Bellsonica Workers Stand United in Adversity

Permanent and temporary workers vow to continue to struggle together

After two years of struggle, workers of Bellsonica Auto components factory have finally scored a victory, even in todays conditions. 54 permanent workers, 32 trainees who were removed for engaging in union activities have been taken back as permanent workers and have been paid their full back wages. Of the 60 contract workers who were removed during this period, 25 have been taken back and for the remaining ones , it has been decided that they will be taken back when vacancy opens or a new batch of contract workers are hired. This victory is an outcome of various struggles forged by the workers with a united front between permanent and contract workers against relentless repression of unionisation by management.

Legalism as strategy

When in August 2014, Bellsonica workers submitted their application for union registration, management started physical and verbal harassment of workers who were involved in union activity or supportive of the union. In October 2014, after union was established, the management expelled 45 workers and started process of expelling any worker who was speaking in their support. Finally the number of workers who were expelled reached 145. Management tried to get the approval for expulsion of the 45 workers from the additional labour commissioner by appealing to section 332 of Industrial Disputes act.

During next one year, the expelled workers had to run from one department to another to appeal against this removal. Finally in November 2015, the additional labour commissioner rejected the appeal of the management! During this period, the management tried to intimidate, threaten as well as bribe the union leaders. None of these attempts were successful. The management then forced other workers to register false cases against the union leaders. However the workers admitted in court that they were threatened by the management and were forced to register these fabricated cases.

After Additional Commissioners office rejected their appeal for removal of the 45 workers, the management refused to take them back and challenged the commissioners verdict in hight court. The high court’s verdict, same as additional commissioner, was rejected by the management. The shameful situation reached its nadir when in front of Deputy commissioner (D.C.) various trade union representatives from Gurgaon reached Bellsonica factory gate. D.C. while reflecting on todays pro capitalist policies of the administration, also stated that were he to force this high court order on the company, the company will shift its production elsewhere! Did not the D.C realise that he was only toting the pro capitalist lines of the administration? The management challenged the judgment of single bench of high-court in front of a double bench. Any belief they had in legal recourse soon evaporated when the double bench gave a court date after two months.

Struggle as way forward

At this point a vigorous debate started among the workers about the fact that for two years they had behaved like “good and obedient childrenand instead of any form of protest they had taken legal recourse to solve the problems. Workers came to the conclusion that as far as court cases and legal procedure are concerned, management is already at an advantage due to vastly more resources and can also getaway with not implementing the orders of labour department or court.

Worries among the workers started increasing and they decided to try a new approach, one that would involve their unity and strength. As a first step they decided to celebrate May day on 1st May , 2016. This was the first ever political program undertaken by Bellsonica workers or their union. In this program almost all the workers of Bellsonica participated showcasing their solidarity. In this program, students from JNU , DU as well as workers from many other factories participated.

Bellsonica union incorporated all the workers of the factory in their union, be it contract worker or permanent worker or apprentice or trainee or a temp. We note that when the union was formed, out of a 1000 workers only 89 were permanent. After two years, this figure had reached a mere 122. The 356 trainees and remaining contract workers remained in that position even after working in factory for 4 to 5 years. The fight for a total of 150 workers who were removed could not have been fought by 100 odd permanent workers alone.

The union further reinforced this unity of the workers by selecting a democratic process of 11 representatives as well as around 100 coordinators according to various lines and shifts in the factory. There were regular meetings being held between the union members. Due to this, there was a clear channel of communication between the union body and the factory workers . All the decisions of the body were clearly communicated to the workers and all the suggestions of the workers reached the body via coordinators and representatives.

On 3rd July workers carried out an 8 hour mass hunger strike following which, workers started boycotting enforced and illegal overtime in the factory. There was a boycott on two consecutive days in a single week . The union also started contacting workers from eight vendor companies which were inside the Maruti complex.

The management in response tried to hire goons and install police presence in the factory. When on August 1st, Managing director from Japan visited the factory, a three point memorandum of demands was handed to him. Every worker in the factory had a copy of the memorandum. On 2nd August the managing director called only the permanent workers for a discussion . There was some confusion and workers from A shift went to discuss however workers from B shift refused to go by themselves. When in front of all the workers, MD asked workers to increase production and fix the inventory, all the workers spoke in unison and asked him if the 150 workers who were sacked were going to be taken back or not? When MD was tried to give ambiguous answers, workers asked him to answer in simply yes or no. On 3rd August, MD called a meeting and decided that all the 150 workers be taken back, thus forging an important victory for the Bellsonica workers.

What next?

However management has started new tactics to divide the permanent and contract workers in the factory now. It has asked the union to not involve anyone from the outside in their union and have also asked workers to not participate in any struggle outside of the factory gate. The management has increased the salaries and incentives of permanent workers which could be a move towards breaking the unity between permanent and contract workers . It remains to be seen, how the union leadership deals with these demands and tactics of the management and if the union would proceed with its initial goal to organize 10000 workers from surrounding factories into a single union or if it will succumb to the division between permanent and contract workers that the management is trying to create and remain satisfied with 200 to 250 permanent workers in the factory.

This struggle has once again proved that workers can use legal procedures as a tool but can never depend on them. The real strength of workers lies in their unity. By maintaining a comprehensive unity among permanent, contract and trainee workers, permanent workers will have to declare that they consider other workers as equals. Equal pay for equal work fosters mutual trust among the workers. This struggle has also proved that court orders are nothing but mere piece of papers for the management. There are a number of examples in front of the workers where as soon as the unity between permanent and contract workers was compromised, workers suffered heavy defeats. Without involving contract workers as equals, union will become dependent on the goodwill of management and in long term will not be capable of any sustained struggle. Having come this far, responsibility of maintaining this unity and carry forward this struggle now lies with Bellsonica workers.

– Translated from hindi article by Gurgaon correspondent of Mazdoor. Edited for brevity and clarity by Thozhilalar Koodam

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