India: Maruti Suzuki workers’ struggle

100 workers arrested, over 1,200 police deployed in area

Nine months after a settlement was forged between the workers and the management of the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar, Gurgaon (Haryana), violence erupted, after a scuffle broke out in the shop floor, when a supervisor allegedly made a casteist remark against a Dalith worker. Two conflicting versions of the event are circulating around the internet on who was responsible for the violence.

The management version of events (circulating in the mainstream media) squarely blames the workers for the violence. It and claims that “workers at the plant today turned violent, attacking and injuring executives and managers in the office premises. At least 40 managers and executives are injured, and have been rushed to hospital. The attackers also set fire to property and damaged facilities”.

More than 100 workers have been arrested, so far, and over 1,200 police were deployed in the area.

But according to a press statement released by the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union (MSWU) concerning the incident: “When the workers along with union representatives went to meet the HR to demand against the supervisor and revoke the unjust suspension of the worker, the HR officials flatly refused to hear our arguments, and it was in no mood to resolve the issue amicably.

“When the negotiation was going on with the leaders of the union inside the office, the management called in hundreds of bouncers on its payroll to attack the workers.” And further, “The bouncers, who are anti-social elements on hire, also destroyed company property and set fire to a portion of the factory. The gates were later opened to oust the workers and enforce a lockout by the company.”

Background to the Maruti Suzuki workers’ struggle

Before blaming anyone for the violence, a background into the historic struggle of the Maruti Suzuki workers last year and its aftermath, is necessary to understand the causes for the recent outbreak of violence. After striking three times between June and October, which lasted 33 days in all and which was marred by compromises by the union leadership (under the tutelage of the central unions), attacks by company goons (with the backing of the Haryana government, labour department and the police) and relentless pressure on all sides, the workers were forced into an agreement with the management. This only promised the workers a ‘Grievance Redressal Committee’ and a ‘Welfare Committee’, instead of a union recognition which was the central demand of the workers all along.

However, after the compromises made by the leadership of the then unrecognised Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU), that broke ranks with its fellow workers and resigned from their jobs after brokering an undisclosed financial package deal with management, a new union, Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union (MSWU), was formed. The union was finally registered in February of this year after facing many hurdles and a charter of demands relating to wages and others demands was submitted to the management in April.

What the mainstream media has been silent about the devious machinations that the management has been using to break the strong unity of the workers at the Maruti plant. None of the so-called ‘redressal’ or the welfare committee was formed (which is enough to prove that the company has violated the agreement). The exploitation of the workers continues as before and none of their demands have been met, so far. Part of this process has been the vindictive and hostile environment that has been created by the management against the workers. It is with this background that one must understand the 18 July incident and its aftermath.

Who is responsible?

There are many conflicting reports. Some sections of the media claim that around 100 management staff was injured, with one confirmed death. Counter claims from workers’ sources stated that workers suffered injuries as a result of attack by company-sponsored goons and the police. Only emerging facts will be able to give us a clear picture of what really happened. The police ‘Special Investigation Team’ probe that has been ordered will be another whitewash that will only end up blaming the workers for the whole incident, without ever going into the details as to why the incident took place in the first place. This will, in turn, end up as a default victory for the company management (despite its losses) that can hire an entirely fresh batch of workers, de-recognize the union or relocate to another facility, which otherwise would have been impossible under the given circumstances.

Whatever facts (real or doctored) that either the company or the police or the state government use against the workers, one thing they can never explain is how come the whole dispute ended up so violent. If we go by the history of the whole affair beginning from last June, all the three strikes by the workers were largely peaceful, despite the provocations instigated by both company-sponsored goons and the police. One thing that the strike last year demonstrated was the rock solid unity of the Maruti workers (both permanent and contracted), which even won solidarity support from workers in other factories in Gurgaon. Given the increased levels of consciousness of the workers’ due to their experiences in the previous strikes, it is hard to imagine how this small incident could not have generated so much violence, without either an outside provocation by the management or an extremely hostile internal environment against the workers.

Class consciousness

The fact that the workers stood up for a Dalith worker is enough to demonstrate the levels of class consciousness and unity of Manesar plant workers, given the caste ridden society in Haryana. Company-sponsored goons have been used time and again to settle scores with the workers and trade unionists. Only emerging facts can really tell us what really provoked such a violent upsurge. But one thing is for certain, it is the company that should be held primarily responsible for the entire incident, as it completely failed in meeting any of the primary demands of the workers and, in turn, created a hostile environment

All the same, top echelons of the Maruti Suzuki management should definitely be pleased (despite loss of their own personnel and infrastructure) as all the media reports seems to favour the management version of events and completely overlook the real cause. This could only end up criminalizing the workers unless this is not challenged. The type of exploitation that workers in Gurgaon (estimated at 2 million) are subjected to is a dirty open secret, especially concerning the automotive industries (which are reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’). Only determined with solidarity support for the Maruti Suzuki workers from workers in Gurgaon (and beyond) and a campaign for unionisation of all workers in the automotive industry will it be possible to challenge the criminal charges that are sure to be hurled against the workers.

The New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) is in complete solidarity with and supports all the demands of the Maruti Suzuki workers. In addition, we demand that all the workers be released immediately, without conditions, and all false charges against the workers be withdrawn. The boss’s lockout must be lifted and all the workers be taken back immediately. An independent investigation, involving workers’ representatives from the area, trade unionists and others (with no conflict of interests with any big company), must be constituted immediately and due legal action must be taken against the management if found guilty

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