Preliminary Balance Sheet of the 13-Days Sit-Down Strike at Maruti Suzuki Factory in Manesar/Gurgaon, India
From 4th to 17th of June around 2,000 young workers engaged in a wildcat sit-down strike at Maruti Suzuki factory in Manesar . With the following text we hope to contribute to the necessary debate about this important strike and invite friends and comrades, particularly in Delhi area, to share their experiences and views. Before we go into chronological details of the strike we try to provide a rough political summary.
It was an important strike in local terms. The two Maruti assembly plants coordinate hundreds of local supplying factories , the Manesar plant dominates a new industrial area of major importance. There has been silence at Maruti Suzuki for more than a decade: the workers in Gurgaon plant have been silenced by the lock-out in 2000/01 , and they did not join the strike in June. The Manesar plant was opened in 2006/07, but the young and casualised work-force had not found their voice as yet.
It was a hard strike. The workers gave no notice to management, they stopped production completely and around 2,000 workers stayed inside the factory for nearly two weeks. The strike ‘postponed’ the production of 13,200 cars and caused a loss of about 6 billion Rs. (133 million USD / 100 million Euro). Maruti Suzuki’s June sales figures dropped by 23 per cent, the sharpest fall in two and a half years. In July management announced to shift one production-line back from Manesar to Gurgaon plant. Workers continued the strike despite the police stationed within the factory premises and despite strike having been officially declared illegal by Haryana government on 10th of June.
Management and state did not dare to attack the workers inside the factory – a lot of workers’ struggles in the area had been attacked physically once workers left the factory. This is partly due to the management’s fear that plant and machinery could be damaged during the course of a police intervention, but mainly due to a fear of the state that – in the current local and global social situation – repression could cause unpredictable trigger effects. While state and management did not know how to deal with the situation, the main unions repeatedly emphasised, that ‘the workers are victimised’, that the workers, and not the company, are in a difficult spot.
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: they did not enforce any betterment of conditions and wages, which was their main concern. Instead the agreement included a ‘punishment wage cut’ of two days’ wages per day of strike – something rarely seen in industrial relations in India. Another element of the agreement states that the 11 workers (union leaders) sacked during the strike were taken back, though they have to undergo an ‘inquiry’. We are not able to say whether workers at large felt demoralised after the strike, but we can imagine it.
The strike could have spread. The initial demands and underlying motivations of the Maruti workers matched the atmosphere of the young work-force in the area: more money, less work. In Manesar more than a hundred thousand young workers have similar concerns . The strike stopped production at around 200 local supplying factories, but no active connections were established between Maruti workers and the wider work-force in the territory. This might be one of the main differences to the Honda strike in China last summer and main reason for the fact that the strike was very underrepresented in both mainstream and left-wing global media – despite the ‘emerging’ position of Maruti Suzuki and ‘India’ in the global market.
The focus on ‘formal representation’ choked the dynamic of the strike. During the course of the strike, the direct demands of the workers were reduced to the question of which union-flag should be put up at the gate. We could summarise the main reasons for the defeat of the strike as follows: workers raised direct demands, but early on these demands were ‘integrated’ in the workers’ hope that by formal recognition of an independent union their material situation would improve; we then saw an attack both by management and state, cutting of electricity, isolation of workers by army of security guards, declaring the strike formerly illegal and last but not least by sacking the 11 ‘leaders'; the main unions then offered ‘support’ and at the same time focussed the struggle on the question of ‘taking back the leaders’ and ‘workers’ rights’ for representation. Workers did not manage neither to break out of the material encirclement set-up by company management and state nor to escape the ‘embrace’ by the main unions.
The fate of the strike was handed over to the ‘negotiating forces’. It is naïve to repeat the phrase of ‘betrayal’ of the main unions. It evades the question of what gives them the power to betray in the first place. Instead we should focus on the question how workers can struggle in a way, which leads both to an immediate material gain and to ‘political’ experience of self-organisation and generalisation beyond the company walls – the latter becoming increasingly a precondition for the former.
Friends translated parts of this text into Taiwanese/Chinese: http://emblack.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/印度馬納薩馬魯蒂鈴木工廠野貓罷工後記/
A short video documentary can be found here soon(with English and German subtitles):
Material on re-structuring at Maruti Suzuki Gurgaon plant:
Paper on Potential for Wage Struggle Offensive in Gurgaon-Manesar:
The factory was opened in 2006/2007, some of the production lines were moved from Maruti Suzuki’s main plant in Gurgaon, which is situated in about 20 km distance from Manesar. The Manesar plant manufactures different models from the Gurgaon plant; there is little integration or dependency in terms of production process between these two factories. The factories source parts from similar suppliers, but the larger suppliers have built separate units for the new plant, e.g. Rico’s main plant supplies 90 per cent to the old Gurgaon plant, only 10 per cent to Manesar. The factory employs around 3,500 to 4,000 workers and churns out 1,200 cars a day. The assembly lines run on two shifts, the rest of the plant (weld-shop, body-shop) runs 24 hours. The production volume has been increased by about 200 cars a day during the last two years. The strike hit Maruti Suzuki in a relative ‘boom’-period, some weeks before the conflict in Manesar, Maruti Suzuki announced to open an additional plant, probably in Gujarat – a location closer to the export harbours.
Maruti Suzuki is a dominating company in the region and closely related to the political machinery. This is mainly because of the industrial dependency of hundreds of smaller production units, reaching down to slum production and small work-shops, partly because the state still holds shares in Maruti Suzuki and partly because Haryana state sources a fair chunk of tax revenue from Maruti Suzuki. In 2010 the company paid around 13 billion Rs tax to the regional state.
Workers in the Manesar plant are younger than in the Gurgaon plant, and their wages a much lower, their contracts more casual. “”Most of the workers at Gurgaon are in their forties. They have family responsibilities and are scared of the management. They have become accustomed to the management’s unjust ways and abusive behaviour. They will never raise their voice against injustice but we will,” said a 25-year-old who claimed to be a worker at the Manesar plant. The youth, who did not want to be named, said he had slipped out to get food for the other strikers and organise support for the protest from outside. The Gurgaon plant has 7,000 employees and the average worker is in his mid-forties. “The employees at the Gurgaon plant are older. They have grown with the company and know the benefits of working under discipline. Manesar is a young factory with mostly young employees and I think there is an absence of a calming and more mature influence,” Maruti Suzuki chairperson R.C. Bhargava said.” (Telegraph India, 12th of June)
In the Gurgaon plant the salary of skilled workers adds to 30,000 – 40,000 Rs including the overtime and incentives, whereas the skilled labourers at Manesar get only around 13,000 to 17,000 Rs. After the lock-out at the Gurgaon plant in 2000/01 around 2,500 permanent workers were replaced by temporary workers. Unfortunately we have little insights how these workers in Gurgaon saw and debated the strike of their casualised work-mates in Manesar.
The factory itself is situated at the fringe of a huge industrial area, location for around 500 manufacturing units, partly garment factories, but dominated by automobile suppliers and the Honda motorbike and scooter plant – see satellite picture. The workers themselves live in four – five ‘villages’ close to the industrial area. Some of them – mainly permanent workers – live further away and arrive in company buses – they have to pay 600 Rs per month for the company transport.
Maruti Suzuki had hoped to ‘de-risk’ their production by relocating the new production lines to a fair distance from the old ‘troubled’ plant in Gurgaon, with a fresh workforce. The following quote from an article, published a couple of months before the strike, demonstrates nicely how fragile the seemingly harmonious production relations in modern capitalism are:
“Workers inputs help Maruti save Rs 160 crore at its Manesar plant
At a time when frequent labour unrests are plaguing the Indian auto industry, car maker Maruti Suzuki was able to save about Rs 160 crore in 2010-11 by implementing suggestions given by workers at its Manesar plant. We encourage our people to give their inputs that could increase efficiency and save money, said S Y Siddiqui, managing executive officer (administration) of Maruti Suzuki. The company had received about 2.29 lakh suggestions last fiscal compared to about 129,000 suggestions in the previous fiscal, he added. This is in sharp contrast to the company’s past when strike by its workers crippled productions for three months from November 2000 to January 2001. Since then the company has had a stable relationship with its workers. When the carmakers sales crossed one million in 2009-10, the company celebrated the milestone by gifting a gold coin to each of over 8,600 employees.” (Times of India, 8th of April 2011)
There are around 3,500 to 4,000 workers employed in the factory, but their status differs significantly. Around 900 to 1,300 workers are permanent workers, around 800 to 1,000 trainees, around 400 apprentices and around 1,000 to 1,200 ‘temporary’ workers hired through contractors. In general, initially workers are hired as apprentice (generally after completing ITI course – technical college), then taken as temporary workers, and then promoted as trainee, and finally, but not necessarily they reach to the stage when they can get status of regular workers. Generally they are kept blocked at the stage of temporary workers and as trainees. In this way Maruti Suzuki more or less matches the general conditions in Gurgaon and Manesar, where around 70 to 80 per cent of the work-force is ‘temporary’.
Wages differ according to contractual status. Permanent workers are paid between 13,000 and 17,000 Rs, trainees get between 8,000 and 10,000 Rs, temporary workers are paid around 6,500 Rs and apprentices around 3,000 Rs to 4,200 Rs. Compared to the automobile industry in the global North wages at Maruti Suzuki are obviously low. Having said this, the relative wage of a permanent worker at the Gurgaon plant (around 30,000 Rs / 500 Euro / 660 USD) will be higher than the wage of a temporary worker in car plants in Germany or France. Permanent workers at Manesar compared their wages to the wages of permanent workers at nearby Honda, Hero Honda or Maruti Gurgaon plant and voiced anger about the fact that they earn only half as much.
“”We also want to earn more and live in a big house,” said Vinkendra Sharma, a protesting worker at the Manesar plant. Sharma, employed as a worker on the factor floor is originally from Panna district of Madhya Pradesh and earns Rs. 16,000 per month. According to him, not only does he have to contend with increasingly expensive food and lodging expenses, but has also to send money to his family. Ashok Kumar, another agitating worker, believes that formation of an independent union can take care of their rights and provide them a “better living standard that is missing so far”. “We cannot go to the washroom during any other time, and in case we do, we have to give an unconditional apology letter,” Manish Kumar said, a claim that was echoed by other workers. “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 in 2009-10 to 12.7 lakh units in 2010-11, but our salary has not gone up at all. Where is the incentive for hard work?” asked Ashok Kumar. Sandip Kumar, a 20-year-old contract labourer at the Manesar plant, said: “Our colleagues who worked at Suzuki’s plant in Japan told us that they get at least Rs. 40,000 for what we are doing.” According to 29-year old Rajesh (name changed on request) who has worked for three years with Maruti, the company’s compensation package for workers is flawed. His basic salary is Rs 4,000 and he gets an additional Rs 9,000 every month for attendance and production. Dharminder, one such contract labourer, has worked with Maruti for two years, attaching bumpers and other accessories on car faces. His Rs 6,400-a-month salary, he claims, has not improved.” (Livemint, 13th of June 2011)
It is not only that wages are comparably low, they also come with fairly strict conditions attached. The basic salary for permanent workers and temporary workers is the minimum wage of around 5,000 Rs, the rest of the wage are ‘incentives’. If a worker is few minutes late, then his half day salary is cut. If a worker takes one day leave, he looses about 1,500 Rs to 2,000 Rs as salary cut in various forms of incentives and allowances. If a worker takes two day leave, he almost looses all the incentives. The fact that the company sees itself compelled to give two thirds of the wage ‘incentives’ hints at a ‘disciplinary problem’. Explaining the rationale, a Maruti official said that every “unplanned leave” by a worker, it costs the company heavily. “Each worker has been given a specific role in the production and supply chain. If they do not inform the supervisor well in advance, then production gets hampered severely,” he said. Most of the workers come from far away regions, they need ‘extra-holiday’ to see family and friends back home.
“Nikhilesh Pandey, 25, a former worker at the Manesar plant who was at the factory gate to deliver lunch to his striking cousin, agreed that Maruti paid better than the others. “But we are not donkeys. We cannot work like slaves,” he said, adding that he worked at the factory for two years but quit when he was refused leave to attend to urgent business back home in Uttar Pradesh. “The problem is the immense pressure. They are extracting the work of 5,000 from half that number,” Pandey said. This means fewer breaks during shifts and no leave. “(Telegraph, 12th of June)
Work at Maruti Suzuki is hard, which also pushes workers into ‘taking leave’. According to workers, the most serious problem is the intensity of work and the brutality of the way it is imposed on the workers. “We get a lunch break of exactly 30 minutes and a tea break of 5 minutes. The canteen is 400 meters away from the workplace. In those thirty minutes, we have to remove our safety clothes and goggles, run to the canteen, stand in so many different lines to pick up food, gulp down the food, go to the toilet, run back, put the goggles and safety clothes on again, and resume work. The lines are long because all the workers have break at the same time. If we are even one minute late, Rs 1000-1500 is deducted from our salary. Imagine that in the 5 minute tea break, we are supposed to have tea and snacks and restart work. There is no break allowed for visiting the toilet at any time. If a reliever does not come, a worker is forced to work a 16-hours shifts. Those workers who refuse to do over time are abused and insulted.” (Interview Mazdoor Ekta Lahar)
These conditions form the background of the strike, they form the background of the general situation of workers in Gurgaon and beyond.
The company knew that trouble was brewing, they knew that some workers planned on registering a separate union and the company had already prepared legal documents for a possible expulsion of workers from the premises. The strike happened one month before union elections at Maruti Suzuki. So far Maruti Suzuki management tried to back a single union, the Maruti Suzuki Kamgar Union, for both Gurgaon and Manesar plant. This union had been set-up by forces close to management after the lock-out at Gurgaon plant in 2000/2001. Workers in Manesar did not feel ‘represented’ by this union, they did not feel that their grievances were addressed by the union. The actual outbreak of the strike, and the fact that both permanent workers – as the potential members of the new union – and casual temporary workers took part, will have surprised the management. “But why didn’t these workers raise these issues and discuss (them) with us? They have never raised any of these issues at any formal level with the management,” Maruti Suzuki chairperson Bhargava said. “It remains a mystery to me why they didn’t start a dialogue or a discussion or even (send) a letter detailing their demands.” (Telegraph, 12th of June)
“On 3rd of June, eleven leaders of the workers went to Chandigarh to meet the Labour Department to complete the formalities regarding registration of our union on June 3, 2011. On the morning of that day, the labour department officials faxed the news of our application to the management. Immediately, the management started pressuring workers inside the factory to prevent them from joining the new Union. They began forcing workers to sign blank papers. Senior officials of another Maruti Suzuki plant also joined in this activity. As soon as the leadership of our union came to know of this activity, we mobilized workers against it. On the morning of June 4, 2011, through struggle, we were able to retrieve some of the blank signed papers from the management. By the afternoon, it became clear that the management was using all kind of tricks to break our unity. In such circumstances, we were forced to go on flash tool down strike from the afternoon of June 4, 2011.” (Interview with Maruti Suzuki union leader, http://www.cgpi.org)
On the 4th of June after the change between morning and late shift around 2,000 workers stop work and remain in factory. Later on, the C-shift would not be refused entry by management and these workers largely remained outside the factory. All the workers of the company joint the struggle – permanent, casual, as well as apprentices. “As I was told by a young worker how the workers tied a white hanky around their faces so that the trainee/apprentice workers, casual and contract workers could not be distinguished by the management (the Maruti chairman R.C.Bhargava is seen in the news channels to lament how there is no ‘visible leadership’ whom they could talk to). The police are still inside, having occupied the canteen, and increasingly bouncers are also there. The inside-outside workers correspondence doesn’t seem to be going towards anything more substantial than food/mobile battery exchange.” (4th of June, Report by a friend).
During this initial stage, workers raised various issues and demands: low wages, incentive cuts, few breaks. The workers have demanded that the temporary workers should be given preference for permanent posts in new departments, which the company is currently building on the premises. In a first reaction management said that workers should give up the strike and make use of the upcoming union elections: “The Maruti union will hold elections next month. I am sure they can show their strength there. They can air their grievances there,” he [Maruti Suzuki chairman] said. (Business Standard, 6th of June 2011) At the same time management undertook steps to threaten and isolate the striking workers within the factory premises.
On 5th and 6th of June management sealed the 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. One of the demands of the workers visible on the self-made placards was to be allowed to speak to the media. Management also restricted water, food, electricity and toilet access. Only after a demonstration outside the gate on 6th of June, the food supply through family and friends was permitted again. Eleven workers were officially dismissed on the 6th of June. Police was deployed both inside and outside the premises, they removed some tents, which supporters had put up, but largely remained looming in the background. Workers also complained that management would call their relatives ‘back at home’ and ask them to ‘convince’ their unruly sons and nephews to go back to work.
On the 8th of June the main unions AITUC, CITU, HMS, INTUC, UTUC formed a ‘joint action committee’ to ‘support’ the strike. Although this committee dominated by AITUC had no formal link with neither the Maruti workers nor the new Maruti union in formation, it became the main broker and spokesperson of the strike. Often quoted ‘representatives’ were union leaders from Honda HMSI, Hero Honda Dharuhera and Rico Auto. On the 9th of June this action committee mobilised “workers of 50 to 60 factories in Gurgaon”, around 1,000 to 2,000 union members gathered in front of the gates. Sachdeva, secretary, AITUC, said, “As we are a major union in this area, it’s our prime responsibility to support any cause that involves the rights of our affiliated workers. We are observing a day’s satyagraha at the entrance of Maruti’s Manesar plant. If the management doesn’t accept our demands today, the workers of other neighbouring plants will go on a day’s strike.” “We are calling for the termination of the 11 workers to be revoked. The workforce says it will only start production when the 11 are taken back and given assurances they [management] will not interfere in the union.” (Business Standard, 10th of June 2011) From then on no other demands and concerns of the workers were mentioned.
Q: What are the other conditions that you have asked the management to agree with and what conditions has the management agreed to comply with?
A: There is just one agreement. All the 11 workers should be taken back.
Q: Is that the only demand?
A: At the moment.
(Interview with Gurudas Dasgupta, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) General Secretary, CNBC, 16th of June 2011)
On 10th of June the over-all pressure on the striking workers increased and pushed them further into the arms of the main unions. “The Haryana government has, under the provisions of the Industrial Depute Act, 1947, referred the matter of ongoing strike in Maruti Suzuki Udyog Ltd, Manesar, by the workers to the competent labour court and has also passed the orders prohibiting the continuance of the strike in the industrial unit,” Minister of State for Labour and Employment Shiv Charan Lal Sharma said in a statement. The strike was officially called ‘illegal’.
Two truckloads additional police arrived on the factory premises. “Though the Gurgaon district magistrate said deployment of additional forces inside the 600-acre premises was just a precautionary measure, sources informed that striking workers could be booted out of the factory with the use of police force. “We have a court order that allows us to evict these workers from the factory citing protection of the equipment,” said RC Bhargava, chairman, MSIL, adding police were there only as a precautionary measure. Ravinder Kulharia, a striking worker, said workers feared for their lives. “We do not understand as to why the administration has moved such a large number of police personnel when we have been on peaceful strike from the beginning,” he said. (Hindustan Times, 10th of June 2011)
Workers probably knew beforehand that the strike was ‘illegal’ and it is unlikely that the state would have used police-force to expel 2,000 workers from a modern car plant in one of the main industrial areas in the current situation. Nevertheless, the pressure on workers increased and around 250 workers decided to leave the occupation on 10th of June. “I fell sick. I was relieved at 3am as there was no medicine in the factory’s dispensary,” said one of the workers who has left the factory. “There is only one toilet open for 2,500 workers. The rest have been locked.” At that point the unions kept on repeating that ‘the workers are in trouble’, although actually it looked like management and state were not sure what to do about the situation.
The strike started to kick in and to build up pressure. Maruti management repeatedly reassured the market that car dealers have 20 to 28 days stock and that the loss of 6,000 cars can be “made up for”. More importantly the impact of the strike was felt down the supply-chain. Due to lack of storage space around 200 to 250 of the suppliers, most of them located in the proximity of the plant, had to reduce or stop production. To add pressure on workers Maruti management announced that the company would go ahead with a ‘closure’ of the plant for the annual maintenance work from 20th to 25th of June 2011.
On 12th of June Maruti Suzuki management offered to take back 5 of the 11 sacked workers, but the union refuses. “The management has agreed to reinstate five of the 11 sacked workers. However, we want all the employees to be taken back. Besides, the company has to give us an assurance in writing of not taking any disciplinary action,” said Shiv Kumar, a sacked technician. Kumar has been nominated as the general secretary of the new union.
The main unions announce a two-hour solidarity strike for the 14th of June 2011. “We will be distributing pamphlets across the Gurgaon and Manesar factories. The two-hour tool-down from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. will serve as a warning. If the issues are not resolved, then on Wednesday the unions will hold another meeting to decide on the date for the one-day strike,” Suresh Gaur, president of the Honda HMSI union said. Meanwhile AITUC general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta held talks with Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. “The workers’ morale is high; this unity is unprecedented; all trade unions of Gurgaon have rallied round the striking workers. After talking to the Chief Minister, I am hopeful of a positive outcome,” Mr. Dasgupta said. (The Hindu, 12th of June 2011)
While Dasgupta negotiated with the Chief Minister and asked the Prime Minister to intervene his colleague Sachdeva, secretary of AITUC announced that AITUC will ask the Maruti Suzuki workers to work overtime once the dispute is settled: “We want it [the dispute] to be resolved. Even the workers are anxious to restart the production. Hopefully, some solution will be found. We want the workers should resume production, normalcy should prevail and we will persuade the workers to make up for this loss of production by working extra hours or on holidays. AITUC wants industrial development to take place in Haryana. We are not against FDI investments but we feel these multinational corporations should respect our national laws, and should allow workers to form their own union.” (CNBC, 13th of June 2011)
On the 13th of June the company management announces that it would accept a separate union for the Manesar plant, but under the umbrella of company council, which would be responsible for wage revisions and other general issues. S Y Siddiqui, the head of human resources, said: “We are ready to be flexible on their demand for a plant-level union. However, it has to comprise only those working at the plant. It cannot have outsiders. That is how Maruti has been run for 27 years.” The proposed constitution of the new union allows one-third members from outside.
On 14th of June AITUC secretary Sachdev first announced that the two-hours solidarity strike is on, only to proclaim that it is called off. “The tool-down strike has started and about 60 – 65 factories’ workers are taking part in it. If in a day or two, no solution comes out, then workers will go on for a full-day strike,” AITUC secretary D L Sachdev said. (Times of India, 14th of June 2011) “The two-hour strike has been called-off for today on the appeal of the Chief Minister and the Labour Commissioner. They sought a day’s time to resolve the issue. Consequently, the strike has been postponed for 24 hours,” AITUC Secretary D L Sachdev. (Press Trust of India, 14th of June 2011)
On the 16th of June Maruti management told the media that it would try to ‘revive’ production lines in the Gurgaon plant in case the strike dragged on for longer – unnecessarily so, because a day later, on 17th of June, the dispute was settled. The workers were represented by leader of the proposed new union Maruti Suzuki Employees Union Shiv Kumar and national secretary of AITUC Sachdev. “The company has now agreed that we would not be asked to sign the paper. Also, the fact that Maruti took back the 11 workers shows that our demands were met,” said Shiv Kumar.
Actually the eleven workers have to undergo an ‘inquiry’ before they are taken back. The other main outcome of this ‘victory’ is that workers lose ‘only’ two days wage per each day of strike, instead of eight days, which would be legally possible under ‘no work – no pay’-rule. This kind of official punishment for going on strike inscribed in the agreement is a rather new development. Maruti management might penalise workers with payment of an additional day’s wage per strike day if workers show any signs of indiscipline over the next two months. The plant will remain closed on Friday, the 17th of June, “as a “rest” day for both workers and management and, instead, will function on Sunday. “A puja [religious ceremony] has been called at 12 pm tomorrow as a symbolic way of starting things afresh,” the administration official said.” “There was no mention of the second union in the agreement signed yesterday, simply because the workers at the Manesar plant do not require the management’s permission to form a new union.” Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).” (Business Standard, 17th of June 2011)
The national secretary Sachdev concluded: “There has been massive loss of production and the workers are aware of this. Hence they are willing to work overtime and make up as much as possible for the loss in production.”
After they had digested the shock of the strike, Suzuki management tried to play down its impact. “In a market where we sell 1.2 million vehicles a year, 16,000 vehicles was a matter of inventory adjustment,” CEO Osamu Suzuki said. (23rd of June, Deccan Herald). Actually June sales figures did not look too good, the highest decline of monthly sales in two and a half years. While pretending that they are not bothered, their deeds speak differently. On 6th of July 2011 Maruti Suzuki management announced to shift the production of the Swift DZire from Manesar plant back to Gurgaon plant, were it was initially manufactured. At the same time the extension of production capacities in Manesar are supposed to continue…
We cannot draw any useful conclusions unless we have more insights about what workers’ experiences were during the strike and what they think and debate about the strike in hindsight. This will require more time and longer conversations.
Majdoor Bigul is one of the political groups which supported the striking workers and whose activists were physically attacked by company paid goons while speaking to workers in the surrounding villages. They concluded: “The Management and the Haryana govt. managed to coerce the workers’ leaders for an abject surrender in a deal brokered by the central trade unions.” (http://workersresist.net/?p=33)
We don’t think that ‘betrayal of trade union leadership’ is a satisfying explanation for defeats of workers’ struggles. It does not explain why workers, who were willing to take on the hardship and risk of two weeks factory occupation, would accept an ‘agreement’ brokered by some ‘external self-proclaimed leaders’ or AITUC bigwigs if they are not happy with it. As far as we are aware of the workers did not develop an organised structure of ‘collective decision-making’ during the occupation, which would have prevented a ‘betrayal’. They relied on their ‘leadership’ and their middlemen function. A temporary worker who friends met after the strike told us that a lot of workers were not aware of the union involvement and negotiations. The Maruti union ‘leadership’ was threatened with dismissal, for them the agreement – the chance to get their job back – was a ‘victory’.
The accusation of betrayal also implies a certain illusion concerning the character of trade unions. “We have decided to call a one-day strike to protest against the indecisive Maruti management,” Bhagwan Malik, HMSI Employees Union’s secretary said. “We will give them some time before taking a final call on the issue.” “If Maruti Suzuki fails to act on workers’ demands, we will resort to a strike at our plants in coming days,” Raj Kumar, president of Rico Auto’s workers union at the Daruhera plant, near Manesar said. “We will extend all support to Maruti employees and may go on strike to express our solidarity. If required, we will come to a common location and protest for joint demands,” Kamal Sharma, Employees’ Union president at Hero Honda’s Daruhera plant, said.
If we have a look at how some of the main ‘supporting’ unions have developed as representative legal bodies of the permanent work-force we can see that their behaviour during the Maruti strike was not ‘treacherous’, but business as usual. At Rico Auto, unionised permanent workers earn up to six times as much their temporary work-mates and the wage division has increased since establishment of the union . The union at Hero Honda declined membership to temporary workers and did not support the 1,500 locked-out temporary workers during the 2008 dispute . Since the establishment of the union at Honda HMSI the material division between permanent and temporary workers has increased. We quote
from an earlier article:
“Just to give the example of the union at Honda HMSI in Gurgaon. No one will deny the ‘genuine character’ of the union, it has been fought for with blood, it has not been established as a company union, no one will approach them with betrayal. Since it has been recognised in 2005, wages of the permanent workers – the union members – have quadrupled: before May 2005 permanent workers used to get around 6,900 Rs, current wages are around 30,000 Rs plus, including incentives and bonuses. At the same time permanent workers have become a minority in the plant. In 2005 there were 1,200 permanent, 1,600 trainees, 1,000 workers hired through contractors and 400 apprentices. Today there are 1,800 permanent workers and 6,500 workers hired through contractors in production departments, plus around 1,500 workers hired through contractors for cleaning, canteen, driving etc.. The temporary workers in production get around 6,800 Rs per month, less than a quarter of their permanent work-mates. The permanent workers have retained mainly supervisory positions. As part of the union-management wage agreements the permanent workers’ wages contain a large share of productivity bonus. The company wants to make them ‘benefit’ from the increased work load which has been imposed on the shoulders of the temporary work-force. The actual material power of the union has decreased, they compensate the decline by making themselves important managers of the wage hierarchy – not as ‘one act of sell out’, but as result of trade union’s essential character within the wider process of re-structuring of class relations.”
The Maruti Suzuki strike in June is also an indicator for conflicts returning to the central assembly plants. During the 1990s and early 2000s companies like Maruti were able to guarantee more stable conditions in the centres by paying relatively high wages. The general pressure on automobile companies to reduce labour costs has increased significantly since the mid-2000s. Only three months earlier workers at General Motors plant in Gujarat went on a ‘wildcat’ strike . Workers at Maruti showed that material divisions can be overcome in struggle, in future workers will have to find ways to keep the struggle in their own hands.
Footage from inside the occupied factory:
Interesting interview with Maruti chairman complaining about ‘lack of leadership’ of the workers: