Wildcat strikes, factory occupations and protest camps

Since June 2011 around 3,500 workers at Maruti Suzuki car plant openly confront the factory regime and its institutional allies in Manesar, in the south of Delhi. [1] Their struggle leaped over to other automobile factories in the industrial corridor, which brought the world’s third largest automobile assembly plant in nearby Gurgaon to a halt. While in the US automobile workers have to confront the introduction of a union sanctioned “Two Tier”-wage system, which enforces a dramatic (global) wage drop and generational division, the Maruti Suzuki workers refuse the status as cheap labour.

In the most significant workers’ struggle in India in the last two decades the young workers managed to undermine the companies’ attempts to divide them along the lines of temporary and permanent contracts. The struggle attacked the core of the Indian development model and puts it into question: integration into global markets and production structures on the highest technological level combined with harshest casualisation of the workforce. While waves of protest against the impacts of the crisis rock the globe, their occupations and protest camps are an angry exclamation that this system is in crisis even when it is ‘booming’. In its potential their struggle is a chain in the missing link between the strike waves at Honda in China in 2010 and the mass mobilisations against corrupt austerity regimes during the ‘Spring Uprisings’ and in the global North in 2011.

We hope to be able to provide some material and thoughts for the necessary debate about this dispute and the general question of ‘how to organise for the self-emancipation of the working class’.

*** Collection of Quotes from the Front-Line –
*** Summary of the Struggle from June to October 2011 -
*** Chronology -
*** General Political Thesis for the Debate -
*** Further Material -
* Links, Videos and Documents (Written Agreements) -
* Contribution for the Debate: A Critique of the ‘Balance-Sheet of the Maruti Suzuki Struggle’ in GurgaonWorkersNews no.41 -
* Article in Faridabad Majdoor Samachar with Workers’ Reports after the first Factory Occupation in June -
* Short Reports by Workers in Automobile Factories in Manesar/Faridabad, Distributed by FMS Shortly before Dispute at Maruti Suzuki Broke Out -

[1] A preliminary balance-sheet after the first occupation can be found here: http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no-941/

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*** Collection of Quotes from the Front-Line -

“When we went home finally after a long stint occupying the factory, we saw how fast the world is changing on television, there are hundreds and thousands of people like us, working people, young people, out on the streets, occupying so many cities, New York, London, Rome…, we realized that we are not alone…that makes us feel very happy…that is why you see so many of us smiling here…we are angry, but we are not beaten, we are out here, and we will not give in now easily…the whole world is watching the whole world.”
(Maruti worker after the end of the second occupation)

“Indisciplined workers inside the plant can cause an even greater loss'”
(Maruti Suzuki chairman R.C. Bhargava, after decision for ‘lock-out’)

“But we are not donkeys. We cannot work like slaves. The problem is the immense pressure. They are extracting the work of 5,000 from half that number. We cannot go to the washroom during any other time, and in case we do, we have to give an unconditional apology letter. We are giving our best to the company, but what are we getting in turn? The production capacity of Maruti has gone up from 10 lakh units to 12.7 lakh units in during the last two years, but our salary has not gone up at all. Where is the incentive for hard work?”
(Maruti worker)

“A process of healing had to begin, and it was clear from the amount of feedback we received from that exercise that we had been somewhat cut off from how they [the workers] were feeling.”
(Maruti official after the first occupation and the decision to engage Brahmakumaris spiritual organisation for ‘re-conciliation’)

“My wife and I talked it over. We decided we’re young enough to fight this. What do we have to lose? If we win, we don’t have to be slaves any anymore. If we lose, I’ll find work somewhere else.”
(Maruti worker on strike after second occupation)

“Global investors are watching this very closely. India’s low-cost manufacturing growth story is built upon labour stability.”
(Stock-market trader SMC Global Securities)

“We would not call it a strike as there is no labour union at Munjal Showa. It is a fallout of whatever is happening at Maruti’s plant. The protesting workers from Maruti’s plant joined people here at our plant last evening.”
(C.M. Midha, general manager at Munjal Showa after wildcat strike at his factory)

“These hands have worked so hard that had I put them to use in my family farm in Hisar, my folks would have been very happy. We have delivered 2 lakh cars when the management wanted it, working overtime and breathlessly and we have been taken for granted.” Asked why he does not go back home to work on his farm, he shoots back: “I wanted to be something else.”
(Maruti worker)

“We are on strike in support of the Manesar workers. Once they are issues are resolved then we will raise our demands. Our workers are paid less than what the company pays the Manesar workers. We want the same pay for all workers.”
(Powertrain Union official, 21st of October)

“When you look at this entire situation, then we admit that there is a need for us to bring in adaptability in a young population that is very, very young. I think definitely, it must be somewhere more from the side of the young inexperienced workers and I think it is typically a question of capability to adjust and adapt and have some respect for law”
(Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) Managing Executive Officer, after the start of the second occupation)

“Once a problem starts, it does not just go away.”
(Maruti chairman R.C. Bhargava after the ‘lock-out’ started)

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*** Summary of the Struggle from June to October 2011 -

Struggle at Maruti Suzuki in India:
Wildcat strikes, factory occupations and protest camps

Since June 2011 around 3,500 workers at Maruti Suzuki car plant are confronting the factory regime and its institutional allies in Manesar, in the south of Delhi – also see GurgaonWorkersNews no. 41. Their struggle leaped over to other automobile factories in the industrial corridor, which brought the world’s third largest automobile assembly plant in nearby Gurgaon to a halt. In the most significant workers’ struggle in India in the last two decades the young workers managed to undermine the companies’ attempts to divide them along the lines of temporary and permanent contracts. The struggle attacked the core of the Indian development model and puts it into question: integration into global markets and production structures on the highest technological level combined with harshest casualisation of the workforce. This casualisation is enforced by various means, ranging from the use of country rifles by local labour contractors to sending individual text messages to the workers company mobile phone (a ‘company present’ for the production of 10 million Maruti cars), calling them back to work. The dispute developed in four phases.

The First Occupation

From 4th to 17th of June the workers occupied the assembly plant after management had tried to sabotage their attempt to form an independent union Maruti Suzuki Employees Union(MSEU). Friends, co-workers, family, supporters provided them with food and other necessities. Casual workers engaged in loading finished Maruti cars joined their strike and demanded the same wage rate as the truck drivers. The main trade union centres called for a solidarity strike on 14th of June, but called it off again last minute. The occupation ended with the management offering only a ‘faked’ recognition of the union as part of a ‘company committee’, while penalising the workers with wage reductions of two daily wages per day of strike.

The Underground

From the 17th of June till 28th of August the dispute continued underground. Workers said that after the occupation foremen and management treated them with slightly more respect than usual. During the first weeks only 1,100 instead of 1,200 cars were produced per day. End of June the state authorities refused the application for union registration for formal reasons. The workers refused to take part in the elections of the ‘company union’ Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU), which is based in the Gurgaon plant and which was set up after a major defeat of workers in 2000/2001, after a long lock-out. The company started hiring new manual workers for assembly line positions from Kanpur and other Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), at the same time they fenced of the grassy and open areas inside the premises, which had served the workers as assembly places during the occupation – which can be seen as preparations for a possible lock-out. On 28th of July the police arrived and took four workers from their work-places to the management offices – the management talked about ‘incidences of violence against superiors’. In protest, workers in the whole plant laid down tools and assembled. The company stopped the buses for the B-shift and refused entry to the arriving workers. The A-shift refused to leave the factory. After about an hour management agreed on letting the B-shift start working. At the beginning of August some workers hired through contractor (temporary workers) complained about the work load and demanded that more workers should be hired for the job. The line manager abused one of these workers, the other workers at the line stood up for him – in the end the line manager had to apologize in front of the gathered workers. The company started to complain about go-slows and According to company sources on 24th of August only 437 of the planned 1,230 cars were produced, out of which only 96 made it through quality check. During this period four workers were suspended and around 40 temp workers sent home.

The Lock-out / Protest-Camp

During the night of the 28th of August around 400 riot cops entered the factory and established themselves there. The company erected a metal barrier around the entrance of the plant and demanded from each worker to sign a ‘good conduct bond’ (no go slows, no sabotage, no singing during work, shave regularly etc.). Only twenty or so workers signed, the others set up a protest camp in front of the factory. Maruti Suzuki transferred engineers and supervisors from Gurgaon to Manesar and started to hire new skilled workers on temporary basis. Till the end of the 33 days of lock-out the numbers of workers inside the plant increased to about 1300, 800 of which had been hired fresh.
On 12th of September around 1200 temp workers at neighbouring Munjal Showa factory went on wildcat strike. Munjal Showa manufactures around 60,000 shock absorbers for two-wheelers a day – the tool-down threatened the production at the local Honda and Hero Honda plants. The next day the Munjal management promised to make 125 workers permanent and complained about the negative influence of the Maruti workers.
On 14th of September several thousand workers at Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki castings and Suzuki Motorcycles in Manesar area went on strike. [1] The HMS union at Castings and Powertrain had been recognised under the pressure of the first occupation at Maruti Suzuki – while at the time AITUC still made major efforts to control the MSEU at Maruti Suzuki. The workers at Powertrain etc. raised their own demands (wages, regularisation of casual workers), but also demanded the end of the ‘good conduct’ lock-out and withdrawal of the suspensions at Maruti Suzuki. Apart from the Maruti Manesar plant, Suzuki Powertrain also supplies the bigger Maruti Gurgaon plant with engines, gear-boxes and axles. After one day of strike management at Gurgaon plant announced to close the factory due to lack of parts for certain models. This is also of importance because Maruti had threatened to ‘re-relocate’ certain models from Manesar back to Gurgaon in order to compensate for the impact of the lock-out. On 16th of September the HMS union called off the strike, after management had considered some of the ‘company internal demands’.
The lock-out continued till 30th of September, in the end the main trade unions advised the workers to sign the ‘bond’, in turn management took back on 18 trainees and converted 44 terminations into suspensions. Both sides declared to take care for harmonious work relations.

The Second Occupation

On 3rd of October production in Manesar was supposed to resume. The management allowed the permanent workers to enter the factory, but refused entry to about 1,200 temporary workers who had taken part in the occupation and protest camp. Management also shifted a lot of permanent workers between departments and production lines, which caused discontent. The wage loss had been a drain on workers scarce resources. Between 3rd and 7th of October around 100 frustrated temp workers took their final dues. The others went to the factory gate put pressure on management (and on their permanent co-workers). On 7th of October the workers inside the Maruti factory occupied the plant again, together with them, workers at Suzuki Powertrain, Castings and Suzuki Motorcycles took the same step: they responded to the attempt of the Maruti management to divide the workers into temps and permanents by engaging in a sit-down strike. They demanded to take back the temps and to re-install the company bus service, which had been cancelled since early October. There were short solidarity strikes in eight more (mainly) automobile factories in the industrial area. At least half of those workers who had been hired during the lock-out and who were now inside the Maruti plant joint the occupation in support of the temporary workers outside.
On 9th of October local labour contractors appear in front of the Suzuki Motorcycle factory, they throw beer bottles and shoot and threatened the striking workers. The Haryana state accused the striking workers to have broken the agreement and gave them 48 hours notice. On 10th of October the Gurgaon plant manufactured only 1,000, instead of 2,800 cars due to lack of parts from Suzuki Powertrain. Two days later management announced closure of the Gurgaon factory.
On 14th of October, after district elections finished and more police force was available, the cops evicted the workers’ make-shift kitchen in the industrial area, which had provided food for around 4000 workers in occupation. Around 2,000 cops were now in the Manesar plant, they started to shut down the canteen, the water supply and the toilets. During the night workers decided to leave the occupation, the next morning the other two occupations ended, too. The strikes continued outside the factories, on the 16th of October Maruti announced that production in Manesar had started on ‘low levels’ with about 800 workers. The same day around 1500 workers at multi-national solar-panel and optical discs manufacturer Moser Baer in nearby NOIDA went on strike for higher wages. The strike at the Maruti Suzuki and the other three Suzuki plants lasted till the 21st of October. In the end management agreed to take back on the 1200 temps and take back some of the terminated and suspended workers. The MSEU is not recognised, but a ‘company welfare board’ is set up, with participation of representatives of both workers and management.

Who are these workers and what do they want?

The pyramid of valorisation
The assembly plant in Manesar was opened in 2007, Maruti hired young skilled workers from various ITIs in Northern India. The majority of workers in their mid 20s. Originally from the hinterland of Haryana or Uttar Pradesh they now live in the industrial dormitory villages around Manesar and Gurgaon, often sharing rooms. Around 1,000 workers are permanents, around 800 are trainees, 400 are apprentices (who work full-time as normal production workers) and 1,200 are temporary workers, hired through contractors. The permanents earn around 13,000 to 17,000 Rs, the trainees around 8,000, the temp workers 6,500 and the apprentices around 4,000. The wage of the permanent workers is composed of a basic wage of around 5,000 Rs (the minimum wage in Haryana) and 8,000 Rs of various bonuses (attendance etc.). This means that the young permanent workers earn considerably less than the permanent workers in the older Gurgaon plant in around 20 km distance or the neighbouring Honda motorcycle plant in Manesar, who both earn around 30,000 Rs. The Maruti factory in Gurgaon was opened in the early 1980s. In 2000/2001 the Gurgaon workers were confronted with a long lock-out of several weeks, similar to the Manesar workers today. Back then the company used the defeat of the workers in order to enforce a Voluntary Retirement Scheme and replaced around half of the permanent workers with temp workers. Today the majority in Gurgaon are temp workers, the severe wage difference – or class division – is managed by the trade union MUKU. The young workers in Manesar did not feel represented by this union and hoped for a solution to their problems by forming their own union.

The new anger, the new aspirations
The young workers have concrete desires: more money and less work and an end to the disciplinary factory regime. They compare their wages to those in other car plants. They complain, that Maruti cuts their bonus payments for any minor delay or as soon as they take a day off, up to 2,200 Rs wage reductions for a day off. They express their discontent about the workload, which does not leave time to get a breath in. The break time does not suffice to walk 400 metres to the canteen and take your meal. You need permission in order to go to the loo. They are angry about the never ending waiting-loops before you get a proper contract. But they did not put these aspirations – more money, less work – in the foreground of the struggle. This could have built a bridge to the 150,000 other workers in Manesar industrial area, because these are common problems and aspirations. Instead they demanded recognition of their union, and later on: re-instatement of the suspended and terminated representatives. They struggle hard and bear huge wage losses for a piece of paper, which they see as a symbol of their unity, as a thorn in the flesh of the hated factory regime and as a hope, that they can establish, solidify or delegate their gains and collective power to a permanent body of representation.

[1]
Suzuki Powertrain India Ltd employs over 2,000 (1,300 – 3,000, 1250 trainee and permanent and over 600 contract workers) workers at its Manesar plant, where it manufactures diesel engines (300,000 per year) and transmissions for supplies to Maruti Suzuki. Suzuki Castings has nearly 700 workers (375-400 trainee and permanent and over 500 contract workers). Suzuki Motorcycles India has 1,400 workers at its plant near Manesar and rolls out about 1,200 motorcycles and scooters a day.

German Translation:

http://www.wildcat-www.de/aktuell/a092_indien_maruti.html

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*** Chronology -

Please feel free to correct and add to this chronology. We need a collective memory for the struggles to come.

The First Occupation: 4th of June to 17th of June 2011

3rd of June
Representatives of the MSEU meet the Labour Department to complete the formalities regarding registration of the union. The same day the labour department officials inform Maruti management about the issue. The management begins forcing workers to sign blank papers in order to be able to sabotage the union formation.

4th of June
Start of the 13 days of the first occupation. After the union reps try to retrieve some of the blank signed papers, management resorts to dismissals and suspensions. Workers start a sit-down strike in the afternoon and occupy the factory.

5th of June
The management starts to seal the factory gates and placed a row of security guards in front of them in order to prevent exchange between workers inside and outside, between workers and supporters and media. In nearby Delhi the police attacks the mass protest of ‘anti-corruption Guru’ Ramdev brutally.

6th of June
Only after a demonstration outside the gate, the food supply through family and friends is permitted again. Police is deployed both inside and outside the premises, they remove some tents, which supporters had put up.

8th of June
The main unions AITUC, CITU, HMS, INTUC, UTUC form a ‘joint action committee’ to ‘support’ the strike.

9th of June
The ‘joint action committee’ mobilises “workers of 50 to 60 factories in Gurgaon”, around 1,000 to 2,000 union members gather in front of the Maruti factory gates.

10th of June
The strike is declared illegal by Haryana government. Two truckloads additional police arrive on the factory premises. Under pressure 250 workers decide to leave the occupation. Due to lack of storage space around 200 to 250 of the suppliers, most of them located in the proximity of the plant, have to reduce or stop production.

12th of June
The Maruti Suzuki management offers to take back 5 of the 11 sacked workers, but the union refuses. The main unions announce a two-hour solidarity strike for the 14th of June 2011.

13th of June
The management announces that it would accept a separate union for the Manesar plant, but under the umbrella of the company council, which would be responsible for wage revisions and other general issues – a fake offer.

14th of June
AITUC secretary Sachdev first announces that the two-hours solidarity strike is on, only to proclaim that it is called off ‘due to negotiations’.

16th of June
The management tells the media that it would try to ‘revive’ production lines in the Gurgaon plant for models, which had been moved to Manesar.

17th of June
End of the first occupation. The dispute is settled with help of main trade unions and MUKU (Gurgaon plant union). Maruti promises to turn the dismissals into suspension. Union reps accept ‘no work, no pay’ plus penalty wage reduction. Maruti says that the occupation has caused 93 million USD loss. Maruti Suzuki brings in external trainers and the spiritual organisation Brahmakumaris to organise sessions with the workers, where they were encouraged to speak about their problems. After lock-out at Denso in 2010 the same ‘spiritual organisation’ had to heal the ‘industrial relations’.

The Underground: 18th of June to 28th of August

18th to 25th of June
According to management sources the output of the Manesar factory during that period was only 1,100 cars per day instead of the usual 1,200. Workers report that most supervisors, who had been high-handed, now treat them with a certain awe.

16th of July
After 11 years the MUKU holds elections. Workers in Manesar boycott the stage show. Only a dozen votes were polled.

26th of July
The application to register Maruti Suzuki Employees’ Union (MSEU) is rejected by the state authorities for formal reasons (illegal strike, faulty signatures).

27th of July
A group of workers hired through contractors complain about the work load and demand more workers to be hired for the job. The department supervisor verbally abuses one of the workers. His workmates support him and the supervisor is forced to apologise in front of the workers.

28th of July
Police enters the factory and take away four workers from their work-places and announce six suspensions. In response workers in the whole plant stop working and gather. The company is forced to ‘show’ that the four workers have not been arrested. The company orders that no buses are sent out to collect the B-shift. Workers arrive by their own means, but Maruti refuses them entry. The A-shift workers refuse to leave the factory. After a short stale-mate the company lets the B-shift workers enter.

8th to 17th of August
Although the management promised to withdraw the suspensions if ‘normality returns to the factory’, management refuses to do so. Instead the company continues hiring new ITI workers from Kanpur and other colleges. The company also fences of all grass and outside areas on the premises, which have been used by workers during the occupation. Supervisors start using their previous high-handedness towards the workers again.

23rd to 24th of August
Four more workers suspended. The company complains about production loss due to go slow and sabotage. “On August 24, 1,230 cars were planned to be produced, but only 437 were assembled. Out of which, just 96 cars could pass quality check”.

The Protestcamp / Lock-Out: 28th of August to 30th of September

28th of August
Start of the 33 days of lock-out / protest camp. During the night, when only a few hundred workers and supervisors on overtime are in the plant a 300 to 400 strong police force in riot gear enter the factory and establish themselves there.

29th of August
The management refuses to let any worker enter the factory without signing the ‘good-conduct undertaking’. Only 18 workers sign. A nearly 500-metre-long aluminium wall is put up covering the service lane, blocking the view from both inside and outside. Notices announce dismissal of 11 workers and 10 suspensions.

30th of August
The company claims to have started ‘production’ in the highly automated areas (weld-, press-, paint-shop) and announces to ‘have found 200 potential ITI workers who will be hired on contract basis in the next 2-3 days’. 12 more workers sacked and 16 more suspended – allegedly all office-bearers of the MSEU.

31st of August
“The company brought in 120 ITI-trained workers this morning to the plant on a contract basis to strengthen manpower for assembly operations”. In addition, 50 engineers from the Gurgaon factory and 290 supervisors are working at the Manesar plant. The company claims to have 500 trained and experienced people available for production. Only 36 workers have signed the bond so far.

1st of September
Nearly 3,000 members from 35 unions in the region assemble in front of the Manesar plant to express solidarity with the protesting workers. The unions announce to go on a tool-down strike the following week if the management declines to negotiate.

2nd of September
Some contractors and Maruti middle-management round up around 150 Maruti workers in Aliyar village near the Maruti plant in Manesar. The workers are threatened and some are beaten. After workers resist the contractors/thugs, the police arrive and arrest some of the Maruti workers. Meanwhile the employers’ association ASSOCHAM asks the Haryana government “to take firm action against those who are trying for sometime to malign the name of Gurgaon, which has become destination for many Indian and global companies.” The company claims to have produced 125 Swift cars from Manesar Plant A and Plant B this day. Normal production in Manesar: 1,200 cars (150 SX4, 300 to 400 A Stars, 650 to 750 Swift).

3rd of September
Some 70 students from Delhi universities visit the Maruti workers. Towards evening, workers have to shift their protest-tent across the road, as the management obtained a court injunction against any protest within 100 metres of the factory. The company claims the current strength of people available for production to be around 800 (90 engineers from Gurgaon, 290 supervisors and 425 new manual workers). The new workers have to stay inside the factory day and night. This workforce is supposed to have produced 150 Swift.

5th of September
The MSEU publishes a communiqué: “The production was at a total halt in the beginning of last week, and in the last 2-3 days, a meagre 8-10 cars were produced in the plant, which are all faulty models somehow clubbed together.” The company claims that so far 63 permanent workers have signed the ‘good conduct bond’.

11th of September
The MSEU meets with representatives from around thirty trade unions and repeats its demand of the right to organise and unionise, to withdraw the charge-sheet, termination and suspension of 57 workers. In turn Maruti announces: “From Tuesday onwards the company will start hiring trained technicians, who will be on the permanent rolls, to replace the current workers who refuse to sign the bond.”

12th of September
Wildcat strike at automobile supplier Munjal Showa in Manesar, which spreads to the companies’ Gurgaon and Haridwar plant. The 1,200 workers in Manesar are hired on temporary basis and are not unionised, they produce around 60,000 shock-absorbers per day. They demand permanent contracts and the company to stop shifting workers between plants. The production at motorcycle factories of Honda and Hero Honda is threatened due to lack of supply.

13th of September
The wildcat strike at Munjal Showa ends. The management agrees to make 125 workers permanent, and to promise that after completion of 3 [5?] years of training, all workers will be made permanent. The management complains about ‘negative influence from Maruti Suzuki workers’. AITUC, CITU, HMS and 11 members of independent unions revive the ‘Joint Action Committee’. In Gurgaon around 1,500 union members and students demonstrate in support of Maruti workers. Maruti claims to have 1,100 work-force in Manesar, after having hired additional 100 ITI workers today.

14th of September
Strike at Suzuki Powertrain Ltd. and Suzuki Castings in Manesar and workers at Suzuki Motorcycle India Ltd. in nearby Kherki Dhaula in solidarity with Maruti Suzuki workers and for own demands. More than 4,000 workers are involved. When asked for support MUKU at Gurgaon plant talks about ‘potential of a hunger strike next week’. Around 350 workers hired through contractor engaged with loading and unloading at Maruti Manesar plant also go on strike and demand driver instead of helper grade. Suzuki announces to locate a planned $1.3 billion passenger car factory in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

15th of September
Negotiations at Suzuki Powertrain, Casting and Motorcycles. Scuffles at gates of Maruti Manesar plant when the company tries to force three buses with temp workers inside the plant. Four strikers injured and arrested. The media reports about 11 injured supervisors.

16th of September
While Maruti announces to close the Gurgaon plant due to lack of parts from Suzuki Powertrain, the union HMS negotiates an end of strike at Suzuki Powertrain and Motorcycles, the workers at Suzuki castings also call off their strike. Gurgaon plant operational again on 18th of September. Meanwhile the “Joint Action Committee” calls for demonstration in Gurgaon, but after the district president of the AITUC was arrested (‘risk of ‘breach of peace’) the demonstration is postponed.

17th of September
Short strike Manesar Honda HMSI plant in order to get the AITUC officer out, at 2pm he is released against bail. At the stock markets analysts downgraded their call on MSIL shares from ‘buy’ to ‘accumulate’.

18th of September
Police arrests three MSEU leaders when they come out from negotiations with management and state administration on basis of phoney charges.

19th of September
The three MSEU leaders are released. Meeting of worried company leaders (Maruti, Bony Polymers, Honda, Rico Auto) to discuss the industrial dispute’. Maruti announces that they will ask 350 trainees to resume duty within next three days and claims to have produced 600 Swift from Gurgaon and Manesar plant (no separate figures for Manesar available). HMS leader proclaim that workers are ready to sign ‘good conduct bonds’, but insist on taking back all suspended and dismissed.

20th of Sep
Maruti dismisses five more workers in connection with the alleged scuffles at the gate.

21st of September
“After exceeding the normal production levels for the Swift, the company is planning to start production of the SX4 and A-star models at Manesar plant,” Maruti claims in a statement and announces to have hired 100 more regular workers. 104 workers at the Manesar plant are said to have signed the ‘Good Conduct Bond’ since the start of the dispute.

22nd of September
Day of solidarity: Demonstration by section of railway union in Japan against arrest of Maruti union leaders. About a dozen trade unions demonstrate in various places across India. More than 100 people protest in front of Haryana Bhawan in Delhi and at a Maruti Suzuki showroom near Connaught Place. Meanwhile the media announces that the total workforce at Manesar has increased to more than 1,300.

23rd of September
Company sends individual SMS to permanent workers mobile phones and asks them to go back to work. Workers’ families in villages are also contacted to ‘convince’ their sons/husbands to resume their duty.

24th of September
Maruti claims to have produced a total of 700 Swift, out of which 400 in Manesar, no other models. 116 workers are said to have signed the bond.

26th of September
Maruti claims that in total 1,400 workers are working at Manesar factory, out of which around 800 newly hired.

27th of September
Talks fail, workers in Manesar accept MUKU (Gurgaon plant union) as negotiator. MUKU announces a ‘hunger strike’ for the 28th of September, in case the management will not move. The AITUC indicates it will press for an immediate return to work if the company agrees to place about half of 62 workers it has fired for “indiscipline and insubordination” on suspension instead. The Economic Times claims that total work-force is at 1,500 and that Maruti started producing the second (out of three) model in Manesar.

29th of September
Two weeks of lock-out of 2,500 Bosch automobile workers in Bangalore begins after tool-down strike. Bosch wanted to outsource certain work-steps and started to dismantle machinery.

30th of September
Agreement and end of lock-out / protest camp. Workers sign bond; 18 trainees are taken back; 15 dismissals revoked and turned into suspension; total 44 permanent workers now still suspended. ‘No work, no pay’ plus one daily wage per day wage reduction as penalty. Maruti says that the 33 days lock-out created 150 million USD loss (22,000 cars).

The Second Occupation: 7th of October to 14th of October

3rd of October
On the first day of work after the lock-out / protest camp Maruti management refuses entry to the 1,200 workers hired through contractor who took part in the protest and previous occupation. Inside the factory Maruti decided to shift a lot of workers from one work-station to the other, which caused discontent, so did the company move to suspend the company bus service, which fetches workers who live further away.

3rd to 7th of October
In frustration and at the end of financial resources around 100 workers hired through contractor take their final dues, while the rest puts pressure on company and fellow workers inside the plant. Contractors try to prevent workers to get to the Maruti gates by threatening them with violence.

7th of October
Workers inside Maruti Suzuki Manesar plant, Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki Castings and Suzuki Motorcycles occupy their factories in support of the ‘locked-out’ temporary workers at Maruti. Workers at Omax Auto, Lumax DT, HiLex, Lumax, Endurance Technologies, Degania Medical Devices, FCC Rico, Satyam Auto go on solidarity strike, a total of more than 10,000 workers.
There are an estimated 2,000 workers inside the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory. This includes about 700 regular workers and also the workers newly hired during the 33 days of lock-out.

8th of October
The company uses the media to claim that the workers are indulging “in several random acts of violence and damaged property inside the factory premises.” “The agitating workers attacked co-workers, supervisors and executives in multiple incidents of violence.” They claim to have ‘rescued’ 350 workers from the factory with the help of the police.

9th of October
Maruti Suzuki India dismisses 10 workers, terminates five trainees, suspends 10 and ‘rescues’ another 100 employees from the plant. Still around 1,500 workers inside and over 1,000 workers outside the factory. Newly hired workers inside the plant ‘fraternise’ with strikers. Meanwhile armed labour contractors (Tirupati Enterprises) fire gun-shots and throw bottles at striking workers outside the Suzuki Motorcycle plant. At least three workers get injured. Police lets attackers get off.

10th of October
Occupations at Powertrain, Motorcycles and Maruti Suzuki continue. Maruti officials announce, that they ‘will need the police to evict the workers”. Police is overstretched due to election time in Hirsa, another district in Haryana, ‘private bouncers’ are hired to keep people out of the industrial area of Manesar – comrades say that the ‘atmosphere is tense’. The Haryana labour department issues a ‘breach of settlement’ notice on striking workers.

11th of October
Due to the halt in supply of diesel engines and transmissions from Suzuki Powertrain India, the production at Maruti’s Gurgaon plant falls to 1,000 units against a normal daily production of 2,800 units. The local class of land-lords and village hierarchy mobilises against the strike: village councils in four villages around Manesar write to the state authorities to ‘find a quick resolution to the strike’. More physical threats from local contractors / village leaders on striking workers.

12th of October
Production in Gurgaon plant falls to 600 units.

13th of October
Maruti announces to shut Gurgaon plant due to lack of parts after five days of strike at Suzuki Powertrain. Some models (M800, Omni, Eeco and Gypsy) do not need parts from Suzuki Powertrain, but their production volume accounts only for a small share. Maruti Suzuki suppliers in turn start to shut their plants, for example Sona Koyo. The elections in Hirsa district are over. At a gate meeting main trade union leaders announce that they will bring the whole of Gurgaon to a stand-still if the police touches the workers inside the factory.

14th of October
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh observes regarding Maruti, ” Labor unrest is a matter of serious concerns, we need to address it efficiently.” 18 workers at Powertrain and 10 at Motorcycle plant are dismissed in the morning. One office member of the MSEU union arrested from his house at 2 am. Raids also take place at houses of other MSEU representatives. More cops enter Manesar, they take down the workers’ food-kitchen, which had supplied around 4,000 workers at Powertrain and Maruti Suzuki plant. There are said to be around 1,500 to 2,500 cops inside the Maruti factory now, they shut down access to water, canteen and toilets. Late at night workers decide to leave the factory and continue strike outside. Maruti complains that some ‘robots have been damaged and machine settings altered’. Earlier the day, according to the media, over 100 analysts, investors and fund managers of Maruti Suzuki participated in a conference call with Sonu Gujjar, president of Maruti Suzuki Employees Union, to ‘talk about the situation’. No leaders of the main trade unions around.

15th of October
Workers at Powertrain and Motorcycles decide to end their occupation and continue strike outside. The MSEU publishes a communiqué saying that they stick to the unity between temp workers and permanents and that they call all trade unions to show support. The AITUC says: “We will observe a solidarity day on October 17″.

The Second Protest-Camp / Strike: 16th of October to 21st of October

16th of October
Maruti workers decide to celebrate Diwali as a black day if demands not met. Maruti announces that “Production has started in a limited way at the company’s plant in Manesar. To start with, the weld shop has been made operational.” Production in Gurgaon resumes, too, although only those models which do not need parts from Powertrain Suzuki Powertrain. Meanwhile in nearby NOIDA several hundred workers at solar-panel and optical disc factory of the multi-national Moser Baer go on strike and demand higher wages.

17th of October
Talks at Maruti between management and union reps fail. The trade union ‘day of solidarity’ takes place: an afternoon (and after work) rally in Gurgaon, several thousand union members from Gurgaon factories and students attend.

18th of October
The company claims that now 400 workers work in the Manesar plant and that 1,700 cars have been produced in Gurgaon. An two-hour tool-down strike announced by the main trade unions were called off, because ‘management entered negotiations again’.

19th of October
Maruti announced that work-force in Manesar is at 600 and that they rolled out 200 cars. Suzuki also claims that production has been started at Powertrain, but the president of the Suzuki Powertrain India Employee Union says that no work happens at the plant apart from cleaning.

20th of October
A dozen unions in Kolkata announce solidarity rallies for the Maruti workers. Labourstart campaign delivers more than 4200 letters to local management in less than 24 hours, complaining about the repression.

21st of October
Agreement in Manesar: the management agrees to take back 64 permanent workers, but another 33 will remain suspended (30 from Maruti, 3 from Powertrain). The 1,200 workers hired through contractors are supposed to be taken back on. Bus service is supposed to be provided again. Instead of recognising MSEU the company will set up a ‘grievance committee’ and ‘labour welfare committee’ with “equal representation from the management and the workers . Presence of a Labour Officer from the state government will be a key comforting factor”. Strikes at Suzuki Powertrain and Suzuki Motorcycles are also called off. The negotiations are said to have been a 42 hours marathon during which workers representatives were put under pressure of ‘pending arrests’ and ‘no permission to leave the venue of negotiations’.

22nd of October
Production resumes in Manesar.

——–

*** General Political Thesis for the Debate -

The following thoughts remain on a rather superficial level due to lack of opportunity for first-hand exchange with workers during the struggle. They are at the same time a call to intensify the debate on an international level.

1) The struggle at Maruti Suzuki was the most important workers’ struggle in India since two decades. For the first time on mass scale the new composition of a young industrial work-force came to itself by confronting the factory regime. They undermined the division in temporary and permanent workers, which had been imposed as a main line of division within industrial working class in India – and not only in India – since the early 1990s. The workers hit the core of the Indian regime’s developmental model, which consists of the integration into the global market and production structure at the highest level of technology and ‘productive cooperation’ – combined with the severe suppression of the aspirations of the work-force, which emerge with this integration.

We say ‘most important struggle’ less because of its quantitative scale, or militancy, or result, but because of its structural character. The struggle brought together the subjective anger of a new workforce with its objective position in the core of the current developmental cycle. Since three decades we witnessed the dismantling of old workers’ core centres, the main struggles evolved as defensive struggles. The centres moved from the textile mill strikes in the mid-1980s (which were undermined by new division of labour between automatised spinning and informalised weaving processes). Throughout the 1990s, the centre shifted to the struggles in the major (automobile) manufacturing companies (Escorts, Maruti Suzuki) [1] against capital’s attack in form of ‘privatisation’, outsourcing, casualisation. These were decades of major defeats of the old trade union movement, which was only able to compensate for their decline by co-managing the emerging class division between a mass of casualised workers and a core of permanents.

We currently see a reversal of the historical trend in automobile manufacturing. From Detroit at the beginning of the 20th century to the Midlands in the UK, to FIATs Turin and Toyota’s factories in the 1950/60s to South Korea and Brazil in the 1970s: while the first generation of car workers produced cars for the middle-classes, the workers of the second generation – through struggles and general productivity increases – were able to afford the product they produce themselves. In India, if at all, this trend has reversed itself, the second generation of car workers is worse off. They are also less attached to company spirits and the automobile dream. At Maruti the various carrots and waiting-loops have lost their gripping effects. The ladder from apprentice, trainee, temp worker, “junior workman” “associate workman”, to the Nirvana of a permanent status or even an award as employee of the year has been broken, the level of casualisation is too high in order to mobilise workers’ illusions. Similarly the patriarchal whip of ‘warning letters’ – three times too late, too slow, too ill and you are out – and other threats have become blunt. Maruti wants to copy the paternalistic ‘Fordist model’ of interference in workers ‘private life’ – workers are supposed to abstain from public activities harmful to the reputation of the company, they have to announce once they are in debts – without being able or willing to pay them the ‘Ford wage’.

The current composition of the workforce at companies like Maruti Manesar plant is the outcome of the defeats and restructuring of the 1980s and 1990s and the further integration into the global production system. It took the working class two decades to ‘find itself’ and turn this ‘precarious, but central structure’ into a more radical basis for its struggle. Current struggles at Bosch in Bangalore or wildcats at General Motors in Gujarat are other indicators that the conflict has returned to the centre again. Here we can see parallels to the strike wave in automobile factories in China in summer 2010. [2]

2) During the last years the divisions between permanent and temporary workers in Gurgaon area deepened. In many cases ‘union recognition’ was enforced by joint-struggles of both categories of workers, but once established, the trade unions could not reverse this trend of increasing separation.

In the few cases where trade unions were established in modern manufacturing industries in Gurgaon area during the last decade this lead to an ‘improvement’ of the position of union members, wage levels rose up to 25,000 to 30,000 Rs, management was able to offer these unionised permanent workers some stability, three-years agreements, regular productivity/sales-related wage hikes. But this ‘improvement’ was paralleled by the reduction of the permanent unionised work-force to about 30 per cent of the total staff. In many cases these workers were granted if not supervisory, but ‘privileged’ position in relation to the increasing mass of temporary workers within the production process, whose wage levels dropped in real terms and hover at about 5,000 Rs. For them ‘three years wage agreements’ have little to do with the reality of frequent job changes and mobility. In many cases the ‘enforcement’ of trade union recognition against the company was only achievable by ‘struggling in unity’ by both permanent and temporary workers, but tragically after establishment the (permanent) workers did not find ways to bridge the widening gap between ‘represented minority’ and ‘marginalised majority’ – see development of the union at Honda HMSI in Manesar. [3]

During the last years, the ‘casualised majority’ of workers appeared several times on the stage of workers’ struggle in Gurgaon and Manesar, e.g. during factory occupations at Hero Honda or Delphi by thousands of temporary workers [4], but in these struggles ‘permanent and temporary’ workers had remained being separated. This was not the case during the current Maruti Suzuki struggle. The material division (quantitative ratio on the shop floor, wages, qualification, origin etc.) between permanent and temporary workers have been less pronounced in the first place. Furthermore, Maruti Suzuki does not seem willing or able to ‘offer’ the young permanent workers a similar ‘privileged’ position (managed by a respectable union body) which permanent workers had been offered during the last two decades. They know that the standards at the central assembly set the standards elsewhere. Both, the objective factors (“ability to finance a division”) and subjective response (“acceptance of division” by workers) were not given at Maruti Suzuki. This is why the struggle carried on.

3) The situation of the global automobile industry makes it difficult Maruti Suzuki to ‘finance’ a class division by granting the permanent workers a privileged position through trade union management. It forces the company to casualise the workforce in the new plants. A draconic disciplinary regime is supposed to impose a more intense combination of underdevelopment (‘speed-up without investment’ of manual work, extension of working hours) and development (automatisation in upstream departments etc.) within the factory. All this fuelled the collective anger.

The conditions have changed quite fundamentally since 2000/2001, when Maruti enforced a major split within the geology of the work-force in Gurgaon or even since 2005, when Honda in Manesar did the same. The global pressure on wages and conditions increased fundamentally with the contraction of markets since the crisis 2008. Due to the lock-out Maruti started production at Manesar ‘Plant B’ three month earlier than planned – a more automatised plant, which was presented as the technological fix to workers’ unrest. Here in an direct sense workers’ struggle pushes capital into aggravation of its contradictions, expansion of productive capacities while reducing its living (and consuming) self. Including the two Manesar plants and the Gurgaon plant Maruti Suzuki’s capacity will be around 1.7 million cars a year, this is nearly as much as the current total domestic Indian market. In July Ford and PSA had announced to each open new assembly plants in Sanand, Gujarat – the market pressure is increasing through overcapacity and potentially swindling demand. The cheap cash for consumers crunches. The Reserve Bank of India has raised interest rates 12 times since mid-March 2010 to rein in inflation, driving down demand for cars. In India about 80 percent of purchases are funded by loans.

The crisis has proven that there is no ‘de-coupling’, meaning that there is no national market or sector or company, which could remain unaffected by the general conditions. ‘Suzuki’ is not a ‘Japanese’ company anymore, the Indian subsidiary accounts for 55 per cent of Suzuki’s global operating income. At the same time its not solely an ‘automobile manufacturer’, which would only depend on car sales. Life Insurance Corporation, ICICI Prudential Life and Bajaj Allianz are among the major shareholders of Maruti Suzuki and the pressure on banking and insurance markets will reverberate within the assembly lines.

Behind the surface of ‘market’ pressures the core of ‘wage’ pressure reveals itself more blatantly on a global level. In September 2011 – while the struggle at Maruti was still intense – the United Auto Workers union in the US agreed on the ‘Two-Tier’-wage-system, which means that newly hired workers will earn only half the wage of the older workers, which will cause an enormous downward pressure on the global wage cascade from the North to the South. These wage pressures are not mediated anymore, with the integration of ‘Indian’ car production into global markets it becomes an ‘immediate’ global wage. Manesar is Maruti Suzuki’s sole global manufacturing base for the A-Star, which exports the compact car to various markets in Western and Eastern Europe, South America, Africa and other parts of Asia. In Europe, Suzuki sells this car as ‘Alto’ and Nissan as ‘Pixo’ – around 9 per cent of Maruti Suzuki’s revenue comes from export.

The squeeze is not solely on wages, but on workers’ brains and muscles. Under these conditions ‘capital has to eat itself’, it has to squeeze workers beyond physical capacities, without re-investments. Within the factory the split (and combination) between development (automatisation) and under-development (manual speed-up, double-shifts) aggravated. After 2008 the work pressure in Manesar increased considerably. Instead of investing into separate production lines, different models were produced at the same ‘flexi-line’, increasing work stress. With an official capacity of 250000 cars, Manesar manufactured 350000 in 2010. Certain departments of the plant, particularly in Plant B, became more automatised after 2010, while the manual operations were simply ‘sped-up’. Workers were more frequently forced to work double-shifts and Sundays, the whole ‘disciplinary regime’ has to be seen on this background.

“The paintshop at the Manesar plant is a schizophrenic combination of cutting-edge robotic technology and brute physical labour. One one side are 12 painting robots. On the other, are workers carrying 25 kilo headloads of used screens up two flights of stairs and returning with a 30 kilo load of clean screens. Each worker has to carry 70-80 screens up and down the stairs, working an extra hour without pay if the job is not done by the end of the shift.”
(FMS, July 2011)

4) If Maruti had calculated to ‘save the investment on a separate trade union’, the actual course of the struggle forced them to accept major losses in order to smash the emerging workers’ collective and to re-impose their regime. In a wider sense it was a ‘political price’ to pay, in defence of the ‘developmental model’ of the ruling class.

The dispute inflicted major losses on Maruti Suzuki at a time when according company claims ‘there are 100,000 open orders for the Maruti Suzuki Swift’ and waiting-times of more than four months. If we leave out all extra-costs (resting capital and capacities, payment for extra-security, bribes, legal and propaganda work etc.) and calculate an average price of a Maruti Suzuki Swift at 400,000 Rs [8,000 USD or 5,800 Euro] when sold to the traders, then a loss of 1,200 cars per day in Manesar amounts to 48 crore Rs [9,600,000 USD or 7,000,000 Euro]. A total loss of 75,000 units, as Maruti claims to have lost between June and October 2011, would amount to 3000 crore Rs [600 million USD or 435 million Euro]. Also Maruti Suzuki’s share-values have suffered, between June and mid-October the share price fell by 16 per cent.

A lot of the business media people wonder about the seemingly ‘irrational stubbornness’ of Maruti to rather swallow such kind of losses than accepting ‘the workers’ right’ to a separate trade union – quite a lot of leftist might have shared this view. We think it is less about the ‘violation of workers’ rights’, but about Maruti Suzuki having to confront developments during the course of the struggle, which forced them to ‘fight it out’. It became a question of who rules on the shop-floor. It became a question of whether capital let workers undermine the core of the current developmental regime by joint unlawful direct action.

5) During the last three decades the local industrial ruling class developed a fairly repetitive manual in order to transform workers’ unrest into leaps of re-structuring. This strategy was able to integrate trade union forms of struggle as long as it stuck to the rules of representation, labour law and/or other calculable forms of struggle. The workers’ actions at Maruti broke the master-plan at several points.

The use of ‘good conduct bonds’ or ‘lock-outs’ in order to tire out struggling workers is no new development. [5] We have seen hundred of times how this strategy in combination of ‘company’-focussed trade union struggle ended in hundreds of defeats. If the management is not able to get the general situation on the shop-floor under control – or if the general conditions force them into re-structuring – they prepare themselves for a ‘showdown’. Often they try to focus on the question of representation, either by crushing the workers’ representatives or by promoting and co-opting them, in order not to have to deal with an unruly and inadressable mass. If that proves to be difficult management prepares for a lock-out (impose overtime to fill stocks, arrange alternative sourcing of extra-parts, start to arrange supply of ‘new workers’). Depending on the economic climate they might announce to ‘close the whole factory’.

The management provokes the workers, e.g. by suspending their representatives. In order to circumvent the accusation of an illegal lock-out management issues ‘good conduct bonds’, hoping that the main trade unions stick to the ‘traditional ways’ of struggle, which means: refusal to sign, confining the struggle to the company gate and occasional demonstrations, reducing the conflict to the question of ‘our victimised leaders’ and thereby making it an individual issue which has little danger to explode into the wider proletarian area. At the same time management tries to keep up production, partly in order to avoid losses, but mainly in order to demoralise the workers. In the meantime they attack the workers outside by all means necessary (thugs, cops, boredom).

After some weeks there is an agreement, which normally results in severe re-structuring and re-placement. The trade union leaders can proclaim ‘a victory’ (“We got our representatives back on” or “We prevented the closure of the company”). The formerly combative collective is dismantled, e.g. by taking back only the permanent workers, or by shifting workers around within the plant. In this way most struggles in recent years got lost and re-structuring boosted. The fact that this set-up has repeated itself so many times is not mainly due to the cunning plans of management or the ‘compliancy’ of the main trade unions, but because of a specific configuration between general economic situation, composition of the workforce and blockades in the re-structuring process.

These conditions have changed. Maruti Suzuki was not able to enforce the usual strategy to deal with industrial unrest. This is mainly due to the unlawful collective action of the workers by occupying the plant and by the threat of spreading wildcat strikes. Instead of sticking to ‘legal campaigns’ ‘and well-meaning symbolic protests’ for their union rights, workers went into an offensive, which gave them an advantage position and raised the stakes. The fact that Maruti Suzuki could not undermine the workers collectivity neither by severe repression nor by replacing them during the lock-out is partly due to the specific nature of the industry and partly due to the general social atmosphere.

6) The decision of workers not to sign the ‘good conduct bond’ and to hand over the factory floor as the main ground for collective struggle to management was a tricky one. Maruti Suzuki did not manage to get full production going during the 33 days of lock-out, but they came close enough in order for the lock-out to become effective as a means of demoralisation.

If it had not been a central assembly plant – an integrated production process requiring the cooperation of hundreds, thousands of workers inside the plant and in combination with the suppliers – the struggle would very likely have been lost during the time of the ‘lock-out’. The company would have managed to demoralise the workers by being able to return to ‘normal’ production with some of the supervisors and newly hired staff. The ‘combative’ stance ‘not to sign the bonds’ would have turned into a ‘voluntary defeat’, because workers would have renounced to stay in the heart of the beast, where they have a faceless collective power: within the production process.

We should critically examine how close the Maruti management came to actually being able to get production going again – with the help of supervisors, engineers from the Manesar and Gurgaon plant and hundreds of newly hired ITI workers. Maruti Suzuki limited the attempt to get production going to only one of the three models manufactured in Manesar. On 31st of August, the third day of the lock-out, the company started production with 50 engineers and 290 supervisors, who had partly been shifted from Gurgaon, and 120 newly hired manual workers. They said that these 460 workers managed to produce 60 cars. Concerned about the companies’ share price development, Maruti Suzuki from then on announced new ‘production records’ on a daily level. On the 3rd of September 840 workers are supposed to have produced 200 cars. On 5th of September the MSEU declared in a communiqué that these figures are more or less bad propaganda, and that not more than a couple of cars are produced per day. Maruti claimed that at the end of the lock-out 1,400 workers produced around 400 Swift a day (normal output around 650) and that they had started to produce the A Star.

They surely did not manage to get production going within a month time, but they came close enough. This forces us in future struggles to make sure to a) not leave the terrain of the factory ‘completely’ to the management, even if there is great unity amongst the workers and b) not to think to be able to rely ‘on ones own strength alone’ even if this strength is as quantitatively massive as in the case of central assembly plants. The collective stance “We all stay out”, “We will not give in into their good conduct bullshit” is definitely an expression of ‘collective will’ – but if not combined with a major effort to actively connect with other workers in the area in order to spread the conflict it might be a step into a swampy ground.

7) Manesar could have turned into India’s Mahalla. [6] The Occupation at Maruti Suzuki took place while the populist ‘anti-corruption’-movement was attacked brutally in nearby Delhi. The social atmosphere (disillusion with corrupt political class, food price development, ‘desperate’ expressions of discontent) is shared with the countries of the ‘Spring Uprisings’ in Northern Africa. Previous to these uprisings, repression triggered unrest and explosive fusions rather than quelling them.

If the extreme poles of managements strategy to defeat a workers’ collective is to either replace them as collective producers or to repress them with brute force then both poles have proven fragile during the Maruti dispute. In 2005 we witnessed that neither Honda management nor the Indian state has major problems with crushing heads of hundreds of workers if it seems like a good way to return to ‘harmonious industrial relations’. This did not happen this time. There are various reasons why Maruti did not consider a violent eviction at the time. Obviously there is the danger of damaging machinery (and the cooperative will of hundreds of skilled workers!) and the possibility that an eviction will not go down well with the other workers of more than 500 factories in Industrial Model Town Manesar.

But we think that there are more specific reasons for why the ruling class is very cautious to make use of mass repression in current times, and these seem to be global reasons: in the current social atmosphere repression does not seem to instil mainly fear, but could create incalculable trigger effects of unrest. We have witnessed this during the recent uprisings in Northern Africa, from Tunisia to Egypt. The parallel to the situation in India is not a mere abstraction. The time of occupation coincided with the rather populist ‘anti-corruption movement’ (Ramdev, Harare), there were the violent attacks of the state on the Ramdev followers in Delhi in early June. There have been ‘suicide attempts’ of followers in desperate acts of ‘solidarity’. An attack on the occupation only miles away could have sparked all kinds of fusions and reactions – some of the Maruti workers had referred positively to the anti-corruption movement. This is understandable giving general situation and the concrete ‘corruption’ at Maruti Suzuki, e.g. at the annual remuneration of the CEO has increased by 419 per cent between 2007 and 2011, while workers’ real wages (and general profitability) dropped. Similarly the allegation that high-rank manager in Maruti’s HR department are personally involved in labour contracting business. This ‘corruption’ is obviously ‘unfair’, but just a drop in the sea of crisis. We have to see the ‘corruption’ primarily as an expression of the current instability of the system: future (profitable) prospects are bleak, the ruling class looks for immediate ‘personal gains’, instead of long-term investment.

During the course of the dispute the area around the Maruti factory turned into something like a ‘proletarian protest-camp’, various political groups turned up, students, family members. It expressed a certain need for spaces to come together in support and debate about what is happening in this world, a need which we can see spreading from Tahrir, to the Spanish square occupations to Wall Street. Manesar could have turned into an Indian Mahalla, where the repression of an organically very organised industrial working class could have given a whole different framework and impetus to a general ‘populist anti-government’ sentiment. We don’t advise workers to look for ‘formal alliances’ with these type of movements, but we should be aware of the general fragile social fabric.

In this social atmosphere the ‘means of repression’ had to be more subtle, but they revealed the wide social front-line which workers have to face: from the desks of the state administration to the metal barriers set-up by the company and staffed with private security guards, from the riot cops to the individual sms send by management to workers’ company phones, calling them back to work – these mobile phones had been a company present for 10 million produced Marutis. From the drunken land-lord thugs and local labour contractors attacking them in their ‘villages’ or in front of the factory with guns to the ‘soothing’ spiritual brain-wash of Brahmakumaris, hired by Human resource management to ‘heal’ the workers from their anger after the occupation. From the ‘panchayat’ leaders of the Manesar villages, linking up with the multi-national Haryana regime, to the investment fund advisors asking for ‘de-risking’ of Maruti’s production location. From the media regime, which portrays them as villains or victims to the production manager who orders to shift them away from their old work-mates to other lines and departments. And last but not least all those institutionalised leaders of trade union apparatuses who promise and postpone and mobilise and call off, all rather in the interest of their own organisations than to strengthen the collective power of the workers.

But we think that all these ‘cogs of the system’ can not explain the paradox that although Maruti’s position had been difficult and the losses significant, the workers did not manage to turn the (company) regime’s weaknesses into their own victory.

8. Despite the unity and sacrifice, despite the 100,000 open orders for Swift cars, despite having imposed full(-stop!) control over the factory… in many ways the workers lost, without having been defeated. We cannot ignore the material wage losses and glorify the struggle for ‘dignity’ and union ideals.

To ask about ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ and ‘true demands’ of workers’ struggles is obviously an awkward matter – see contribution to debate on first Maruti occupation in this newsletter. Let’s start with the official demands and the gains and losses of workers as a result of the struggle. The initial official demand – the recognition of a separate union – has not been enforced, the company and administration offered a watered-down version of a welfare-board. If we just look at the ‘black on white’-results in form of wage slips, termination/suspension letters and agreements, then the workers paid a rather high price for this. Several dozen workers have been suspended, more than 100 temporary workers left the job at Maruti out of frustration – particularly after they were not taken back on 3rd of October. All agreements had an element of ‘moral punishment’ for the workers, either in form of penalty wage cuts or in form of the ‘good conduct bond’, which ‘on paper’ prohibits them to gossip or sing on the job or spend too much time on the toilet. The wage losses are considerably: the sole wage loss amounts to more than 50 days wages, if Maruti actually imposes the penalty wage cuts on the permanents then we talk about a total of about 130 daily wages loss. [7] The media likes to emphasise that these young workers a often unmarried and son’s of small peasants with brothers working somewhere in the army, and that therefore they are able to stick it out ‘with family support’, but anyone can imagine that this is a heavy loss to take, which definitely sets a limit to the participation of poorer and/or temporary workers.

This ‘material’ defeat is contrasted by something like a ‘moral victory’, in the sense that workers fought together for a common aim in form of ‘the union’, symbol for of their unity, for their own interest opposed to the interest of the company and for their hope in future betterment through union representation. They stood up for those who got suspended or terminated throughout the struggle (mainly representatives and office bearers of the union) and – and this is one of most significant decisions a collective of workers took in recent history of class struggle – for their ‘excluded’ temporary co-workers. This is their victory. We can go even further and say that although workers’ struggles tend to have ‘demands’ for betterment of their material situation, in many ways the collective struggle in itself is what we want and what in the end will improve the situation – with or without prove on paper in form of an agreement. We want to say “Enough!” together with others, link up, create a moment where everything is put into question, where we learn new things and where ‘their haughty power’ is broken. This is the political content of any struggle. And the Maruti workers did it! If all this happens around the ‘demand for a union’, let it be, but…

9) It was a tragic short-coming on the side of the workers not too put their concrete necessities into the foreground of the struggle: “More Money, Less Work” – because these had been general necessities of the mass of workers in Industrial Model Town Maneser. If combined with concrete steps ‘from group of workers to group of workers’ to actively generalise, this could have given an additional forceful dynamic to the struggle.

It is useless to debate whether the ‘demand for union recognition’ – reduced later on to the sole demand of ‘withdrawal of termination and suspension’ – has actually been the only demand of the workers. It has been the official demand and leaders like AITUC-president Sachdev have made clear a thousand times that this should be the focus. The initial demands of temporary workers for fixed contracts had disappeared early on.

As workers we cannot allow ourselves to postpone concrete demands and hope that they will be solved at future negotiation tables – particularly not if our general status is temporary anyway. Not only for the immediate sake, for ‘bread and butter’, but also in relation to other workers. The demand for ‘a company union and re-instatement of leaders’ creates less common grounds and potentials for generalisation than a concrete demand of, for example, 500 Rs for 8 hours, stop to double-shift and weekend work, … and all the other common problems of workers in Manesar and beyond. The likeliness of contagion will be higher in the latter. It also makes a difference if workers in a ‘privileged position’ like a booming assembly plant say that after weeks of full-on struggle they got something materially out of their enemy’s hands – or if they have to admit that they have lost a lot of money and only been offered a welfare board.

The ‘generalisation’ of a struggle obviously depends less on ‘the right demands’, but on its form: whether it leads to wider participation and active engagement of a mass of workers. Like demands, the decision about this form of struggle should not be delegated. Here, again, the formal constitution of institutionalised trade unions rather hinder ‘mass participation’ and ‘unity’ (beyond one-day shows) than encourage them. We cannot say much about the relation between the MSEU and the wider mass of Maruti workers. Facing the severe repression and general pressure we can understand that workers have the urge to defend those ‘who stick their neck out’. We don’t criticise the ‘representatives’, we question institutionalised representation and delegation. We have to ask whether ‘formal representation’ actually leads to both ‘immediate workers’ power to enforce our needs’ and to a political mass experience of workers deciding and doing themselves. We have to see that Maruti and the state operated very strategically with their arrests, suspensions and terminations (or withdrawals of them) of the representatives – and by doing so they were able to focus and ‘reign in’ the struggle around this question.

The ‘joint action committee’ which was set up first in June and was then revived during the ‘lock-out’ comprised only few Maruti workers, and if so, then the leaders of the MSEU. In June, out of a meeting of 100 in Manesar, there were only five Maruti workers, the rest were either union officials of the main trade unions or leftist supporters. Comrades noted that often there was little engagement of Maruti workers in the decisions of the ‘official steps of the struggle’ (when to demonstrate) or that in most cases the ‘agreements’ were settled without wider debate amongst the workers. Comrades noted that as long as the relation between Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers and Powertrain workers was mediated through the main union bodies, the different interests of AITUC, HMS and other institutions were actually hindering the coming together – e.g. Powertrain workers not taking parts in the early demonstrations of the Maruti workers in Manesar. Only once workers actually made contact, particularly the casual workers of both plants, they were able to push things to ‘common action’, in particular the second occupation.

10) The most ‘offensive’ and ‘potentially generalising’ leaps within the dispute, which actually questioned Marutis strategy to insulate and choke the struggle, were taken without major decrees and without following the pre-described formula of the labour laws. While officially and formally workers wanted legal recognition, their actual practice went way beyond this. Not the ‘betrayal’ of the main trade unions, but the fact that workers did not develop strong enough independent coordination during the struggle can explain its arbitrary outcome.

There were moments were workers – as part of the union or not – were able to put Maruti and the state on the back-foot. For us these leaps were:
* the first occupation in June, stopping or impacting on production of 200 nearby suppliers within weeks (a major potential, but largely missed chance for getting in touch with these workers);
* followed by the unrest ‘back at work’ in July and August, e.g. the wildcat strike on 28th of August;
* during ‘the lock-out': the wildcat strike of casual workers at Munjal Showa on the 12th of September (which spread to the companies Gurgaon and Haridwar plants), the strike at Suzuki Powertrain and Motorcycles on the 14th of September;
* the decision to occupy again on 7th of October – not at last due to the pressure of 1,000 angry ‘locked-out’ temporary workers.
These were the moments were ‘things could have gone out of hand’ of the (state) management.

It is easy to discard the main trade union leadership for ‘betraying’ the unity, which they claim to symbolise:
* trade union leaders told everyone and the workers that ‘workers are victimised’ and ‘workers are in a bad spot’, while they were on occupation in June and were actually in a rather strong position
* AITUC called off the solidarity strike in June last minute;
* HMS called off the strike at Powertrain in September as soon as it hit the Gurgaon plant;
* regional AITUC president at nearby Honda plant said “We are waiting for the authorities to take initiative to resolve the issue.”, when Maruti workers occupied again in October and were actually threatened by eviction.

We think it is less about ‘betrayal’, but about a general problem with ‘trade union form of struggle’ in times of crisis. If under the general conditions trade unions confine themselves to their set limitations (within legal boundaries, confined to sector or company, based on formal representation and settlements), they will remain largely toothless. If they are toothless, the ‘improvements’ for their members will be counterweighted by the deterioration of conditions of a growing mass of other workers: all those, who remain outside of the formal boundaries which legal trade union struggle can act within. The rapid changes of the social production process (globalisation, new technologies) undermine institutionalised forms of workers organisations further. If unions decide to actually go beyond their limitations, they will face the full brunt of repression and they will have to question their very formal premises. At Maruti Suzuki workers reached this point. So instead of barking about betrayal, let’s focus on the essentials instead: independent organisation of workers. [8]

11) What could be done?

We cannot come up with any master key or all time solutions, but rather some general day-to-day considerations and suggestions. As we wrote in April 2011:

“We will put forward the issue “500 Rs for an 8-hours day – We can’t do it for less’ in Manesar Industrial Model Town. We openly say that such a slogan alone will neither free us from looking at our department or company specific conditions, nor do we have the illusion of a ‘final settlement’. It can help us to debate about concrete steps. Which steps will be specific, which steps can be common? What can we do inside the factory, what in the wider area? We have discussed the issue with some workers employed in different companies. We will put it forward both in form of hand-written posters in the area and inside these companies. We will decide about further steps according to the debate, which hopefully will emerge amongst workers in different factories.” [9]

* Let’s not delegate and postpone our concrete needs! Let’s start formulating with our co-workers what we want and look for commonalities with others. Let’s not go for promises and future settlements, enforce ‘less work, more money’ if we can, here and now.
* Let’s start with collective steps on the level of our day-to-day existence as cooperating workers or neighbours. Let’s share your experiences and debate them with other groups (in other departments, factories, sectors) and find ways to join up in common steps.
* Let’s not give out of our hands the weapon of the collective producer. Don’t let them blind you by all their talk about ‘indiscipline’ and ‘unlawfulness’. Collective ‘indiscipline’ doesn’t cost much, doesn’t need experts, hurts the management and can provide immediate relieve for us.
* Let’s try to find forms of struggle, which do not require individual people sticking their heads out too much, without leaders to be corrupted or squashed.
* Let’s create means of communication and spaces in the wider area to meet and coordinate practical activities on a larger scale, linking up with the experiences on a day-to-day group / factory level.
* Let’s find forms of collective debate and decision making during mass mobilisations or meetings. Don’t wait for calls, plans or decisions from above. Make any effort to spread ‘company struggles’ to other workers, relating to them as co-workers.
* Let’s not give the state or management too much chance to predict our next moves – break their strategy of ‘good conduct bonds’ or other traps. Don’t go for set-up provocations. Don’t stick to their normal procedures.
* Let’s not rely on the spectacle of the middle-class playgrounds (legal proceedings, media, NGO campaigners, political leaders). We should find forms of struggle and communication, which remain independent.
* Let’s make an effort to learn from the current explosion of struggle around the world (occupations of squares, strike waves, riots etc.) – let’s not treat them as ‘glorious’, but examine critically whether new forms of working class organisation and perspectives emerge. Let’s share our experiences with them in a global discussion.
* On the bases of the experiences of the global working class – as producers and as groups in struggle – let’s debate about a social alternative to car production, traffic jams, mega-cities, villages, peak oil, bio-fuels, war machines, the permanent crisis and this failing system.

Friends of Faridabad Majdoor Samachar try to support this process of working class self-organisation by taking part in the discussions amongst striking workers during the Maruti strike, by publishing a monthly workers’ newspaper and by taking part in Faridabad Majdoor Talmel, an effort of workers’ coordination in the industrial belt of Delhi. If you live in Delhi area, please be welcomed to take part. We distribute Faridabad Majdoor Samachar on ten days each month in various industrial areas around Delhi. If you are interested, please get in touch.

For more background on Faridabad Majdoor Talmel:

http://faridabadmajdoorsamachar.blogspot.com/p/fms-talmel.html

Footnotes:

[1]

Extensive material by Faridabad Majdoor Samachar on the re-structuring process at Escorts and the role of the HMS union:

http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/workers-history/#fn131

Overview on the 2000/2001 dispute at Maruti Suzuki Gurgaon plant:

http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no8/

[2]

See comprehensive analysis by Mouvement Communiste:

http://mouvement-communiste.com/documents/MC/Booklets/BR1_China_EN_vF_Complete.pdf

[3]

Documentation of the struggle for union recognition at Honda HMSI in 2005:

http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no7/#fn4

[4]

Documentation of wildcat strikes / factory occupations of temporary workers at Hero Honda and Delphi:
http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no4/#fn2 http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no8/#fn4

[5]

Documentation of ‘management’s strategies’ at Faridabad Gedore Handtools factory:

http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/workers-history/#fn292

[6]

Industrial town in Egypt. Mass strikes in 2005 and 2008 provided impetus and organisational focus for the ‘popular movements’ emerging around Tahrir Square in 2011:

http://www.klassenlos.tk/data/pdf/egypt_interview.pdf

[7]

If we count full days of strike as full working days: 14 days occupation, 33 days of lock-out/protest camp, 14 days of 2nd occupation and strike; plus 28 days penalty wage cut for first occupation, 33 days for lock-out, 14 days for 2nd occupation

[8]

For the historical debate on the question of ‘economic’ and ‘political’ struggle of the working class:

http://libcom.org/library/class-composition-sergio-bologna

[9]

Paper on potential for wage struggles in Manesar, April 2011:

http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no-937/

——–

*** Further Material -

* Links, Videos and Documents -

* Links for the Debate

http://www.radicalnotes.com
http://www.facebook.com/groups/WithMarutiWorkers/?ref=ts

http://kafila.org/2011/09/06/speed-and-control-at-manesar-why-is-the-maruti-suzuki-management-keeping-workers-out-of-its-factory/

* Videos

http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/truth-vs-hype-maruti-trouble-at-the-plant/214402

http://www.radicalnotes.com/journal/2011/10/21/working-conditions-maruti-suzuki-english-subtitles/

http://www.radicalnotes.com/journal/2011/10/20/video-maruti-suzukis-attempt-to-suppress-workers-struggle-subtitled/

http://www.radicalnotes.com/journal/2011/10/18/october-17-gurgaon-rally-in-support-of-maruti-suzuki-workers/

* Documents

17th of June Agreement
The 11 terminated workers will be taken back, but enquiry proceedings will be initiated against them and “appropriate disciplinary action” will be taken. Regular employees will be considered to have resumed work on June 17th, but actual shifts will resume from midnight on June 18th. An extra day of work on June 19th will be required to compensate for not working on June 17th.
In accordance with the provisions of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 and the standing orders of the company, workers participating in the strike are liable to a fine of three days wages for every day of work lost. However, it was agreed that, for the moment, only ten days’ wages will be deducted (ie one day’s wage for each day of the strike). The remaining amount of the fine will be waived if, and only if, the workers maintain good behaviour and discipline, and abide by the rules of the company.
In accordance with the principle of “no work, no pay”, the workers will not be paid for the days they were on strike.
The workers agreed to maintain discipline, ensure expected levels of production and not indulge in any individual or collective activities that would hamper the normal functioning of the factory. The management also agreed not to behave badly or hold a grudge against the workers.
The agreement will be taken as a final resolution of all disputes between the workers and the management.

30th of October Agreement
The details of the settlement are as below:
1. 15 workmen who have been dismissed shall be reinstated and placed under suspension and impartial inquiry will be initiated against them.
2. 18 trainees who have been terminated will be reinstated.
3. 29 workmen placed under suspension will remain under suspension and face impartial inquiry.
4. On the principle of “no work, no pay”, no workman shall be eligible for wages from August 29 until the day of reporting for duties. In addition, a penalty of “deduction of wage for one day” shall be imposed upon them.
5. All workmen shall sign the revised good conduct bond and join duties with effect from October 3.

Good Conduct Bond*
In Terms of Clause 25(3) of the Certified Standing Orders

I,………………………. S/o…………………………. Staff
no…………. do hereby execute and sign this good conduct bond
voluntarily in my own volition in accordance with Clause 25(3) of the
Certified Standing Orders. I undertake that upon joining my duties I shall give normal production in disciplined manner and that I shall not resort to go slow, intermittent stoppage of work, stay-in strike, work to rule, sabotage or otherwise indulge in any activity, which would hamper the normal production in the factory. I am aware that resorting to go slow, intermittent stoppage of work, stay-in strike, or indulging in any other activity having adverse effect on the normal production constitutes a major misconduct under the Certified Standing Orders and the punishment provided for committing such acts of misconducts includes dismissal from service without notice, under clause 30 of the Certified Standing Orders. I, therefore, do hereby agree that if, upon joining my duties, I am found
indulging in any activity such as go slow, intermittent stoppage of work, stay-in strike, work to rule, sabotage or any other activity having the effect of hampering normal production, I shall be liable to be dismissed from service as provided under the Certified Standing Orders.

Date:……………………
Signature of the workman.

“I agree that if on joining duty I am found indulging in go-slow, intermittent stoppage of work, stay-in strike, work to rule, sabotage or otherwise indulge in any activity which would hamper the normal production in the factory, I will be liable to be dismissed from service without notice, as provided under the certified standing orders.”
(i) Apply or obtain leave on a false pretext.
(ii) Lack of proper personal appearance, sanitation and cleanliness including proper grooming.
(iii) Conduct in private life prejudicial to the reputation of the company.
(iv) Remaining in a toilet for a substantially long period of time.
(v) Habitual neglect of cleanliness.

* Contribution for the Debate: A Critique of the ‘Balance-Sheet of the Maruti Suzuki Struggle’ in GurgaonWorkersNews no.41 -

We thank the comrades who took the time to write down a contribution to the debate. We did not yet find the time for a proper reply, but hope that a reply can partly be found in the political thesis of this newsletter and the Faridabad Majdoor Samachar article, following their contribution below.

ARE THE MARUTI WORKERS REALLY DEFEATED?
A DISCUSSION ON “BALANCE SHEET OF MARUTI SUZUKI WORKERS STRIKE”

Published in GurgaonWorkerNews No 41 July 9, 2011

1. We think that this is very unfortunate that the comrades who have drawn up the “balance sheet” have termed this struggle as a defeat. We have been told that “Despite the young workers’ courage and the fact that the company was hit at times of full-capacity the strike ended in a defeat for the mass of workers.” Why? They continued in that line, “They did not enforce any betterment of conditions and wages, which was their main concern.” Is it really a fact that the Maruti workers started this strike for “betterment of conditions and wages” as has been told by the comrades. No, the comrades have completely overlooked the fact that the workers did not start the strike with any such demands. The strike started spontaneously because the management started to coerce the workers to join the management controlled union. It is also a fact that the workers, either a section or whole of them, were trying to organise themselves in a separate, fighting union. Even if it is true that only a section of workers were active in organizing this new union, the fact that the new union had the backing of overwhelming majority of workmen had become evident from later facts. So, actually the strike was not at all for any demands, like wage revision or improvement of their service conditions as has been assumed by the GurgaonWorkerNews. The workers went for a strike to foil the conspiracy of the management to force them into joining the management-controlled union; the workers went for the strike to preserve their right to form their own union, they fought for their control over their own struggle. Had they achieved their demand? Definitely not completely. But, definitely they have foiled the plan of the management and they have done it by fighting alone against such a mighty management like Suzuki management and who had the complete backing of the Government of Haryana, and definitely we can well assume, the overt and covert backing of the Central Government also, which is very likely in this era of Globalisation. Yes, it is fact that the workers could not force the management to recognize the new union. Actually they did not wage their strike to do that. They did not heighten the movement for recognition of their union by management. They kept themselves within the limit to foil the conspiracy of management. They have done it and the workers are not only still organised, they have consolidated their strength and basically they have formed their union through the strike, whether they have got the formal registration or not is immaterial to us. We have seen in the meeting held just after the withdrawal of the strike, the workers themselves could recognize and appreciate this fact that not the registration, but this unity shown and achieved during this 11 day is the real union. But, unfortunately our comrades could not appreciate it. It is obvious that the struggle between the workmen and the management will continue regarding the organisation of the workers, the result of which will decide the fate of their next struggle, struggle for their economic demands. However, for the present the workers have foiled the conspiracy of the mighty Maruti management, they are still united and organised, consolidated their strength and trying to launch their next battle. These achievements are no mean achievement, considering the disintegrated, unorganized state of the working class movement through which we are passing now. The representatives of big bourgeoisie will definitely try to belittle the achievement. Should we also do likewise?

2. Another important achievement of the workers is that they have forced the management to take back the dismissed workmen. It is important because it will help to retain their strength. Had the management been able to dismiss the leadership it would have helped them to advance in their conspiracy to break the unity of the workmen, conversely by forcing the management to take back the dismissed workmen, the workers have been able to advance in the direction of organisation and also future struggle.

3. Even if the workers had not achieved anything palpable (“material gain”), even if they had to go down fighting, would their struggle lose all significance? Should the real representatives of working class think in that way? For one moment remember how many struggles of historic significance had been actually defeated in terms of achievements. No, do not think at all that we are comparing this struggle with any such struggle of historic significance. What we are trying to impress is simply the fact that for anybody who is fighting not for any improvement of the condition of working class keeping the system of exploitation intact but for the abolition of the system of exploitation as a whole, it is not important at all what gains in wages or service conditions the workers are now achieving, the only important thing to them should be whether the workers are uniting and organizing themselves more and more, whether their struggling unity and organisation is preparing them to fight the capitalists, helping them to discover their real strength, helping them to stand on their feet, build their own, independent organisation which will lead them in their struggle for the complete emancipation from the exploitation of the capitalist class. Definitely, these spontaneous, economic struggles of the workmen, especially in the narrow factory plane will not itself advance to the struggle of working class for complete emancipation. But, definitely, through these struggles the workers are awakening and from among these fighting workmen, will awaken the advance, class conscious workers of future working class struggle. Those, who are fighting for the complete emancipation of working class, should not evaluate any struggle of workers from what material gains in terms of improvements in the condition of the workers the struggle could achieve or not, but whether the struggle will help the workers to advance in the long path of struggle for complete emancipation.

4. Undoubtedly there is a tendency among the workers in general to rely on the formal recognition or registration from the Government. Definitely, it is a sign of their backwardness, which we have seen amongst the fighting workmen of different factories, that too, of different areas of the country, who think that the formal registration will help them to maintain their union, will help them to resist the attacks of the management to break their union. We know very well that the real strength of the workers lies in their struggling unity, not in any formal registration or recognition and so the workers should not have depended so much on the registration of the union. However, is it not natural that the workers will display such examples of backwardness, considering the state of the working class movement in which they are in. Is there any real Working Class party to help? To educate these fighting workers? Are there any working class organisations which have the real organic link with the masses of workers, upon whom the workers can depend and also depend in reality? No. There is no force to educate, to guide the fighting workers in their struggle, no force to develop the workers struggle into a real struggle for the complete emancipation from exploitation. The workers are struggling and also learning from the experience of their struggle and life on their own. So, in this process it is very likely that they will make mistakes, but we must keep faith on them and help them. Can we help them by belittling their achievements and inflating their weaknesses, backwardness etc?

5. The workers are learning through their experiences of struggle. Summing up their experiences of the betrayal of established parties, especially the left parties, the workmen are trying to establish their control on their organisation and struggle. The Maruti workers are also showing such signs in their struggle. They have depended somewhat on some establish parties to get the registration, but in essence maintained their independence over their struggle. This is the most significant feature in this struggle. However, the Gurgaon Workers News has rightly pointed out that “is naïve to repeat the phrase of ‘betrayal’ of the main unions.”, the workers should free themselves from any dependence on the established parties and more and more depend on their own strength. We do not know what they meant by ” ‘political’ experience of self-organisation”, but it is undoubtedly true that political consciousness of workers would have helped the workers not only to free them from the influences of the old established parties but also to free themselves from the influences of the reformist politics of these parties. In fact, the dependence of the workers on the legal structures is an apt example of such pernicious influences of reformist politics practiced by the established parties, especially the so-called ‘left’ parties. The political consciousness, more correctly, class consciousness of the workers will help them to free themselves of the pernicious influences of the politics of the establish parties. Not only will it help them to build their struggle for complete emancipation, but also help them to develop the present economic struggles. Once the workers will become conscious about the real class character of the present legal structures, the class character of the established parties, especially the so-called left parties, It will help them to free themselves from dependence on the legal structures ( like dependence on the formal recognition of the union as shown by the Maruti workmen ), to understand the conspiracy of the established parties, and also help them to form and develop their independent organisation, free from the control and influence of the established parties. But how this political consciousness will grow among the workers? Here, we face a paradox. To make the workers really politically conscious we need a real working class party. But, how can a real working class party develop without a substantial segment of class conscious workers, especially in the present situation of defeat of working class movement? So, it is very natural that the workers will fight on their own strength, with the instruments of struggle which they are building up from their past experience and they will also learn from their present experience, from the weaknesses, defeats of the present struggle. Definitely it is tortuous path, but probably inevitable also. Maruti workers are part of this struggle, part of the process of new awakening of working class, who are awakening not only in our country, but in different countries throughout the world. We must help them in this process and to do that definitely we should criticize their weaknesses, but we shall have to do that from a class point of view and obviously upholding advancements they are making. We shall have to understand the real condition of present working class movement, analyse the strength and weaknesses of their movement against this backdrop and understand the achievements and weaknesses of the workers. Otherwise, we will not be able to really help the workers in their struggle.

———

* Article in Faridabad Majdoor Samachar with Workers’ Reports after the first Factory Occupation in June -

FROM HONDA TO MARUTI SUZUKI: A WIDE ANGLE VIEW OF CORPORATE STRATEGIES

(New Series No. 277, July 2011)

WHAT THE MARUTI BALANCE SHEET SHOWS

The 300-acre Maruti Suzuki factory in Gurgaon houses three plants and produces 7 lakh cars a year. The engine plant alone has a manufacturing capacity of 7.5 lakh engines a year.

The 600-acre Maruti-Suzuki plant in Manesar started production in February 2007. This factory houses Maruti’s newest assembly plant with a capacity of 3 lakh cars a year.

Another assembly plant in this factory will begin production in March 2012 and will have a capacity of 2.5 lakh cars a year. The Suzuki Powertrain Diesel Engine factory adjoins Maruti’s Manesar factory. This is a joint venture of Suzuki Motors (70%) and Maruti-Suzuki (30%) and has a capacity of 3 lakh engines a year.

12.7 lakh Maruti-Suzuki cars were produced in 2010-11 – 2.7 lakh units more than the installed capacity of its plants – and representing almost half of all cars produced in India.

Around 1.4 lakh Maruti-Suzuki cars were exported to 120 countries in 2010-11.Maruti earned slightly more than Rs.40,419 crores from sale of its cars during 2010-11.

Maruti-Suzuki contributed a total of Rs.4290.81 crores to the national exchequer by way of excise duties, and paid Rs.820.11 crores in taxes to the Haryana Government in 2010-11.
The company declared a total share capital of Rs.144.46 crores. The value of a Rs.5/- share went up to Rs.79.22 during 2010-11.

After deducting payments to employees (Rs.703.62 crores), bank interest payments (Rs.24.41 crores), costs of raw materials and plant maintenance (Rs.27,576.13 crores) and other expenses, the company declared a net profit of Rs.2288.64 crores.

WHAT THE BALANCE SHEET DOESN’T SHOW

Maruti-Suzuki had 8,500 employees as of March 31, 2011. Only 3,200 of the total of 8,500 employees are factory workers – 2,300 at the Gurgaon factory and 950 at the Manesar factory.
Apart from these 3,200 regular workers, every other worker in the Maruti factories is a contract worker, hired through a labour contractor.

Maruti first started hiring contract workers in 1977. In 2001, after a strike at the Gurgaon factory which was probably engineered by the management and was ruthlessly crushed, 1250 regular workers were laid off. Another 1250 workers were laid off in 2003. As of 2007, the Gurgaon factory had 1,800 regular workers and 4000 contract workers. The number of contract workers at the present date is not known.

According to figures from the ILO, regular workers comprise only 15% of the Maruti-Suzuki factory workforce – 85% are contract workers. This is a much lower proportion of regular workers than in companies such as Nokia (50% regular workers) and Ford (25% regular workers).

Regular workers in the Maruti-Suzuki factory are paid an average monthly basic salary of Rs.5,300/- and an “attendance allowance” of Rs.8,900/-. An amount of Rs.2,500/- is deducted from the salary for every day of non-attendance other than earned leave.

Contract workers hired through a labour contractor are paid an average monthly wage of Rs.7,200/- (for those with an ITI diploma) and Rs.6,200/- (for those who do not have an ITI diploma). There is no provision for leave, and an amount of Rs.2,000/- per day is deducted for absence from work.

THE ARITHMETIC OF PROFIT

Assuming that none of the workers took leave, the total amount paid out by Maruti-Suzuki to their regular factory employees during 2010-11 is Rs.54.52 crores. Assuming that the number of contract workers today is 8,000 (twice that in 2007) and calculating at the higher rate (Rs.7,200/- per month) the total amount paid to the contract workers in 2010-11 is Rs.69.12 crores. The total amount paid to factory workers (Rs.123.64 crores) represents 5.4% of the profits of Rs.2,288.64 crore made by Maruti-Suzuki in the same period.

THE MARUTI FORMULA- “LEAN MANUFACTURING”

One year ago, it took a herculean effort for the Manesar plant, working two shifts on the main (automated) production line, to make 1,100 cars a day. Today, the plant rolls out 1,200 cars every day from the main line and another 150 from the manual line. How has the pace of production has been stepped up?

Maruti Production System or MPS draws learnings from its parent company Suzuki Motor Corporation’s concepts on `lean manufacturing’ under Suzuki Production System (SPS).

Setting trends in new products and achieving customer delight starts with Manufacturing Excellence and Maruti’s manufacturing excellence hinges around four important pillars-Cost, Quality, Safety and Productivity.

Every employee working on the line is ‘cost sensitive’ and functions in capacity of a Cost Manager. He is a key contributor in suggesting how to keep costs of production under control.

A product of poor quality requires repeated inspections, entails wastage in terms of repairs and replacements. “Do it right first time,” is the principle followed to avoid wastage. To ensure quality, robots were devices and deployed, especially where they reduced worker fatigue and were critical in delivering consistent quality. With consistent improvements in the plant the company was able to manufacture over 600,000 vehicles in 2006-07 with an installed capacity of just 350,000 vehicles per year.

“Home or work place; Safety takes First Place”. This has been the motto of the company where safety is concerned. Maruti attaches great significance to safety of its people and strongly advocates that safety at work place adds to quality of the products and improves productivity of the plant significantly.

In the Japanese manufacturing system, the central role is accorded, not so much to Quality, Productivity or Cost, but to Safety. When process flow, lay-out and systems are designed for maximum safety, they automatically contribute to better quality and productivity.
– from http://www.marutisuzuki.com/lean-manufacturing.aspx

The deepening economic crisis is justification enough for companies like Maruti to push even harder to cut costs and increase production. Shorn of jargon, Maruti’s much-lauded lean manufacturing system is the tried-and-tested traditional system of squeezing the workers through increasing workloads, cutting wages and benefits, undercutting investments in safety and increased casualisation of the workforce.

Here’s what lean manufacturing looks like on the factory floor.

The paintshop at the Manesar plant is a schizophrenic combination of cutting-edge robotic technology and brute physical labour. One one side are 12 painting robots. On the other, are workers carrying 25 kilo headloads of used screens up two flights of stairs and returning with a 30 kilo load of clean screens. Each worker has to carry 70-80 screens up and down the stairs, working an extra hour without pay if the job is not done by the end of the shift. The lunch-break (30 minutes) and tea break (15 minutes) are not counted as part of the working time on the shift.

The Quality Maintenance Unit employs 95 workers hired through a labour contractor. Their job includes cleaning out the tanks that hold thinners and solvents. They are always on the C-shift – from 12.30 in the night to 8.30 the next morning. Workers on the C-shift work non-stop. There are no breaks for food or tea. The food allowance of Rs.44/- that they used to be given has now been slashed to half. By the end of the shift, they are exhausted, giddy and nauseous from the chemical fumes they inhale. Workers in the Quality Maintenance Unit put in 32 to 192 hours of overtime every month, for which they are paid only Rs.28/- per hour, well short of the legal minimum of 1.5 times the normal wage. For many of these workers, the shift can extend to 17.5 hours of non-stop work without breaks or food.

“The tea break is seven minutes long. In that time, we have to run to the canteen, line up for tea and a snack, use the toilet and get back to the assembly line – and they expect us to be back with a minute to spare.”

“The line moves so fast that there’s no time even to scratch an itch…”

“The company gave us all mobiles as gifts to celebrate reaching the one crore production mark, but what’s the use – we don’t have the time to call anyone.”

WORKERS AT THE MANESAR PLANT, SPEAKING TO FMS

Casual workers hired through a labour contractor are paid an average monthly wage of Rs.7,200/- (for those with an ITI diploma) and Rs.6,200/- (for those who do not have an ITI diploma). Casual workers on the A and B shifts are entitled to free meals at the canteen. There is no provision for leave. Wages for the day, and an extra penalty of Rs.2,000/- are deducted for every absence from work. Any protests or arguments with the contractor are dealt with by immediate dismissal.

Regular workers are not much better off. Their package consists of a basic pay of Rs.5,300/-, an incentive/attendance allowance of Rs.8,900/-, a house rent allowance of Rs.1,600/-, a Dearness Allowance and an allowance for children’s education, adding up to between Rs.17,000 and 18,000/- a month. Although their contracts include provisions for paid leave and casual leaves, each day off work results in a deduction of Rs.2,200/- from the incentive allowance. The entire amount of Rs.8,900/- is forfeited if a worker takes more than four days off in a month.

Regular workers cannot be threatened by dismissal, but are harassed and humiliated by supervisors who abuse and manhandle them, arbitrarily move them from one assembly line to another, and report them to managers or the HR Unit for concocted offences.

THE STRIKE

The workers at the Manesar factory started a new union in April 2011. The membership included both regular workers and casual workers hired through labour contractors. The management refused to recognize this union. On June 4, 2011, the workers stopped work. The A shift was just ending and the workers on the B shift had all come in. Workers on the C-shift were quickly contacted over the phone and asked to join the strike. Before the management realised what was happening, more than 2,000 men – regular workers, apprentices, trainees and contract workers from all three shifts – had occupied the factory, sending the management into a complete panic.

As the strike went into its second week, the Haryana Government declared it illegal, but was unwilling to intervene as they had done in the Honda strike. Although police were stationed in the factory premises, the management was reluctant to force the workers out of the factory, given the the risk of damage to the equipment. Equally, the workers were determined to hold their ground inside the factory – everyone was aware that being forced or persuaded to vacate the premises would be the beginning of the end, as it had been for striking workers in Rico Auto, Denso, Viva Global, Harsurya Healthcare, Senden Vikas …. crushed protests that left workers far more vulnerable than before.

By the time the strike entered its tenth day, the factory had lost Rs.600 crores and Maruti shares had plummeted in value. It was obvious that the Maruti management and the government were helpless in the face of the workers’ determined refusal to surrender.

The agreement between the workers and the management that ended the strike on June 16th does not reflect this situation. No one reading this extraordinary document would guess that the workers were in a strong bargaining position while the management and the government had their backs to the wall. Instead, those who brokered this “return to normalcy” created a scenario that disempowered the workers and made it seem as if it was their inability to hold out any longer that brought them to the negotiating table.

THE AGREEMENT

The signing of the agreement and the fact that the management agreed to take back the 11 office-bearers of the new union who had been dismissed on 6 June, has been hailed as a victory for the workers by some commentators.

But the terms of the agreement suggest otherwise.

A bitter “victory”

The 11 terminated workers will be taken back, but enquiry proceedings will be initiated against them and “appropriate disciplinary action” will be taken. Regular employees will be considered to have resumed work on June 17th, but actual shifts will resume from midnight on June 18th. An extra day of work on June 19th will be required to compensate for not working on June 17th.

In accordance with the provisions of the Payment of Wages Act, 1936 and the standing orders of the company, workers participating in the strike are liable to a fine of three days wages for every day of work lost. However, it was agreed that, for the moment, only ten days’ wages will be deducted (ie one day’s wage for each day of the strike). The remaining amount of the fine will be waived if, and only if, the workers maintain good behaviour and discipline, and abide by the rules of the company.

In accordance with the principle of “no work, no pay”, the workers will not be paid for the days they were on strike.

The workers agreed to maintain discipline, ensure expected levels of production and not indulge in any individual or collective activities that would hamper the normal functioning of the factory. The management also agreed not to behave badly or hold a grudge against the workers.
The agreement will be taken as a final resolution of all disputes between the workers and the management.

The story of the Maruti Suzuki strike of 2011 is very similar to that of the Honda strike of 2005. The Honda workers were persuaded by the so-called negotiators to come out of the factory. Once they did, they were mercilessly beaten by the police. By brokering this agreement, the self-appointed negotiators in the Maruti case have dealt an even more lethal blow to the workers’ struggle. The Maruti Suzuki management is exhibiting care and concern for workers’ welfare in the immediate aftermath of the strike. If the Honda case is anything to go by, this phase will be short-lived, and will be followed by a further tightening of the screws.

The 1,700 Honda regular employees who launched the strike in 2005 were workers on the factory floor. Of the 1,800 regular workers on the Honda rolls today, a large segment works as supervisors of contract workers hired through labour contractors. For instance, the motorcycle engine assembly plant at the Honda factory in Manesar is run by 4 engineers, 12 regular workers and 110 casual workers hired through a labour contracting company. Each shift in the assembly line in the no.2 motorcycle plant has 8 staff, 3 line leaders, 4 regular workers, 4 casual workers hired directly by the company and 101 contract workers hired through a labour contractor. Workers hired through labour contractors are responsible for the bulk of the production in the Honda plant. There are 6,500 such workers on the production line, and another 1500 in ancillary departments.

THE ISSUE IS GLOBAL

Regular workers and irregular workers. Casual workers employed directly by the company and contract workers employed through a labour contractor. Registered contractors and unregistered contractors. Workers who are entitled to PF and ESI, and workers who are not entitled to these benefits….

As many as 75% of the factory workers workers in Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad are invisible in government statistics. The vast majority – over 80% – of these workers are paid less than the statutory minimum wage. Shifts of 12 to 18 hours are the norm, and overtime is compensated at the same rate as regular duty and not at twice the regular rate as required by law.

The situation of workers in Maruti Suzuki and Honda is mirrored in thousands of small and medium factories operating within the 300 or so square kilometres of Delhi and the NCR, that are connected to other such operations in other cities thousands of kilometres away. All of them are struggling against similar strategies of exploitation and resisting attempts to undermine solidarity and unity.

Yet, it is this globalisation of oppression that is creating the conditions for solidarity across boundaries of race and nation, across different industries, different sectors, different companies.

————-

* Short Reports by Workers in Automobile Factories in Manesar/Faridabad, Distributed by FMS Shortly before Dispute at Maruti Suzuki Broke Out -

Factory Reports – FMS no. 274, April 2011

Flash Electronics (Automobile Parts Manufacturer)
(Plot 3, 8, 9, Sector 27 B, Faridabad)
Together with the general shift of 12.5 hours there is a day shift and night shift of 12 hours each. Those workers who start at 8 am in the morning are supposed to finish at 8 pm, but often they are made to work till 1 am or 5 am next morning. On Sundays workers have to work 8 to 10 hours. There is a lot of pressure to meet production targets. The foremen, supervisors and manager swear at the helpers amongst the casual workers, the general manager also slaps them. In order to meet production targets the general manager also slapped a permanent worker. There are 60 to 70 power presses from 20 to 1,000 tons. Most of the presses are old and there are no safety devices. Most of the presses are run by helpers. On the presses, too, workers have to stay longer after 12 hours shifts, up to 21 hours. The daily pressure, the little space etc. results in many accidents. Parts break, people accidentally press the pedal while hastily taking out finished parts, pressure from the supervisor… one-two-three fingers, thumbs, fingers of both hands get cut off. Each months two-three-four workers cut their hands. If this happens the company does not bring the worker to the (official) ESI hospital, they don’t fill in the accident form, they send the worker to a private hospital in Sector 16. The tools of the power presses weigh 50 to 80 kilos and have to be removed by hand. Hands and feet get squashed. The supervisor swears at the injured worker that the injuries are his/her own fault of having been careless. The injured workers do not receive wages during time of treatment and when not able to work. The company does not pay compensation for lost fingers. When workers want to go to the ESI hospital after first treatment in the private hospital, they demand the accident report, but neither doctor nor company provide this. They also don’t provide the necessary documents for the ESI smart card. On 28th of April a worker operating a power press cut off three of his fingers. He was sent to a private hospital in sector 16 for treatment… We work 100 to 225 hours of overtime each month, paid single rate. From overtime each month 400 to 500 Rs get embezzled. Last year’s DA (inflation compensation) of July was not paid before October and this year’s January DA has not been added to wages yet (March wages). Casual workers received pay-slips in January 2011, but the overtime was not mentioned, no ESI number or PF number given. Casual workers are dismissed after seven months of employment and are rehired after two months of break. There are workers who work continuously in the factory, but their contributions for PF and ESI are not deducted for these two months (meaning that they are officially not employed). There are 100 permanent workers and 1,000 to 1,200 casual workers employed. We produce parts for two and three wheelers. There are 300 to 350 operators amongst the casual workers, the rest are hired and paid as helpers. The operators get 15 Rs per 12 hours shift for tea, 30 Rs for a 17 hours shift and 50 Rs for a 21 hours shift. The helpers get nothing. In Badarpur there is another Flash Electronics factory manufacturing auto meters and they are about to open another plant in Faridabad DLF Industrial Area.

Omega Auto Worker
(Alley no.2, Krishna Colony, Sector 25, Faridabad)
The female workers in this workshop are paid 3,500 Rs, the male workers 3,800 Rs. There is a drill, a welding machine, a lathe, a power press and three CNC machines. Women workers are also employed at the CNC machines. No ESI, no PF for the workers. We work from 8:30 am to 8:00 pm. We manufacture small metal pipes which are used as engine parts for oil and air supply. Our pipes go to Imperial Auto, a different supplier, and from there to Honda, Hero Honda and Maruti Suzuki.

Munjal Showa Worker
(Plot 26, Sector III, IMT Manesar)
There are three 8-hours shifts. After Holi there was a lack of workers. So since 21st of March workers are forced to work double-shifts of 16 hours. They don’t let workers leave, they use physical force to keep people from leaving. We manufacture shockers for Honda, Hero Honda and Yamaha. If you have to stand upright for 16 hours and handle these shockers, this causes great pain. They don’t pay extra for food. The overtime payment is 38 to 43 Rs per hour.

Track Auto Components
(Plot 21, Sector VII, IMT Manesar)
Some power presses are equipped with security devices for health and safety, but some operate with double stroke. Due to the heavy vibrations from the presses a metal part fell from some storage space and hit a worker. The injured worker had to wait, because the van which is usually meant for ambulance transport was used to transport work materials. They had to mend his foot with 12 stitches. On 18th of April a worker cut off four of his finger at a power press. If you have to start working at 7 am you have trouble to prepare your meals. In January they said that they will open a canteen on the third floor, but now they installed a sheet rolling machine there instead. The company hired 30 to 40 staff directly, 600 workers are hired through five different contractors. We manufacture parts for Maruti Suzuki, Honda and Hero Honda. The drinking water is not alright. The filter machines has been faulty for the last 8 months. The workers of the upper floors have to come to the ground floor if they need a toilet – there are always queues. On the upper floor under the roof there are 18 power presses, but not a single fan. On 26th of April Maruti Suzuki sent an audit. Those workers who operate the 160 ton power presses for Maruti parts were given ear plugs and helmets – after the Maruti reps had left the Track Auto managers took the helmets away again. The workers in the press shop often demanded ear protection, but the company does not give out any.

Honda Motorcycles and Scooter (HMSI) Worker
(Plot 1 and 2, Sector 3, IMT)
After increasing production in December last year the company again increased it in April 2011. In the motorcycle plant we had to produce 1,025 instead of 1,000 vehicles, now fixed production target is 1,100. The company swalloed the time to drink water, go to the toilet and get a breath in. Most of the production increase is enforced onto the backs of the 8,000 workers hired through contractors (this includes drivers, canteen staff), and they don’t see a paisa more for it. The illusion that some of the workers hired through contractor employed in the Manesar plant would be hired as permanents in the new Bhivari plant has imploded. The company policy of: “Use the workers and then throw them away” has proven itself clearly. The annual production target of 1.8 million bikes in 2010 has been brought to 2 million bikes in 2011. Neither the union nor the management has an open ear for the problems of the workers hired through contractor. The assembly lines are stopped by workers, sometimes here, sometimes there. On the 16th of April one production line came to a stand-still several times, instead of 1,100 bikes only 950 were produced.

SKH Worker
(Sector 8, IMT)
This factory is situated on the Maruti Suzuki premises, near the fourth gate. Around 300 workers work on two 12-hours shifts. On Sundays, too, 12-hours shifts. The company pays the overtime at single rate. They have Vishal Power Presses (800 ton model) set up in a production line, with separate die casting tools. If the first press does 1,700 piece, then the last one has to do the same amount. The machines are not supposed to stop. The ‘line must be clear’ all the time [no pieces piled up anywhere, the line moving]. There is no time for getting and drinking water or go for a piss. It’s heavy work, you have to lift the 15 kilo sheet metal by hand. If one piece gets rejected [by quality check], hell breaks lose.

4 Responses to “GurgaonWorkersNews no.9/44”


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