work in the disguise of labor market flexiblization, snatching away the democratic right of unionization), pro-corporate policies of all political parties, and surrender to the neoliberal diktat by all state governments and the central government, the struggles for unionization and better working/living conditions continue in various forms in different parts of the country. All of this comes in the context of “Make in India” and the slogan of “Shramev Jayate” which are designed to sound pro-growth and pro-development but in reality are very anti-working class. These schemes are meant to attract foreign capital to organize production in India, with the lure of highly subsidized land and energy resources, along with industrial belts where no labour law is binding.
While the movement of Maruti workers against this injustice and exploitation continues, the workers of various factories (Shriram Piston, Bajaj Motors, Minda group, Posco IDPC, Talbrose, Autofit, Baxter, Munjal Kiriu, Asti, et al) from Gurgaon to Bawal industrial areas also continue to struggle against this regime of joint exploitation by the management-administration-police. All of these struggles and more in this area are facing repression, getting battered, rising up again.
The courage and determination that these struggles have shown deserves our admiration and support. As a progressive section of the society, let us stand for workers’ rights, for dignity, and for justice.
Demanding the Release of all 147 Maruti Suzuki Workers in Jail for 2and a half years, and In Solidarity with Struggling Workers in All Factories of Gurgaon-Bawal Industrial Area:
WORKERS CONVENTION 27 February 2015 (10am to 5pm), Parshuram Vatika, Gurgaon
Issued by: Labour Solidarity Forum, contact: 9953175766 (Santosh), 9953466027 (Akash)