Workers’ Unity Trade Union
In Eighteenth Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte, Karl Marx, wrote, ‘All great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice... first time as tragedy, the second time as farce’. In the struggle of workers against the management of Maruti Suzuki – India’s largest automobile manufacturing company, both tragedy and farce occurred within a span of few days. The tragedy was that the workers had to withdraw their strike without any of their concrete demands being accepted by the management, the farce being that once again as in several struggles of the past, top leadership of the workers capitulated in front of capital, with the top leaders of the union leaving the company after taking Rs. 40 lakhs in golden handshakes along with thirty other members, most of them constituting the core of the new union. According to the media reports 30 workers at Maruti’s Manesar plant, the key people who had been responsible for the strike, were paid off by the management to exit the company. The workers received a combined Rs. 4.2 to 4.8 crore, based on the amount paid to each worker.
The strike belied the Maruti’s claim of being a responsible corporate citizen, and that of an entity that, ‘...believes in the conduct of the affairs of its constituents in a fair and transparent manner by adopting the highest standards of professionalism, honesty, integrity and ethical behaviour’,1 prominently put up on their website and that was touted as model to be followed by all other companies in India. But as we will see later, the reality was far from rosy as assiduously painted by the company’s management and the corporate media.
It all started in June 2011, when eleven leaders of the workers from the Manesar factory went to Chandigarh to meet the Labour Department and complete the formalities regarding registration of a new trade union – the Maruti Employee Suzuki Union (MESU). The Labour Department of Haryana – that like other organ of the government has been acting as an extended arm of the capitalists – faxed this information to the management, following which the management machinery came in full swing to pressurise the workers inside the factory from joining the new union. The management started taking signatures of the workers on a blank sheet and arm twisting them to sign an undertaking that they would continue with the pro-management union – the Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU). It would be pertinent to note that the existing union MUKU was formed with the active support of the management, and has in its charter, that it would not affiliate with any trade union federation, nor induct any outsider as office bearer; making it an ideal body for carrying out the diktats of management.
The leadership of the new union started mobilising the workers against signing on the blank paper. On June 4th the leadership started a struggle against the management and were successful in retrieving some of the blank papers. But the management kept pressurising them and resorted to witch hunt as a result the workers decided to go on flash tool down strike from afternoon of June 4, 2011. Thus, started the workers struggle against Maruti Suzuki, which in coming days was to become a flash point in the long history of the working class struggle in India.
This strike was joined by the entire workforce of the plant consisting of permanent, casual, as well as the apprentice grade. The workers raised various demands like incentive cuts, few breaks and low wages. They also demanded that the temporary workers should be given preference for permanent posts.
It would not be out of place to note the appalling working condition prevalent in the company. A normal shift consists of 8 hours excluding an half an hour lunch and two 7 minutes breaks, during which the worker has to have refreshment as well as visit the toilet etc. A worker loses his half a day wage even if he is one minute late and even though he continues to work through that half day. A substantial portion of their salary is under the head called performance incentive. If a worker goes on leave for a day, Rupees 1500 is deducted from his salary, for 2 days the amount deducted is Rs. 2200, and for three days Rs. 7000-8000 is deducted. While on the other hand if he works overtime on a holiday then he will be paid Rs. 250 only. The plant lacks in implementation of safety measures, the gloves worn by the workers become unusable soon – but they are made to turn the gloves inside out and re-use it, resulting in rashes and allergies.
Once the news of the apparent workers unrest came to the front, the management resorted to the age old tactics of cajoling and arm-twisting on 5th and 6th of June, the management sealed the gates; placed security guards in front of them in order to prevent any contact between those workers who were inside the plant with their colleagues outside. The management further prevented the striking workers and their supporters from having any communication with the media. On 6th June eleven workers were dismissed, most of whom were those spearheading the strike and the leaders of the new union. Various trade unions like the Communist Party of India led All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the Communist Party of India – Marxist led Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the social-democrats led Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) along with the ruling Congress party led Trade Union Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) formed a ‘joint action committee’ to support the strike. AITUC emerged as the main ‘representative’ and spokesperson of the workers given the fact that it has some unions in adjoining factories. This joint action committee mobilised workers from adjacent factories and demanded that the eleven terminated members be reinstated. The other major demands of the workers were put on a back burner. The AITUC general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta, on being asked, on the conditions put forward by the union, in its talk with management said: ‘There is just one agreement. All the 11 workers should be taken back’.2
Meanwhile the Haryana government that has always sided with the capitalists and is in forefront of implementing the neo-liberal programme expectedly declared the strike illegal with its Minister of Labour and Employment declaring: ‘The Haryana government has, under the provisions of the Industrial Depute Act, 1947, referred the matter of ongoing strike in Maruti Suzuki Udyog Ltd, Manesar, by the workers to the competent labour court and has also passed the orders prohibiting the continuance of the strike in the industrial unit.’ The strike got support from other workers of the area who came out in full support of their fighting comrades. In fact the Gurgaon industrial area has been privy to a massive show of working class solidarity in almost all the major struggles, which have been waged. One may remember that the workers of the area came out in full swing when in October 2009, Ajeet Yadav, an employee of the automobile firm RICO Pvt. Ltd, was brutally murdered by the hired goons of the factory management. At that time, more than one lakh (one hundred thousand) angry workers from the various companies joined in a strike on 20th October bringing the entire Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt to a near standstill. They were demanding immediate action to be taken against the guilty and to enforce a better pay and working conditions for them, including the right to form their own union.3 Unfortunately in the absence of a revolutionary left force, the working class resentment is not being taken to next level of converting it to a mass movement against capital.
On 20th June the workers of the adjoining industries planned to hold a massive demonstration, this took the state administration and the entire capitalist to come on backfoot, the Maruti Suzuki management had also started feeling the heat due to zero car production in the plant, Maruti management repeatedly had to assure the anxious market and ever anxious shareholders that car dealers have 20 to 28 days stock and that the loss of 6,000 cars can be “made up for”.
AITUC leader Gurudas Dasgupta meanwhile started negotiation with the Haryana Chief Minister and even hoped that solution was within reach, by then the demand put forward by AITUC was already reduced to pure bargain of reinstating the terminated workers. Dasgupta even requested the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene and wrote a letter, urging him to speak to Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and help end the standoff. On the other hand, the secretary of AITUC, D. L. Sachdeva went public with statements like ‘AITUC will ask the Maruti Suzuki workers to work overtime once the dispute is settled’, and, ‘We want it [the dispute – author] to be resolved. Even the workers are anxious to restart the production. Hopefully, some solution will be found. We want the workers should resume production, normalcy should prevail and we will persuade the workers to make up for this loss of production by working extra hours or on holidays. AITUC wants industrial development to take place in Haryana. We are not against FDI investments but we feel these multinational corporations should respect our national laws, and should allow workers to form their own union.’
On the other hand the management for the first time budged and said that they are ready to accept the new union registration on their own terms. Under this plan, the new union was to be under tutelage of company’s umbrella council, which would be responsible for wage revision and ameliorating other issues. In another word the proposed union was to be nothing more than a controlled entity – a worker’s club; which of late business entities world over, have been promoting under the deceptive terms ‘Corporate social responsibility’(CSR), worker-management partnership etc. to deceive the working class and by-pass their genuine grievances.
As in other struggles, the reformist left leadership capitulated to the company’s gesture and pursuant to verbal assurances of government officials and company management called off their solidarity strike, D. L. Sachdeva, the AITUC Secretary in the morning of 14th had declared a tool-down strike at some factories, workers in up to 65 plants in the Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt, later on the same day he told the media that ‘The two-hour strike has been called-off for today on the appeal of the Chief Minister and the Labour Commissioner. They sought a day’s time to resolve the issue. Consequently, the strike has been postponed for 24 hours’.4 Taking the age-old road of smothering any workers discontent from assuming a militant stance, the AITUC-CITU duo true to their character subsumed the workers discontent under bureaucratic wrangling.
On 17th June after negotiations were held between the representatives of the Haryana Government, the company management and the representative of the new union (Maruti Suzuki Employees Union) Shiv Kumar and D. L. Sachdeva. During this talk they resolved: ‘The company has now agreed that we would not be asked to sign the paper. Also, the fact that Maruti took back the 11 workers shows that our demands were met’. Again no demand for improving the working condition, wage were made, the other demand for forming new union was left ambiguous. With this assurance the strike ended, the workers were told that they have achieved ‘victory’. The victory was that the eleven workers were to undergo an ‘inquiry’ that the Left leaders termed as normal, and the other being that the workers lost only two days wage per day of strike instead of eight. The wage deduction was another of several new traits that became evident in this strike.
So the first phase of strike ended. The company hired external trainers and spiritual organisation – The Brahmkumaris to heal the relation between the company and the workers. But the dynamics of struggle had still not finished.
Emboldened by their stand and cornering workers during the strike, the old approach of management continued. For almost a month tense but calm situation prevailed inside the factory. The management claimed that the workers are deliberately not achieving the production and are also compromising on the quality of the cars. On 26th July the registration of the new union was rejected citing irregularities. The registration of the new union was never to be done as the Haryana government had time and again declared that it wants a congenial environment for development, so that more capital comes to the province. Suzuki had also threatened that it was contemplating to shift its operation to the more industrial friendly state of Gujarat, where the arch-rightist BJP led government of Narender Modi, had assured them and other industrialists of providing a peaceful pro-business environment. In fact it is worth noting that when the Tata’s faced the people’s protest for their Nano car project in West Bengal, Gujarat offered them land and ‘industrial peace’. This is the state of Indian ruling class, who vie with each other to provide for the maximum exploitation of working class, so that capital comes to their area.
Shinzo Nakanishi, Managing Director, of Maruti Suzuki India, thundered that at no cost will the company tolerate a second union. He said ‘It has always been our policy to have one union for all workers, with the union having no outsiders as members. We are making efforts to communicate with our workers at Manesar, change will come about gradually through education’.
On 27th July, the situation became tense once again, when the contract workers raised their concern of excessive work pressure and demanded more people to be hired. The management, it seems was waiting for such incident to occur. Next day the police entered the premises and arrested four workers while six more workers were suspended, the workers started protest and the management was forced to state that the four workers were not arrested. The second shift workers were not allowed to come inside the factory. The first shift workers refused to leave the factory premises. The management said that the suspended workers would be reinstated, but it had by then started hiring new people for places outside of the Delhi region, mostly on contract basis. The supervisors who after the first round of strike were showing some sign of human behaviour, again resorted to their old way of high handedness.
By 28th August, a total of ten workers were suspended while another eleven were dismissed. In the night a 300 to 400 strong police force in riot gear entered the factory converting it into a virtual police station. According to report in media, the order to send so many policemen to the site in Manesar came directly from the office of Deepender Singh Hooda, Member of Parliament from Rohtak (Manesar is in the Rohtak constituency). Hooda is the son of the Chief Minister of Haryana, Bhupinder Hooda.5
The management also announced that all workers would have to sign a ‘good conduct bond’ before they are allowed to enter the factory. According to this bond which claimed that it is being signed voluntarily in accordance with Clause 25(3) of the Certified Standing Orders. The workers were and should not resort to go-slow, intermittent stoppage of work, stay-in-strike, work-to-rule, sabotage or otherwise indulge in any activity hampering production, irrespective of any steps taken by the management. In other words this bond was nothing but a legal way of keeping the workers as bonded wage slaves. There is no provision for such bonds in the labour laws of the country; neither do such provisions exist in any place in world. But then in this age of neo-liberalism the capitalists formulate their own rules. Later the Labour and Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said in parliament that good conduct bonds was an ‘arbitrary act’ and amounted to ‘unfair labour practice’. But during the entire strike period the minister and his ministry were tight lipped on the validity of the bond.
The media, as expected left no stone unturned in vilifying the workers for not signing the bond, without examining the provisions of it. Not one of the so called mainstream intellectual or media asked, why do not the management also sign a good conduct bond for being a good employer! The entire showdown since the beginning was portrayed as a mere local dispute being fanned by left wing trade unions. The news covered only of the loss being incurred by the company, as if the workers whose entire survival was at stake were a happy lot.
Only eighteen workers signed the bond on the first day and rest all chose to resist. The management started to hire contract workers and depute workers from its other plant and started the production.
The news of this struggle had spread worldwide with its greatest impact being on the adjacent companies, where also the situation was same as that prevalent in Maruti. The working class as on other occasions started galvanising. On the first of September approximately 3,000 members from 35 unions of the region gathered in front of the Manesar plant to voice their solidarity with the belligerent workers. The unions declared a tool-down strike the following week if the management of Maruti does not come for negotiation.
The entire working class of the area got mobilised and on 12th September, another strike took place at the automobile supplier Munjal Showa in Manesar. The companies’ plant at Gurgaon and Haridwar also went on strike. The company’s management said that the Maruti incident was behind the strike.
The Maruti struggle attracted solidarity from the progressive section of the society with students from Delhi and other organisations coming out in full support. The other subsidiaries of Maruti itself came into grip of struggle, with workers getting mobilised at Suzuki Powertrain Ltd. and Suzuki Castings in Manesar and workers at Suzuki Motorcycle India Ltd. in neighbouring Kherki Dhaula in comradeship with the Maruti Suzuki workers and for own demands. More than 4,000 workers of these factories went on strike. The official union of Maruti MUKU at the Gurgaon plant when asked to support talked of a ‘potential of a hunger strike’, instead of coming out in full favour of the workers.
By 16th of September the strike at the Suzuki Powertrain and Suzuki castings, forced the management to close the Gurgaon plant due to non-availability of parts. The union in Suzuki Powertrain is affiliated with HMS. On the same day they negotiated with the management to end the strike at the Suzuki Powertrain, thus once again betraying the class solidarity. This incident gave company the lifeline which otherwise would have forced it to accept worker’s demands. Again the anti-working class character of the social democrats became evident. Meanwhile the company continued to hire temporary staff and dismiss/suspend the existing workers.
Solidarity protests took place in various cities of India. Several people from various left progressive organisations protested in front of Haryana Bhawan in Delhi and at a Maruti Suzuki showroom near Connaught Place. Meanwhile the media announced that in Maruti more than 1300 people had started working, and production had started. A claim that later was refuted by the workers. A section of Japanese railway union also demonstrated in a show of solidarity giving the struggle an international character.
The New Trade Union Initiative decided to stage demonstrations in front of Maruti Suzuki establishments in 12 locations across India. The trade union federation decided to observe a ‘National Day of Action in Solidarity with Maruti Workers’ on 22nd September. The solidarity and protest demonstrations were held, across India where various affiliates of NTUI took part. In Delhi, according to NTUI press statement ‘around 75 people, including NTUI affiliate members, the Workers’ Union Trade Union (WUTU), along with the Voltas Employees Union (VEU), Mazdoor Ekta Manch, and students and teachers of the University of Delhi (through New Socialist Initiative and Students for Social Justice) marched from the Tiz Hazari Metro Station to a Maruti-Suzuki showroom on afternoon of 22nd September. The showroom was occupied for about half an hour and then held a public meeting in car yard of the outlet that was addressed by Padam (WUTU), Tek Chand Jangra (Voltas) and Gautam Mody (NTUI).’
Similar protests happened in states of Assam, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
A meeting between the union and management failed again on 27th September. The management remained adamant on the signing of a good conduct bond and on suspension. The workers polarisation by then not only spread to Suzuki’s other plants but also in other factories in the Gurgaon Manesar area. Apart from the adjacent areas, the news of valiant struggle going on in the Maruti had a profound impact on the other industrial areas of the country where the workers started strikes and protests. For instance workers in Bosch automobiles went into a two week lock-out in Bangalore against the company’s decision to outsource some work and dismantle the plant.
AITUC meanwhile came with a declaration saying that it will end the strike and press for an immediate return to work, if the company agrees to place about half of the 62 fired workers and would be happy if the workers are put on suspension. AITUC had been closely coordinating with other two central trade unions CITU and HMS, as mentioned above. The trio again entered in agreement with the management to end the strike. According to the agreement the workers were to sign the good conduct bond; the dismissal of 15 workers were to be turned into suspension; plus ‘No work, no pay’ along with one daily wage per day to be imposed on the workers as penalty! Like on the earlier occasion there was no demand made from the workers side, and the entire agreement was signed keeping in mind the management wishes. The Trade Unions repeatedly declared that the workers are in weak position, completely ignoring the fact that the workers were really at the bargaining position due to the economic loss being sustained by the company and the massive proliferation of working class solidarity in the area. Had these TUs adopted a firm stand and instead of saying the workers are in weak position given a militant call for working class unity, the outcome would have been very different. But then severing ties with reformism does not happen overnight.
Emboldened by the events, the management went on the extreme to suppress the militant spirit of the workers. When the workers returned to work on 3rd October, the company refused entry to the 1,200 workers hired through contractors and were refused entry as they had also taken part in the protest and company occupation and had demonstrated solidarity with the other workers. Inside the factory Maruti decided to shift a lot of workers from one work-station to the other, which caused discontent. The company also suspended the company bus service that used to fetch workers who lived further away. With no public means of transport available the workers found it extremely difficult to reach the factory on time, which gave the management another chance to deduct wages for coming late.
The workers again started protest, defying the ‘solution’ agreed by the capitalist backed Haryana government, the company management, along with the Trade Union combine of HMS-AITUC-CITU. The 3,500 workers on October 7th, again went on a flash strike, against the betrayal and the excesses of the management. This action at Manesar again sparked a wave of working class action with almost 8,000 workers at a dozen or more auto industry-related plants in the Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt, staging a walk-out in a display of class solidarity.
The workers took complete control of the plant. The management had to concede that ‘The plant is effectively captive in the hands of striking workers who are bent upon violence’. The management termed this action as a law and order problem. The company said the latest round of labour unrest at the plant is degenerating into a law and order problem, with workers indulging in several random acts of violence and damage to property inside the factory premises on Saturday (8th October).
‘The agitating workers attacked co-workers, supervisors and executives in multiple incidents of violence, and damaged factory property since they began the stay-in strike on Friday evening (7th October),’ according to the official statement issued by the company. The statement said that on Saturday (8th October), the company was able to rescue 355 contractual workers. ‘They were badly beaten up by the striking workers. They were forced to join the stay-in by the striking workers. These contractual workers were rescued by police. They were provided medical assistance, and later left the factory premises,’
To counter this ‘law and order’ problem a local armed labour contractor Tirupati Enterprises was hired, whose goons fired gun-shots and threw bottles at striking workers outside the Suzuki Motorcycle plant injuring at least three workers. The police helped the attackers to get off without taking any action.
The corporate controlled media was fed by the management with all sorts of anti-worker news. The reportage in the media since start of the strike had attempted to portray the incident as a case of ‘rise in militant trade unionism and anti-development agenda of Left.’ One eminent national newspaper wrote ‘Manufacturers are working on really thin margins,’ ‘Instead of going on strikes, which aren’t beneficial for anyone, workers should rather be part of the growth process, which would be mean higher benefits for them in the long run.’
On 14th October the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said regarding Maruti, ‘Labour unrest is a matter of serious concerns, we need to address it efficiently.’ What does ‘efficiently’ mean is open to interpretation. However after this observation the police came into action and arrested one office member of the MSEU union from his house at 2 am, and raided the houses of other MSEU representatives. More cops entered Manesar plant, and took down the workers’ food-kitchen, which had supplied food to around 4,000 workers at Powertrain and Maruti Suzuki plant. Unconfirmed reports said that around 1,500 to 2,500 police personnel went inside the Maruti factory. They shut down access to water, canteen and toilets.
Earlier on the same day, according to the media report, over 100 analysts, investors and fund managers of Maruti Suzuki participated in a conference call with Sonu Gujjar, president of Maruti Suzuki Employees Union, to ‘talk about the situation’. It was later said that a deal was clinched between them and Sonu Gujjar.
Strikes, negotiations and coercion continued till 21st October, when it was declared that an agreement has been reached. The management agreed to take back 64 permanent workers, but 33 workers mostly the frontline leaders of the new union remained suspended. The company flatly again refused to recognise MSEU but agreed to set up a workers ‘grievance committee’ and ‘labour welfare committee’, in which the Labour Officer from the state government will be ‘key comforting factor’.
Thus, ended the 55 days of workers struggle, that is being been pronounced as ‘the most significant worker’s struggle in India in the last two decades’. Once again production of cars in the factory resumed, in almost the same work conditions as before the strike.
A few days later it was reported that the management had given the Sonu Gujjar leaders of the new trade union 40 Lakhs (4 million) rupees [some other media reported the sum to be one crore], similarly other members were given sum ranging from 40 Lakhs to 12 lakhs, as golden handshakes to leave the company and their comrades!
What does this entire drama point to?
This strike has to be seen against the greater backdrop of the bourgeoisie’s clamouring for a speedy completion of the neo-liberal agenda. The capitalists have been demanding for more labour reform – a euphemism for abolition of whatever labour welfare measures and laws that exist in the country. This intention was behind the resoluteness of the Maruti management in not accepting any of the workers’ demands. Maruti being the market leader in the burgeoning Indian automobile segment had to take up the matter, in demanding for more ‘conducive’ labour reforms.
The struggle of the Maruti workers in particular and the solidarity that they received from the other working class in general, revealed the sub-human work conditions prevalent in a company that is a leader in automobiles and was touted as a model entity; on the other it raises some serious issues confronting the labour movement in the country. That requires much thinking and introspection. The Maruti workers’ movement should not be seen just as a trade union struggle. It was a struggle for the right to organise, unionise and protest against exploitative conditions is crucial.
The strike failed to achieve the desired outcome, but it did manage to galvanise the workers. But in absence of a radical left it could not be converted into a spearhead of wider working class struggle against the whole neo-liberal regime and pro-investor governments of the capitalists.
Outcome of the strike
The 55 days of struggle brought in light the clear class difference not only in the factory but also outside. The Government both central and state along with other agencies came out in full support of the Maruti management. The media controlled by the capitalists broke all barriers of ‘neutral journalism’ and openly sided with the management terming the entire episode as one created due to the selfish and scrupulous workers incited by the leftist leaders, who want to destabilise the phenomenal economic growth plan.
The compromising reformist left and social democratic TU federations also assisted the management wholeheartedly, while claiming to champion the cause of the workers. Whenever workers pressure was being built up and the management went on a backfoot, they rescued the latter and gave them the vital sap in the form of ending the strike, or coming into agreement with the management, to survive and crush the workers. They kept on harping that the workers are in a weak position when actually they were at an advantage, thus causing widespread frustration and disillusionment. When it was required to give a nationwide call to sustain the strike and call for national working class solidarity, they were seen either negotiating with the management or giving desperate calls to the state and national government to ‘intervene in the struggle to resolve the contentious issues amicably and restore industrial peace’, knowing fully well with whom the sympathies of these governments lay.
Since the beginning the political demands of the workers were ignored and later dropped, converting the entire struggle as that of resumption of suspension. Even the economic demands that one expects from trade union practising pure economism were dropped and never taken up. This shows the level of bureaucratism that has permeated into these unions, that Lenin called ‘the social mainstay of the bourgeoisie’.
In December 1917 Lenin wrote: ‘One of the most important tasks of today, if not the most important, is to develop [the] independent initiative of the workers, and of all the working and exploited people generally, develop it as widely as possible in creative organisational work.’ (LCW, Vol. 26, p. 409.)
Today as during Lenin’s time the activities of the venal trade union bureaucrats and of the so-called working class politicians need to be exposed whose loud talk of workers’ welfare is nothing but a mere screen for continuing bourgeois labour policy.
The incident if on one hand exposed the reformist trade unions on the other hand it also showed the weakness of the radical left politics. The non-revisionist TUs and left organisations grossly failed to make a positive intervention, whatever intervention they made was to come in all out support for the workers while subsuming their own polity behind the ‘spontaneity’ of the workers demands. Politicising and turning the strike into mass struggle or taking it to higher level was not taken up and they were also seen appealing to the Indian state for resolution. Subsuming Left ideology and making it secondary to the dominant trend has only been counterproductive. In the 1980s A.K Roy experimented with it, when he made the Marxist trend (represented by his Marxist Coordination Committee) to play a secondary role giving primary position to the non-Marxist Jharkhand tribal leadership, resulting in the entire Jharkhand movement losing revolutionary direction and the non-Marxist leadership becoming easy prey to bourgeois politics. This had a major impact on the trade union movement in the coalfields where the working class as a coherent unit got divided into regionalism, making it easy for the government to decimate the gains that the workers had won after long drawn struggle. In Maruti the radical left leadership similarly failed to politicise the Maruti leaders and they also started to support just economic demands.
The old trade union style of only raising economic demands and creating a trade unionist devoid of political consciousness, once again proved that it is incapable of taking any working class movement to a higher level of struggle. It is time for the radical left groups and unions to introspect on the conventional style of trade unionism. Any social movement cannot be digressed from politics, this is what Marx has said and it has been proved true umpteen times. The day of ‘pure trade unionism’ is over. In the face of the massive onslaught of international capital and the forces of neo-liberalism, trade unionism devoid of politics cannot lead the working class nor bring any tangible benefit. On the other hand they would only degenerate into a tool for the bourgeoisie to crush any working class resentment. It is time to bring back radicalism in the trade union politics as taught by Marx and Lenin, that was abandoned by the trade unions and communist party after the revisionists took over the international communist movement. The result of this line has manifested in the shrinking of the influence of the Marxist trade unions the world over much to the delight of the capitalists and the bourgeois state apparatus.
The fight against opportunism and economism needs to be seriously thought over. The trade union movement and the revolutionary forces have to struggle to balance the correlation of class forces that today, due to the compromising attitude of the reformist left unions and those advocating neutrality and de-politicisation of the working class, has tilted heavily in favour of the bourgeoisie.
The strike is the prologue to impending working class action. History is witness that violent repression and the tyranny of the state and the capital have never been able to subjugate the might of advancing workers. Maruti and similar strikes that will occur in future open up the possibility of working class offensive, against the anti-worker regime of capital making headway to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat against capitalism.
The battle at Maruti might have temporarily suffered a setback but the struggle continues. As these lines are being written, reports from the factory are again coming of workers realigning and re-grouping to start the struggle from where it was abandoned. The workers have said that they will restart the process of having their own union and continue to raise their demand. This reflects the depth of militancy amongst the working class which is prevalent and growing, which cannot be crushed by the bourgeois machinery.
The strategic position of the class has changed and hence the ability to bargain and fight. The fact remains that at a global level the working class would continue to play a strategic role, but at the shop floor level it no longer has the leverage as before. Those involved in Left and working class politics have to initiate a longer discussion on this.
The future belongs to the working class.
1. Whistle Blower Policy, http://www.marutisuzuki.com/whistle-blower-policy.aspx, accessed November 20, 2011
2. Transcript of the interview available at Money Control site, http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/maruti-strike-normalcy-may-be-restored-soon-says-aituc_557967.html, accessed November 20, 20113. See pamphlet released by Workers’ Unity Trade Union published in Revolutionary Democracy Vol. XVI, No. 1, April, 2010 site at
4. Press Trust of India release, 14th of June 2011
5. Maruti attempts to curtail union power in Manesar, Sunday Guardian, http://www.sunday-guardian.com/investigation/maruti-attempts-to-curtail-union-power-in-manesar
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