Workers at the Daikin plant in Neemrana Rajasthan continue to show impressive resolve in their protracted fight to form a union. Despite multiple attacks by the management, the workers undertook a rally through the Japanese zone under the banner of Neemrana Sangharsh Samiti in December. They have listed a number of demands but the management refuses to respond.
It has been over 4 years since October 2013 when 846 workers in the Daikin plant (which is the biggest manufacturer of air-conditioners in India and one of the biggest AC companies in the world) struck work for 41 days. This strike was for their right to form a union and demanding the reinstatement of 125 workers who have been at the forefront of union formation and hence were terminated by the management.
Between 2013 and 2016, the workers tried to form a union under the banner of AITUC. However management continued to subvert their efforts by means of an interim injunction, intimidation and suspension of worker-leaders and by taking advantage of the fact that the Rajasthan government is one of the most anti-worker state governments in a country today.
In 2016 their struggle entered a new phase when the workers decided to form an independent union by filing a new registration. As a result, the management started to threaten the workers. One of the applicants in the union registration, Darshan Pal was pressurized to withdraw his signature in October 2016 and when he didn’t comply, he was promptly suspended by the company on the same day. Following this incident, workers in both shifts struck work and stayed inside the plant. They demanded reinstatement of Darshan Pal as well as previously suspended workers (all of whom had been suspended due to their involvement in union formation). Despite the heavy police presence outside the factory, the workers stayed inside for an entire day and only when local administration arrived and assured them of a meeting with the management, they left the factory. At first the management refused to directly talk to the workers and only after workers called for a protest rally in Delhi, inviting all the unions and human rights organizations, did it agree to come for a reconciliation meeting. The management, in the tripartite settlement that was agreed on 23rd October 2016 in the presence of labour officials, assured that all the suspended workers would be taken back and that no victimization of workers would take place regarding that event and industrial peace will be maintained.
However, even at that time, workers had a strong suspicion regarding future attacks by the management. The workers were also very skeptical about implementation of the settlement. Their suspicion turned out be spot on as over 2017, management violated the conditions agreed in the settlement.
Things came to a head when on 17.11.2017, the Daikin management suspended Daulat Ram, the general secretary of proposed workers union, in an unjust manner and asked him to respond to the show-cause notice for termination within 72 hours. He was called in at 2 am to the office, was pressurized and threatened. The sole purpose of this act, which comes under unfair labour practice, was to break the initiative of workers to form a union under the Trade Union Act. But the management, in violation of that settlement, baselessly charged 14 workers of misconduct and proceeded to undertake an inquiry. Daulat Ram was specifically targeted and, based on eyewash of an inquiry that did not even allow the accused to present witnesses, he was suspended and slapped with show-cause notice for termination. There was rage among the workers and they boycotted lunch in protest against the action. A continuous lunch boycott which went on for 14 days had absolutely no effect on the management or the anti-labour local administration. In fact, after 14 days, Daulat Ram was dismissed formally and workers were sure that another important leader inside the plant, Yaadram was the next target. In fact, the management’s attempt to target Yaadram had farcical consequences as his supervisor refused to fabricate a written complaint against him and was himself dismissed!
At the end of the 2 weeks lunch boycott, the company put up a second notice targeting worker leaders inside the plant, accusing them of instigating workers to boycott food, and threatened to block gate punching to those who would not take food. But due to workers pressure, on the fifteenth day, labour officials and administration called the workers and management for a reconciliation meeting, which continued till late evening and failed.
This is where management used another weapon state provides them with, the police. All the workers leaders (Manmohan, Daulat, Rukumuddin, Anil Dutt, Anil Rana etc.) were given notices under sections 107 and 116 of IPC which prohibited them from “unsettling peace” for next six months and denied permission for a rally! The workers refused to accept and sign this notice and prepared for a protest rally inside the Japanese zone in Neemrana where Daikin and many other factories are situated. A number of preparation meetings took place inside the zone and workers decided to conduct a rally on 3rd December. As the Daikin workers have forged a solidarity platform with workers from other factories in Neemrana, Tapukara and Bawal region under the banner of “Neemrana Sangharsh Samiti”, the rally involved over thousand workers from various factories. The rally started in Neemrana and workers marched through the Japanese zone.
The determination showed by the workers and the leaders when there was a direct police threat against them shows that their morale and militancy remained high. Workers also put forward a charter of demands which included the following.
(1) To reinstate all the terminated workers including Daulat Ram and Manmohan and to drop the charges against all the suspended workers.
(2) To respect the tripartite agreement management had agreed to in 2016.
(3) To regularize all the casual and permanent workers in the Daikin plant.
(4) To regularize all the women workers and make sure there is transportation available for them when they are working in the night shift.
(5) To increase the Minimum wage for all the workers to 22,000/-.
So far the management has not responded to any of the demands. Daulat Ram and other workers have not been taken back. According to the workers, the management is counting on workers striking as during winter demand for air-conditioners is low and management can use strike as an excuse to terminate the workers and replace them with new contract workers as is the norm under “make in India” paradigm. Hence the workers are waiting and will renew their agitation after February, once production pressure increases. Year 2018 will surely witness a final showdown between Daikin workers and the oppressive state-management apparatus.