March 10, 2014
GurgaonWorkersNews no.62 – March 2014
Gurgaon in Haryana is presented as the shining India, a symbol of capitalist success promising a better life for everyone behind the gateway of development. At first glance the office towers and shopping malls reflect this chimera and even the facades of the garment factories look like three star hotels. Behind the facade, behind the factory walls and in the side streets of the industrial areas thousands of workers keep the rat-race going, producing cars and scooters for the middle-classes which end up in the traffic jam on the new highway between Delhi and Gurgaon. Thousands of young proletarianised middle class people lose time, energy and academic aspirations on night-shifts in call centres, selling loan schemes to working-class people in the US or pre-paid electricity schemes to the poor in the UK. Next door, thousands of rural-migrant workers up-rooted by the rural crisis stitch and sew for export, competing with their angry brothers and sisters in Bangladesh or Vietnam. And the rat-race will not stop; on the outskirts of Gurgaon, new industrial zones turn soil into over-capacities. The following newsletter documents some of the developments in and around this miserable boom region. It aims at an exchange of workers’ collectives to forge trajectories beyond state and capital. If you want to know more about working and struggling in Gurgaon, if you want more info about or even contribute to this project, please do so via:
In the March 2014 issue you can find:
Against the background of persistent inflation the ruling class in India has to actively curb the wage pressure from below. We document short examples of current struggles in the Gurgaon area and have translated one report about a riotous spill-over of workers’ discontent in Faridabad in January 2014.
These eight workers’ reports from different companies were published and circulated in the local area in early 2013: Orient Fan, Agro Engineering, Globe Capacitor, Ratna Offset, Harsoria Healthcare, Dhiman Engineering, Bright Brothers, Delhi Metro.
The global and historical character of the current crisis forces us to coordinate both debate and practice ‘for workers self-emancipation’ on an international scale. The following texts are selective, but we think that they can stand as examples for ‘general theses’, ‘concrete analysis’ and ‘historical debate’ of class struggle and revolutionary movement. They have been written by comrades and groups we have a practical relationship with.
/// “For all and everyone – The Knock of Communism in the Electronic Age”
(Faridabad Majdoor Samachar)
This article looks at how the development of the capitalist mode of production changed the basis for workers’ organisation since the time of the I.International. It provides an overview of how restructuring changed the framework for workers’ struggles in Faridabad since the 1980s.
/// Out now! First issue of Delhi based ‘The University Worker”
First issue of a university workers’ paper which applies the organisational concept of workers’ inquiry on university grounds. Reports from lecturers, students, manual workers and detailed account of a ‘ad hoc teacher’.
/// Uprising in Ukraine
(Mouvement Communiste and Gabriel Levy)
Short statement of the limits of the uprising and elaboration of a working class position towards the old and new regime by MC. Longer background analysis by comrade from the ‘People and Nature’ blog.
/// Uprising in Bosnia
Letter from a comrade about the protest movements in Bosnia.
/// Counter-revolution in Egypt
Comprehensive analysis of the different stages of uprising and counter-revolution in Egypt with special focus on the role of the migrant workforce in the region.
/// Crisis in Greece
Comrades assess the ‘fascist threat’ against the background of collaboration between deep state, organised crime exploiting mainly migrant labour and the organised fascist forces.
/// Strike support
(Wildcat and Mouvement Communiste)
Two short articles concerning the question of ‘how to struggle and how to support struggle’ based on recent examples from Germany and France.
In late 2008 the ruling elite in India was still able to talk about ‘de-coupling’. claiming that the Indian economy was sufficiently ‘autark’ enough not to be too affected by the global crisis. This claim was refuted by the ‘currency war’ in late 2010, when currencies in most ‘emerging markets’ bubbled up in competition for short-term investment. Industrial growth in India has since then been stifled by high interest rates, from 2.9 per cent in 2012 to a historic low of under 1 per cent in 2013.
The credit market in India has expanded significantly during recent years. Between 2000 and 2010 the ratio between consumer credits dished out by private banks and GDP increased from 20 per cent to 50 per cent. Outstanding foreign loans grew from 40 billion USD (5.7 per cent of GDP) in 2005 to 300 billion USD (16.2 per cent of GDP) at the end of March 2013. Since January 2012 the value of the Rupee declined by 35 per cent, which makes it more expensive to pay back these loans and to pay for imported goods, mainly gas and oil. At the end of 2013 the Iranian government refused a request by the Indian government to pay the gas bill in Rupees, instead they demanded a 55 per cent payment in USD and Euro, which is a sign of the international doubt concerning the stability of the Rupee.
In early 2014 the stock-market in India reacted in perfect synchrony with the other ‘emerging markets’ Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Argentina and nose- dived after the announcement of the US government to curb their quantitative easing (economic stimulus program).
* Wage Pressure
Under these conditions the ruling class in India has to make sure that the wage pressure from below is further suppressed. End of 2013 the chief minister of Haryana announced a substantial increase of the local minimum wage from around 5,500 Rs to over 8,000 Rs, but the central government interfered. In Business Standard the new boss of the Reserve Bank of India announced:
“More than pressuring corporate profits, these rapid blue-collar wage increases threaten efforts to quell inflation by new Reserve Bank of India (RBI) chief, Raghuram Rajan, the former International Monetary Fund economist who took over as governor at the RBI in September. Rajan has made price stability a policy priority, calling it a prerequisite for reviving economic growth that has slipped to 5 per cent a year, the lowest in a decade.”
On the parliamentary level it became clear fairly quickly, that although the Aam Admi Party is able to incorporate the ‘social movement’ sector of the left into their general election theatre, e.g. through the standing of Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) as AAP candidate, once in power the AAP will, like any other party, make sure that proletarian living standards remain as low as they are: during their short ‘time in power’ in the NCR government the AAP threatened striking contract workers of the public transport corporation with mass redundancies and in media interviews an AAP spokesperson announced that ‘agricultural subsidies’ are the first thing to go after a possible AAP election success.
On a regional level the representatives of capital have made a deal to actively go against any struggle of workers’ which demands more than a 7,000 Rs wage increase over a three years period. The Maruti Suzuki and Hero managements must have given permission to management of their suppliers to enforce a ‘lock out policy’ in case workers’ exceed this threshold, even if the lock-out might put production in the assembly plants at risk. We find many such local examples of ‘lock-outs’ at major suppliers during the last six months: Munjal Kiriu, Autofit,  Asti Electronics  and most recently Bajaj Motors. 
While management knows how to orchestrate wage disputes as long as these stay within the framework of the (company) trade union and labour law, this is less the case once workers go beyond this limit. A recent example from Faridabad demonstrates the wide-spread simmering discontent, which only waits for ignition.
* Workers’ collectivity reaches out from one factory to the other
(translated from: Faridabad Majdoor Samachar no.308, February 2014)
It has been three months since the chief minister announced that the monthly minimum wage in Haryana will be increased by around 2,500 Rs to 8,100 Rs on 1st of January 2014. In the early morning of the 23rd of January our company bus crossed the JCB Square when traffic on both directions started to build up. In the end the traffic jam was thirteen to fourteen miles long. A side-street was free of traffic, so the bus driver took that route. We reached the 49 mile stone near Prathala on the National Highway no.2 by 8:30 am and there we saw about 500 workers standing on the side of the road shouting slogans for “8,100 Rs” and against the government and the companies. The reason behind the long traffic jam was workers’ unrest in the industrial area of Prathala-Baghaula.
The strike of public workers on 21st, 22nd and 23rd of January had encouraged these workers, but on the 21st and 22nd of January the roads had remained unblocked. On the 22nd of January groups of workers had started walking from one factory to the other. A mix of garment, auto and pharmaceutical companies like Vishani Lux, Boya Medical, Haryana Wire, Mahindra, Varmani Overseas, SKH, Mahrani Paints and Auto Ignition were shut down. Workers had also entered the offices of the factory bosses and told them to leave. Permanent and temporary workers, middle-management and management all stood in front of the Auto Ignition factory when at about 10:30 am a police jeep arrived and the police men told the crowd to go back in and that they would see to it. After that 850 people went back inside. After the police jeep had left at about 11:15 am a group of 250 workers turned up again in the factory and told everyone to come out again. A local trade union leader also turned up. Management told the workers that a union rep had arrived and that they should listen to him. All people gathered on a grassy area on the factory premises. The leader said that everyone should remain peaceful and that he would talk to the management. After a meeting between management and leader the company announced the 23rd of January to be a day off. In the whole area factories remained shut down on the 23rd. On the 23rd no workers was arrested during the protests. There was talk of keeping the factories closed for four days. On the 24th from early morning onwards there was a huge police force present in the area. When the factory bus arrived at the factory on the 24th there were four jeeps and one police bus waiting. During the meal-breaks there were also a lot of police around. The Senior Superintendent of the Police (SSP) from Palwal arrived at the factories in order to reassure management that things are under control. The factories were running.
The Faridabad Industries Association complained to the state government. They said that unruly elements had entered the factories and caused trouble and mayhem. If the police could, they would turn up, but facing the rebel crowd they would silently withdraw. Armed with sticks these people had entered and said that the factory was not suppose to run until Monday. This group of workers had not previously contacted the trade unions or organisations. None of the trade unions had ordered that the factories should be shut down. Under these circumstances it is difficult to keep production running. According to announcements of the joint secretary of the Industries Association the police had filed a case against 10 unknown youth and arrested 18 workers.
At Indo Autotech, Plot 332 in Faridabad Sector 24, management changes with each shift. Management announced that the new shifts would be from 8 am till 8 pm. On 31st of January workers wanted to leave at the usual time of 5 pm, but management shut the gates and called the police. The police arrived in jeeps and in a bus. At every exit police were stationed. At this point workers said that they don’t care whether management let them go or not, that in any case they would not work. For three hours workers strolled around in the factory, but the machines did not run.
From a Gurgaon Workers Solidarity Centre report:
On the NH-8 stretch from Gurgaon to Manesar, the largest concentration of two-wheeler production in the world, the workers of Bajaj Motors are on a sit-down protest at the factory gate since the morning of 24th February. On Monday 24th Feb when A-shift workers came to work, they found a list of suspension orders against 15 workers, while others were asked to sign a humiliating ‘Good Conduct Bond’ to go inside. On Sunday, in preparation, 150-200 DT (Diploma Trainee or another name for contract) workers had been called by the company on overtime, and were being forced to work in conditions of near-bondage, abused and even threatened to be physically assaulted, and arrangements made with a tent on the rooftop so they could stay overnight within the factory premises itself. On the morning of Tuesday 25th February, one worker from among the DT workers inside, fractured his leg while attempting to jump from over the wall of the factory premises running away from this forced labour. Production is practically at a halt with less than 10% taking place by the 150-odd workers as all the other around 1500 workers have been on a sit-down protest at the gate ever since. Workers here send parts for 15,000 bikes everyday, producing 22 engine parts like shafts and planks to Hero Motorcorp (Gurgaon, Haridwar, Dharuhera), Suzuki Motorcycles, Mahindra two-wheelers, New Holland Tractors, and so on. During the struggle at present, workers seek to turn this production chain into a chain of resistance appealing to the workers in 3 other Bajaj Motors plants (of its 11 total plants) in nearby Manesar, Binola and Bawal to come in support of a larger struggle. The plant in Gurgaon has around 1500 workers of which 283 are permanent with wages around Rs.10-12000 while the rest are contract workers of various categories who are given the Haryana minimum wage for unskilled workers of Rs.5342. Whereas the work required is of a highly skilled nature, the bulk of the work is foisted on contract workers whose skewed ratio compared to permanent workers is even admitted by the management. The contract workers also find themselves terminated from their jobs after every 6-7 months; there’s another category of around 300 contract workers called DT (diploma trainee) who are never made permanent, working for 1-2 years.
These eight workers’ reports from different companies have been published and circulated in the local area in early 2013: Orient Fan, Agro Engineering, Globe Capacitor, Ratna Offset, Harsoria Healthcare, Dhiman Engineering, Bright Brothers, Delhi Metro.
Orient Fan Worker
(Plot 11, Sector 6, Faridabad)
In the CFL department there are 25 permanent workers and 400 workers hired through contractors on two 12-hour shifts. Overtime is paid at single rate. The workplace is hot. The glass arrives from Thailand. There are two assembly lines, the speed is high. On one line you would need 42 workers, but they run the line with 33 or 35 workers. Instead of the official capacity of 24,000 parts in a 12 hours shift, they produce 30,000. There is no time to sit down for tea, you have to drink standing up, while working. During the lunch break the lines keep on running, you have to take turns for eating. It is difficult to get drinking water. The engineer screams a lot, the supervisor grabs people and shakes them. The workers hired through contractors aren’t paid the annual bonus.
Agro Engineering Works Worker
(Plot 22, Sector 7, IMT Manesar – a second plant is situated in Faridabad)
Workers work from 8 am till 2 or 3 am. Sometimes workers sleep inside the factory. Overtime is paid single rate. The supervisors stand on our heads, they follow us to the toilets, they swear at us. On 11th of July one worker lost his hand in a power-press accident. The parts we produce go directly to Maruti Suzuki.
Globe Capacitor Worker
(30/8 Industrial Area, Faridabad)
Around 700 workers work on two 12-hour shifts in the three-floor factory. The shift times change weekly, we work 10 hours on Sunday. Overtime is paid single rate. The 250 permanent workers are paid 5,212 Rs to 6,800 Rs, they are paid the basic wage into their accounts and overtime is paid in cash, it does not appear in any records. The 450 casual workers and workers hired through contractors don’t get ESI or PF and are paid less than the minimum wage. For 30 working days they are paid 7,200 Rs. In April 2012 permanent and casual workers took collective steps and the company had to give concessions. In order to weaken the workers they started to hire workers through contractors. The status of the female workers has changed from casual to hired through contractor and their number has been reduced from 40 to around 20. The male casual workers have been kicked out under this or that pretext, their numbers came down from 250 to 300 to now around 50. The number of workers hired through contractors has increased from zero to 350. The company does not offer a single cup of tea during 12 hours shifts. There are only six toilets, two of them for women, and they are on the third floor. During day-shift workers have to queue up…
Ratna Offset Worker
The company runs factories in Okhla Phase 1, Plot C-99 and Plot C101, and 52 DDA Sheds and Phase 2, Plot F-29. In the printing press on C 101 around 50 workers work on two 12-hour shifts. When the shifts change at the weekends workers have to work from Saturday 9 pm till Sunday 5 pm. The helpers are paid 5,000 Rs, no ESI, no PF. Wages are always paid delayed. When wages were not paid on 18th of February five young workers said that we should stop working. Some older workers then said: We have wives and children, let’s work today and see what happens tomorrow – if they won’t pay, we all stop work. Wages were not paid on the 19th either. The night-shift workers then stopped work. When the day-shift also did not start work on the 20th, the manager fled at around 11 am. The night-shift continued the work stoppage. The son of the chairman/director arrived the next day and asked: why do you stop working. We said that the February wages had not been paid. He replied: you stop work over such a small issue? The workers answered that for them this is rather a big issue. The director’s son then threatened: Go, sit outside then, we will lock the factory. The workers all went outside and sat down together. After a short while the director said: Go and get your money then. Once workers received their payment work started again.
Harsoria Healthcare Worker
(110 Udyog Vihar, Phase IV, Gurgaon)
All casual workers have been dismissed and together with the 180 permanent workers – who are now termed ‘staff’ – there are 250 workers hired through 10 to 12 different contractors. Those workers who had their wages increased to 6,200 Rs in March were paid 5,700 Rs in May and 4,846 Rs in August. The July DA inflation compensation of 120 Rs was not paid. There are two twelve hour shifts, for overtime they pay 22 Rs an hour. When the production target was increased they stopped overtime. There is much higher work pressure. Workers injure their hands with needles or when working at machines. There is no first-aid stuff in the factory. Management swears at workers. Money for ESI and PF is cut from the wages, but workers don’t receive either. When you leave the job you don’t get your PF money and no money for the last six working days. Wages are delayed.
Dhiman Engineering Corporation Worker
(Plot 107, HSIDC, Sector 59, Faridabad)
The factory runs on two 12-hour shifts. The shift times change weekly, then workers have to work 24 hours from Sunday 8 pm till Monday 8 pm. During 12 or 24 hours shifts the company does not give even one cup of tea. If you want to get drinking water or go to the toilet, they also trouble you. The director swears a lot. We manufacture plastic parts for Eicher Tractors, Whirlpool, LG and BPL, using injection moulds. The company’s other factory is nearby in Sector 22 and the situation there is the same. Amongst the helpers the female workers are paid 3,800 to 4,000 Rs and the male workers 4,000 to 4,200 Rs, no ESI or PF. The operators are paid between 4,800 and 7,000 Rs. If you take two days off you are kicked out and the wages of the last 15 to 30 working days are not paid – they say: ‘do whatever you like, we won’t pay you’. I was sleeping after the night-shift on 28th of December 2012 when they informed me about an accident in which my wife’s sister was injured. I left immediately to go to Benares to see her in the hospital and informed the company by phone. My wife’s sister died, I returned after her death ceremonies on 15th of January. When I went to the company they told me to return the next day. The next day they told me that I would not get my job back and that I can collect my final pay on 25th of January. On the 25th of January the managers in the HR department only swore at me and said that they won’t pay, so I went to the room of the managing director. He said I would be paid on the 28th. When I heard nothing on the 28th, I called him at around 1:30 pm. He also swore at me and fearing being beaten up by company managers I filed a complaint at the local police station. The police said they would come on the 29th, but they didn’t. The HR people came a day later and said that I would be paid on the 31st. On 1st of February they said that they are busy…
Bright Brothers Worker
(Plot 16, Sector 24, Faridabad)
There are 60 to 70 permanent workers and 300 workers hired through three different contractors producing plastic parts for Whirlpool fridges (Whirlpool sold their plastic division to the Bright group in 2001 and since then uses them as a supplier). Around 200 workers work on two 12-hour shifts. Demanding higher wages the workers hired through contractors refused to enter the factory on 11th of October 2012 before the morning shift. Till 9 am no worker went inside. The company called a dozen goons, but they just stood around. With the promise to hike the pay the manager took the workers inside. Showing their revolvers six, seven goons walked around in the factory. By ten o’clock they had kicked a dozen workers out of the factory. For three days the goons stayed inside the factory, management said that they were policemen.
Delhi Metro Worker
Between Delhi-Gurgaon-NOIDA there are 149 stations. The contractor Ikkis employs 4,900 workers who work at these stations. The security guards are hired through G4 and Bedi and Bedi. They work continuously without a weekly day off. There are 3,200 cleaning workers. They are paid 5,000 Rs a month – the Delhi minimum wage for unskilled workers is 7,254 Rs. After a complaint nothing has been done about it, instead on 26th of November 2012 the Delhi government assistant labour commissioner ordered that the labour department officials should first undertake a one month inquiry.
January 17, 2014
GurgaonWorkersNews – Newsletter 61 – January 2014
Snapshots of the situation at Maruti Suzuki Manesar after the riot on 18th of July 2012 and further reports from the automobile front-line in India and beyond – For an organisational leap forward.
On 18th of July 2012, the struggle at Maruti Suzuki Manesar plant culminated in an attack by two, three thousand workers, both permanent and temporary, on the symbols of capital. Parts of the factory were burnt down, a hundred managers were hospitalised, one of them died. The representatives of capital and the political class were stunned by incomprehension: these workers had been given considerable concessions after the factory occupations in 2011, and to have a permanent job at Maruti Suzuki is or was considered a life-time achievement by most workers in the Delhi area and beyond.
Why then this rage?
We ask the same question, although from a perspective of appraisal and hope for widening unrest towards a social alternative. More than a year after the incident we are only able to give snapshots of the current situation at Maruti and in the wider sector. Rather than it being a mere documentation, we hope that it will become part of the debate for a collective organisational process. We therefore emphasise the importance of small steps, such as the international leaflet on the condition at the automobile supplier Sandhar and the international solidarity action for Alfa Laval workers in Pune, which you can find in this issue of GurgaonWorkersNews.
List of (Dis-)Content:
*** A balance-sheet of class struggle and class divisions in the global automobile industry: Translation of a recent article by collective ‘wildcat’ from Germany
We think that this article provides a good analysis of the global context within which we can locate the unrest in and around the Maruti Suzuki plant in Manesar, India
*** Automobile crisis in India: A short current overview on the crisis in India in general and at Maruti Suzuki plant and its suppliers in concrete terms
The management’s reaction to the workers’ attack in 2011 and 2012 take place against the background of a slump in the automobile market and the general deepening of the crisis in India.
*** Interpretation of a riot: Different perspectives on the 18th of July 2012
We briefly summarise the different political reactions in the aftermath of the riot and document a pamphlet on ‘workers’ violence’ by Mouvement Communiste, which relates to the events at Maruti Suzuki
*** Defensive attacks by state and management: Summary of developments inside and outside the Maruti Suzuki plant after 18th of July 2012
We document changes introduced in the workforce composition, wage differential and production output inside the plant. The strategical changes inside the plant were accompanied by policing measures of the state apparatus e.g. by taking 150 Maruti Suzuki as political prisoners. We have a critical look at how state repression channeled the Maruti workers’ movements after the 18th of July 2012.
*** Hidden impact of the Maruti Suzuki struggle
Two years later, workers at Napino Auto recall how the factory occupation and further struggle in their plant was influenced by the events at the nearby Maruti Suzuki plant. We encourage special attention towards this report because it demonstrates quite clearly the dynamic between workers’ self-activity and subsequent institutionalisation.
*** The impasses of trade union struggle: Recent local and regional examples from the automobile industry
Struggles continued after the 18th of July 2012. We visited workers in struggle at Munjal Kiriu in Manesar, Autofit automobile suppliers in Gurgaon, Hyundai workers in Chennai and Alfa Laval workers in Pune. We encourage a critical reflection of these experiences and the current limitations set by the trade union form.
*** Political conclusions: For an organisational leap forward
We try to raise some questions concerning the relation between ‘practical solidarity’ and ‘productive criticism’ of current struggles and the necessity for an international coordination of our efforts. One of such efforts are the regular meetings in Sewagram, India, which address comrades in the region.
*** Appendix I
Two leaflets; a) addressing workers who are either locked-out or in an ‘isolated strike’ and b) international leaflet from and for Sandhar Automotives Workers in English, Hindi, Tamil, Polish and Spanish
*** Appendix II
Automobile workers’ reports from Delhi area, published and circulated in Faridabad Majdoor Samachar in 2012/2013. The reports demonstrate the vast network of the supply-chain and its internal segmentation.
JCB, Escorts, Honda Motorcycles and Scooter, Honda Car (Factory construction worker), Maruti Suzuki (Factory construction worker), DS Buhin, Chassis Breaks International, Track Components, Satyam Auto, Amtek, Belsonica, G Tech, Auto Ignition, KR Rubberite, SW Bajaj Motors, AA Autotech, Super Auto, Vinas Corporation, Vinay Auto, Vimal Moulders, Clutch Auto, Kiran Udyog, Nita Krishna, SKH Metal, no-name workshop worker, Autodecker, Rico Auto, Satellite Forging, Super Auto, ASK Automotive
We think that this article provides a global context within which we can locate the unrest in and around the Maruti Suzuki plant in Manesar, India
(from: Wildcat no.95, Winter 2013/14 – http://www.wildcat-www.de)
Automobiles – Struggles and Class Divisions
In the last auto-article we expressed the vague hope that the defensive struggles in Western Europe and the US would come together with the offensive ones in the East (and South). Although actions and strikes in and around car and supplier factories have increased around the globe, they haven’t, up until now, converged. Struggles are happening against the background of a polarisation of car companies into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, as well as internal divisions within companies. Exceptions were strikes that emerged in the South African auto industry and at Dacia in Romania. Fiat workers in Serbia at a new factory in Kragujevac were also able to push through a considerable wage increase very soon after the plant became operational.
Winners and Losers
The crisis is splitting the workers into those that are fighting against the closure of their factories and those others that are being showered with money in the form of wage increases, company bonuses etc. (‘showered’ in relation to other workers) – while their work becomes ever more intensive. For example, Porsche in Germany shortened working hours by an hour per day whilst not cutting workers’ wages. The ‘winners’ stand in a relatively good position in contrast to the ‘losers’ (not only at Opel/General Motors but also at ‘Schlecker’ [drug store chain in Germany, which closed hundreds of branches] and so on) –but they also lose ground in relation to the bosses. The core workforce at VW in Germany get a one thousand euro premium even in the midst of the company’s violent cost-cutting programme. Work becomes extremely intensified, attacks on workers happen with increasing frequency – at BMW and Daimler, the ‘secure permanent workers’ are also being confronted with the fact that nothing now is ‘secure’ or ‘permanent’. 350,000 agency and contract workers work in the German car industry – half as many as those employed directly by the corporations.
Daimler Bremen (Germany)
In the meantime, the repeat strikes in Bremen show that the ‘permanents’ are also trying to fight against further outsourcing. Their wage increases and premiums depend on the low wages of those that work in sub-sub-sub supply chains – but what use is that if at some point there are no more ‘permanents’ left? The last action took place on the 1st of October 2013. When it became known that Daimler wanted to outsource production of the press and weld shop, 2,000 people stopped work for 2 hours. Shortly after came a short-lived blackmail attempt of the management, saying that parts of the new E-Klasse model shouldn’t stay in Bremen, although work had already begun on building the new production unit. These actions, in which a big part of the workforce took part, could only delay the outsourcing. The logistics in the press and weldshop unit is now run by a company called Rhemus under much worse working conditions. The employer wouldn’t let itself be deterred through symbolic actions and one or two hour strikes.
Divisions within the company
Meanwhile, a production system similar to those in H&M and Wal-Mart has been imposed in the auto and supplier factories, Behind the ‘big brands’, an innumerable number of workers in numerous subcontracters are linked together in a production and logistics supply chain. Most well known in Germany is BMW in Leipzig, where a third of the workforce are permanents, a third contract workers and the remaining third are agency workers who are employed by over 20 different subcontractors. Daimler also wants to further decrease the amount of parts produced directly in the assembly plant. New factories are already planned with this in mind, and ready to run in a way in which the largest possible number of workers in the plant are employed by separate companies. It’s more difficult to enforce these divisions in the old factories because there, the workers resist attacks on their existing ways of working. Therefore, the conditions there will never get worse for everyone at the same time, but rather only for a limited section of workers.
The strike at Maruti Suzuki in India two years ago was a milestone because it could overcome these divisions. Temporary and permanent workers occupied the factory twice for several days and could push through better conditions for everyone. After that, a wave of repression followed, but this short burst of workers power, once the divisions were dissolved, was important.
That this doesn’t happen easily and isn’t just a question of will or ‘consciousness’ was made clear in the year-long conflict around agency and contract work in South Korea. The latter has always been illegal in the country but persisted nevertheless at Hyundai. Even though workers there won a court case to get permanent contracts, Hyundai didn’t care and carried on with the contract system regardless. In 2010, temporary and contract workers occupied a whole unit in the factory in Ulsan for 25 days to demand their permanent contracts. The permanent workers didn’t get involved in this, which obviously marked a big split and the limits of the struggle. Ever since temporary work was legally limited to 2 years, Hyundai fires temporary workers shortly before the end of this time period. Unfortunately, the reaction to this is not always an offensive struggle but sometimes desperate acts like suicide or actions of a single worker e.g. to occupy a electricity pylon or cranes to create at least a ‘public awareness’ by demonstrating their willingness to put themselves on the line.
A further attempt took place on the 14th August 2013 at the same factory. Temporary workers gathered in front of the gates without the support of the union and demanded a wage increase because they were only getting 60 per cent of the wage of a permanent worker (approx. 1100 Euro). The KMWU (Korean Metal Workers Union) alleged that a media campaign about the permanent workers ‘aristocracy’ that “costs Hyundai more than in the USA” would have hindered a common struggle. Nevertheless, the same union a month later enforced a 5 per cent wage increase for the permanent workers, a one off payment 5 times higher than a month’s wages plus (!) a 9.2 million WON (around 6,500 Euro) productivity bonus. As if the media and ‘negative’ public perception would be the problem, not the division in the factory!
That leads us to the role of the unions, who are called in if the workers ‘feel’ too weak, mostly during the many struggles against the closures and worsening conditions we’ve seen in the last few years (e.g. Neupack, S.X). At Iveco in Weisweil iin Freiburg (Germany), the workers organised an effective gate blockade by phone-tree and stopped the removal of machines. But they left the negotiations to IG Metall (metal union). At the end of September, a year after the gate blockade, the lights went out and the factory closed. The same story at the headquarters of Renault Trucks in Brühl. At the beginning there were demonstrations that were reported on continuously by the local media, then negotiations with IGM, then a ‘sozialplan’ (sponsored training for dismissed workers, severance packages, redundancy payments etc.), and finally, closure in June.
The same situation is playing out on a larger scale and time-frame at the Ford plant in Genk (Belgium) and PSA in Aulnay (France) – with the difference being that parts of these workforces tried to bring other workers into their actions. On the 7th November 2012, about 250 union-organised Belgian Ford workers stood in front of the gates of the Ford plant in Cologne (Germany) and expressed their anger. It was reported widely in the media but the action didn’t bring them any closer to their German co-workers. The short wildcat strikes of a small number of workers at supplier factories had more substance, that could bring production to a standstill. Now the Ford workers get on average a144,000 Euro severance payment but the conditions for the workers at the suppliers have also essentially improved: they get the same amount of severance pay and despite the introduction of a new law that stipulates that workers can only apply for benefits when the severance payment is ‘exhausted’, they are able to claim unemployment benefit immediately.
The strike of initially 500 PSA workers in Aulnay. whose numbers went down to 200 workers (out of a total 2,500 in the plant), went on for five months and couldn’t kickstart a wider movement, despite a tour of strike activists and a large amount of workers, who likewise were about to lose their jobs. After that it was easy for PSA to freeze the wages in the remaining French plant for two years and to reduce overtime payments. In Aulnay most people now leave with up to a 100,000 Euro severance payment, some were transferred to other PSA factories in France. During the struggle, the striking workers were subjected to the usual threats, acts of repression and slander from the media. The fact that the workers didn’t act together but rather had already been divided at the outset of the struggle became the biggest problem. By ending the strike, they just about managed to evade the imminent defeat. New job guarantees, withdrawal of the criminal cases, pay covering the strike days, a 19,700 Euro ‘premium’ for every striking worker who left the job immediately, and severance pay taking into account the strike days when calculating the pension money – in the end that was as good as they could have got.
The disillusionment after such a struggle usually turns into an anger against the union; they’ve ‘betrayed’ us yet again because they obstructed so much. In this way, we overestimate their capabilities in two ways and thereby let ourselves be deceived. Firstly, the union can’t create a unity and secondly, if such a unity exists beforehand, they wouldn’t be able to destroy it. An example of this is the three week strike of workers at Daimler Trucks in Portland in the US in July 2013. The workforce is organised across four unions but despite the recommendations of two unions leading the negotiations (one mechanics and one paintshop workers union), who wanted to accept an offer by management, the workers of the two other unions (Teamsters and SEIU) also joined the strike action. Daimler got in strike breakers who weren’t able to manufacture a single LKW (truck). The offer was improved and the workers agreed to it.
Struggles in booming factories
A modern car factory is profitable if it is runs at about 80 per cent capacity and manufactures 150,000 units a year. The capacity and output of some factories are actually well above that and provide the basis for workers struggles, in which workers are able to enforce things.
Fiat Kragujevac in Serbia
…is an converted factory, which was opened in the middle of 2012. Comrades report that the plant is “a type of forbidden town, from which hardly any information can be leaked to the outside”. One worker earns 300-400 Euro net. That is lower than the Serbian average of about 400 Euro, a fifth of their colleagues in Italy and a third of their colleagues in Poland. Breaks are not long enough to even go to the toilet. But shortly after the opening, the workers threatened a strike and got 13 per cent more wages, an increase in their christmas money and a 320 Euro premium payment. In May, a sabotage action hit the headlines, where 31 finished cars were scratched with slogans against Fiat and for higher wages. At that point the workers became interesting for the radical left scene: anarcho-syndicalists organised protest demonstrations in front of the factory in Kragujevac in front of the Polish plant in Tychy.
Dacia in Romania
In March 2013, some of the workers went on strike for two days in Pitesi for a wage rise of around 500 RON (112 Euro), which is about 25 per cent of the wage of an assembly line worker, and against the work-step time of 40 seconds. Not only the management, but the union too called the strike illegal because under 20 per cent of the workforce would have taken part. After that, the negotiations went on for another four weeks, which ended in 220 RON more for workers, 110 for white-collar workers, plus a five per cent individual wage increase (six per cent for foremen). The yearly premium (‘Easter money’) was raised from 1023 to 1680 RON gross (376 Euro).
Since the big strike at Dacia in 2008, management threatens the workers with relocation to a new ‘state of the art’ factory in Morocco, which is now the biggest car factory in Africa. They say that the wage of one worker in Pitesi is double that of a worker in Tangier, who earns 320 Euro (Renault in Tangier pays 12-15 per cent above the legal minimum wage). State subsidies in Morocco are attractive and the machinery supposedly more energy-saving than in Pitesi. They emphasise the good location of Tangier with its little utilised major port, which is only 14 kms away from Spain. And the most important thing: most of the workers in the new factory are supposed to ‘work hard’ for their ‘first real job’. But up till now the First Time Correct (FTC) rate (for a flawless product that doesn’t require re-working, an important reference point for the capitalists) is rarely above 70 per cent, expensive repair work is a daily occurrence. A training centre is run by Renault and funded by the government, where half of the workers who are trained fail the exam. Before they are ‘allowed’ on the assembly line, they have to repeat their manual operation 6000 times! When they finally get through all of that and start work, a section of them soon afterwards get fed up; they just don’t come back after the Ramadan holiday.
Strikes in South Africa
The big exception in the past year was South Africa. After a massive struggle in winter in the mining and agricultural industries, a part of the car production process came to a standstill for weeks during the summer. It started as early as May with a two-day strike at the Mercedes factory in East London (in S. Africa) against the same plans as in Bremen (Germany): outsourcing of logistics work, against unpaid overtime, against one of the managers in the paintshop and for travel expenses. The work stoppage began with an extended lunch break and developed into a wildcat strike. The NUMSA union stepped straight into negotiations with the management, who had already obtained a legal notice against the strike. On the third day NUMSA was able to move the workers to resume work. At the time, the demand for a 20 per cent higher wage was already public knowledge. It was a small taste of things to come: a three-week strike in the car factories and another four at the supplier factories.
On the 8th August 2013, 2200 workers at the BMW factory in Rosslyn entered the strike. NUMSA supported the demand for a 50 per cent increase in the shift bonus. On the 19th August, 10,000 workers from all the other seven car manufacturing factories joined the strike. Membership of NUMSA (who had organised the strike) ranged from two-thirds (in VW) to 80 per cent (GM, Toyota) across all these factories. Workers demanded 14 per cent more wages and allowances for housing, medical care and commuting. A line worker earns 8,500 Rand (620 Euro), of which 20 per cent goes on travel costs.
At the end of August, BMW threatens a relocation of the factory and postpones planned investments, the newspapers complain about the insecure conditions for investors. The boss of NUMSA emphasises that the car companies are dependent on their South African factories because they’ll rarely find such low labour costs and receive such high state subsidies. After a three-week strike, there is a 11,5 per cent wage increase for 2013, 10 per cent for 2014 and again 10 per cent in 2015; a yearly travel voucher of 1200 Rand, 750 Rand housing allowance, and a 70 per cent company contribution for health insurance. An assembly line worker now earns 10,300 Rand (760 Euro) on average a year.
Production had scarcely started again when it had to stop again. As well as organising the petrol station workers, car sellers and so on, NUMSA organised a strike of the auto-supplier workers, which lasted a month. The result: an immediate ten per cent wage increase, an 8 per cent rise in each of the following two years. These results are due to the continuous struggles. in which NUMSA also has to achieve an increase in real wages, they don’t want to suffer the fate of NUM in the mining sector. From capital’s perspective, the long-running wage agreements have at least re-established a relative stability for future planning.
The attack on one prepares the attack on the next
The polarisation in the crisis into winners and losers leads to big differences in conditions for struggles. Accordingly, the struggles develop in different ways. The factory closures in Western Europe and the attack on the ‘permanents’ shows that everyone is affected at some point. In the old factories in Germany that’s no longer just the logistics companies but also ‘core competence’ manufacturing departments like pressshop and weldshop and engine production. Nobody is safe anymore. The feeling of no longer being untouchable has spread to the auto industry. Therefore struggles are important in which workers manage to overcome the divisions into permanent workers, agency workers and contract workers. Trade union attempts to overcome these problems by ‘applying the law’ (legalistic struggles, ‘legal case struggles’) have ended in defeats; the divisions between workers have further deepened due to separating walls, company rules which prohibit them from speaking to each other and through dismissals. In contrast to this, there are encouraging first steps being undertaken in Bremen e.g. by not obeying the company rule of not speaking to the contract workers, or the factory-wide assemblies of Daimler workers concerning contract work.
Opel Bochum is the first automobile factory in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, which will be closed without offering workers alternative employment – and without there being new sectors that would be able to suck in workers on a similar mass-scale into a productive cycle. In Germany as well, workers are in search for new answers – and this is where we can get involved: in front of the gates or in conversations. Or why not getting a job in one of the plants ourselves, as contract or temporary workers? Opel in Bochum is constantly looking for new people, because the sickness rate of the permanents has increased rapidly.
Between 2005-06 and 2010-11, passenger car sales in India grew at 15.2 per cent per annum. That fell to 4.7 per cent in 2011-12 and decreased further in the financial year 2013. Maruti Suzuki’s local car sales decreased by 11 per cent in 2013, compared to the previous year. At the same time, the growing trade deficit forced the state to hike petrol and gas prices, which in turn will put additional pressure on car sales. Up to now, the decline in real wages had been buffered by relatively cheap consumer credit. Between 2003 and 2010, the ratio of credit advanced by commercial banks to GDP rose from around 25 per cent to above 50 per cent. The two sectors that benefited most from such lending were housing and automobiles. Recent interest rate hikes by the Reserve Bank of India to cool down inflationary over-heating resulted in the decline of the growth rate of passenger car sales. This may just be the first casualty. The next could be the real estate market, where there are signs of rising defaults. One splendid local example of default is the Delhi-Gurgaon stretch of the National Highway NH8. In late 2013 it became clear that after the default of the private developer, banks which issued 1,800 crore Rs loans for the construction of the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway will possibly lose 80 per cent of their money.
Wages and divisions
The wage development in the local automobile industry is seen as a bench-mark by workers in the area. While Hero and Honda increased permanent workers wages by 17,000 Rs over a three years period in 2012, partly as a reaction to the trouble at Maruti Suzuki, most wage negotiations at bigger automobile suppliers in 2013 crashed into a wall at 10,000 Rs over three years for permanent workers. The minimum wage, which is the reference-point for most temporary workers in the sector, was announced to be increased from around 5,500 Rs per month to 8,500 Rs in January 2014.
The inflationary pressure on workers’ wages is enormous. But in the given economic scenario (credit crunch, general decline of export markets etc.), state and capital have to make sure that wage levels remain as low as they are, which is expressed in the following quote from an article debating the possible minimum wage increase in Haryana in January 2014:
“More than pressuring corporate profits, these rapid blue-collar wage increases threaten efforts to quell inflation by India’s new central bank chief, Raghuram Rajan, the former International Monetary Fund economist who took over as governor at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in September. Rajan has made price stability a policy priority, calling it a prerequisite for reviving economic growth that has slipped to 5 percent a year, the lowest in a decade.”
The slow down in growth requires ‘adjustments’. ‘We already have over a month’s inventory with us and want to adjust our stocks according to demand in the market,’ a senior Maruti Suzuki executive said in summer 2013. The decline in sales will force the companies to re-adjust production in a way that, as far as possible, maintains stable relations with the core workforce. So far the main dam to curb wage pressure from below was the division between the core workforce and the majority of the low-paid temporary workers.
The current re-adjustments in production, might shake-up the material basis of this division. For example, in the past the company have been able to enforce big pay differentials in order to keep the higher paid permanents ‘sweet’ and keep workers’ organisation divided and contained. As financial pressures grow, they will be increasingly unable to keep enough numbers of permanents at these wages and conditions. So either discontent will grow amongst this more ‘privileged’ set of workers, who will increasingly need the contract workers to support them, and/or the numbers of contract workers are such that paying off the permanents will make less difference to the eruption of struggles.
Local impressions of the slump
During the distribution of the Faridabad Majdoor Samachar newspaper, we tried to verify to what extent the ‘slump in sales’ actually impacts at the shop-floor level. We can say that production is running fairly full-steam at Hero Motorcycles and Honda Motorcycles. Production at Maruti Suzuki Manesar plant has increased in total since the opening of the C-plant in July 2013, although the production output of the A- and B-plant has declined slightly. Only at Maruti Suzuki Gurgaon plant is production significantly reduced, which translates into production cuts also at its supplier plants.
At the petrol car lines, production has come down by 60 per cent in 2012/13 in the Gurgaon plant. Permanent workers are sent on extra holiday, while 600 temporary workers have recently been kicked out. Permanent workers are sent from the Gurgaon plant to the Manesar plant and this is where ‘economic reasons’ (less output in Gurgaon plant) and ‘political reasons’ (undermining of workers collectivity in Manesar) are combined – old loyal workers are brought together with inexperienced ‘freshers’ from the technical colleges. Management at Premium Moulding, a supplier for the Gurgaon Maruti plant, has reduced working-times from three 8-hour shifts per day to two shifts in August 2013. At Arjan Auto, a break pad manufacturer, there is only one 12-hour shift instead of previously two. The same at JBM in Gurgaon. In this sense then, the following report is not just an individual example, but to a certain extent describes the general current condition. For example Hyundai workers in Chennai told us in December 2013, that during recent months the output of the factory has come down. It used to be an output of 56 cars per hour, now it is 53 cars. This has meant that the workforce has been reduced e.g. in the paint-shop 15 out of 150 workers per shift had to go, all of them temporary workers.
(Plot 46, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
There are 38 moulding machines in the factory, used for manufacturing of seats for Honda two-wheelers, mud-guards of Maruti Suzuki cars and petrol tanks and air filters for for General Motors, Mahindra and Eicher tractors. In 2008 the production volume was 4 crore Rs per month, in 2009 8 crore Rs and between 2010 and 2012 it was 11 to 12 crore Rs. The factory runs on two 12 hours shifts, workers also work on Sundays. Because orders came down in December 2012 the company kicked out 150 temporary workers. The production output came down to 7 to 8 crore Rs. The 56 permanent workers work on three 8 hours shifts, the remaining 225 temporary workers still on two 12 hours. Now Sundays are off. There is a trade union for the 56 permanents, but the temporary workers have nothing to do with it. When the 150 temporary workers were kicked out after two years of employment they did not get their PF money, which was deducted from their wages.
We wrote a short comment on the riot shortly after the incident in summer 2012, published in GurgaonWorkersNews no.51. One and a half years later, we see that the reactions to the workers’ unrest depends very much on the relation and interest of the various political agents towards the workers.
a) Maruti Suzuki management clearly defined the incident as an act of ‘class war’ and called it as such in media interviews. The immediate reaction was the dismissal of over 500 permanent and around 2,500 temporary workers. In the speaking order of August 2012, which was sent in two letters to all of the dismissed workers, management cited ‘instigation and participation’ in the riot as a reason for dismissal. Management of other major companies in the area reacted by increasing permanent workers wages substantially (e.g. Honda HMSI increased wages by 17,000 Rs over three years) and in some cases, such as at Napino Auto, by taking back previously suspended workers and making some of the temporary workers permanent.
b) The state reacted in immediate support of Maruti Suzuki management, but beyond that in the interest of general industrial peace, being aware of the ripple-effects and wider social tensions. The riots during the general strike in early 2013 – see GurgaonWorkersNews no.57 – confirmed that Maruti Suzuki was not an insular case. The police was armed with a company list of active workers, those that had formally been part of the independent union that had been set up the previous year. The cops followed workers to their villages beyond state boundaries and arrested around 150 of them. They have been imprisoned since then without chance of bail and kept de facto as political prisoners. The state knows that these workers will likely act as ‘subversive elements’, whether they get new jobs in the industrial area, which is unlikely, or remain ‘unemployed activists’ as part of the campaign for re-instatement.
c) The dismissed permanent workers focus their campaign in support of the imprisoned workmates and for re-instatement. Their activities are largely symbolic e.g. one day hunger strikes, or remain in the Haryana hinterland, partly because official demonstrations in the industrial areas have been banned by the state. Under the pressure of the legal system and pending court decisions, they publicly call the incident ‘a management conspiracy to break the efforts of the trade union’, while privately confirming that it was a violent act of a sizeable section of the workers. We also have to state that the big mass of temporary workers, who were active during the struggle 2011 to 2012 are not taking part in the current campaigns for prison release and re-instatement. For permanent workers it is difficult to find another permanent job of comparable status, they therefore focus on the demand of re-instatement, despite the knowledge of it being more than unlikely. Temporary workers have less resources and are also less attached to their ‘previous job’, so they looked out for new employment more quickly.
d) The official mainstream left and trade union burocracy stick to the conspiracy version. Their perspective on and interest in the struggle since 2011 was that of a struggle for ‘constitutional rights’, meaning the right to form a trade union. The fact that the struggle went beyond this legal framework posed a problem for most of them in the sense that they were not able to turn workers’ activities into a ‘formal and civil’ settlement. Only this would have both guaranteed a strengthening of their trade union structure and, more importantly, acceptance by management as negotiation partners. During the struggle Maruti Suzuki workers operated according to the principle: ‘we listen to everyone, meaning to all central trade unions and political groupings, but we do our own thing’. Having offered no practical support during the actual struggle, various trade union leaders, amongst others the leader of the MUKU union at Maruti Gurgaon plant, now use the stage of ‘support for the victims’ for their own agenda.
e) The ML-left displays the usual tactics. Given the fact that their influence in the struggle was based largely on the relationships with the 150 ‘trade union body members’, and the fact that close friendships developed over the course, their first act was to denounce the incident as a management conspiracy, while talking differently about it in less public circumstances. Since then one or two articles have appeared in their publications, which describe the riot as an expression of workers’ mass anger, while at the same time the ‘conspiracy’ position is upheld in their other publications. Furthermore, the event is described as ‘spontaneous’, and consequently as an act of immature organisational consciousness. We can see this as a voluntaristic position, which does not start from what happened and asking why, but starting from how things should be. Since July 2012 one part of the ML left has turned their back on workers in the bigger industry, describing them as ‘aristocratic’ and focussing instead on ‘super-exploited’ workers in the ‘unorganised sector’. The remaining ML-factions engage in a more substantial review of previous positions internally, e.g. questioning the old Leninist conviction that trade unions are the ‘primary workers’ organisations’, while at the same time they continue focussing their activities on the ‘struggle for independent trade unions’.
f) Comrades from Faridabad Majdoor Samachar see widespread attempts to display workers as pure victims of management and state. Against this they feel the need to maintain that it was workers mass activity that attacked the symbols of capital on the 18th of July. The riot is described as a more general expression of the fragility of the system: despite concessions given by management previous to the riot and despite the seemingly ‘privileged’ status of being a permanent worker at Maruti Suzuki, the general discontent bursts out into the open. The workers directly involved might get victimised, but the wider atmosphere changes and leaves state and representatives of capital in a condition of ‘non-understanding’. The ‘repression’, e.g. the permanent presence of police on Maruti factory ground, the continuing incarceration of workers, is mainly an expression that the system is not able anymore to integrate workers by material promises.
We agree with comrades of Faridabad Majdoor Samachar that we have to see the July riot as a sign of the times, meaning, the increasing incapability of the system to appease workers’ discontent. Nevertheless we think that although the result of the riot has to be seen in a larger context, we cannot ignore the fact that the immediate collectivity which developed during 2011 to 2012 has been ‘dissolved’ as a consequence of the riot. It is true that workers rioted because after more than a year of collective struggle, the thought of bowing to management’s authority in particular and the authority of the Maruti factory regime in general was felt as untenable. But it is also true that the riot was an expression of a certain impasse of workers collectivity, which over the 2011 to 2012 period remained largely confined to the Maruti Suzuki company, apart from individual incidents of direct workers solidarity and the joint factory occupations in October 2011. The fact that no larger independent workers’ organisational structure emerged in 2011 contributed to the dynamic of mass violence in July 2012: we don’t bow down in front of management, despite all of the concessions, but we also know that our factory based collectivity has come to a dead-end.
We agree with Faridabad Majdoor Samachar that there is a wider significance of the riot, but presently we have to see that workers in the area also perceive the more individual result of the aftermath: workers who have attacked the company are now dispersed and to a smaller or larger degree been ‘victimised’. We have met ex-Maruti workers in various situations. Some have returned to their villages, after having been black-listed. Permanent workers won’t find another permanent job in bigger companies if they mention that they had been employed at Maruti Suzuki during the respective period. A handful of permanent workers have become ‘professional activists’, who have gone through a phase of ‘politicisation’, with all the flip-sides: dependency on the party organisation and a certain detachment from the ‘unconscious’ rest of the workers. We met a worker who invested 20,000 Rs in order to open a road-side shop next to the NH8 highway. He has still outstanding bonus payments, but many of his former Maruti colleagues are not reachable by phone anymore. Another Maruti worker is now employed as a temporary worker in a cement machinery manufacturer. His personal account of the incident amongst a group of new workmates is largely negative: the riot marked an end, which would not have been necessary. We are sure that he will also have other, more positive experiences of the 2011 to 2012 struggle to share and thereby add to the collective wealth of workers’ experiences, nevertheless, the individual balance-sheet of a defeat is not completely detached from the atmosphere in the wider working class.
It is true, as FMS comrades put it by drawing a parallel, that the Paris Commune became an experience of historical importance for struggles beyond its limited temporary and spacial existence, despite the fact that it was bloodily defeated. It might also be true that the Paris Commune might never have emerged in the first place if workers had first sat down and rationally analysed the prospect of their uprising. Nevertheless we feel the need to support exactly this ‘collective analysis’ within ongoing struggles which broadens the scope of ‘strategical steps’ as far as possible. For an analysis of the relation between ‘workers’ autonomy’ and workers’ acts of violence please read the current pamphlet of Mouvement Communiste. Click heregwn61_mc1
In the following part we give a short summary about the contradictory ways in which Maruti management and the state tries to prevent a re-emergence of workers’ collectivity.
After a prolonged period of struggle from June 2011 to July 2012, culminating in a mass attack on the factory and company representatives, it was clear that management would try to go to the root of workers’ collectivity and try to change the composition of the workforce substantially.
Work-force composition: wage divisions and generational hierarchies
After 18th of July around 550 out of 1,000 permanent workers were dismissed. To replace some of the 550 sacked permanent workers around 150 workers from Gurgaon plant were shifted to Manesar, mainly to the C-plant, which became operational in July 2013 – not without short strikes of the construction workers, as you can see in the reports in the appendix! Apart from the 550 permanents also around 2,200 out of around 2,500 temporary workers were kicked out. They were replaced by workers hired as ‘company casuals’.
The first announcement after the riot on 18th of July was that Maruti Suzuki will from now on abstain from using ‘contract workers’ (temporary workers) in the production department. First of all this was a kind of political signal: we see the fragility of this system and we try to do something about it. Instead of using contractors they introduced a new category (Company Casuals). Workers hired in this position are directly hired through the company, which does not give them higher wages or more rights, but Maruti Suzuki now has more direct control over the hiring process. “We have done away with the recruitment companies and the contractor. We have gone back to the system we had in Gurgaon. We do a complete background check – we look at where the candidate comes from, how is his family. Candidates are first taken as apprentices and watched for a whole year. The apprentice then takes an examination and is selected as trainee for two years. The most important thing is the attitude,” announced Chairman Bhargava in a recent interview. The company casuals are only employed for six to seven months and then kicked out again. Some of them are re-hired after two, three months. In this way Maruti Suzuki tries to prevent a more ‘permanent workforce’.
Previously the temporary workers’ actually worked at Maruti for a longer period of time compared to the company casuals now, they often stayed for several years. The change to short-term casual work is a political decision by the management, which impacts on production. If most of the production workers are replaced after six months, loss of experience and necessity for training new people hampers productivity. In general, production levels have come down since the first factory occupation in June 2011, from 45 seconds a car per line to 1 minute a car, which is 960 cars on two shifts. In November 2013 the output-levels came down to 795 cars, but were supposed to go back up to 900 by January 2014. After the initial slow-down of the assembly line after June 2011 the line speed has not been reduced further, even though due to the current slump, production demand and output levels are less. Management rather stops the line and sends workers to sweep and clean for an hour per shift than further slowing down the line – knowing about the potential discontent as a response to any speed-up.
All in all we can say that the numbers of permanent workers has actually come down since July 2012 in relation to the company casuals (or previous temporary workers) and trainees. Although management said that they won’t use ‘contract workers’ in production departments anymore, there are still around 150 workers hired through contractors doing material handling and transport. This leaves us with following composition in wage terms. We can clearly see that since the wage settlement post-July 2012 the wage gap between permanents and other categories has increased considerably.
Permanents: 13,000 to 17,000 Rs
Trainees: 8,000 Rs to 10,000 Rs
Temporary: 6,500 Rs
Permanents: 32,000 to 36,000 Rs
Trainees: 16,000 to 18,000 Rs
Company Casuals: 13,800 Rs (11,000 after deduction of ESI and PF)
Temporary: 5,500 to 6,000 Rs
In addition the annual ‘profit-share’ bonus for permanent workers, which is around one monthly wage extra, has been granted again in 2013, after it had been suspended in 2012. In the Gurgaon plant, Maruti Suzuki expanded the so-called ‘company loan scheme’, which gives permanent workers the ‘opportunity’ to get a lower interest rate loan of between 100,000 and 300,000 from the company, if they find two Maruti employees as guarantors. This further ties the permanents to the company.
After 18th of July, older workers from Gurgaon plant shifted to Manesar, many of them waiting for retirement with a comfortable monthly wage of 40,000 to 50,000 Rs plus. They were combined with newly hired company casuals and trainees who are fresh from the ITI training institutes. The workers we spoke to knew only little more about the 2011 – 2012 struggle than that ‘a manager was killed’. This generational divison between loyal old workers and unexperienced new workers is supposed to avoid the explosive mixture of ‘angry 25 year olds’, the generation which pushed forward during the Maruti struggle of 2011.
More transferrals take place between Maruti Suzuki Manesar and Suzuki Powertrain, also in Manesar. The two companies merged in 2012, but Powertrain workers have retained a separate union (HMS). This union now opposes the transferrals, fearing that shifting of workers between Gurgaon plant, Manesar plant and Powertrain is meant to undermine their union position. Last, but not least there are the directly political transferrals of ‘active workers’, e.g. the company transferred the thirteen union body members who were elected after 18th of July 2012 from the Manesar plant to remote Maruti show-rooms. This was done with considerable pressure and collusion of the police, e.g. the family member of one of these workers was summoned to the police station and told that if the worker didn’t accept the transferral he’d be locked up like the other 150 ex-union body members.
Outside the factory: political prisoners and industrial appeasement
Outside of the plant, the main visible pressure remains on the 150 ‘political prisoners’ in Bhondsi jail near Gurgaon. The number of workers and families involved in solidarity campaigns such as hunger-strikes or bike-tours throughout Haryana has come down since end of 2012. Attempts to have official demonstrations in the industrial areas like Manesar are prohibited by the police, e.g. the planned memorial day protest on 18th of July 2013 was met with a deployment of 10,000 police. At a different occasion, when the ‘workers bicycle’ tour from Haryana came too close to Manesar, workers were arrested and put out on the road towards Rohtak, a place with less ‘contagious potentials’ than the industrial centres. Workers and activists largely stick to these types of symbolic activities, which might be necessary, but not sufficient. One of the main objectives of repression is to channel struggles into the narrow lane of anti-repression, which usually does not expand and hit state and capital at the level of profit production. It is true, the collusion between state and local industry is revealing, whoever has any illusions in democratic freedom can learn a good lesson.
While the play of the police, the court, the labour department and management is more easy to disentangle, it is more difficult to understand the dynamic between capital and state’s attempt to establish industrial peace and the strategies and limitations of trade unions in the area. As you can read after the example of the struggle at Nappino Auto, the attempts within the automobile and wider industry to establish ‘company-based trade unions’ continued after the 18th of July 2012 and we have to analyse to what extent the trade unions are – willingly or not – part of the state and management’s appeasement or at least containment strategy.
Two years later, workers at Napino Auto recall how the factory occupation and further struggle in their plant was influenced by the events at the nearby Maruti Suzuki plant.
(translated from: FMS 303 – September 2013)
Napino Auto and Electronics Worker
(Plot 7, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
There are 800 workers employed working on three shifts, producing main wire harnesses for Hero motorcycles and Maruti Suzuki cars and electronic parts for Hero and electronic parts for export.
Factory Occupation, 2010
In May – June 2010 during the A-shift, after having made a small mistake, a worker was forced to stand for a long time in the heat and a manager pulled his ear to make him squat. In response the workers in the main harness department on the ground-floor stopped work and went upstairs to the electronics department, where workers also laid down tools. All workers stopped work and sat down. They refused to eat lunch and to drink the offered tea. The company closed the canteen. At 2:30 pm, the A-shift workers refused to leave the factory at the usual end of working-time. After half of the B-shift workers had arrived management stopped the other workers from entering. The workers remained inside the factory for four days. Around 100 female workers of the A-shift stayed together with their male co-workers. The female workers did not stay over night, they brought in food in the mornings, which had been cooked by people outside. The workers shared it amongst themselves and ate together. After four days people of the labour department arrived and asked the workers to sent five representatives. The company chairman promised that in future such misbehaviour won’t take place. When workers said that the wage is too low and that the company should increase it the chairman said that he’d rather close the factory, but that he won’t give a paisa more. Workers insisted, so an agreement was made that the wage will be raised by 3,500 Rs over three years, but at the same time the production target was also increased a lot. Actually, up to today the production target fixed in the agreement has not been met.
The company prepared itself for a counter-step. Management gave a 500 Rs wage increase to some individual workers. Some workers were promised to be made permanent. Management prepared to hire 400 new workers from outside. The police settled down near the premises. After a minor issue was blown up 100 workers agitated to take a step, so in May 2011 workers of the A-shift went on strike (or were agitated to go on strike). The police arrived and used force to kick workers out of the factory. Management stopped the B-shift from entering the plant. The 400 workers were brought in and hired on the spot. Workers continued the strike for eight, nine days from the outside. Around 150 permanent and temporary workers who had been most outspoken were sacked. Most of the permanent workers took 20 to 25,000 Rs final dues and also left the job. Most of the 400 newly hired workers were also sacked again.
During the 13 days factory occupation of the Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers in June 2011 Napino Auto closed its plant. Twelve Napino Auto permanent workers who had not taken their final dues went to the labour department to object the dismissal. There they met a union leader who told them to register a union at Napino Auto. Secret meetings started with workers who were still employed inside. When 90 per cent of these workers agreed to the registration plan the twelve workers filed an application in Chandigarh. Management said that these twelve workers had been terminated and had the registration file closed.
When the Maruti Suzuki struggle intensified in September and October 2011, around 400 female and male Napino Auto workers went three, four times to meet the Maruti workers at their factory gate. In March 2012 the twelve workers again opened a new union registration file. In May 2011 90 per cent of the workers started to wear black arm-bands in order to demand the re-hiring of the twelve workers. They refused working over-time – they used to work 150 hours over-time per month, paid single instead of statutory double rate.
Impact of the 18th of July 2012
Again, on 18th of July 2012 the situation at Maruti culminated, 100 managers were admitted to hospital and the factory was closed. The Napino Auto management was very afraid, negotiations re-started. In August 2012 all twelve workers who had been sacked in May 2011 were taken back on in the factory. In addition, Napino Auto management called 50 to 60 temporary workers, who had been working in various production positions and who had been kicked out, and re-hired them for one year as trainees. Fifteen of the workers hired through contractors working at Napino at the time were hired as trainees for three years.
Trade union registration and wage dispute, 2013
In October 2012 the union was registered. The union gave a demand notice to the company. For two, three months management did not reply. In November 2012 the company made 51 workers hired through contractor permanent. After July 2012 management stopped threatening workers in the plant. In preparation for the India-wide general strike, 500 Napino Auto workers took part in a trade union event in Faridabad on 6th of February 2013, handing over a memorandum to the labour minister. But on 20th of February 2013 production kept running in the factory. When workers’ riots kicked off in NOIDA the company sent workers on holiday on 21st of February 2013 and told them to work on Sunday instead. The workers refused. The union said that union and company are in a formal dispute and that therefore workers should come to work on a Sunday, making up for the 21st of February. Negotiations started between union and management at the labour department. After eight to ten days the issue was not settled. The union asked workers to wear black arm-bands from 26th of August 2013 onwards. This did not have any impact. The appointment at the labour department on 29th of August also remained without result. On 30th of August the union gave the company 5 days ultimatum.
Since March 2012 out of 800 workers 631 workers paid 100 Rs monthly to the union. The 325 workers hired through contractors had also paid 100 Rs per month to the union, but they were not given membership. Only 306 workers are members of the union, amongst them the union leadership. The union leader said that everyone will get the same wage increase and that everyone will be made permanent, that the negotiations were positive. But the actual leadership regarding negotiations at Napino is with a Honda union leader and everyone knows about the relation between permanenet workers and workers hired through contractor at Honda. We know what the Honda union does in the factory. At Napino the management fears some of the permanents, but the workers hired through contractor specifically. The demand notice states 25,000 Rs wage increase over three years, but we have heard that the management so far agrees only to 8,200 Rs. The workers hired through contractors know that their increase will be less, so they told the union leaders that if it will be much less, if it will be less than 7,000 Rs, then they can get lost with their union and the company will have to pay in this way or the other.
* Analysis of local examples of recent struggles: Autofit, Munjal Kiriu, Nerolack, Daikin
* Conversation with Hyundai workers in Chennai, November 2013
* Struggle of Alfa Laval Workers in Pune
We highlighted the report of Nappino Auto workers for two reasons:
a) because it demonstrates the impact of the Maruti Suzuki struggle on the wider class territory, an impact which does not show up in any ‘formal’ organisational way and remains therefore largely unnoticed;
b) because it shows the prelude to the official (trade union) conflict, the conflict which becomes visible to the wider left (and often to other workers, too), and is therefore seen as the ‘origin’ of struggle. This leads to misconceptions with quite significant political consequences, as we will point out in the last part of this newsletter in our critical reference to the ‘Gurgaon Workers’ Solidarity Centre’.
* Analysis of local examples of recent struggles: Autofit, Munjal Kiriu, Nerolack, Daikin
In the following, we look at struggles which took place in the local, mainly automobile industry in late 2013. We got to know about these conflicts only at the point when workers were kicked out or decided to ‘go on strike’ after the suspension or dismissals of some of their work-mates – mainly those representing the trade union. The prelude is missing. We therefore remain slightly puzzled:
Why would, in the same week, two managements of two independent suppliers of the two most significant automobile companies in India take a step which very likely will impact on production at a time when the demand at Maruti Suzuki Manesar and Hero Dharuhera is still very high? The following will be an approximation towards an answer. We visited workers at Munjal Kiriu and Autofit, for Daikin and Nerolack we depend on information by comrades of the ML-movement.
* Autofit, Dharuhera
The company is a supplier for Hero motorcycles, which is located next to the plant. Autofit assembles 14,000 motorbike wheels and 7,000 seats per day. Around 95 workers are permanent, 20 technician trainee, 298 casual (who’ve been working for 12-18 years without permanency) and 150 workers hired through contractor. Wages of permanent workers were 6,000 to 7,000 Rs, only slightly higher than the wages of the other categories. In June 2013 workers filed for registration of a trade union and got their registration on 15 October 2013 (HMS). In the a wage settlement, while the workers demanded Rs.10000 increment in a period of three years, the company agreed to less than half the demand and this too in CTC (gross Rs.2346). The demand for workers hired through contractor was 3,500 Rs from trade union side, which was ignored. Since 7th December 2013, 17 workers which includes the entire Union body members were suspended, and Good Conduct bond issued for all workers. Workers stay outside in 100 metre distance, management has hired new people, production at Hero is affected (down by 30 per cent, according to Hero workers), but running. During our visit there were 100 workers present at the protest.
We asked whether the workers’ representatives have addressed the 7,000 Hero workers, who work 200 metres away, but they said that they had just spoken to the permanent workers trade union leader and that it is their task to talk to ‘their workers’. They said that trade union leaders at nearby Rico and Omax have shown support, but in no practical terms. We asked them whether they have addressed the Autofit workers in Gurgaon and Manesar, but they said that these workers have no trade union. “They know about the situation in Dharuhera, but they cannot do much about it”. There is another company which supplies Hero with seats, Minakshi in nearby Manesar. Autofit workers haven’t contacted these workers, who currently will probably work overtime. The trade union representatives guessed that due to missing wheels, production at Hero will be down to 30 per cent, but when we talked to a Hero worker he said that there is only ‘a slight lack of wheels’. Nevertheless there is a positive sign: around 30 of the newly hired ‘scabs’ have come out of the factory and joined the workers outside.
* Munjal Kiriu, Manesar
The company is a supplier of brake discs and crank shafts for Maruti Suzuki. Around 240 workers are permanent, 300 are temporary. There were conflicts around the question of termination of trainees after one year of training, about work-load increase. On 29 February 2013, workers filed for registration of a trade union. Management terminated the job of 5 out of 7 of the Union body members whose names appear in the file sent for Union registration. The workers however got their Union registered on 12 June 2013 (HMS). Most of the demands were disregarded during the settlement on 26 November 2013, which imposed a mere Rs. 4500 to 7200 wage increment in a period of 4 years. Discontent over sacking of further trainees led to a short wildcat strike in November 2013 and again, on 18th of December 2013, workers of all shifts sat down to demand re-instatement. The police arrived in bigger numbers (500 to 1,000) and expelled the workers from the factory. Since then workers sit in 100 metres distance from the factory, while the company has hired new workers. During our visit there were 100 workers present.
* Kansai Nerolack Paints, Baval
The company supplies 90 per cent of the paint for Maruti Suzuki cars and apart from that to Honda cars and 650 further smaller companies. There are 157 permanent and 200 to 250 temporary workers. In March 2011 an independent trade union (Kasai Nerolack Paints Workers Union) was established at the factory. On 29th of April 2013 the trade union gave a demand notice for a three years agreement to management. Up to now the wage of permanent workers is between 10,000 and 12,000 Rs. On 29th of September 2013 management refused entry to the workers hired through contractors and accused the permanent workers of slowing down production. When workers arrived on the 3rd of October they found the factory gates locked. A written notice accused workers of having spread inflammable liquid on the shop-floor on 1st of October during night-shift. No worker was allowed to enter and police vans arrived. On 3rd of October all workers sat down in front of the company gate in protest against these accusations. Management announced that they would only let workers back to work once the excessive demands were withdrawn. On 11th of October an agreement was forged by the factory trade union and management. The monthly wage of permanent workers will be increased by 11,600 over three years (9,100 Rs, 1,500 Rs, 1,000 Rs). No word about the temporary workers.
(translated from Sagharshrat Mehantkash, Nov. 2013)
* Daikin, Neemrana
The company is world’s biggest manufacturer of air-conditioning systems. The Neemrana plant is the sole production unit of Daikin in India. Permanent workers presently get Rs. 7200 in hand, whereas trainees get Rs. 4700. There are in total 850 workers employed. Workers took the signatures of 116 workers and applied for union registration on 6th of May 2013 (AITUC). The workers got the registration of the union on 31st of July 2013. At that very night 42 workers were terminated. On 2nd of August, workers submitted their demand notice demanding 75 per cent salary hike. The management responded by terminating more workers and in this process altogether 125 workers were terminated till 8th October. After 60 days of ‘strike’ outside the plant, management trade union and administration came to a settlement: 39 workers remain suspended, the others are taken back.
What can we generalise from these struggles?
* They form part of a larger development mainly in supplier companies of the automobile industry, where as a result of general discontent amongst the total work-force permanent workers try to form a trade union in the company. This happens largely in the new industrial areas south of Gurgaon, such as Manesar, Dharuhera, Baval. Other recent examples are Ghosi India, Minda, Baxter (five workers were terminated and 45 workers, who signed for filing a union registration, were all transferred to the companies’ Pune plant).
* A similarity of these companies and workforce composition is that
a) the companies are ‘booming’ (the ‘slump’ hasn’t impacted to significantly yet)
b) they are middle-sized with between 500 and 1,000 workers;
c) the ratio between permanents and other categories is around 1:3, meaning the permanents are still in a considerable minority;
d) the wages of the permanent workers is relatively low (7,000 to 12,000), meaning that the wage gap between permanent and temporary workers is not that big;
e) many temporary workers have been employed at the factory for a longer period of time, e.g. see the example of Autofit
f) because the new industrial areas are extended into the rural hinterland of Haryana, many of the permanent workers are ‘locals’, meaning they often live in their own house and have back up by some ‘local community’, which becomes important during times of (long drawn out) struggle, as e.g. in the case of Nerolack and Daikin
* There is a similar ‘unity’ at the beginning of the struggle. First of all, this is a new development, which we have witnessed only in the last two or three years: most struggles now start with permanent and temporary workers taking steps together. This has some material reasons:
a) the numbers of permanent workers has come down over the years, so they need to incorporate the temporary workers; their number is still high enough to be able to consider forming a trade union
b) wages and work-conditions are similar in the non-unionised plants, workers’ feeling of solidarity is therefore organically linked to day-to-day struggle on the shop-floor; permanent and temporary workers largely do the same jobs;
c) recent struggles of temporary workers have also set a certain ‘proletarian moral standard’, which upholds a ‘general workers’ unity’, which cannot be easily ignored or turned into empty slogans
* There is a similar dynamic, which leads to conflict. Grievances of workers are widespread. In most cases we can see a building-up of workers’ discontent and often some initial collective steps, e.g. at Munjal Kiriu over the sacking of 140 trainees or at Nappino Auto over mistreatment. Permanent workers in particular compare their wages to the permanent workers’ wages with an established trade union, which is often twice or three times as much. At the same time they promise to take the fate of temporary workers on board, once the union is established. They approach one of the trade unions, the company reacts by victimisation of the officials and thereby sets a focus for the future development of the struggle.
* There are similar limitations emerging during the course of the struggle. The decision to focus the struggle on the establishment of a trade union sets certain limits ‘by formal and legal nature’ of the trade union structure. That all of these limitations played themselves out in all the cases (from Autofit to Daikin) is not by chance:
a) the formal process of registration requires signatures and names of representatives, which makes it easier for the company to single out workers for victimisation;
b) both due to registration period, demand notice and strike notice the company is given time to prepare itself for trouble, e.g. prepare the hiring of new people; the company also knows how the established trade unions react to the usual rituals. e.g. to the suspension of workers or the ‘good conduct bonds’ and is thereby able to anticipate a course of struggle;
c) the formal and legal structure of the trade union limits the scope of activity of workers: it is not by chance that in all cases workers remained outside and fairly isolated in front of their factory, while production re-started inside; decisions were left to the trade union leaders, which resulted in limiting the activities to symbolic acts, such as sending petitions to the administration; both Autofit and Munjal workers we spoke to said that they limited themselves to addressing only the permanent workers union leaders to inform them about their strike; no effort was made to create direct links to (temporary) workers at nearby Hero or Maruti Suzuki, who depend on the Munjal and Autofit parts
d) although company trade union is affiliated to a larger trade union the conflict remains a ‘company issue’; there might be a symbolic show of solidarity of other unions, but also that is limited, e.g. in the case of Munjal Kiriu to a two-hour solidarity rally on a Saturday; instead of addressing workers in the vicinity about common issues (overtime, wages), the conflict becomes a conflict of ‘victimised company union officials’, which is less likely to attract the practical solidarity of other workers
e) the initial ‘unity’ of permanents and temporary workers is undermined by the trade union form; temporary workers cannot become members of the trade union, so they depend on the good-will of the permanents to incorporate their demands once the union is established; temporary workers have less interest in three-year agreements, given their temporary status and e.g. in the case of Autofit we can see that the trade union demand was 10,000 Rs wage increase for permanents and 3,500 Rs for temporary workers, which, despite all talk of unity, would have widened the gap considerably; in addition, long periods of lock-outs and ‘strikes’, such as at Daikin is prone to dwindle the numbers of temporary workers involved.
* There are similar results. To put it bluntly: all trade union struggles which we have witnessed recently, which stuck to representation and the legal framework ended either in defeat or in the deepening of divisions amongst workers, meaning, the permanent workers position improved, the wage gap widened and over the long-run the numbers of unionised permanent workers is likely to come down.
* How can we understand these struggles in the context of the ‘post-Maruti Suzuki struggle’ period?
a) we can assume that after 2011 and 2012 the state and management in the area know about the general discontent amongst workers and their collective abilities once they are in struggle together; they know that it cannot be wiped out by pure repression, and even substantial concessions seem to have lost some sheen
b) in the current crisis – see first part of this issue – the scope for concessions and ‘financing’ a major wage gap between workers has shrunk considerably;
c) in this situation where management cannot overcome the actual reasons for discontent, it is mainly about controlling and limiting the existing unrest; management obviously would like to avoid a trade union, which normally entails certain expenditures; only under situation of general unrest they want ‘the workers to obey the law’ (e.g. the strike law), while they themselves can allow themselves to break it; we can see the contradictory situations at Munjal and Autofit as an attempt by management to ‘keep control’ by confronting workers with (prepared) facts, e.g. suspensions, use of force; they know that production will be impacted on, but they will be able to pre-determine how much it will be and for how long it will last
d) in the current scenario a mere formal act is presented as a major achievement and aim of struggle itself: the registration of a trade union. A certain myth is created about the gains of having a trade union. HMS can collect 200,000 Rs for the registration process, which should be free of cost. In times of unrest, e.g. the large scale riots during the last general strike in early 2013, the focus on a formal and legal process gives some scope of ‘control’ for management, so do the three years wage agreements
e) but the ‘trade union form’ is not just imposed from above; workers would also prefer to avoid risks and have a once and for all established representation of their collective strength; we can see a certain frustration on the side of workers: after an initial conflict over the registration of the trade union and subsequent victimisation of representatives the union got its formal registration, but had no real clout at the negotiation table. Workers hoped that once the union was established, gains will mainly come without risks of further struggle. The ‘lock-outs’ or strikes at Nerolack, Autofit and Munjal Kiriu all happened shortly after the wage negotiations and it was the company which took the initiative and prevented a re-consolidation of workers power through suspensions, meaning, the re-focussing of the discontent, and a subsequent ‘lock-out’. Wage negotiations are also in an impasse at Rico Dharuhera plant, where management is offering 9,000 Rs over three years.
f) despite the widespread and frequent nature of conflicts we hardly ever see a ‘concerted action’ of trade unions, even on the most mundane level e.g. a concerted strike in case workers of an affiliated company trade union are victimised; the ‘fetish’ of being connected to other workers through the structure of union affiliation, e.g. the visits of union leaders from other plants, has de facto guaranteed a company limitation of struggles; this is aggravated by the recent trend, or rather re-emergence, of ‘union competition’ within one and the same plant, e.g. at Bajaj Motors
Before we come to the question of ‘practical suggestions’ and alternatives we first document two further examples of limitations. We spoke to Hyundai workers in Chennai and wrote down notes on their year-long struggle for union representation. We visited striking Alfa Laval workers in Pune and helped organising international activities in solidarity, on which we want to reflect critically.
* Conversation with Hyundai workers in Chennai, November 2013
The new industrial areas in Chennai are massive, apart from the automobile industry (Hyundai, Renault, Nissan, Royal Enfield) there are large numbers of electronics manufacturers (Nokia, Foxconn), with many female workers employed. The industrial set-up, wages and living costs are comparable to the Gurgaon-Manesar area. Major difference is the language divide between local workers, who speak Tamil, and numerous workers from Hindi-speaking states. We met with comrades who publish workers’ reports from the area on their blog:
The Hyundai workers we met are members of the Hyundai workers’ union, affiliated to CITU.
There are currently around 10,000 workers employed in the Chennai plant, out of which 5,000 are workers hired through contractors, 2,000 are apprentices, 1,000 are trainees and the remaining 2,000 are permanent workers. The workers hired through contractors earn about 7,000 Rs per month, while the permanent workers are paid 40,000 Rs. There are both Tamil and Hindi speaking workers in the plant, doing similar tasks*. During recent months the output of the factory has come down. It used to be an output of 56 cars per hour, now it is 53 cars. This has meant that the workforce has been reduced, e.g. in the paint-shop 15 out of 150 workers per shift had to go, all of them temporary workers.
The factory started production in 1996. At the time 3,000 workers were hired through contractors, 1,500 permanents and 1,000 trainees were employed in the A-plant. Since then the B-(press-shop) and C-(engine and transmission) plant have become operational.
In 2003/2004 workers hired through contractors went on a wildcat strike demanding equal canteen food, break-times and company transport. They were hired through two different contractors, but took action together. They sat outside the plant for ten days. Management cancelled the contract with one contractor, resulting in the lay off of 2,000 out of 3,000 workers. At the same time management announced that workers hired through contractors will get the same break-times (tea and lunch) and canteen food at lunchtime. Management then started to hire workers through ten different contractors. The permanent workers and trainees did not support this strike practically. They continued working and their shifts were increased from 10 to 12 hours per day.
In 2007 a company committee as a body of ‘workers’ representation’ was established.* At the same time management announced the outsourcing of the spare parts division and logistics to Mobis. The bumper-shop and bumper painting has also been outsourced to Shinan. Management said that the company committee had no say in the decision of outsourcing.* This became a reason for the decision to form a trade union.* When members of the committee supported this, 18 of them were suspended. The trade union was registered, but not recognised by the company. Permanent workers put up the trade union flag at the factory gate, the company responded by taking it down. This went back and forth, during which time, ten union office bearers were suspended.
In April 2008, when workers put the flag up, police arrived and stopped the workers. The union leaders were beaten up. Permanent workers of the B- and C-shift, around 500 workers, came out of the factory in support. Scuffles with security personnel occurred, which later on was portrayed as a riot. Police arrested all workers, in total around 1,200 and put them in an arranged hall nearby. 42 workers were charged with attempted murder, 10 workers got released on bail. In addition to these 42 workers, Hyundai dismissed a further 70 workers. The remaining workers went back to work as soon as they were released by the police. From then on the union mainly focussed on the situation of the workers in jail and the other victimised workers and could not continue in form of a strike. Inside, plant repression against union members continued: transferrals to other states and within the factory; no planned leave granted; cuts in bonus payments etc.. During the end of 2008 around 1,200 trainees were sacked after their training period, despite the fact that the B-plant had opened. Although this plant had a higher level of automation, new people were hired through contractors. This caused major discontent, but no steps were undertaken to reinstate the trainees.
In 2009 workers* protested in front of the Korean embassy in support of the victimised colleagues. In June 2009 the government forged a wage agreement between the company and the company committee, leaving out the registered trade union. The trade union members responded with a 18 day tool-down strike. During the tool-down strike management brought back 400 of the recently dismissed trainees, in order to minimise the impact of the tool-down. Negotiations took place, but the trade union was not included in the agreement. A second strike took place shortly after, a three day sit-in strike. All union members of the three shifts took part, at the time around 800 workers. Management sent the remaining workers on a three day holiday. After three days management announced that they are willing to negotiate once the strikers go back to work. The trade union refused. Management brought back the other workers and the strikers did not stop them from working. After six days of protest, management agreed to take back 20 of the 72 dismissed trade union officials and to set up a review committee regarding the suspension and dismissal of the others.
In 2010 the third strike took place after management did not agree to the advice of the labour department to take back the dismissed workers. Management had anticipated the strike and had brought in 200 musclemen into the factory, guarding all gates between departments and exit gates. Active members of the union were sent on ‘training’ to other places. In response the union called for a lunch boycott, management answered by suspending four workers. The trade union members of the B- and C-shift went on sit-in strike. This time they were only 400 workers. Management again sent the other workers on holiday and called the police on the third day, who arrested 220 workers. The CITU organised state-wide support rallies for the workers in jail. Negotiations took place and 14 workers were taken back on.
In 2011 around 2,000 workers hired through TVS contractor, who work in the material transport,* went on strike for higher wages. They demanded a 4,000 Rs wage increase and got the support of a union affiliated to a regional political party. Shortly after the strike started, the INTUC *union took over negotiations. The strike leaders were bought over* by TVS and the strike stopped. Workers were given a 1,500 Rs increase over three years. There was no practical support from the permanent workers during this strike.
In 2012 management started their own trade union in response to the ongoing mobilisation of the initial trade union*. A considerable number of union members and office bearers of the former trade union shifted to the new union once it was established. Before the 2012 wage negotiations this new union takes up the question of the dismissed workers, but during the actual negotiations the demand for re-instatement is dropped. In response 500 members of the former union organise a ten day sit-in protest outside the plant. Negotiations took place and a further 20 dismissed members will now go through an internal inquiry process. The decision is still pending. This was the fourth strike. Since then 5 out of the 20 dismissed workers have taken a 5 lakh Rs ‘golden hand-shake’*.
In 2013 members of the original trade union distributed a pamphlet for workers hired through contractors, informing them about their rights. In response management announced that the contract workers will now also be given breakfast like the permanent workers. The Maruti struggle made no visible impact on the situation in the plant at the time when the struggle was happening. After the incident of 18th of July 2012 and the first wave of repression the trade union members organised a gate meeting in support of the victimised workers.
From the first strike to the fourth strike the impact on production decreased and the participation of workers dwindled. This is mainly because the focus shifted from a demand about general conditions to demands concerning the dismissed trade union members. The strikes of temporary and permanent workers alternated, but never came together, even worse, previously dismissed trainees could be used as ‘strike-breakers’ during the permanent workers union strike.
* Struggle of Alfa Laval Workers in Pune
Report on Alfa Laval Workers strike after visit in Pune
(also see: http://sanhati.com/articles/8636/)
The company background
The Swedish company Alfa Laval produces heat exchangers for pharma and food industry, but also for the oil and energy sector (Coal India Ltd. and Reliance). On their website, they say they have 28 major production units, 15 in Europe, 8 in Asia, 4 in the US and 1 in Latin America. The company has four plants in India, all in the state of Maharashtra. At the Pune factory there are 60 permanent workers and 250 staff. There used to be 800 workers hired through contractor two years ago, this has come down to 400. Work has been outsourced to other companies, which replaced these 400 workers. A year ago the company announced that the factory will be moved to another site 60 kms away in 2015. There was no promise to relocate the current staff to the new site. Earlier in 2013 management started to shift workers between contractors. One manager runs a contractor company for housekeeping staff. Management started to use this contractor also for production work. Some workers hired through contractor who had worked in production for several years were shifted to this new contractor, resulting in a wage reduction from 12,000 Rs to 6,000 Rs. Last year’s over-time payment is also still outstanding. Permanent workers are paid between 30,000 and 40,000 Rs.
The trade union
In August 2013 management sacked further 60 temporary workers. In response the temporary workers approached the two unions of the permanent workers and staff, asking them to support their demand for permanent contracts. Management told these unions that as a result of higher wage payments for the temporary workers, once having become permanent, the current wages of the permanents (benefits, bonuses etc.), would have to be cut. Consequently both unions refused to support the temporary workers. The temporary workers approached the Rashtriya Sharimaik Aghadi (trade union of the Nationalist Congress Party). The union put forward a demand notice. As a result further 70 workers were sacked. On 1st of October the situation of the 400 temporary workers was somewhere between being locked-out and on strike. They sit outside the plant, while permanent workers and those newly hired workers of the new contractor keep on working.
The workers’ passivity
Workers sit in a tent next to one of the four gates. They don’t try to block the gate. There is a police van present at all times. Their external trade union leader said that this is a peaceful strike. He put up pictures of Gandhi. The trade union is affiliated to a regional political party [Nationalist Congress]. Party members have put up posters of political leaders around the tent and along the main road. The company started to hire new workers after one month of strike. They bring them right into the factory with buses. Attempts to address permanent workers who leave the plant on foot has not been fruitful.
In the neighbouring factory of the company Sandvik there was a conflict while the Alfa Laval workers were outside. Workers hired through contractor demanded a wage increase. Management responded by sacking ten workers, in protest 40 workers stopped work. After less than a day the ten were taken back and management agreed to a 2,000 Rs rise. From the side of the Alfa Laval workers no steps towards addressing other workers was made. Instead, between 15th of October and 20th of October 2013, fifteen of the workers went on fast-unto-death. After six of them fainted and had to get medical treatment, they changed the tactics and went to Chakri strike: Workers don’t eat for 12 hours and then another worker comes and takes the shift of hunger strike.
We asked workers why they don’t go in front of the six, seven big factories nearby, or the main industrial areas further down the highway. They said that first of all the trade union leader wants to avoid ‘confrontation’, so they wait for his decision before doing something. They also said that when they addressed some of the Sandvik workers they felt that they won’t get support. Sandvik workers said that their situation is different and that they would risk their job if they would actively support the Alfa Laval workers. We discussed the idea of going in small groups of 20 people to neighbouring factories, holding placards with the Alfa Laval company name and the issue of workers hired through contractors. Many workers thought that it would be worth a try, given that sitting in the tent since two month had only brought wage loss. Eleven union officials amongst the workers were reluctant, fearing to disrupt the relation with the trade union and political support. Court dates are also pending, which is always used as a justification to ask workers to ‘wait just a bit longer’.
International solidarity with whom?
After our discussion with Alfa Laval workers we contacted comrades in Sweden, who were up for organising a solidarity assembly at the head-quarter of the company. With other comrades we organised a small walk-in action at the Alfa Laval office in Delhi. We had hoped that the solidarity actions would encourage some of the workers at Alfa Laval, who had been dissatisfied with the union leadership, to take things into their own hands. But it seemed that the dependence on the apparatus and the reluctance of ten to fifteen union officials amongst the workers to ‘allow’ any independent action stifled things. We felt that under these conditions the ‘solidarity actions’ became unproductive, if not counter-productive:
a) workers could still lean back and say that something is happening, although the impasse of the struggle was blatant; the myth of ‘media action’ was fortified, instead of encouragement to address other workers directly
b) the union leaders could use the photos of the rally in Sweden in order to make-up their damaged profile, e.g. by printing the photos on large canvass and putting them up next to the portraits of the candidates of their political party (see below).
The good discussions with some of the workers continued after mid-December 2013, unfortunately only over the phone. These workers came up with the idea to go to some of the many colleges and universities in Pune and to address students directly, but they were put on hold by the leadership, which referred to the pending court dates. On the 21st of December the company lawyer did not show up, the same on the next date, the 30th of December. Workers have to face up to the question whether their ‘struggle’ is actually more of an easy way for the company to get rid of them, which, in most cases, also entails a financial remuneration for the ‘helping hand’ of the trade union leaders. Numbers of workers have come down and the factory is supposed to be shifted soon. Whoever thinks that this is a mere conspiracy theory should have a closer look at other cases of re-structuring, e.g. in Faridabad in the 1990s.
The material presented above, from the ‘global picture’ sketched out in the wildcat article to the ‘local balance-sheet’ of the Maruti Suzuki struggle, is not meant as informative facts, but material for organisational strategies. We can see that the major difficulties which workers have to overcome in order to develop some collective power towards capital are fairly similar around the globe:
* unequal conditions within the sector due to regional/company differences regarding ‘boom and slump’ (‘winners and losers’)
* a management, which can make use of the (global) division of labour and supply-chains in order to undermine workers local power
* internal divisions within the factory and the sector (contractual, suppliers)
* legal forms of organisation which are promoted, but reproduce these divisions (works council, company boards, trade union)
* a given legal framework of struggle, which renders most activities toothless or make workers unnecessarily vulnerable
* a system of representation which is either unable to overcome the difficulties mentioned above, because it hampers wider participation of all workers, or is meant to contain workers’ unrest
* the threat of coordinated repression by both management and state in case workers cross the legal boundaries
These are general conditions and challenges which workers’ initiatives and initiatives which are supposed to foster workers’ power are facing. For us this means that on the most minimal basis of ‘saving one’s skin’ or value of labour power, workers are forced to forge new forms of organisation which question the given political set-up. The question of ‘immediate power’, even for economic gains, and ‘political struggle’, which questions given social and legal boundaries, are closely related. In this sense the old Marxist-Leninist conceptions of ‘trade unions’ as the primary workers organisations and the ‘party’ as the ‘further education’ are to be questioned.
We have to judge any political initiative, claiming to ‘lead’ the working-class’ on this basic premise: in the actual production process capital has organised the work-force already on a level which surpasses company, sectorial, national boundaries and is thereby able to exploit the social productivity of labour. At the same time this existing global cooperation is formally and legally split up into different categories of workers, workers of different companies, belonging to different states etc.. Communist activities would try to emphasis already existing social (and global) character of production as the basis for both workers’ immediate power and the possibility of a social alternative. Supposedly ‘revolutionary’ initiatives, which still focus mainly on certain sections of workers, on the legal framework etc. will, despite all good-will to ‘help the workers’, end up hampering their struggles.
From this perspective we try to assess new local ‘political’ initiatives, such as the ‘Gurgaon Workers Solidarity Centre’, whose reports we refer to in the cases of struggles at Daikin, Munjal Kiriu and Nerolack. The ‘Gurgaon Workers Solidarity Centre’ was formed in the aftermath of 18th of July 2012 by comrades close to the Maruti Suzuki union body and other ‘active workers’ representatives’ in various factory trade unions in the area. In this sense we can see it as a step forward: trying to form an organisational structure which brings together workers from different companies and which tries to document and support local struggles. One of the main problems is that politically the ‘Gurgaon Workers Solidarity Centre’ continues to focus mainly on those permanent workers who are inclined to base their struggle on the trade union frame-work. The publications and reports produced by the Solidarity Centre reflect the shortcomings of this political focus, e.g. by
a) issuing quite uncritical reports about the struggles at Munjal Kiriu and Autofit; the reports are still written from a ‘bourgeois’ perspective, lamenting the bad working-conditions and the victimisation of workers in order to mobilise some ‘sympathy’; they are not written from a ‘proletarian’ perspective, which first of all, would criticise the blatant reliance of workers on the decisions the union leadership makes and their very limited outcomes (symbolic actions, symbolic relations to other workers etc.); the reports don’t look at shortcomings ‘of the struggles of our class’, in order to come to a better practice; they try to uphold the ‘trade union’ efforts at all costs, despite all blatant shortcomings, mainly, and this is the most problematic and ‘uncommunist’ issue, because their own organisational structure ‘as a political party’ in the background depends on the collaboration with this lower rank trade union leadership; this goes so far as to disseminating ‘tactical lies’, e.g. in the pamphlet on contract labour they still write about the ‘management conspiracy of the 18th of July’, because the truth of workers’ mass anger might cause conflict with the legalistic struggle of the dismissed Maruti Suzuki workers; similarly, in the reports on Munjal Kiriu it was maintained that the strike had a significant impact on production at Hero motorcycles, while already after a few days of ‘strike’ it was clear that management is more or less able to maintain production levels with the help of staff and newly hired workers; it is easier to build ‘good relations’ with workers by applauding them; thereby we miss the chance of forcing ‘our class’ to look into the uncomfortable mirror of the shortcomings of our struggles and to learn for the future
b) reproducing legalistic illusions; in their pamphlet on ‘contract labour’ they mainly refer to the ‘illegal character’ of most contract work and address mainly permanent workers to ‘mobilise’ on legal grounds in favour of the temporary workers; here again we can see a rather unmaterialistic and rather populistic approach, trying to ‘appeal’ to their permanent workers ‘leadership’ basis; the pamphlet does not mention with a single word the struggles of temporary workers themselves; we reckon this is the case, because these struggles, such as at Honda, Hero, Delphi, questioned the material divisions on the shop-floor and the singular interests of the permanent workers’ trade union formations; to appeal to ‘the law’ and to a ‘benevolent solidarity’ of the permanent workers does not hit the core of the problem at all, but reproduces illusions and wipes over material divisions
c) reproducing the wage fetish; apart from basing their proposals mainly on those legal and formal boundaries which actually form part of the current problems of working class struggle (and communist movement), their tactical relation to what they suppose as ‘workers’ common sense’ goes so far as to develop on several pages what a ‘fair wage’ would be in contrast to a ‘minimum wage’;
We are not accusing the comrades of the ‘Gurgaon Workers Solidarity Centre’ of not having found organisational answers to the global problem of workers’ struggles. We all stumble – but we should not have to stumble backwards behind the already existing social character of production by promoting limiting organisational forms and behind the already existing level of workers’ struggle, by portraying it as management conspiracies.
Below are some examples of our own stumbling. After our experiences at Alfa Laval, Autofit and Munjal Kiriu we wrote up two drafts for leaflets, both trying to address the current limitations of struggles. The first one addresses workers who are in ‘lock-out’ situations like during the mentioned struggles. The second addresses workers at Sandhar Automotives in different regions and countries, as an attempt to reflect the international character of workers’ conditions today. These are minimal efforts, but like during the ‘international solidarity action’ for the Alfa Laval workers we connect a wider hope with them.
We have to criticise the common ‘syndicalist’ forms of solidarity, which doesn’t ask about the concrete conditions of the struggle which it is supposed to support. The example of Alfa Laval demonstrated for us very clearly the limitations of (our own!) current forms of ‘international solidarity’, if:
a) there is no real collective either within the work-force or on a local level with whom to interact and rely on in terms of analysis
b) the well-meant acts of solidarity can therefore be used to maintain workers’ passive role in the struggle
c) we are not able to strategically decide how we not only ‘ask for solidarity from other workers in other regions’, in this case a symbolic show of solidarity from people in Sweden, but address other workers in their specific situation and potential struggles; this is necessary in order to go beyond a ‘show of solidarity’, and instead ‘open a second front’; this would need politically active collectives which know the local conditions and can draw ‘strategical lines’, often across the gap between seemingly fundamentally different conditions, e.g. between workers in booming and slumping sectors and regions
We hope that workers and workers’ activists in more and more struggles realise that a very thorough analysis of the ‘balance of power’ is necessary in order to lead a successful struggle: the position of the company in the production chain, the general social atmosphere in the area, the role of the law, the politics of the institutions of the labour movement. This analysis requires political debates of historical scope. This analysis will form a central part when we think about how to coordinate ‘workers’ support’ on a global scale. We therefore hope and aim for a re-groupment of the international ‘communist movement’ around the analysis and support of ongoing struggles. Political differences will come to the fore and a ‘wrong theoretical assessment’ will reveal itself quite immediately in practice: what was our assessment of the balance of forces and and the potentials of workers’ self-organisation, what have we tried and put forward in terms of practical proposals and what was the outcome.
The effort to translate, e.g. the Sandhar leaflet into four different languages and to ask comrades in different regions to distribute it to the local Sandhar workers is not a mere ‘practical or pragmatic’ step, but also reflecting the hope that these acts can slowly create a more formalised and continuous international cooperation. We will try to formulate more concrete thoughts and suggestions concerning the question of the ‘International’ in the months to come…
Stay tuned and join in
Two leaflets; a) addressing workers who are either locked-out or in an ‘isolated strike’ and b) international leaflet from and for Sandhar Automotives Workers in English, Hindi, Tamil, Polish and Spanish
* Leaflet One
This is only a draft version. We would have to spell out some of the mentioned examples of recent struggles which ended in dead-ends.
Turn the lock-out, turn the isolated strike into a wider offensive!
Over the last years we have seen a certain pattern of struggles, which often ended in an impasse for the workers involved: the struggle at Rico in 2009, at Denso in 2010, at Harisoria in 2012…
These struggles often developed in following steps:
* Discontent is brewing amongst the work-force in general
* Some workers try address these problems as representatives, e.g. by trying to form a trade union or by engaging in negotiations with management
* This gives management the chance to prepare for a conflict: by creating stocks of products, by preparing to hire new people, by outsourcing of work
* Instead of leaving things to the workers, management uses an excuse to suspend some of the workers, usually their official representatives, in reaction the other workers are encouraged to stay outside in solidarity
* Management brings in new people and tries to restart production
* Workers sit outside and are subjected to police or goonda repression
* Workers wait for decisions of the trade union leaders what to do next * Usually they sit alone, contacts to workers of other companies only exist between representatives, not between workers directly
* Symbolic demonstrations take place every two weeks. Hearings at the Labour Department, DC, LC, end without result. Fiery speeches and more desperate actions, such as hunger strikes.
* After one month some workers, usually the workers hired through contractors, have to start looking for new jobs or go back to their village.
* The number of workers involved shrinks.
* Negotiations and some kind of agreement, which usually leaves a bigger share of workers outside.
* The situation is not better than before, often worse.
There are a lot of things we can do to avoid these situations, e.g. by refusing to send representatives, by not giving the company a chance to prepare itself etc.. But even if we are outside, we can still avoid getting isolated, but this will require direct steps by all workers involved. Here are some suggestions.
* Find out which other companies produce material for your company or which might now produce instead of your company, e.g. as parts supplier
* Address the workers in these companies directly, not just their representatives
* Try to find out about their own problems and conflicts and try to find potentials for common activities
* If you are 400 workers sitting outside you can form 40 groups of ten workers each and go to factories in the area to address workers there directly. This does not require a permission or won’t cause conflict with the police.
* Find out access points where workers arrive in big masses to go to work, e.g. Kapashera Border, in Gurgaon or Koh Gaon exit in Manesar. There you easily address 50,000 to 100,000 workers on a daily level.
* Invite workers to a daily ‘open workers assembly’ held at your strike tent, e.g. by handbills, by visiting other workers, by standing with posters at main roads of the industrial areas. Say to them that you depend on their support, but that you have things in common, so that common steps can be taken.
* If you are 200, 300, 400 workers outside you can offer single workers or group of workers to help them directly with day-to-day problems: if their wages have not been paid, if they have been sacked after an accident, if they have to work overtime for low wages, if they have problems with their landlord etc. you could use the ‘open workers assembly’ to coordinate collective steps, e.g. by going in a bigger group to the respective company of these workers
This will attract other workers to come and visit you and the fact that management of other companies see that the lock-out or isolated strike in one company causes problems in other companies will put more pressure on your company management than any negotiations at the DC or symbolic dharna in far-away parks
* Don’t wait for other to decide. Discuss with the work-mates you see every day and who you will see every day.
* The company does not care much about the law, if you leave it to the legal system to solve your problems, you will have to wait forever.
Turn the lock-out / isolated strike into an open workers assembly to take direct steps together with other workers!
* Leaflet Two
Click here for leaflet in
From some workers of Sandhar Automotive, India
Sandhar Group has several factories in India, Poland, Spain and other countries, manufacturing automobile parts. Management coordinates our exploitation on an international scale, we have to coordinate our struggle against it.
From the Sandhar factory, near Chennai
There are 40 workers employed in the factory, assembling 430 wheels for Royal Enfield motorbikes a day. Tyres come from MRF, brakes from Bembro and the rims from Excel company. The work is monotonous, putting in and adjusting 40 spokes per wheel, this is 8,600 spokes per shift. Many workers have done an apprenticeship as mechanics, nevertheless workers are hired as trainees for two years, on the minimum wage for unskilled workers. They often have to work Saturdays and Sundays.
From Sandhar factory, near Puna
There are 35 workers working in Chakan, near Puna. They assemble gate locks for General Motors, currently around 2,500 locks per month. Production has come down from 3,000 end of 2012. Around 20 workers hired through contractors have been laid off since then. The factory has tin walls, in summer the heat inside is unbearable.
From Sandhar factory, near Delhi
There are about 2,000 workers employed in the Sandhar factory in Dhumaspur, near Gurgaon. Next door 500 workers are employed by the company Kirat Plastics, supplying Sandhar with parts. Workers manufacture mirrors for Hero motorcycles, parts for Honda cars and steering-wheel parts for Maruti Suzuki – these factories are close by. Out of 2,000 workers 1,800 are hired through two different contractors. They earn a basic wage of 5,500 Rs [65 Euro/272 Zloty] per month, based on an 8 hour day calculation. They work on two twelve hours shifts, often extended by 2 hours, depending on demand at Hero. Workload has been increased considerably since 2007. Since 2012 at many mirror-assembly lines only 20 workers are employed where there used to be 30, which apart from quality problems mainly causes physical exhaustion of the workers. The situation is not much different in the factories in nearby Manesar and Gurgaon. In Manesar around 700 workers are employed, most of them on contract basis. The Gurgaon plant manufacftures parts for Maruti Suzuki cars. There is a lot of discontent, in particular amongst the younger workmates. When overtime money was not paid, some workers refused to work 12-hours shifts. Many workers leave the job after a short while, thinking that things are better at other factories in the area. They often return to Sandhar after two months, although not because things are good here. Many guys say that nothing can be done, but if we have a look at what workers did in the surrounding industrial areas, we can see that a lot IS being done:
Hero Motorcycles, Gurgaon, 2006
4,500 temporary workers occupied the factory for four days, asking for the abolition of their temporary status. They had little support from the outside and management first switched of the water supply and then asked to negotiate with a delegation of representatives outside of the plant. The occupation ended with empty promises, though wages were increased.
Honda Motorcyles, Gurgaon, 2006
After a trade union agreement which did not provide anything for the temporary workers, several hundred temporary workers occupied the company canteen. The arriving B-shift supported them from outside. The workers stayed inside for five days. The company had to give concessions.
Delphi, Gurgaon, 2007
2,500 temp workers at car parts manufacturer Delphi in Gurgaon went on a wildcat strike blockading the main gate. The company asked the union of the 250 permanent workers to get the temps back to work and after two days the blockade was lifted. In August 2007 the temps at Delphi struck again for a few hours without prior notice, demanding the payment of the recently increased minimum wage and they succeeded.
Hero Motorcycles, Dharuhera, 2008
In May 2008, after not having been accepted as members by the permanent workers’ union 2,000 temp workers at Hero Honda in Dharuhera went on a wildcat strike and occupied the plant for two days. Management and the permanent workers’ union both promised improvements of the workers’ situation. The temp workers then tried to register their own union. The process ended in suspension of leaders and a mass lock-out in October 2008. This is the plant Sandhar in Dhumaspur supplies mirrors to.
Bosch, Puna, 2009
Workers at Bosch plant, supplying amongst others Maruti Suzuki, went on a long strike for the abolition of the contract system. Management tried to undermine the strike by sending production to its plant in Manesar. Officially the contract system had ended as a result of the strike, but we know little about the current conditions.
Napino Auto, Manesar 2010
Napino Auto supplies Hero Motorcycles and Maruti Suzuki with electronic parts. In June 2010, 600 permanent and temporary workers occupied the plant for four days, after a worker was mistreated by management. They were supplied with food by 200 workers from outside. As a result wages were increased by 3,500 Rs over a three years period. Shortly after the company prepared itself and managed to lock out workers thanks to an untimely strike. Some workers were sacked, but in reaction to the mass-riot of Maruti Suzuki workers in July 2012 in the same industrial area management decided to take these workers back on and make 50 temporary workers permanent in order to ‘keep the peace’.
Maruti Suzuki, Manesar, 2011 to 2012
In June 2011 around 2,000 temporary and permanent workers occupied the factory for thirteen days, supported by 1,500 workmates from the outside. The official demand, a permanent workers union, was not met, but the company gave lots of concessions: a significant wage increase, health insurance for parents, reduction of work-speed from 45 seconds a car to 1 minute. In October 2011 workers occupied the factory again after management tried to lock-out the temporary workers and workers were successful in breaking the company strategy. Despite all concessions the discontent continued: on 18th of July 2012 thousands of Maruti Suzuki workers attacked the factory, buildings were burnt, 100 managers were hospitalised.
We can see that often workers in other factories will be affected by activities we undertake in our ‘own’ company. When there was a two-day work-stop at Hero Motorcycles in Dharuhera/Gurgaon in July 2013, management at the supplier Sandhar had to reduce working-hours from 12 to 8 hours because motorcycle mirrors piled up. This can be turned around: a strike at Sandhar will impact on Hero, but workers from Sandhar will have to make direct contacts with their co-workers at Hero. These connections are sometimes international. A lock-out at Rico in Gurgaon in 2009 stopped assembly lines at Ford and General Motors in the USA.
A lot of things are done and we have to learn from them:
* Don’t let the company prepare for your collective step. Hit them when they need your work most.
* Stay inside the factory, but make sure that you have support from the outside.
* Don’t send representatives or leaders, because they can be bought or repressed.
* Don’t accept any imposition of fixed structures of struggle and organisation that divide you into different categories of workers, e.g. by the fact that permanent workers, temporary workers and workers in supplying factories cannot become members of the same trade union
* Make sure that other workers in the area and beyond get to know about your activity, this will build up pressure.
We will try to distribute this leaflet at Sandhar factories in Chennai, Pune and other locations in India and at Sandhar plants in Poland and Spain. This itself will not change things, but we hope that workers of different factories can establish direct contacts in case we will need to coordinate steps in future. Get in touch and tell other workers about your conditions and collective steps.
Some workers at Sandhar Automotives, India
Short automobile workers’ reports from Gurgaon area, published and circulated in Faridabad Majdoor Samachar in 2012/2013
The following reports have been circulated as part of the monthly Hindi workers’ paper in the industrial areas Okhla, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Manesar and spread beyond. Again, it is not mainly about ‘information’, but by demonstrating to us and workers that the industry is interconnected and that there are hardly any ‘company specific issues’, but many common problems…
Honda Motorcycles and Scooter
Honda Car (Factory construction worker)
Maruti Suzuki (Factory construction worker)
DS Buhin (Maruti Suzuki, Tata)
Chassis Breaks International (former Bosch Chassis)
Track Components (Maruti Suzuki, Hero, Honda)
Satyam Auto (Hero)
Amtek (Maruti Suzuki, Tata, Honda Scooters, Eicher, John Deere, Mahindra)
Belsonica (Maruti Suzuki)
Auto Ignition (Maruti Suzuki, Tata, Honda, Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Mahindra, Eicher, Escorts, John Deere, Bajaj, JCB)
KR Rubberite (Maruti Suzuki, Mahindra, Tata)
SW Bajaj Motors
AA Autotech (Maruti Suzuki, Honda)
Super Auto (Hero, Honda)
Vinas Corporation (Maruti Suzuki)
Vinay Auto (Napino, Minda, JNS, Denso)
Vimal Moulders (Lumax, Subros, Asti, Honda Motorcycles)
Kiran Udyog (Honda Motorbikes)
SKH Metal (Maruti Suzuki)
Workshop Worker (Maruti Suzuki)
Autodecker (Maruti Suzuki, Hero and Honda bikes)
Rico Auto (General Motors, Ford, Maruti Suzuki, Volvo, Toyota, Renault cars and for Honda and Hero two-wheelers)
Satellite Forging (Maruti Suzuki and Honda motorbikes)
ASK Automotive (Honda, TVS, Yamaha and Hero motorcycles)
(23/7 Mathura Road, Faridabad)
Management has put up a notice saying that from 1st of January 2013 wages of the 625 casual workers will be increased. Those who earn between 5,700 Rs and 6,200 Rs will get a 1,500 Rs increase, which affects more than 350 workers. Those who earn 6,900 Rs will get a 2,000 Rs increase, which are 100 workers. Those 50 to 60 workers who earn 7,500 and 7,700 Rs will see a 2,500 hike. The handful of workers who earn 8,500 Rs will get 3,000 Rs more. Then on 25th of January the company announced an increase in production target. Instead of 85 vehicles per 9.5 hours shift they now demand 100 vehicles. These 15 vehicles used to be produced during overtime, which will now be cut – a wage cut of 6,000 to 10,000 Rs, while the wage increase is only 1,500 to 3,000 Rs. The casual workers said: keep your wage increase and keep things how they are. Discontent was expressed towards supervisors and management.
(from FMS no. 304, October 2013)
I have to get up at 4 am. I wash and drink tea. I walk ten minutes to get the bus to the station, which is five kilometers away. The Mathura Shuttle train is supposed to arrive at 6 am, but is normally 10 to 20 minutes late. In Faridabad New Town station I get off and take an auto to Escorts (Ford – Farmtrack) plant. The shift starts at 8 am. Large numbers of workers arrive in the local trains from Kosi, Mathura, Palwal. In the Mathura shuttle more than 100 temporary arrive. If they arrive late at the plant due to delayed trains they are sent back home. Out of anger they leave the job, but they have to look for the same type of job again.
There are a lot of permanent and casual workers at Escorts, but the number of temporary workers is more than double their amount. For example in the paint shop of the Ford-Farmtrack plant there are 15 permanent workers, 15 to 20 casuals and 100 temporary workers. The casual workers are given a ‘break’ (they are temporarily dismissed) after six months. The temporary workers work continuously for 8 to 10 years, but they don’t get made permanent. They don’t get PF money. The temporary workers are called ‘daily wage workers’, but they are paid monthly. It only means that they don’t get a paid holiday.
In all Escorts factories in faridabad there are only 3,000 to 3,500 permanent workers left.On 3rd of August 2013 the trade union leaders announced the three years wage agreement forged with management. The wage of the permanent workers will be increased by 8,500 Rs over the next three years, while initially the union said that it would be 12 to 13,000 Rs. The permanent workers now earn more than 32,000 Rs. In the third plant there are only 410 permanents left. The current output target is 110 tractors per shift, one tractor every 4.05 seconds. The agreement also stipulates that from 1st of August onwards a second shift will be started in the plant, daily production target will be 150 tractors. The A-shift currently produces only 90 to 95 tractors, therefore the second shift will probably manufacture more than the fixed target of 40 tractors for the B-shift. The number of workers in the pre-paint-shop has come down from 56 to now 47 workers and the company advisor Most thinks that this should be reduced further to 39 workers. At the paint-line there are only two permanents left, the rest are temporary workers. In the after-paint-shop the numbers have come down from 101 to now 75, there 50 are permanent and 25 temporary. Currently the number of permanents and temporary workers in the third plant are equal, but for the second shift they will hire mainly temporary workers. The temporary workers of the A-shift are made to work longer hours, while the permanents can go home. The assembly frequently stops due to breakdowns or lack of parts, now they increase the speed of the line to make up after stoppages, which causes trouble for workers. They also introduced a penalty of 30 min wage cuts in case you come 5 minutes late. This gives them also more chance to get rid of workers.
Work finishes at 4:30 pm. I walk back to the station, taking a short cut, it takes half an hour. The Kosi shuttle is supposed to arrive at 5 pm, but normally comes at 5:30 pm and arrives at my place at 7 pm to 7:30 pm, instead of 6:30 pm. I take an auto from the station to the village. I arrive at 8 pm to 8:30 pm. I have a wash and sit with my people for an hour or one and a half. I can’t eat immediately after arriving, I wait till 10 pm and go to bed at 11 pm. Not enough sleep.
Honda Motorcycles and Scooter Worker
(Plot 1 and 2, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
We currently manufacture 3,300 Scooter and 2,300 motorbikes per day. If we take the bike engine assembly department as an example, then in one shift there are three engineers, one supervisor, twelve permanent workers and 100 workers hired through contractor. The permanent workers are relievers, they have little and light work to do. On line 2 every 16 to 17 seconds an assembled engine leaves the line. In the whole production department around 8,000 workers hired through three different contractors are employed [this seems an exaggerated number?!]. In the December 2012 three-years agreement between union and management the permanent workers wage was increased by 15,000 Rs, whereas the wage of the workers hired through contractor was raised by mere 2,250: 500 Rs basic wage, 500 HRAK and variable 1,250 production bonus. After one year of work the workers hired through contractor can take an exam. In November 2012 around 5,000 workers took this exam. The result was given in May – June 2012, only 171 workers had passed. In August 2012 these 171 workers were called for an interview, the result has not been given yet. There will be an inquiry about the worker, from here to his village. Only 50 workers will be hired as company casuals. After two years of company casuals you can work two years as trainee, only then you might get a permanent contract.
Honda Car Worker
(Tapukra, Alva District, Rajasthan)
In the factory cars are manufaqctured while construction works continue on the company premises. Larson and Tubro, Shibuji, Takisha, Simsons are the big contractors and below them there are many smaller ones. Around 6,500 to 7,000 construction workers are employed. The workers of Larson and Tubro, Shibuji and Takashi work from 8 am till 10 pm. The workers hired through contractor also work on Sundays, till 1 pm. Over-time is paid at single rate. There are two canteens in the factory, the construction workers have to pay 30 to 40 Rs for a plate of food. Workers get ESI and PF … if you work in 15 meters hight on a shaking scaffolding you get afraid.
Maruti Suzuki Worker
(Plot 1, Sector 8, Manesar)
The construction of the C-plant is still ongoing. Big construction contractors such as Larsen and Tubro, Takisha and Loyd are involved. These big contractors all sub-contract to smaller ones – Takisha has 17 smaller contractors. Only workers of the big contractors get ESI and PF. From Maruti Suzuki some security personnel, two quality managers and two managers from the project progress department visit the site. The buildings for the weld-shop, paint-shop and assembly department are finished, the internal work (wiring, piping) is still in progress. Around 600 workers and 100 staff are involved. The workers hired through contractor work 12 hours shifts, on Sundays they work five hours. For 30 days of 12 hours shifts they are paid 11,000 Rs. If they are made to work more than 12 hours, this time is called overtime, but is paid only single rate. The finishing target is in July 2013, but they might have to extend the time-schedule. The wages of the workers hired through contractor are paid delayed and in installments. One of Loyd’s smaller contractors Sukoi told workers that their wages will be paid during the meal-break on 12th of February, but they did not pay, and they did not pay during the following days either. On 15th of February 2013 the workers, after the meal break, the workers stopped working. They came to work on the 16th of February, but did not start work. No company official came, so they went home after their shift. On Sunday, the 17th, workers did not come to work. On Monday the manager of the main contractor Loyd told the workers that the high-up manager will come soon and that they will get paid the next day. The workers did not take up work and sat together till 4 pm, then went home. When the Loyd project manager came the next day at noon the workers were again sitting together. The manager said: start work, I will get your payment in two days time. The workers did not start working, saying: give us our pay, we won’t start working before that. The manager of Sukoi still did not come to the site, so the manager gave 500 Rs advance to each worker and told them to get the rest after the 21st of February. On 22nd of February Loyd management handed out wages to the workers, but only the basic wage, without the overtime payment, so only half the amount they were entitled to. The workers refused to take the money and started getting agitated. The Loyd manager told workers to go to the Sukoi head-office in Kirkhi Daula, there they would receive the full payment. On 23rd of February 35 workers received the full-payment.
DS Buhin Worker
(Plot 88, Sector 24, Faridabad)
Around 23 permanent workers, 100 casuals and 300 workers hired through three different contractors manufacture 26 different types of door hinges and catches for Maruti Suzuki and Tata Nano. They work on two 12 hours shifts. Overtime is paid single rate, each month 100 to 350 Rs get embezzled, which causes arguments. Wages are paid delayed each month. The permanent workers and casuals got their wage on the 12th or 13th. Two days later the workers hired through contractor stopped work and gathered at the gate at 4 pm, in order to force management to pay their wages, too. The management had the gates locked and did not let the workers leave the premises. They said that we only pay your wages if you go back to work. The women workers also work from 8 am till 8 pm every day. Only the shift of the permanent workers change, the others stay on day- or night-shift continuously. There are 35 power-presses between 30 and 315 tons. On 25 power-presses women are employed, they earn between 5,200 and 5,500 Rs. Money is cut from their wages for ESI and PF, but they receive neither ESI card nor PF form – they stop work for 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour, demanding these statutory benefits. There are nine assembly lines, the male and female workers working on the lines get 4,200 to 4,500 Rs, neither ESI nor PF. In the tool room mainly casual workers are employed, they earn between 6,000 and 17,000 Rs, only 10 out of 80 workers get ESI and PF. There is no packing department – in the assembly department itself the parts are loaded into small Tempo-trucks and sent off to Maruti Suzuki in Manesar. The electro-plating work is outsourced to different factories. There is no canteen in the factory. Workers have to sit next to the machines and eat there. Yes, the company does give one cup of tea during a 12-hours shift, which they order from outside. Management people swear a lot at workers. In the power-press department the management people also man-handle the workers hired as helpers. Where there should be nine helpers employed, there are six working. The helpers wage is 4,200 to 4,500 Rs, many workers leave the job quickly. The management people swear less at the women workers. Since production of the Tata Nano started in Gujarat we produce 6 to 7 parts for this car. There are two Tata people on the day-shift and two on the night-shift. But after six months, because DS Buhin did not manage to manufacture the full amount of parts needed, Tata took back their dies and stopped the order. Only 5 to six months ago production for Tata door hinges started again. There are a lot of accidents in the factory. Hands get chopped. They say that a security system for the machines (double start-button which has to be operated with two hands) will be installed, but it isn’t. The company does not fill in the accident form. The company sends the injured workers to the private nursing home in Sector 23 and then dismisses them. In the last three months four workers lost parts of their hands. Recently a worker lost a hand at a lathe machine, he fell unconscious.
Chassis Breaks International (former Bosch Chassis) Worker
(Plot 9, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
(translated from: Nagrik, October 2013)
Outside the factory there are cases in Manesar, where workers who have recently received their wages are robbed. In the factory the supervisor says that if you don’t increase production from 500 to 800 breaks per 8-hours shift then we will sack you and send you home without paying your overtime. Workers often have to work 4 or 5 hours longer after the 8-hour shift, but the supervisor does not sign overtime, so the workers don’t get paid. When they went to the HR department, they were told that they should not trouble people there. The factory runs on three 8 hours shifts. The B-shift and C-shift has trouble to get to and back from work, the company does not arrange transport. If workers arrive five minutes late they are denied entry at the gate. In case of accidents workers don’t get any help: no ESI card, no ambulance inside the plant. The injured worker is refused re-entry to the factory. Worker asked management to provide a better canteen and better food, but nothing happened in this regard. With the money officially paid to the canteen contractor better food could be provided – one can guess that part of the money is kept by management people and not all is passed on. In the union agreement is fixed that we should receive a uniform and shoes every year, but that is not happening. At the same time management people are driven from and back to their homes in company cars, which costs at least 150,000 Rs a month. Here neither the permanent workers are happy, nor the casuals or trainees. After two years of training the trainees are forced to resign, although according to the law they should be taken on as permanents.
Track Components Worker
(Plot 21, Sector 7, IMT Manesar)
There are over 1,000 workers employed on two shifts, producing exhaust silencers for Hero, Honda, Maruti Suzuki and for export. On Sundays we also work, between 8 and 12 hours. In the packing department workers work 200 hours overtime per month, paid single rate. Amongst the lower management some people have a permanent contract, but none of the workers. Officially workers are hired through seven different contractors, but they are paid by two of them. There are frequent accidents, there are always 5 to 6 workers absent from work due to injuries. On 23rd of July during the nightshift five accidents happened: a worker got his hand fractured by a trolley; another worker broke his finger at a CNC machine; in the weld-shop a worker burnt his hand and face with hot oil; a worker was injured by a falling sheet-metal and another when removing scrap metal, he needed four stitches. On 10th of July a worker got his hand squashed by a power-press, only after 45 minutes they managed to get his hand out, but they had to remove four fingers in the hospital. In January, two workers seriously injured their legs in trolley accidents, one worker’s leg still hasn’t healed properly, after nine months. In September 2012 a worker lost his hand in an accident with a power-press, another one lost four fingers at a CNC machine. A week later a worker’s leg got broken by a forklift. The workload is high, the shifts are long, the shop-floor is uneven, machines are badly maintained and sensors do not work. There is an ambulance car stationed on the premises, but no driver. In case of an accident you have to wait for the truck drivers who transport the manufacturing material.
Satyam Auto Worker
(Plot 26, Sector III, IMT Manesar)
There are 150 permanent workers, 60 casual workers and 400 workers hired through contractors. We manufacture frames and tanks for Hero Motorcycles. The factory runs 30 days per month. Apart from the dispatch department, where workers work on two 12-hours shifts, workers work on three 8 hours shifts. Permanents get double rate for overtime, the other workers single rate. In the power-press department helpers operate machines, meaning that they make you do work of an operator, but pay you helper grade.
(Plot 53, Sector III, IMT Manesar)
Around 200 permanent workers and 1,000 workers hired through contractor manufacture crank-shafts and rods for tractors (Eicher, John Deere, Mahindra), trucks (Tata), cars (Maruti Suzuki) and scooters (Honda). They also produce small parts for other vehicle manufacturers. The workers hired through contractor work on twelve hours-shifts. I was hired through a contractor in 2010. On 19th of January 2012 a heavy metal part fell of the forklift and squashed both my legs. They quickly issued me an ESI card and sent me to the ESI hospital in Sector III, but there they didn’t admit me, but sent me back to the factory with some bandage material. I don’t know whether they filled in an accident form. They did not give me medical leave after the accident. I continued working, but after four days my legs started to swell up. They don’t pay you if you don’t work, so I continued till June. I went to my village and went to the government hospital in Bharatpur to check my legs. The doctors referred me to Jaypur Man Singh hospital. I got treatment and rest there. When I went back on 25th of October the supervisor of the contractor said that there is no work.
(Plot 1, Sector 8, IMT Manesar, on the premises of the Maruti Suzuki factory)
Production in this factory started in 2008. After five years there are now only 20 to 25 workers in the category ‘technician 1′. If they hire you your category is ‘trainee 1′, by the third year you are ‘trainee 3′, then, according to the company rule you are made ‘technician 1′, but the company does not follow their own rule. The company comes up with all kind of excuses: the attendance has to be 95 per cent and even if the attendance rate is given they claim that the ‘performance rate’ is not met. In this way they make workers work as trainees even after their three years trainee-period is finished. In the factory 600 to 700 trainees are employed and 1,400 workers hired through three different contractors. The wage of trainee 1 and workers hired through contractor is shown as 8,500 Rs, but actually the company pays only 6,573 Rs. They say that they cut 24 per cent for PF, when the pay-slip says that they cut 12 per cent. There are 250 to 300 new trainees. For the morning shift, which starts at 6:20 am, the buses arrive at 6:00 am. Punch-in time is 6:20 am, but the lines start only at 6:50 am. In the afternoon the buses arrive only half an hour after official end of shift. On the four old lines workers work from 6:20 am till 5:30 pm and from 5:30 pm till the daily target is met, which can be at 2:30 am or 6:40 am. We mainly manufacture for Maruti Suzuki and have to produce 104 parts per hour. Overtime is paid single-rate of the basic wage. On the new lines they still run three shifts, but they will change to two shifts from 1st of April 2013 onwards. The food in the canteen is bad.
Auto Ignition Worker
(49 Milestone, Prathala, Palwal)
The factory is built on 45 acres and employs 200 workers through contractor, 170 permanents, 500 junior staff and 300 senior staff. They produce starter motors, self-dynamos and electrical switches for Tata, Honda, Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Maruti Suzuki, Mahindra, Eicher, Escorts, John Deere, Bajaj, JCB and for export to America, Australia, Africa and Dubai. After 2002 the company hired no permanent workers. There is more ‘staff’ (formal definition which circumvents certain aspects of the labour law). You are hired as staff, but do worker’s work, they can sack you any time. We work from 8:30 to 5 pm and 200 workers do 2 hours overtime every day. The permanents get 50 Rs per hour overtime, the ones on contract 25 Rs. The factory was moved from faridabad one and a half years ago, which means that the old workers now spend three hours a day in the bus. The bosses said that they will increase the wages. They also said that if things run alright they will give free lunch. After half a year they said that free lunch will cause trouble, instead they will give 390 Rs a month. Actually they gave nothing at all, so workers put up pressure and the union organised two days strike in November 2012… and at the same time agreed to twop extra-shifts on Sundays. The company then said that they will shift from ‘team-system’ to ‘one-piece system’, which would double the production output and that once this is implemented we will see about the wages. In the meantime the company management decided who of the two candidates for the union president position will become president. The company also transferred 40 permanent workers to a small work-shop in Faridabad Sector 6, which the company has just rented.
KR Rubberite Worker
(Plot 35, Sector 6 Faridabad)
There are 400 workers on two 12 hours shifts manufacturing parts for Maruti Suzuki, Mahindra and Tata. It is sheet-metal work. Since four 1,000 ton power presses have been installed a year ago the night-shift has been scrapped. When there was still a night-shift workers lost fingers or hands every ten days through accidents. But even now, when production orders are high, management cuts the connection of the security sensors at the 250 and 500 ton power-presses in order to increase work-speed. The paint-shop is automatised and in the weld-shop there are four robots. The 250 workers hired through six different contractors don’t get the statutory annual bonus. The helpers are paid 4,600 to 4,700 Rs per month. There is no canteen.
SW Bajaj Motors Worker
(Plot 22, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
There are 1,100 workers hired through six different contractors, 35 casual workers and 100 workers who are in the ‘staff’ category, producing gear parts for Bajaj motorcycles. The 7 am shift workers work till 7 pm, instead of the offical 3:30 pm. They often have to work till midnight. You have to stand upright at all machines. You can’t sit down even during night-shifts. The company hires people as helpers, but there is only little ‘helper’ work in the factory. The machine operators have to transport, load and unload the material themselves. They are paid a helpers wage, despite the fact that they operate machines. We work 12 to 16 hours a day. Up untill April 2013 overtime was paid double-rate, but after 1st of May 2013 this was reduced to 1.5 times the basic wage. Workers stopped doing overtime. Five days later the company gave an order to all guards at the gates to stop workers from leaving, imposing overtime. When hired workers have to sign their resignation, so that they can be kicked out after six months. They are then hired again one month later – in that way they don’t have to be made permanent. Some workers work for the last ten years in this way. The canteen workers work 24 hours a day, they sleep inside the factory during break-times.
AA Autotech Worker
(Plot 157, Sector 5, IMT Manesar)
There are 50 permanent workers, 200 to 250 casuals and 1,000 workers hired through various contractors. There are 250 staff. The factory runs on two 12-hour shifts. When shifts change from day to night every two weeks workers have to work 24 hours continuously. Overtime is paid 18 to 20 Rs an hour. It is die casting work, it is hot work. When one of the worker was made to work more than 24 hours on stretch on 24th of May 2013 he fell ill and wanted to go home. He died in front of the factory. But production continued. We produce parts for Maruti Suzuki and Honda.
Super Auto Worker
(Plot 80, Sector 6, Faridabad)
(from: FMS no. 301, July 2013)
The factory manufactures die casting parts for Honda and Hero motorcycles. On 10th of June 2013 the 20 CNC operators refused to start their machines. The following night-shift workers also kept their machines still. The same on the following day. When management promised to increase their wages from June onwards machines ran again on 12th of June. Apart from the 40 CNC operators there are 450 other workers in the plant.
Vinas Corporation Worker
(Plot 262, Sector 24, Faridabad)
The factory is a Maruti Suzuki supplier. There are 70 to 75 power presses, most of the open cast. In a year there are at least 50 accidents where workers’ hands get mutilated. After accidents workers who are employed only for some months are given a bandage and kicked out. There are only 70 permanent workers, the remaining 600 workers are temporary, working two 12 hours shifts. There is a trade union. Permanents are paid double rate for overtime, the others single rate. When maruti Suzuki close the factory for seven days the shift times here changed from 12 hours to 8.5 hours.
Vinay Auto Worker
(Plot 42, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
There are 100 permanent workers and 600 workers hired through five different contractors. We produce injection moulding parts for Napino, Minda [see Bawal] JNS and Denso and wiring harnesses for export to China and Italy. For overtime we are paid less than single rate, about 20 to 22 Rs. In January 2013 the wage of the workers hired through contractor was increased by 600 to 700 Rs. In May 2013 this increase was cut again. In January the helpers were paid 5,800 Rs, in May this was reduced to 5,212 Rs and the operators wage was also reduced to that level.
Vimal Moulders Worker
(Plot 446, Sector 8, IMT Manesar)
We work on two twelve hour shifts, manufacturing injection moulding parts for Lumax, Subros, Asti and Honda Motorcycles. There five permanent workers and 115 workers hired through contractor. On Sundays we also work ten to twelve hours, the big machines run 24 hours, seven days a week. There are six female workers, they work from 8 am to 8 pm. It is hot in the plant, there should be a fan for each of the 18 machines, but there were only three in total till May 2013, after that they installed one fan for two machines. There are to few lights, it is too dark during night-shifts. The managing director makes his rounds, threatening workers. It is therefore difficult to go to the toilet or get drinking water.
Clutch Auto Worker
(Plot A, Sector 27, 12/4 Mathura Road, Faridabad)
The three years agreement between union and management stipulated a 20 per cent bonus, but when management now started to talk about 8.33 per cent workers refused it. The issue has been transferred to the labour department – hearing dates were in early November 2012. The director said to the union leaders that they should not go on strike, otherwise he would move the factory to somewhere else – there have been 50 days strike in 2012. On the 10th of November 2012 management said: “Let us remove 35 machines from the factory and you can have 20 per cent bonus”. Workers refused. On 12th of November the labour department agreed to a 20 per cent bonus payment, which was paid to the permanent workers on the 15th of November. There used to be 400 to 600 casual workers employed here, but they are all gone. Now there are 365 permanent workers and 288 staff left. The previous casual workers started coming every week after Diwali in order to ask about the bonus payment (and the back-dated payment). The managers in the time office were put under pressure. On 12th of November, when one of the directors left the factory premises in her car, the car was stopped by 50 casual workers and workers showered her with abuses. The target at Clutch Auto was 1 crore 23 lakh Rs production output per day, the director now started slogans to increase the target. The old target was based on 790 workers on three shifts. Today there are 365 workers and not even enough material. Wages are paid delayed now. The PF deductions used to be 1,000 to 2,000 Rs, now only 780 is deducted. About three-four years ago new workers stood for union election, but management sent them threatening letters, so they were withdrawn from the elections. Since then the old union leaders continue to be in office. The union treasurer, who also had a post at the companies’ supplier company, and who had been abused by workers several times had left two months earlier. Since four years management keeps on arranging religious ceremonies inside the factory. They put icons on rikshas and drive them around on the shop-floor. The situation in the company’s new plant in Rajasthan, Bhiwari also seems to be shaky.
Kiran Udyog Worker
(Plot 14, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
There are 300 workers employed at the factory. They work on two shifts of 12 hours each, making parts for Honda 2-wheelers. In February a worker injured two fingers while working at a furnace, one finger was lost. The company didn’t provide anything, the workers collected money for him and sent him to his home for recovery.
Nita Krishna Worker
(Plot 5 / 2, Okhla Phase-2, Delhi)
The minimum wage is not paid, the tailors are paid 260 Rs for an 8 hours day. Workers have conversations amongst themselves: we won’t get anything out of the general strike on 20th and 21st of February 2013, so lets have our own strike on the 22nd. At one o’clock after the lunch break workers stopped work. After 10 minutes the manager offered to increase the wage by 10 Rs, but workers did not start work. A company advisor who is based in the factory phone the police. Two police officers arrived, but workers did not say anything. The advisor called the police again. Two police jeeps arrived and the police men made use of their lathis in order to removed the workers from the factory. The next day workers started working again, after their wage had been increased by 10 Rs.
SKH Metal Worker
(Plot 1, Sector 8, IMT Manesar, within the premises of Maruti Suzuki)
There are 70 to 80 permanent workers and 1,300 workers hired through contractors employed, producing fuel tanks and crank-shafts for Maruti Suzuki. Most workers work 12 hours shifts. The helpers get 5,800 Rs and the operators 6,800 Rs. Workers get ESI and PF. The canteen has been opened, the food is free. The work-load is high. There are 16 – 17 power presses in the factory. Accidents happen. In March one guy had his hand cut at a press, management brought him to a private hospital in Manesar, we don’t know what happened to him and where he is now.
(Mujesar Village, Faridabad)
There is no sign or name at the workshop. There are two women and eight men employed. The women are paid 4,200 Rs and the men between 5,500 and 9,000 Rs. The women work from 8:30 am till 7 pm, the men till 9 pm. There is no single day off in a month. We manufacture moulds. The workshop owner has another workshop in Krishna Colony, there are 25 workers. In both places we manufacture parts for Maruti Suzuki Gurgaon plant. There are no supervisors or foremen in the workshop, but when the workshop owner is not around he makes one of the older workers the boss. In the big factories the production target is fixed, but here you are commanded around all the time, your output is questioned all the time. Now even if you come 5 minutes late you get given shit. In the Mujesar workshops a large number of 14 years old kids are employed.
(Plot 91, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
(from FMS no. 303, September 2013)
There are 30 permanent workers and 170 workers hired through contractors. We work on 12 hours shifts, manufacturing parts for Maruti Suzuki, Hero and Honda bikes. There are 32 machines for plastic injection moulding. The overtime money for May till August was not paid by 24th of September 2013. The August wage was also delayed. When workers complained about it the management phoned a lawyer and threatened them with charging them for trying to give the company a bad name. Management said that they would bring them to the police station. On 21st of September a worker fell ill during his shift, he developed a very high fever. Other workers helped him and got him to the hospital. But the doctor would not treat him, because the company had not issued an ESI card for the worker. On the 22nd of September all workers gathered and stood outside the factory, no one went inside. The workers at nearby Hi-lax and Lumax factories supported them. The contractor arrived, but no worker went inside. They were told that permanent workers and workers hired through contractors should stand separately. But no one stepped aside, people kept on standing together. The fractory manager arrived, but no one listened to him. Workers said that if he wants to keep his dignity he’d better go inside now. At 1 pm the contractor said that outstanding wages and overtime money will be paid and from now on wages will be given on time. At 1 pm workers then went inside the factory and started working. But the contractor did not fulfill his promises. He asked for two days to pay, we gave him four days. So on 28th of September everyone stood outside again. The result was prompt, we were paid the outstanding money and October wages were handed out on time.
Rico Auto Industries Worker
(38 Kilometer Mile stone, Dilli-Jaipur Highway, Gurgaon)
The factory manufactures iron and aluminium parts for General Motors, Ford, Maruti Suzuki, Volvo, Toyota, Renault cars and for Honda and Hero two-wheelers. During the strike of 2009 the two biggest clients, General Motors and Ford, were not delivered with parts, so they stopped ordering parts from Rico in 2010 and 2011. During that time all workers hired through contractors who were employed producing the 15 to 20 different parts for GM and Ford were sacked and the permanent workers were shifted to other product-lines. Nevertheless, around 200 permanent workers in the machine shop sat more or less idle. After three, four month these workers were also sacked in groups of two or four in 2011. Those workers who did not speak up were given 2 lakh Rs as a final due, whereas those who spoke up against the dismissals were given 3.5 lakh Rs. There is a union, they take 120 Rs member-ship fees from the permanent workers per year, but it is a management union. Within one and a half to two years the number of workers came down from 4,000 to 2,500, out of which only 1,000 are permanent. Management has also started a process to shift the factory. Every week or second week they take two, three machines out of the plant. Workers hired through contractor get sacked and there work is now done by permanents. There are three other plants in the region. Workers fear that the permanent workers, who are paid between 14,000 and 25,000 Rs won’t find a job in the new factory. There are rumours that they will shift all factories between Hero Honda Chowk and the Toll Gate within the next four, five years.
Satellite Forging Worker
(Plot 139, Sector 7, IMT Manesar)
(from: Fms no. 306, December 2013)
In this factory only management is on permanent contracts, in production 250 workers hired through three different contractors are employed, manufacturing parts for Maruti Suzuki and Honda motorbikes. It is hard and hot work, processing metal. People get injured a lot, but there is no ambulance. Injured people are put on the back of a motorbike and brought to the local hospital. Over-time is paid single rate and every month at least 8 to 10 hours get embezzled. Satellite Forging pays 500 Rs extra a month if you are present at work seven days a week, but if you miss one day in a month you don’t get this bonus. management swears a lot at workers.
Super Auto Worker
(Plot 13, Sector 6. faridabad)
Here 300 workers work on two 12 hours shifts producing parts for Honda and Yamaha motorbikes. There is not one permanent worker in this factory, 250 are casual and 50 are hired through contractor. None of the workers get ESI and PF. The helpers don’t get the minimum wage, they are paid 5,000 to 5,200 Rs. There is no canteen. You have to eat next to the machines.
ASK Automotive Worker
(Plot 28, Sector 4, IMT Manesar)
There are 100 permanent workers, 200 casuals and 300 workers hired through contractor manufacturing break panels and engine bodies for Honda, TVS, Yamaha and Hero motorcycles. We work 12 hours shifts, on Sundays, too. PF and ESI money is cut from the wages of the workers on contract, but they get neither ESI nor PF. The contractor and their supervisors swear at workers, wages are paid late, 200 to 300 Rs get embezzled every month. CNC operators are paid helper grade.
October 31, 2013
The cycle of struggle 1973 to 1979 in India -
Relevance for the discussion on the relation between crisis, class struggle, ‘popular movements’ and state form today
The crisis blow of the 1973 ‘oil-crisis’ fuelled inflation and pushed up the unemployment rate in India. A year later students in Gujarat protested against the rise in canteen prices. The police attacked them, sparking violent protests throughout the state. Main target of the anger was the ‘corrupted government’ and its repressive forces. Initially the movement spread without an established political party or institution leading it. The state government had to resign. Some months later a similar movement started in Bihar. Apart from engaging in demonstrations, warehouses with hoarded essential goods were raided and prices of commodities reduced. In June 1975 the movement became the official reason for the declaration of a state of emergency, which lasted for two years. After the lifting of the state of emergency violent workers struggles broke out. These struggles were repressed by the new ‘democratic government’, which had emerged out of the ‘popular movement’ prior to the Emergency.
Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, 2013
After the chimera of the ‘neoliberal boom for everyone’ crashed in 2008, the question of corruption re-entered the political stage. In India it took the form of the anti-corruption movement of Hazare, though it never developed the character of a ‘popular revolt’. New ‘popular’ movements emerged: they took over city squares in Spain in 2011, they removed Mubarak’s ‘neo-liberal dictatorship’ in Egypt and we witnessed short outbursts of popular anger in the streets of cities in Turkey and Brazil in summer 2013. Again, police repression against a seemingly minoritarian action triggered a wave of violent protests ‘by the people’ against the corrupted government. Particularly in Egypt we were able to see how out of the popular unrest a new state government came to power, which quickly turned against the continuing proletarian struggle.
For us this historical parallel raises at least two questions:
a) what is the relation between ‘capitalist crisis’ and ‘protests against the impact of crisis as protests against corruption’? and
b) what is a ‘popular movement’ in (working) class terms and in terms of political trajectory and limitations?
In the following we cannot provide any significantly new thoughts concerning these questions, we rather provide some material for debate. We want to re-consider the Bihar movement of 1974 briefly and then focus on the working class unrest between 1977 and 1979 with focus on the industrial area of Faridabad. To focus on the Bihar movement and the post-Emergency trouble is an appeal to see the current ‘popular movements’ (from Spain to Egypt to Turkey) in a wider historical dimension and to engage in a deeper discussion. We think this is necessary because in 1974 the step from a) the ‘total revolution’ called for by the later leader of the Bihar movement, JP Narayan, addressing ‘the common people’ to b) the institutionalisation of the movement in the form of the Janata Party, which came to power in 1977 and immediately turned against the upsurge of working class struggles, was a very short one. The various revolts today are not free from that danger of degeneration, even if they express a goal of ‘true democracy’ and egalitarianism as common citizens. The other trap when criticising the populism of the anti-corruption movements is to see ‘corruption’ as an by-product of privatisation and neo-liberalism. This would run the danger of idealising the state as an institution of public interest in contrast to the private sector of profit-interest and corruption. If at all, rather than privatisation, the state in India in 1974 promoted nationalisation of certain industries (banking, mining), which did not make the regime less ‘corrupt’ in the experience of the people. We conclude the historical documentation with general thoughts about what has structurally changed between 1974 and 2013 and thereby radically limited the scope for social reform and ‘popular movements’.
*** The background: Developmental crunch since the mid-1960s and crisis blow 1973
*** The background: Bihar in the early 1970s
*** The composition and political organisations of the Bihar movement, 1974
*** The chronology of the Bihar movement
*** The State of Emergency, 1975
*** The Janata Party government and the working class unrest 1977 – 1979
*** Conclusions and historical comparison
The crisis in India was not a mere external affair caused by the costs of the India-Pakistan war in 1971 or the blow of the ‘oil-shock in 1973. Bourgeois forces in India, which includes large parts of the left, try to display the economic crisis in India as a result of externally imposed politics (from colonial policies, to IMF re-adjustment programs to global financial speculation), without seeing the underlying general contradictions of capitalist social relations.
In India productive investments slowed down considerably since the mid-1960s, while overcapacity’s increased. At that time around 40 per cent of the capacities of the machinery and equipment component industries were unutilised. While the annual growth of capital formation in the public sector was over 9 per cent during the 1950s till mid 1960s, it slowed down to 0.7 per cent from then on. During the decade 1955-65, total industrial production increased at an average annual rate of 7.8 per cent, while manufacturing output increased at 7.6 per cent. In the following decade, 1965-75, the rates drooped to 3.6 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively.
In July 1969, in an attempt to revamp the state’s authority and to contain the rising wave of discontent, Indira Gandhi nationalised the country’s 14 largest banks, followed by an act of nationalisation of the mining industry few years later. The Communist Party of India interpreted this as a step towards Socialism and from then on backed the Congress government all the way through the repressive phase of the state of Emergency. Nationalisation was more of an attempt to concentrate capital for a leap in re-structuring of major industries and created a brutal ‘Mafia’-type’ of collusion between mining management and Congress trade unions in the mining regions.
On a wider level real wages and per capita income declined from the mid-1960s on. Social unrest culminated in the late 1960s in both urban and rural areas, which caused closures and re-locations of many older industrial plants, e.g. many factories were re-located from West-Bengal to the industrial belt around Delhi. The impact of the global slump 1973 was direct. Over the two-year period to 1974, prices almost doubled on average, while wages remained frozen, when they were not cut. The share of crude oil and petroleum products in India’s import bill jumped from 11 per cent in 1972/3 to 26 per cent in 1974/5. Closures and state policies lead to a concentration process of capital. Between the late-1960s and mid-1970s the assets of medium and large public limited companies doubled. The gross profits of the twenty biggest business houses increased by 60 per cent between 1972 and 1975. Concentration of capital in times of mass unemployment, in particular amongst the ‘aspiring lower middle class youth’, created an atmosphere for popular anger, not just in India, but all over the globe. From the 1973 blow to the early 1980s most ‘developing’ countries underwent major turmoil and extended periods of state repression, from Chile 1973, to India 1975, to South Africa 1976, to Poland 1977, to South Korea and Iran 1979.
One of the significant reasons for why a populist ‘anti-corruption’ movement started in Bihar was the specific composition of capital and ruling class. Bihar, before the creation of a separate state Jharkhand in the south in 2000, was a state rich in mineral resources, producing 46 per cent of India’s coal and 45 per cent of bauxite. At the same time Bihar remained the state with the highest level of poverty. Major steel plants were opened close to the mining areas, e.g. in Bokaro and Jamshedpur, which created major aspirations, but few jobs. The small local bourgeoisie perceived that the benefits of these investments mainly go to ‘outside’ business corporations and the coal mafia or are funneled away into the budget of the central state. In particular after the nationalisation of the mining industry and the allocation of mining jobs to ‘outsiders’, the material ground was created for a certain populist regional identity of both local bourgeoisie and the lower middle-class plus aspiring segments of the working class. This lead to a backing of the Bihar movement by the local bourgeoisie once it became clear that it is actually not about ‘total revolution’, but about questioning the monopoly of central Congress power. It also lead, later on, to the populist Jharkhand liberation movement.
A similar situation existed in the countryside. The local middle peasantry perceived that the main profits in the agricultural sector in Bihar were channeled towards the Jute mill capitalist in neighbouring West-Bengal. Their complaints became louder when after 1973 the central Congress government cut some of the agriculture subsidies to its former social back-bone, the middle-peasantry. For the time being there was no political party representing their social position, which led to the fact that one of the main representatives of the middle peasantry in India at the time, Charan Singh, gave his support to the ‘Bihar movement’ and later on his BLD helped the Janata Party to power in 1977. The middle peasantry was not only looking for support vis-a-vis the central government’s agrarian politics or the agribusiness, but also for dealing with the social unrest of the rural proletariat.
In Bihar in 1970, there were over 600 recorded agrarian agitations, seven times more than in the previous year. Local landlords formed private armies against the allegedly Naxalite (Maoist) uprising and land occupations. In this situation the later leader of the Bihar movement JP Narayan provided a populist ideology, which seemed to address all major problems of the middle-peasantry: a call against the corruption of the Congress government; a Gandhian ideology of peaceful social cooperation and rural development. For the land-owning peasantry he had proven his reliability in 1969 when he intervened in support of the state and landlord in order to repress Naxalites in Musahari, Muzzaffarpur district.
But the backing of certain sections of the bourgeoisie and middle-peasantry does not explain why a movement erupts in the first place. Unrest did not only exist on the countryside, e.g. against corrupt local politicians and moneylenders. In the towns, teachers, government employees, and other sections of the urban ‘professional’ working class raised their voice against sky-rocketing prices, black-marketeering and hoarding – which according to their view was done in collaboration with government officials. The imposition of a professional tax in 1973 added fuel to the fire. While prices went up, the educated sons and daughters of the middle-waged class remained unemployed. The number of colleges in Bihar increased by 284 per cent from 1951-52 to 1966-67. There were 14,000 unemployed graduates in 1967. The number rose to 66,000 in 1972. Protests started, initially still called for by the CPI. A Bihar-wide strike was called for on 21st of January 1974, supported by 400 trade unions, mainly of the public sector, against scarcity of essential commodities and price hikes.
Driving force of the movement were students, professional section of the middle-class (public sector employees, teachers, lawyers etc.) and some segments of the local entrepreneurial class. After an initial phase of mass mobilisations in response to police repression the student union organisations, affiliated to various political parties, became the transmission belts between movement and political class. In early 1974 various student organisations formed the Bihar Student Struggle Committee (BCSS). Of its 24 student members, 20 belonged to upper castes, while in terms of political affiliations, one-third were in the Right-wing ABVP (affiliated to JKan Sangh, a Hindu-nationalist predecessor of the BJP), four were in the socialist SYS, two in the Gandhian Tarun Shanti Sena, two in the Congress (O) and one in another student group. Only seven were not attached to any party or group. At this time most Bihari students were from families of white-collar employees, businessmen and landholders. There were only isolated instances of women participating in the Movement, and these tended to be at lower levels, including “attending to office work”. When looking at the political composition of the Bihar movement we have to keep the bigger global picture of the time in mind. Within India the Cold War situation played its role, with the US block supporting opposition movements as a counterbalance to the Congress and CPI power.
Given their pluralistic political composition of the official student movement on one side and the general mistrust towards the official party system on the other it was no wonder that the student leadership approached JP Naryan to take over a leading position. He had the credibility of a freedom fighter against colonial rule, he had refused official political positions, he had broken with the communist movement and his Gandhian ideology of peaceful and constructive resistance made it possible that he became the personal symbol of a movement which itself was not sure what its unifying elements and goals were, apart from being against the current government and the aspiration of a certain formal equality as citizens. But he was not only an honest politician he also had strong enough ties to the economic powers, e.g. by having served as secretary to the industrial magnate G.D. Birla. More due to the lower middle class composition of the movement, and less due to the peaceful preaching of its leaders, the actual practice of the movement changed from violent outbursts, raiding and looting of black-market warehouses etc. towards a more and more symbolic activity, e.g. silent marches, and for more and more limited political goals, e.g. the dissolution of the Bihar assembly.
There was a ‘Gandhian’ aspect of the movement which remains to be explored, e.g. the call for independent political and economical committees on village and neighbourhood level, educational organisations for the rural poor, proposing the usage of labour-intensive artisan tools and agricultural methods. Other suggested actions were: non-payment of taxes; keeping a check on corruption and bribery in government offices, on blackmarketing and hoarding and on irregularities in ration shops; distributing essential commodities at fair prices; picketing of liquor shops; protecting the land and homestead rights of scheduled castes and ensuring their equal treatment; protecting sharecroppers’ rights; distributing bhoodan (voluntary land distribution) and government land; preventing crime and keeping the peace; flood relief; vaccination and hygiene campaigns; encouragement to renounce dowry-giving and the wearing of the sacred thread by high caste Hindus; verification of electoral rolls; and voter education. These were partly attempts of the movement to ‘socialise’ itself, once urban protests ran out of steam. They were based on an assumption that the ‘village’ was still a potentially self-sufficient entity of small scale agricultural producers and artisans. The impact of these attempts remained marginal. Mass actions of rural labourers were not encouraged. For example, as part of the ‘rural campaign’ it was decided to form Janata Sarkars [bodies of people's rule - a kind of parallel government] in 150 blocks [administrative district] out of the 587 blocks in Bihar. However, by the end of March 1975, only 18 blocks were declared to have formed Janata Sarkars. In Chandi block of Biharsharif district the landed class had formed in January 1974 a Kisan Sangh [farmers' organisation] to protect their (landed) interests, also against the rural proletarian unrest. The governing board of the Kisan Sangh converted itself into a Janata Sarkar. So the Gandhian efforts remained at best marginal. Later on many students saw the attempts to recruit them into these Gandhian organisations as a conscious effort to steer away from the political confrontation with the state.
Efforts to create links between the movement and the wider working class were discouraged by the leadership, e.g. the leadership of the BCSS sabotaged a call for a solidarity strike with the India-wide railway workers strike in April 1974 – an historic chance of a ‘general popular urban anger’ coming together with the structural power of a specific and potentially leading segment of the working class.
The India-wide railway workers strike in May 1974
The strike involved 1.7 million workers, mainly demanding higher wages and shorter working hours. The strike call was given for the 8th of April 1974. Indira Gandhi responded to this call by declaring the strike illegal under the provisions of the “Defence of India Rules”, inherited from the colonial days. Strike activists were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act. The strike lasted from 8th of May till 27th of May. During this period over 50,000 workers were sent to jail and 15.000 lost their jobs. This repression was clearly a precursor of the repression of the state of emergency a year later. But the repression itself cannot explain why the strike remained isolated and ended without success. The official trade union leaders like Fernandes, who was also a supporter of the Socialist party and therefore of the Bihar Movement, were aware of the fact that the strike could spark off an incalculable wave of discontent which would have gone beyond the agitations in Bihar and Gujarat. So they contained the strike as much as they could without losing the strike leader position. Fernandes was later on rewarded with a Union Minister for Industries post in the Janata Party government. One week into the strike, on 15th of May, the non-Congress union federations went through the motions of calling a token one-day general strike in support of the railway strikers. But in the absence of any serious preparation, it was poorly supported outside Bombay and Calcutta. The CP-led trade unions which took part in the railway workers strike predictably tried to curb the strike so that it would not endanger the Congress government – another precursor of the CP’s support of the declaration of state of emergency later on. Two days after the beginning of the strike, CPI spokesmen announced ‘that it should not and will not last long’.
If we return to the relation between the leaders of the Bihar movement and workers’ struggles like the railway workers strike we can see that their motivation to limit the connections between ‘popular movement’ and ‘workers struggle’ might partly have been ‘party political’, given the active hostility between the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the political organisations of the Bihar movement. The CPI sided with the Congress government and displayed the Bihar movement as a ‘fascist and CIA led conspiracy’. It would be superficial to say that this political position of the CPI was based on purely ‘politically tactical’ moves or a ‘wrong understanding of fascism’, as the politics of the CPI trade union (AITUC) towards any offensive working class struggles during and after the Emergency demonstrated – see examples from Faridabad. In turn, the decision of the BCSS leadership not to call for a strike in solidarity with the railway workers can only partly be explained by the fact that the CPI had substantial influence amongst the railway workers. It was also not in their political interest to boost major working class movements.
The Bihar-wide strike in October 1974
The characteristics of the Bihar-wide ‘strike’ called for by JP Narayan on the 3rd to 5th of October 1974 also revealed the composition of the movement. He appealed to students, government employees, businessmen and workers to support the ‘strike’. The Chamber of Commerce supported the call. But organised workers such as the All-India Telegraph Engineering Employees’ Union, Railway Workers’ Union, the Bihar State Committee of All-India Trade Union Congress, etc. opposed the bandh (closing of shops and offices). ‘Public’ life all over the state, except in some industrial towns of south Bihar, remained paralysed on all three days. But it is worth noting that the examinees of BA, BSc, etc. at different examination centres turned up as planned, and factories also kept working.
The political tactics of the leadership cannot explain why the wider (industrial or rural) working class did not take part in the Bihar movement collectively, meaning as collective producers on strike. During the early period, from March to May, the urban poor people were sympathetic to the movement because they felt that students were fighting for their cause. “There were instances of rickshaw pullers not accepting the fare from students and, instead, asking the passenger, “Malik! Chavel ek rupaya ser milega na?” (Master, will rice be available at one rupee a kilogram?) But later, as issues like corruption and dissolution of the Assembly came to the fore, they grew cool because they saw the movement was not meant to solve the problems of the poor.” Here the division between ‘popular movement’ and ‘working class struggle’ is not a specific characteristics of India in the 1970s. We see as similar ‘asynchronous’ relation between waves of workers struggles and ‘popular revolts’ in Argentina 2001/2 or recently during the uprising in Turkey 2013. The working class in India in the mid-1970s was not docile at all, as proven by various rural labour revolts and the massive railway workers strike in April 1974 and later on by the emergence of violent strikes and struggles after the state of Emergency in 1977. But at large it seems a feature of the period shortly after a crisis blow that workers rather risk their physical health in protest battles in the streets than their job, meaning that we rather see popular unrest with individual workers’ participation than political strikes.
The social unrest permeated the repressive organs of the state itself. During the ‘Lucknow Mutiny’ members of the para-military Provincial Armed Constabulary rebelled against their inadequate pay and miserable service conditions by joining the ranks of student protesters they were meant to repress. Apart from this mutiny the year 1973-74 saw a series of high-profile industrial conflicts – a 33-day strike in the jute industry, a 42-day strike by Bombay’s textile workers, a 3-month strike by junior doctors and 3-week lockouts of workers from Life Insurance Corporation and Indian Airlines Corporation, among others.
The Gujarat movement 1974
3rd of January 1974
Students of the L.D. College of Engineering in Ahmedabad went on strike in protest against 20 per cent hike in student canteen prices. Clashes with the police.
7th of January 1974
Call for indefinite strike in all educational institutes. Ration shops (government shops for subsidised food-supply) in Ahmedabad attacked by students and working class protesters.
10th of January 1974
Two days strike (mainly a call for shutting down businesses) crippled bigger towns. Students and lawyers formed the Nav Nirman committee as a representative body. They call for the resignation of the state chief minister.
25th of January 1974
A state wide strike was called and results in clashes in 33 towns. The government imposed for a curfew in 44 towns, but the movement spread further.
28th of January 1974
The army was called to restore peace in Ahmedabad.
9th of February 1974
The state chief minister Patel resigns, the governor suspended the assembly and imposed President’s rule over Gujarat. Nav Nirman called for new election, which was finally held in June 1975, shortly before the declaration of the state of emergency.
During January 1974 in Gujarat 100 people were killed by state forces, 1,000 to 3,000 were injured, and 8,000 arrested.
The Bihar movement
21st of January 1974
The CPI called for a Bihar wide strike against inflation.
16th of February 1974
Students in Patna staged demonstrations demanding reduction of prices for university text books and cinema tickets. They also formed flying squads to check the distribution of essential goods (raids on black-market warehouses etc.).
18th of February 1974
Formation of the BCSS (Bihar students struggle committee)
13th of March 1974
Students set fire to the Bihar University building, demanding the postponement of exams given that due to ‘mismanagement’ courses had not been completed.
14th of March 1974
The government ordered the closure of the university, in response students raided and occupied the buildings.
16th of March 1974
On a demonstration called for by the BCSS against inflation and unemployment three demonstrators were killed by the police.
18th of March 1974
Groups of students assembled near the state parliament in order to prevent a meeting. The police attacked and killed five protesters. People responded with riots. Government buildings were set on fire, so was the residence of former education minister Ramanand Singh; posh hotels and warehouses were looted, railway wagons with food stuff were opened, two media buildings were torched.
19th of March 1974
Riots took place in Ranchi, Dhanbad, Chhapra, Saharsa and half a dozen other bigger towns. Railway stations, post offices, courts, state dispensaries and other government buildings were the main targets of attack. Ten people were killed by the police. JP Narayan accepted a request of the BCSS to ‘take over the leadership of the movement’.
20th of March 1974
A curfew was imposed on eleven towns. The army was called out at several places and ordered to shoot at sight. About 22 persons died in police firings, and several hundred were arrested. Student organisations called for a Bihar wide strike. JP Narayan issued a public letter asking the Bihar Government led by Abdul Ghafoor to resign.
22nd of March 1974
JP Narayan urged the student organisations to reconsider the strike call, fearing that violence would hit back at them.
23rd of March 1974
The strike took place in Patna, the police tried to suppress it, which was answered by riots. 25 people were killed by the state force.
8th of April 1974
JP Narayan’s first major action was to lead a ‘Silent March’ through Patna, with participants wearing material over their mouths, saffron-coloured scarves (Hindu colour) and with their hands tied behind their backs, to demonstrate their non-violence. At a rally following the march, JP announced the commencement of a five week ‘people’s struggle campaign’ aimed at bringing down the State Government.
9th of March 1974
JP Narayan announced to the students that his leadership would be conditional on that they strictly adhere to non-violence. Meanwhile work in many government offices remained suspended either due to internal or external protests.
11th of March 1974
Ghafoor and thirty-nine of his ministers submitted their resignations to the State Governor, who called upon Ghafoor to form a new Ministry. Protests continued.
12th of March 1974
Eight people killed during protests in Gaya. People blockaded the national highway.
21st of March 1974
Huge procession led by JP Narayan against police violence.
23rd of March 1974
JP Narayan left the scene for medical treatment. He set up an action plan for week-long campaigns, mainly hunger strikes in front of politicians houses and processions,
8th of May 1974
The national railway strike started, involving 1.7 million workers, demanding higher wages and shorter working hours. The strike was brutally suppressed by Indira Gandhi government with thousands being sent to jail and losing their jobs. The strike lasted till 27th of May 1974 and was called off without immediate success. The BCSS leadership refused to call for a strike in solidarity with the railway workers.
3rd of June 1974
Counter-demonstration in Patna against the ‘JP Movement’ and ‘for the Bihar Assembly’ [parliament], led by the CPI. Around 100,000 people attend, many of them armed.
5th of June 1974
JP Narayan and demonstrators handed over petition with 10 million signatures to dissolve the assembly. The government had tried to stop transport to Patna, nevertheless one million people took part in the demonstration. At a rally he called for a ‘total revolution’ in the Gandhian sense (decentralised political and small-scale economical units), but added that ‘partyless democracy’ was a future goal and was not an objective of the present agitation.
Between June and October the ‘campaigns’ continued, mainly observed by student activists (educational programs, enforcement of a four months closure of educational institutions)
3rd to 5th of October 1974
A Bihar-wide strike (or rather closure of shops and government services).
Two more rallies in Patna with 500,000 and 1 million participants, but general decline of the movement in terms of activities. Indira Gandhi publicly addressed JP Narayan to ‘let people decide at the ballot box’. He publicly accepted the challenge and the focus of the movement finally turned towards election. On 11th of November the CPI demonstrated their support for the government with 75,000 followers, despite official section 144, which bans demonstrations.
6th of March 1975
Bihar Movement activists march on Parliament in Delhi.
31st of March 1975
JP Narayan said that soldiers and police would be warranted in disobeying unjust and undemocratic orders from corrupt governments, which caused a public outcry.
26th of June 1975
Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, referring to JP Narayan’s announcement regarding army and police orders. JP Narayan was arrested and with him 175,000 to 200,000 other ‘opponents’.
It was not that the state of emergency crushed the movement, it had come to an internal impasse during the months before the emergency, but it had to serve as an official justification. The state of emergency was as much a response to growing social unrest in towns and countryside as an attempt to break the ‘developmental blockade’ which capital in India was not able to overcome since the mid-1960s. There was and is much public focus on the apparent political acts to break the blockade: legal restrictions concerning working class ‘organised’ expressions; campaigns to drive out urban poor from ‘profitable’ areas; ‘encouraged’ and forced sterilisation of the 4.3 million adults of the proletarian population; fiscal support for export industries and foreign investment; reduction in capital gains tax and tax of royalities.
There is little written about the impact of the state of emergency within the production process, e.g. enforcement of productivity schemes, which management was not able to implement during the proceeding years, or large scale re-structuring, ban on strikes and a ‘wage freeze’. As a journalist quoted the general manager of Tata corporation when asked why he supported the emergency: “Things had gone too far. You can’t imagine what we have been through here – strikes, boycotts, demonstrations. Why, there were days I couldn’t walk out of my office onto the street. The parliamentary system is not suited to our needs’.”
Some figures for the scale of restructuring and capitalist offense: within the first months of Emergency 20,000 workers in multi-national companies were laid off, in the first year of Emergency a total of about 700,000 workers were laid off. During Emergency lock-outs account for nearly 95 per cent of (wo)man days ‘lost’ [sic!]. During the first half 1975 17 million (wo)man days were ‘lost’ to strike, during the second half only 2 to 4 million. Strikes were declared illegal, a general wage freeze imposed and annual bonus payment cut by 50 per cent. There was an increase of industrial output of 10 per cent in 1976 compared to 1975, while during the same period unemployment increased by 28 per cent.
The state of emergency turned into a social pressure cooker. The social anger due to inflation and unemployment which existed before was aggravated by authoritarian rule on the countryside, the urban workers’ slums and in the factories. At the same time the two main forces of ‘working class institutionalisation’, the Congress and the CPI had discredited themselves amongst the working class to a large extent. During the sudden upsurge of working class struggles in 1977 to 1979 the Congress trade union INTUC and the CPI trade union AITUC were completely pushed aside. The (pre-) emergency had also been a melting pot of workers activists. There are numerous stories of striking railway workers in Dhanbad area running away from the police force in 1974, who sought shelter amongst the rebellious local mining contract workers who fought armed battles both against moneylenders and coal mafia. Stories of students who had been kicked out of university in 1975, who joined the underground struggle amongst the rural proletariat and found refuge amongst old CPI rank-and-file militants who criticised the state collaboration of their party leadership.
The state of emergency was lifted on 21st of March 1977. On 23rd of March it was announced that the Janata party – a coalition of the Hindu-nationalist Jana Sangh, the Socialist Party, Congress (O) and the BLD (representing the middle peasantry) – had won a sweeping victory, securing 43.2 per cent of the popular vote and 271 seats. The following two years of Janata government mainly proved two things: a) that the contradictions of the Bihar movement as the transmission belt between middle class discontent and party politics only aggravated once the movement became officially and formally institutionalised; b) that under conditions of social crisis and turmoil ‘being in government’ and being in power are two very different things – as, e.g. the recent and equally short ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ government in Egypt has confirmed. In this sense the Janata government had two years to politically bankrupt themselves in the attempt to ride the wave of crisis-related social discontent, before the ‘old party apparatus’ was ready to take over again.
The first political steps of the Janata government showed that they were conscious to appeal to both their power-base (the urban middle-class and emerging new middle peasantry) and to the ‘discontented masses’: increase of the procurement price paid by the state to peasants for certain agricultural products (mainly wheat); announcement of a modest land reform (redistribution of land above the land property ceiling, which mainly benefited the middle peasantry (capitalist farmers who emerged with Green Revolution); in Bihar the Janata government announced that wherever it would cause tension between landlords and workers the minimum wage for agricultural labour would not be imposed; the central government promised the return of the workers’ savings impounded under the compulsory deposit scheme, which was implemented during emergency; the government implemented formal reservation politics for the middle classes of the lower castes (e.g. in Bihar 1,800 ‘reserved’ posts in government employment for in total 200,000 graduates leaving university in 1977); the Janata government took back some of the repressive measures of the state of emergency, but not all, e.g. the Maintenance of Internal Security Act or powers of preventive detention. Another attempt of the government was to create a new ‘central management of industrial relations’, by creating a commission comprising representatives of the central trade unions, the state, the public sector enterprises and the employers’ associations (Varma Committee of Industrial Relations). This internal composition of this committee, like the composition of the rest of the government, was too weak to survive the external pressure.
When we look at the transition period in Spain in 1975, at the Solidarnosc movement in Poland in 1980 or the struggle against the military dictatorships in Brazil in 1985 and in South Korea in 1986/87 we can see how the main ‘democratic pressure’ against state repression is exercised by workers struggle and how the trade unions become transmission belts for a new political class once the trajectory of the struggles can be reduced to and separated into ‘economic’ and ‘political’ demands. It is not a coincidence that Fernandes, the strike leader of the railway workers union later on became a Minister of Industries in the Janata government, and that in Egypt in 2013, the president of the newly formed independent trade union federation becomes a Labour Minister in a ‘democratic and liberal’ government which was put and is held into place by a brutal military coup, slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands. In India in the 1970s the urban working class was quantitatively less significant and the trade unions therefore still less of a potential ‘governmental force’, while the ‘middle classes’ (both in the rural and urban areas) once they faced general social turmoil quite quickly aborted their ‘democratic aspirations’. In this sense the relation between ‘democratic movement’ in 1974, state of emergency in 1975, and new government and the wave of struggles after the lifting of the state of emergency in 1977 has been much more disjointed compared to other emerging industrial countries during this cycle. If we now list some examples of struggles during the period 1977 to 1979 then mainly as proof of the fact that the ‘non-participation’ of workers in the ‘anti-corruption’-movement in 1974 was not due to passivity, but because of the specific class character and trajectory of this movement.
In terms of a general picture the Union Labour Ministry’s estimated that in 1977 21.2 million (wo)man hours were ‘lost’ due to strikes and lock-outs (strikes: 10.5 million and lock-outs: 10.7 million) compared with 12.8 million in 1976. We cannot derive much from official statistics, but we can a) see a clear increase in industrial unrest, but b) also see that unrest did not completely cease during emergency.
Before we look at the period of struggle 1977 to 1979 in Faridabad on a more detailed level, here some short and everything but exhaustive examples of discontent from other regions. Many of the struggles were fought without or against the main trade unions, either by workers without official organisation or by rapidly proliferating ‘independent company unions’ ( the number of unions increased to approximately 10,000 in 1979 from 2000 in 1950, the average size of the unions did not increase).
For people who read Hindi we suggest reading the recently digitalised version of ‘Filhal’, a workers’ paper from Delhi area, published in the late 1970s, which touches upon questions raised In this newsletter. For pdf-file click here.Fllhal77nov-dec_01-26
* Protest marches of workers, Bombay
During the end of emergency, in February 1977, first protest marches of workers took place in Bombay. Bank employees, LIC employees, university teachers and workers of the India United Mill No 6 held marches. The workers of the Madhusudan Mill marched to the owners’ offices. The ESlS local office at Kurla witnessed a protest demonstration by workers demanding an end to corrupt practices and callous behaviour of the officials. While AITUC held conferences in favour of the government and trade unions of the ‘opposition’ parties geared up for election, some smaller independent unions (Sarva Shramik Sangh, Kapad Kamgar Sanghatana, Blue Star Employees’ Union, some mill committees and unaffiliated trade unions) called for a Defence of Workers’ Rights Conference on 8th of March 1977.
March 5, 1977 Struggles Resumed
Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 12, No. 10 (Mar. 5, 1977)
* Strike at Gomia factory, Bokaro, South Bihar
In September 1977 workers at the Gomia factory of Indian Explosives Ltd. went on strike for 36 days. The plant manufactures 58 per cent of the total supply of explosives to Coal India Ltd. Due to the strike coal production was impacted on, losses were estimated at Rs 100 million. This in turn caused problems with the power supply. Major steel works and other coal dependent industries in the area came to a halt.
* Struggle at State Electricity Board, Kerala
During a struggle about restructuring during the second half of 1977 workers of the Kerala State Electricity Board allegedly committed acts of sabotage, which cost the Board Rs 16.2 million in repairs. The government and ‘left’ union leadership blamed ‘CIA agents’ and ‘Maoists’.
* Unrest in Thane-Belapur, Maharashtra
A survey limited to the Thane-Belapur industrial region near Bombay showed that between April and December 1977, there was ‘labour trouble’ which required legal mediation in 114 units. The ‘trouble’ led to a loss of Rs 1,020 million in production.
* Struggle and police massacre in iron ore mines of Dalli Rajhera (Chattisgarh)
The Bhilai Steel plant was one of the biggest industrial investment projects in post-colonial India. It was planned and built in cooperation with the Soviet Union, therefore it was in the focus of party politics in the context of the Cold War. Sixty kilometres away 20,000 male and female workers were employed in the iron ore mines of Dalli Rajhera (Chattisgarh), supplying the steel plant. In 1977 their wages were around 5 Rs a day, most of them were hired through contractors. In the steel plant the permanent workers earned about ten times as much. The mining workers organised a strike in February-March while the Emergency was still formally on. After having been released from jail where he had been put under Emergency, one of the leading figures of the strike became Shankar Guha Niyogi. He had left his job at the Bhilai steel plant in order to ‘organise in the rural areas’, influenced by the Maoist political frame-work. On 2nd of June 1977 – three months after official end of the Emergency – Niyogi was again arrested provoking thousands of workers to demonstrate at the police station and practically lay siege to it. On 3rd of June 1977 police opened fire on the workers’ protest and killed twelve workers. That particular incident of firing was the first of its kind under the new Janata regime that had come to power in March. The CPI line was to declare Niyogi a CIA agent plotting against Soviet Union-related industrial projects. Niyogi was later assassinated by killers of the big industry, shot in his sleep at midnight of 28th September 1991.
* Struggle and police massacre at Swadeshi Cotton Mills, Kanpur
Workers of this mill had already taken management as hostages during Emergency itself. On 26th of October 1977, after wages had not been paid for several weeks most of the 8,000 workers surrounded the factory and held the main managers inside, the trade unions were not involved, leaders of all main trade unions had been beaten up. Workers placed gas cylinders and acid bottles on the roof of the factory and threatened with blowing things up. The workers’ wages were paid after 54 hours of ‘siege’. After various conflicts during previous weeks, on 6th of December around 1,000 workers again surrounded the factory. Trouble with armed security guards started, two managers died in the confrontation. The police intervened by shooting at the mass of workers confined in the premises. Official numbers stated 11 dead workers, workers said that over 100 people died. The new Janata government Minister for Agriculture, Charan Singh commented, that the government “will not tolerate any gheraos [encirclements] due to their illegal character”. The conflict already indicated the ongoing and accelerating restructuring in the textile sector, as management wanted to close down the factory and convert half of its capacity from cotton textile into synthetic textile. Management in many textile mills in Kanpur resorted to lock-outs and did not pay wages. The Bombay textile mill strikes in the early 1980s will become the climax blow of restructuring.
* Struggles at Siemens plants, Bombay
Post emergency, workers in Siemens were agitated since the company had taken advantage of the national emergency and connived with the Siemens Workers Union (SWU) leadership to impose an unfair settlement on them. This resulted in the formation of a new militant union named Association of Engineering Workers (AEW). In spite of the overwhelming support of workers for this new union, the company refused to recognise it. In February 1978, violence erupted between the two union factions and the company declared a lock-out. Following this, the AEW declared a strike. There was more violence against strike-breakers resulting in action by authorities against the striking workers. With the intervention of the Chief Minister of the State, the strike was called off after 10 months. More then 100 workers were dismissed for taking part in the strike and indulging in violence. Sensing the militant mood of labour in Bombay, the company decided to diversify manufacturing activity into new areas with the aim of cutting labour cost and avoiding unions. In 1979, a small workshop was established in Satpur, in Nashik district of Maharashtra, to manufacture switchboards and motor starters. Similarly, in 1980 the manufacture of low tension switchboards were transferred and expanded from Calcutta Workshop to Joka Works, outside Calcutta.
*** Faridabad: A cycle of struggle from 1969 to 1979
Faridabad, in the southern fringe of Delhi, emerged as a new industrial area in the late 1960s and its emergence was connected to struggle: when workers’ struggles intensified in West-Bengal from the mid-60s onwards, over 300 industrial units were shifted to Delhi. There was a large labour demand which could not be met by supply from the Haryana and UP hinterland. The labour demand led to situations that e.g. at Bata shoe factory ‘Brahmin’ ex-villagers would work side-by-side with Dalit ex-agricultural labourers. Here two short accounts from friends who worked in Faridabad in the early 1970s.
“I came to Faridabad from Kerala, in the early 1970s. In Kerala I had been engaged with the illegal CPI(ML), mainly struggling against land-lords. At the time it was not unusual for workers to come the long way from far – south Kerala, there must have been more than 20,000 of us working in Faridabad at the time. There was a huge demand for skilled workers which could not be satisfied from northern areas like Bihar or UP- that has changed quite a bit since then. In 1972 I got a job in the Ford tractor plant, where about 2,500 workers were employed. These were rebellious times, for example shopfloor cleaners forced their way into the separate management canteen and ate from their buffet after their demands for a better canteen service had been ignored. The management then used holy Ganga water to purify their canteen! A comrade and me became elected as representatives of a left-wing union, which organised the vast majority of workers in the plant. The management tried to ignore our union in the Ford plant. The workers were rather angry about that, they had voted for us, because they wanted us to do things. When a general negation between Escorts management and unions took place about 2,000 Ford workers gathered in front of the administration building. They demanded that their reps could be heard. The management refused. Workers wrote a demand notice: “Either the management talks to our representatives or they will be beaten with sandals”. The management remained deaf. Workers then pushed into the main building and surrounded the management, started beating it with sandals like promised. This was hot. The police-force itself was not too reliable at that time – a clear sign for the depth of social discontent. The lower ranks of the police were badly paid and had to work long hours. In Faridabad they went on strike. Some of them were from Kerala and we got in touch with them. In the end they had to bring in the special police force CRPF. They sacked half of the local police and the CRPF disarmed the other half. We put up posters “Police against Workers – CRPF against Police – Army against CRPF: This is Indian Socialism!”. The activities inside Ford got us more and more into the focus of repression. Escorts paid the police good money to find and beat us. During these days most of the arrests were unofficial and never documented. They would pick you up, take you to a faraway station and give you a good beating. The home guards, a rather poorly paid part of the police informed us about the police plans.”
“I grew up in Bihar, in a village, in a poor family. There was very little money. I started smuggling rice, going back and forth between village and the nearest town in West Bengal. That was the time of the Naxal uprising. A lot of trouble also for the industrialists, bombs being thrown, workers on strike and all that. Many companies shifted to Faridabad, for example Orient Fan. They hoped to find more peaceful conditions there. I also went to Faridabad in the late 1960s and started working at Gedore. At that time you even got an appointment letter, you had a six month trial-period and that received a confirmation letter that made you a permanent employee. But there was no peace in Faridabad either. In 1969 East India workers went on strike for higher wages and double rate for overtime. They went on strike for 22 days. The police picked workers up, drove them out of Faridabad and dropped them somewhere in the jungle near Rewari (Rajastahan border). They had to walk back on foot. A lot of workers from Faridabad got detained in Gurgaon prison during that struggle. In 1973 a big strike took place. We at Gedore took part, Gedore was the first plant in Haryana where a CITU union got established. The strike spread to most of the big companies, apart from Goodyear, they had an INTUC union there. We organised a major demonstration to Goodyear, in order to convince them to take part. More than 10,000 workers, the whole National Highway towards Bhalabgarh was one big procession. The police was in riot gear. I saw how they shot the worker, he was alone, not in a mob, but they shot him dead. The other strikes stopped shortly after, our strike continued for three month. I had no income, so I started selling roasted corn-cobs. The strike ended, the company paid 500 Rs for the strike period on the first working day. We could see that they wanted to re-establish good relations. The agreement brought higher wages, but attached to a productivity-based incentive scheme. Since this strike there was peace at Gedore. There was silence inside the factory during the time of Emergency, but trouble in the workers bastis. I lived in Mujesar, police would come in troops and enforce sterilisations. There were also a lot of slum demolitions and re-locations going on. People lived in fear, we slept on the roof hiding. After one raid people got angry and lynched five cops. Gedore increased exports during the Emergency, business went well. Before 1973 workers used to throw around spanners and other metal parts against police or goons. After the strike and the agreement things calmed down. Gedore workers did not take part in the turmoil of the 1977-1979 period, neither in the general strike of 1979. The situation changed from ‘privilege’ – after Metalbox we were paid the highest wages – to fear. The CITU union and management linked up arms, the re-structuring of the 1980s hit us hard.”
After Emergency was lifted, workers’ unrest came to the fore in many factories. Owners of at least 100 factories faced charters of demand from their workers who mainly want the implementation of the minimum wages act and an end to contract labour and other unfair practices. There were hundred of conflicts, managers got beaten up during night-shift, women workers attacked the police. The union landscape was in chaos, many workers had left the CPI union AITUC and the Congress union INTUC – the two parties were also seen as responsible for the Emergency. Here some examples of local struggles after the state of Emergency was lifted:
* June 1977, riot against police repression after murder at Prostolite factory
On 30th of June, all activity in Faridabad came to a standstill. Thousands of factory workers downed their tools in protest against the death in police custody of Harnam Singh, a maintenance foreman, working in one of the leading companies of Faridabad. Violence had erupted in many parts of Faridabad and vehicles proceeding to the capital were stoned, looted and burnt. According to co-workers Harnam Singh had been tortured to death by the police on the factory premises in the presence of the managing director, a sub-inspector of police, and some other senior company officials.
* September 1977, factory violence at Harig India
On the morning of 7th of September, Harig India, a machine tool factory located in Mohan Nagar near Ghaziabad, was the scene of a violent confrontation between workers and the management, in which two persons died, 76 were hurt and the factory was gutted by fire. The workers of this factory formed a union in January 1977 before the Emergency was lifted. All the workers joined the union. After the Emergency was lifted, this union sought affiliation with CITU (trade union of the CPI(M).
On 28th of June 1977, the Union presented a charter of demands. The management brought security guards who carried guns, kirpans, etc..
On 6th of September workers discovered that a week’s wages had been cut from their pay for the alleged tool down strike which, even according to the management, had lasted only three days. The workers refused to take any pay at all. The next morning about ten workers reached the factory gate to put up posters and raise slogans. The security guards advanced towards the factory workers with their kirpans. This confrontation attracted some other workers and passers nearby. As the crowd grew in size, some of the guards allegedly opened fire, the pellets hit the crowd. In the end the factory burnt down and two people, a foreman and a security guard, who both had been firing at workers, were killed. Workers in neighbouring factories went on one-day wildcat strike in solidarity with the Harig workers, a crowd of 20,000 workers gathered next day.
* February 1978, factory violence at Auto-Pin
On 16th of February 1978, over 120 striking workers of the Auto-Pin (India) in Faridabad were arrested on charges of rioting and arson, after they had defended themselves against armed security guards sent in by management to break their strike.
In the following we briefly quote from an article published in EPW no.42 in late 1977. It provides a good summary of examples of local confrontations, expressing the general suspicion of workers towards the established trade unions and the new ‘peoples government’.
* What after CITU?
(EPW no.42, 1977)
“For a brief period it was possible to argue that the ‘labour unrest’ was part of the post-Emergency euphoria. Not so any longer, as the frequent clashes in Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Sahibabad will testify. The cry for reinstatement of those sacked during the Emergency and restoration of rights and privileges is gradually giving way to resentment against the present “democratic excesses”, such as the UP government’s decision to ban strikes in a number of industrial units (private as well as public sector), the partiality of the Haryana police towards owners in Faridabad and the use of hired thugs by industrialists to terrorise workers at Pilakhua-Ghaziabad and Mohan Nagar.
With the increasing inability of the unions to influence the government even as ‘pressure groups’ on behalf of labour, this role of the trade unions is being called into question by labour militants. Outside of the wage demands, there is a widening tendency for workers to “take the law into their own hands”. Trade unionists are forgotten, indeed they remain discreet bystanders, in direct confrontations between workers and managements. They often enter the scene after the event. In a confrontation between workers and some hired thugs in the pay of some Hapur industrialists in July, for instance, it fell upon local union leaders to play the role of “harvest brokers” to placate a 500-strong band of irate lathi-wielding workers. Similar confrontations have been reported from Pilakhua and Sonepat as well.
Even the call for a general strike in Faridabad and neighbouring Badarpur came from the workers with the trade unionists lamely following behind. When irate workers stormed the Prostolite factory and set it on fire, the unionists were beseeching the workers not to destroy “national property”. Some unions, including those of the left, branded the destruction as the handiwork of outside saboteurs, thus disowning the working class they claimed to represent. It was only after workers in Badarpur joined the struggle that the unionists “rose to the occasion” by issuing statements of support and sympathy.
The present writer recalls a rather amusing meeting shortly after with an AITUC leader in the posh air-conditioned offices of a major liquor magnate in the neighbourhood. After some exchanges of compliments between the union leader and the industrialist, the former drew attention to the failure of the police to arrive on time and the resultant “sad loss of national property” (the factory was burnt by the workers). The union leader added, “There is no discipline left after the Emergency”.
Middle level trade union functionaries have had to face some difficult situations. One such left- wing functionary in Faridabad was assaulted in early August by a 4,000 strong band of textile workers. The leadership of the union classified the event as a “plot” hatched by right-wing elements. The issue, however, goes much deeper than a right wing left wing confrontation and the hatching of “plots”, for, if there had been no initial resentment, it would have been difficult for agent provocateurs to ferment a “plot” among workers who till the other day had enthusiastically accepted the leadership of the very unionist they later assaulted. The workers alleged that the assaulted unionist had been responsible for the arrest of numerous worker militants during the Emergency and was even in the pay of the mill management.
By now the organised sections of workers in Faridabad and Ghaziabad have gone through the whole gamut of unions and the sole ‘alternative’ left is the CITU. At each point of time, the shift has been leftwards to more militant unions, but disillusionment also has come faster. As Bhaskar, a militant worker in an oil mill in Ghaziabad said quite cynically, “they are all the same. The CITU talks of working class unity here while the CPI(M), its political leadership assures industrialists in Bengal that gheraos will not be tolerated. Leaders of the 1974 railway strike are ministers today and the same bonus demands of railway workers made then are no longer justifiable today. Such empty talk will not fill our stomachs.” Which still leaves us with the question, “After CITU what?””
To answer this question it suffices to have a short look at the reports on factory restructuring in Faridabad during the 1980s and 1990s, where CITU lend a helping hand to management in many cases – see e.g. example of Gedore factory in the GurgaonWorkersNews History section. The introduction of ‘labour saving electronics’ and automation in the production process and the trade union – management collaboration to mediate and enforce redundancies ultimately broke the collective power of permanent workers in the bigger plants and mills during the 1980s and 1990s. But the restructuring wasn’t just a ‘technological fix’, it needed a violent blow to silence the workers unrest after the blanket of the Emergency had not been able to suffocate it. It was not the creepy market force of neoliberalism which decomposed the workers’ power of the 1970s, it needed brute state force to open the way for the more impersonal forms of domination, be it the publicly arrested flight controllers in the US in 1981 or, as in the case of Faridabad in 1979, a major act of state murder.
* October 1979, Neelam Chowk Massacre
By 1979 the general discontent in Faridabad and other industrial areas around Delhi lead to many workers leaving CITU and BMS, too. In Faridabad a Sangharsh Samiti (struggle committee) was formed, a kind of umbrella organisation which tried to strive on the general mistrust towards the established unions. There were massive acts of violence in many factories, for example at Usha Spinningand Weaving Mills, at Bharati Electric Steel, East India Cotton Manufacturing Mills, Thompson Press. In an attempt to align the general discontent behind their ‘leadership’ the main trade unions called for a Faridabad-wide general strike on 17th of October 1979. A huge crowd gathered near Neelam Chowk, under a huge fly-over. After a short provocation police started firing from strategic positions on both sides of the fly-over. People were forced to jump off the 50 feet high fly-over. Those who were present at Neelam Chowk on the day of the incident reported that not a single leader of any union or political party was to be seen there before or after the incidents. Police chased people, some workers were killed by police gun shots four to five kilometres away from Neelam Chowk. While official figures said that 17 people were killed, unofficial numbers ranged between 100 and 150 dead people. The next day there was silence in the area, apart from the running machines. The area was under control again, the ground for the restructuring was created. Tragically, the police forced many relatives to burn their dead in the crematorium in Gurgaon, in order to avoid trouble in Faridabad. Two decades later Gurgaon replaced Faridabad as the main industrial centre, mainly relying temporary workers and a dispersed, flexible supply-chain industry. If we were out to look for theatrical analogies we could say that the ashes of murdered workers fertilized the re-structuring process of capital. On a wider scale this cycle of struggle was closed with the defeat of the Bombay textile mill strike in 1982 – or on a global scale we could take the example of the massive ‘pro-company’ demonstration against workers’ agitations at FIAT in Italy in 1980. The ‘obvious defeat’ and repression of workers struggle is often a mere starting and or ending point of the more substantial defeat through de-composition of the workers’ power base by re-structuring.
There are many lessons to learn from this period. We can only touch upon a few aspects, relating to the question of how crisis, class struggle, ‘popular movements’ and changes in the regime form relate to each other.
* We can see a global change of the state form of mediation of class struggle during the period between 1967 and 1979, in particular in the so-called ‘developing countries’. The crisis from mid-1960s and the global blow of 1973 narrowed down the scope of mediation of class struggle. We therefore saw rapid changes between ‘dictatorship’ and ‘democratic’ forms, from Chile, to India, to Poland. This decade of unrest, which led the Subaltern Studies to look for the post-colonial specificities of class relations in India actually demonstrated the increasingly intertwined global character of capitalism.
* These changes in the ‘state form of mediation’ are often accompanied by ‘phases of corruption’. Corruption in this sense is an expression for the fact that social relations, including property relations, change quicker than the legal form is able to represent. Corruption is a way to re-compose the cohesion between the political class and representatives of capital. In the case of, e.g. the mining industry, the coal mafia was the expression of corruption during the centralising shift in the mid-1970s and the ‘coal mining contract’ scandal in the 2010s marked the emergence of an internationally intertwined ‘political managing class’. Apart from this, the crisis also enforces a scramble for a piece of cake amongst the ruling class – which takes the form of corruption – given that long-term profitable investments seem out of reach.
* In this phase the popular movements, dominated by a middle-class political perspective form themselves within the framework of ‘anti-corruption’, e.g. fair access to the upper levels of the labour market independent from personal connections to the ruling class. Working class people might form the most dynamic part of these popular movements, but they form it as militant poor citizens not as collective producers.
* Middle-class ‘popular movements’, although their appeal is for more ‘democracy’ do not actually represent the material driving force of democracy in the sense of ‘social egalitarianism’, which originates in the social production process. Due to this fact popular movements in the end remain either toothless, e.g. Bihar movement had no way to deal with repression of Emergency or they institutionalise themselves within the state machinery, as we have seen as much in the case of the Janata Party government in India in 1977 as in the governments in Egypt following the fall of Mubarak.
* In the 1970s trade unions served as a transmission belt between the material power and democracy aspirations of workers struggle and the re-formation of the political class, as could be seen, e.g. in the case of the CC.OO during the transition period after Franco in Spain and to a lesser degree in the emergence of trade union leaders as political leaders in the post-Emergency era in India. This separation into ‘democratic demands’ channeled into parliamentarism and economic demands represented by the trade unions created major tensions, which required state repression in order to be contained.
* If we look at the global dimension of this period then we can say that repression was necessary to shake-up workers’ power of 1967 to 1977 (from Soweto to Danzig), but that the main political attack was lead on the level of re-structuring of the social process of production, e.g. through introduction of electronics and the subsequent possibility to de-compose the fortresses of workers power through relocation and ‘supply-chain management’.
* In India this re-structuring not only impacted on the factory level, but lead to a massive boost in proletarianisation, by largely finishing off artisan production and peasant mode of production in agriculture.
* This restructuring in the production process as a political attack on class power is accompanied by and requires a process of ‘social engineering’ in the ‘public sphere’. The socialisation and spreading out of labour requires an expansion and localisation of central state control. In the case of India this is done through the expansion of the ‘grassroot state apparatus’, which had already been propagated by forces like the Bihar movement, e.g. through extension of the Panchayat Raj (legal reform which ties the village council closer to the central state power and integrates sections of the poor through reservation politics) and NGO-isation.
* On this historical background of structural changes between 1973 and 2008 we can understand the limited scope of the ‘anti-corruption’ movement of 2013 in comparison to the popular movements of 1974. The Bihar movement could still pretend to have an alternative social program: a Gandhian social vision in form of artisan production, village subsistence, and grassroots democratic bodies. The process of proletarianisation (social death of artisans and peasants) and the occupation of the political field by local state and NGOs have closed down the space for social reform.
* The changes in the production process also meant that the trade unions are marginalised and don’t represent larger sections of the working class and therefore are not in the position to engage the working class in a process of ‘democratisation’. The anti-corruption movements post-2008 haven’t produced a Lula, a Fernandes or Walesa; or more specifically, a Charan Singh, who could claim to represent the interest of the peasantry in India as a politician of the Janata Party in 1977.
* The anti-corruption movements represented by Hazare or Ram Dev therefore could only muster comparably pathetic political proposals: the Jan Lokpal Bill (ombudsmen) or the demand to send black money back from Switzerland. They cannot provide any solution to the vast scope of crisis-related social tension. The condition of Morsis government could be interpreted in a similar way: without connection to the state repressive sector and without being able to satisfy popular anger through material concessions the government’s days were numbered.
* Therefore anyone who wants to foster the self-emancipation of the working class should develop a critical analysis of the character of corruption and changes in the state form of mediation, which goes beyond complaining about ‘personal looting in the process of privatisation’. This is necessary in order to help preventing that the working class discontent is instrumentalised as a ‘driving force’ for new middle class leadership of the popular movements.
On Workers of Dalli Rajhara Mines:
On Kanpur Swadeshi Cotton Mills:
Andre Gunder Frank: Emergence of Permanent Emergency in India, EPW No.11, 1977
1967-77 Marriage of Wheat and Whisky, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 12, No. 15 (Apr. 9, 1977),
On Bihar movement:
Bihar Through the Ages
On post 2008-corruption movement: