As suddenly as it erupted, the 14 day strike at Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar plant in Gurgaon has ended. After a 42-hour marathon of negotiations involving the management, the Haryana government and the workers’ representatives, it was resolved on 21st October that the management would take back all 1,200 contract workers. 64 suspended workers will also be taken back. All transport services will be resumed, a ’Grevience Redressal Committee’ and a ’Labour Welfare Committee’ will be set up. This seems like quite a considerable victory, but, if we look back at the events of the past five months, the situation of the workers is back to square one. The agreement remains silent on the main demand of the workers all along i.e. recognition of their union by both the management and the government and one of the worst aspects of the deal is that 30 workers, mainly union activists, remain outside the gate.
Workers of Maruti coerced?
So how on earth after a heroic struggle, did the situation come to such a pass. The management for the time being may even treat its workers with kid-gloves and think twice before seeking to attack them once again. Given its huge credibility gap and the financial losses it has incurred during the last five months, the Maruti Suzuki company is also under enormous pressure from its share-holders. But it would be naive to think that the situation is back to normal or even better than the old days before the strike. The Maruti Suzuki management has resolved to set up a factory in Gujarat – a state run by ultra- reactionary chief minister, Narendra Modi. It will cost Rs.18,000 crore (one crore is 100 million) but is planned as an insurance measure to be able to continue production in the event of future strikes by the Maruti workers at Manesar Plant.
What makes the situation uncertain and the agreement even less credible are the reports that are starting to come out on how the negotiations were conducted. According to the Hindustan Times (HT) report (22 October, 2011), the workers representatives were literally held hostage by the management and the government, for nearly three days and were warned of arrest if they failed to reach a settlement with the management!
The workers were not allowed to have any contact with outsiders for advice and not even allowed to meet their families for the three days. To top it all, the workers were also being continuously monitored by their so-called leaders at a national level in the CITU and the AITUC who were putting huge pressure on them to reach a ’solution’ (read compromise) with the management.
Industrial Peace at what cost?
While more details are yet to emerge, to those of us accustomed to the workings of the leadership of these central trade union organisations, this has not come as a surprise. They have betrayed these workers twice before and will do so in the times to come because that is now a habit of theirs rather than showing the way forward to the Indian working class. However, challenges from below will start to emerge, if they are not already emerging. The leadership of the central union federations do not have complete sway over the Maruti Suzuki workers or even its union leadership. The MSEU leadership, though young and inexperienced, has displayed much more combativity and independent initiative; their actions were more driven by the militancy of the workers at the plant than the directions of the leadership of the Central TUs.
The Bhupinder Singh Hooda led Congress government in Haryana might be congratulating itself for brokering an agreement through its mafioso tactics and ’khap panchayat’ style diktats - a feudal style summary (in-)justice system, involving flogging, stone pelting and social ostracising. But it would be foolish to imagine that this will works every time. It is sitting on a powder keg of over 2 million workers in Gurgaon living and working in similar conditions as the Maruti Suzuki workers. If not in Maruti Suzuki, the struggle is bound to return in another plant or factory with more militancy and determination. The situation in the industrial sector is far from rosy and is reminiscent of medieval times. The new young workers are bound to resist such kinds of oppression and super-exploitation by the multinational corporations.
A ’Grievance Redressal Committee’ and ’Labour Welfare Committee’ are no substitute for a union. They will only remain a tool of the management or the government. Far from achieving welfare or redress, they are simply another mechanism to conduct war by other means. While the Maruti Suzuki workers have a long way to go in realising their demands, the three successive strikes in five months would definitely have built the consciousness of the workers and they will learn to overcome the mistakes made in the past. A strike teaches more than what workers would learn in a lifetime of acquiescence. By their actions they have proved beyond doubt that they are more of a worthy match than their detractors would have imagined.
Unprecedented Class solidarity
It is already evident that the Maruti workers used all the social tools at their disposal to strengthen their struggle - support pages in facebook and messaging through twitter got the Maruti Suzuki workers’ struggle wide publicity. Solidarity actions were held in many industrial centres in the country. Many messages of solidarity from fighting union organisations poured in from countries such as Australia, Brazil, South Africa, United States and many more. Next time round the workers of Maruti in particular and others in general will mount more sustained struggles which would pave the way for significant victories and a radicalisation of the working class.
Vacuum and Crisis of leadership
There is a vast gap between the aspirations of the workers and the leadership of the central trade union organisations like the CITU and the AITUC, whose only vision is to maintain “good industrial relations”. This is nothing but care-taking the profit margins of the capitalist classes. In the era of globalisation and the oppressive neo-liberal agenda, the Trade Unions in most countries have become pawns and conduits of the capitalist regimes to offload the economic crisis on to the backs of the working people. In some countries internationally, new independent unions are breaking away from the old ’concensus’ federations to conduct the workplace struggles more effectively.
As the New Socialist Alternative (CWI - India) has always maintained, a lasting victory can only be ensured by a coordinated struggle for unionisation of the working class in a mass mobilisation campaign and a struggle to transform the national trade union federations into democratic fighting organizations. The leadership should be regularly elected, subject to recall and living on the average wage of the workers they represent. In this way the leaders would be forced to carry out the will of the workers at the factory, city, state and national level.
The crisis at Maruti is a reflection of the crisis of global capitalism the world over. The workers there need to link their struggle to a fight for nationalisation of the company (and the car industry as a whole) under democratic workers’ control and management.
It is only a matter of time and events such as the excellent show of class power and solidarity of the Maruti Suzuki workers that a new democratic and militant trade union centre would be built in India that can harness the energy of the young working class. They will also build political forces which will eventually challenge the system of capitalism and fight to replace it with a democratic socialist system.