Maruti Developments

The workers' unrest continues in India’s largest automobile company Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL). After the clash of that occurred on the 19th July 2012, the workers struggle has continued, so has been the management’s obduracy of denying the workers their most fundamental right of getting their Trade Union registered and having their say in the factory they work in.

As reported in the pages of this journal on 19th July, there was a clash between the workers and the management, which had called bouncers from outside the organisation, in which a General Manager lost his life. The exact cause and circumstances leading to his death is still shrouded in mystery and the official version of events leading to his death by the agitated workers has several lacunas and is prone to argument and counter argument.

Yet the government pronounced the verdict that it is the workers who were guilty of arson and murder. Since then 149 workers from the Manesar plant, including the entire leadership of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU), have been imprisoned on frame-up charges, these also include workers who were not present on the day this incident took place. The deputy commissioner of police Maheswar Dayal, immediately after the incident in an interview said that the authorities will press charges of murder and attempted murder against all rioting workers at Maruti’s Manesar plant because they engaged in a mob attack that led to a person’s death, though not a word was said about what charges would be pressed against those who assaulted and grievously injured the workers. It has been reported that these workers have been subjected to the most brutal form of beating and even were denied food.

In back drop of this mayhem the company in collusion with the Government, has started a virtual revamping of its entire work force of permanent workers. The company fired 500 of its regular workers and issued an immediate termination notice. It has been a general practice across industries in India to remove the regular workers and fill their post with contract workers or with an apprentice work force. This not only absolves the company of any obligation towards the workers in terms of giving them perks like Provident Fund, Gratuity etc. but also gives them a free hand to hire and fire them at will. A worker having no right and has the spectre of being fired at any time looming as a sword of Damocles over him will not even think of or even complaining about any grievance leave aside taking a drastic step like forming a union. He has  become a modern day slave and remains so till such time as he is in the company.

Emboldened by its victory over workers in shutting their voice and being pampered by the government of both the state of Haryana and the government of India, Maruti Chairman R C Bhargawa has said that; ‘…the people short listed for termination and will not be taken back includes workers and persons arrested by police and who are likely to face criminal proceedings, and are also in our list, a statement by MSI said. Hinting at further action, the company said if in the course of enquiries or police investigations, it appears that more workers were involved in the violence, action will be taken against them as and when required.’

To protect the company and its management, the government immediately deployed security at the plant and station a full battalion of the Rapid Action force comprising 500-600 policemen inside the facility. Further Personal Security Officers (PSOs) have been provided for the safety of managers, supervisors, and where necessary the workers (The Hindu 16th August 2012). A government statement said ‘We believe that these measures and the continuing efforts of the Haryana government and its police force to investigate, arrest and prosecute the criminals involved in the violence on July 18 will create a safe environment for work to resume’.

So in name of maintaining ‘industrial peace’ which is nothing but an euphemism for giving a free hand to the capitalists to exploit the workers and extract maximum profit, the government, corporate and the bourgeois media have entered into an ‘holy alliance’ against the working class who has none but only themselves to defend. In this crucial juncture unfortunately the role of trade unions particularly those aligned with the parliamentary left parties has also come a cropper. They have themselves been parroting the lines of maintaining industrial peace and having a peaceful demonstration. In fact sometimes it seems that while carrying Red Flag, actually these unions have adopted Gandhian petty bourgeois ideology. They have lost their militancy and now can only bark but never bite.

Immediately after the incident and before the mass workers arrests, the Deputy Commissioner of Gurgaon called a meeting of all trade unions, to assess the situation and take further steps. The local leaders of the trade unions viz. AITUC, CITU, HMS and others went to this meeting and pledged that they are with the government in maintaining industrial peace, and against any sort of violence. They also promised that they will not give any call for mass industrial action in the region in solidarity.

Once the government was convinced that they have these vanguards of the workers with them, the police action started. The police started arresting and detaining the workers. Within days 100 workers were arrested some even from the far flung villages of Haryana. According to a report of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights: ‘Testimonies reveal that the basis of arrests is a list of names provided by the Company, of workers who were articulate or otherwise active in the union. For example, one worker picked up on 6 August was at his residence since he had no reason to fear arrest.  Six policemen came in the middle of the night in civilian clothes from the Gurgaon CIA and arrested him. They told the family that the Company had given his name to the police. Yet another worker who had worked in Shift A ending at 3pm on 18 July reached his village at 7 pm. Ten days later, the CIA staff came to arrest him stating that the Company had given his name and he had to present himself at the police station.  When he did so, he was arrested and remanded to judicial custody. His family members were not informed. On 17 August, the SHO Manesar PS. admitted in open court that the names of several workers being arrested is based on a list provided to the police by the Company.

The trade union leadership instead of giving a militant call was seen traversing the blind alleys of bureaucracy and legal actions. They formed a joint forum of 16 trade unions active in the area and the first task that this forum did was to tell or rather warn the workers not to have any contact with any radical left organisation or group, else they will not help them. What an irony where the unions affiliated to CPI and CPI-M were colluding with the union of the Congress party and with the rightist BJP, but were asking that no union from radical left should be a part of it.

Under the banner of this joint forum the workers were taken before the local MLA of Gurgaon and the sports minister of Haryana, Sukhbir Kataria. The union leaders said that they had gone to meet the minister so that he can seek a resolution to end the strife! The statement issued said that they went to meet the minister for ‘seeking resolution to the issues between the sacked workers and management of MSIL'. Strange are the ways of the revisionists when it comes to solving the working class problems. They further said that the minister  ‘… came down to the street to listen to our demands, and gave us assurance of resolving our demands by taking it up with the Chief Minister after Diwali’. What a politics which makes the leaders of the workers elated when a minister ‘comes down’ to see them!

When the so called resolution and the minister’s sugary talk did not bear any result, it was time for these leaders to go to the next higher minister, This time it was the turn of Haryana’s Minister of Industry Randip Singh Surjewala, who also listened to the demands and again gave an ‘assurance’ of taking the workers demand to the Minister of Labour Shiv Charan Lal and the Chief Minister after Diwali.

In English there is a saying “’f wishes were horse beggars would ride’, how true it is for these degenerated trade union bureaucrats who day in and day out leave no stone unturned to demoralise the working class so that the dream of Francis Fukuyama would materialise.

It would be pertinent to note the reaction of Mr. Surjewala on the events of 8 July. Immediately afterwards he had made a public statement saying that there was a concerted plan to disrupt industrial peace in the state, ‘... we have got some indications,’ [that it appeared to be] ‘designed’ to disrupt industrial peace. He further had said the police are investigating the matter thoroughly and ‘very strong’ action would be taken against those found guilty’. The state government ‘would make all efforts to foil the sinister designs aimed at disturbing industrial peace of the state’. On 25 June he had mentioned, ‘It is our bounden duty to ensure that the guilty be given exemplary punishment with speed and trial commences so that punishment to perpetrators of the crime becomes an example for others not to indulge in such incidents’. He also said, ‘Maruti Suzuki follows best labour practices’.

And the reaction of Shiv Charan, the minister of labour was equally pro-management; he had told the press that ‘They (workers) are completely wrong in getting into violence (at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant),’ he said, adding ‘they were getting a good amount of wages for a fixed eight hours duty. They were getting all types of facilities at the factory’.

Still, the leaders of the trade unions harboured illusions about getting justice for the workers. In a state where there is an unofficial policy of not letting any union to get registered and the entire state machinery works as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie, it is hard to digest that the trade union leaders went to these ministers because they thought that justice or benevolence would be done. All the facts point to one direction, that of a collusion between the established trade union, the government and the corporates. The task was assigned to these leaders, to subdue and divert the growing working class unrest and channelise it in such a fashion that it could not spread to other factories. 

They helped the company to resume its production and terminate 500 permanent workers along with 2000 temporary workers from their jobs. In the name of peaceful protest they have been trying to defuse the situation in favour of the management so that the workers get more confused and demoralised.

Though some groups from the radical left are trying to organise the workers, given their own weakness it does not seems that they will be able to achieve much. The sectarianism and fragmentation in the radical left camp has been a major hurdle. When the workers were being arrested on false charges and then framed, nothing was done to quash them nor any radical measure was taken that could help the workers come out of jail. On the other hand the government has repeatedly made its intention clear, that it is solidly behind MSIL, and will do anything to protect its interest.

The special investigating team (SIT) that it had constituted under the special prosecutor KTS Tulsi has also made it clear that he will ensure the guilty, who caused the death of Maruti’s HR General Manager at the Manesar plant, is given capital punishment. His greatest worry is not to conduct an impartial investigation, but to check the negative impact on the investment flow into India. Tulsi in one of the interviews given to a TV channel said: ‘This incident is capable of making foreign investment much more difficult, if we are not able to punish the guilty. Competent investigation must be carried on and we must make sure that those who are responsible for the murder are awarded a death sentence.’ Can one still think that an impartial probe will be conducted by the SIT. It seems the task of SIT is to only ‘identify’ workers based not on their connection to the incidents but on their involvement in the union or ones who were in forefront of the struggle while absolving the MSIL.

Even before the court trial has started  the government has pronounced the guilty, the might of state with its all machinery has decided to prosecute the workers, and with the attitude of the trade unions it does not seem that they will have any difficulty in achieving their goals. The fate of those more than 100 workers languishing in the jail seems to already have been decided and the state is committed to implicate them and award maximum sentences. The only aim of the state is to reassure MSIL that it can do whatever it wants and can continue its ‘quality management’ skill to produce cars for India’s bourgeoning rich. On the other hand the government is determined to set an example from this incident so as to intimidate the working class from further raisng any voice against any sort of corporate gangsterism and establish its credential as the haven of neo-liberalism, where the foreign and domestic capital will have the guarantee of a perennial supply of cheap labour to work in sweat shops or shop floors.

A spectre is clearly haunting the working class of this country.

Click here to return to the April 2013 index.