Manesar Chalo! In Solidarity with Maruti Suzuki Workers Union

Maruti Suzuki Workers Union in their General Body meeting held on 17 July 2013 in Gurgaon, Haryana decided to go ahead with their peaceful demonstration and indefinite Hunger Strike on 18th July 2013 in IMT Manesar, Gurgaon. As we write this blog post, protest is going on, workers and their supporters are determined to march 20 kms towards Manesar to hold a peaceful demonstration at Tau Devilal Park, IMT Manesar.

The state administration has meanwhile spread a misinformation campaign of a possible confrontation with a few village heads who are supposedly going to oppose the worker’s demonstration and rally at the proposed venue. But workers claim full solidarity of common villagers and have had support of over hundred 150 panchayats. Villagers near the plant in IMT Manesar sent them solidarity greetings. The supposed opposition comes from a few businessmen, contractors and landlords who parrot what the company management wants them to.

TN Labour blog will update as events unfold through the day today in Haryana.

Meanwhile, two events are being organized in Chennai in support of the Maruti Workers struggle. Everyone is invited!

Double Events: Maruti Workers Strike and Workers’ Right to Organise in India

Event 1:          20 July 2013
11.15 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Media and Labour: Media’s Coverage of Worker Issues at Maruti-Suzuki’s Manesar Plant”
9 Asian College of Journalism, Taramani
Program:
“Count on Us” — Film Screening. 21 mins
Video montage of Media coverage of Maruti Strike — 5 mins
Response:
Gnani, Writer
Chair: T. Venkat, doctoral student, Madras Institute of Development Studies, India
Discussion
Contact: Nityanand Jayaraman — 9444082401

Event 2:         23 July, 2013
3.30 to 5.30 p.m
Working in the Auto Industry: From Gurgaon to Sriperumbudur
Madras Institute of Development Studies,
79 2nd Main Road, Gandhinagar, Adyar

Program:
“Count on Us” — Film Screening. 21 mins
Panelists:
A.Soundarajan, President, Tamil Nadu State Committee, CITU, on auto workers in Chennai.
Dr. Raman Mahadevan, Professor, Institute of Development Alternatives, on the changing contours of industrial capital in Tamil Nadu
Chair: Madhumita Dutta, Doctoral Candidate, Dept of Geography, University of Durham, UK.

Background
Chennai is positioned as the Detroit of India, with substantial incentives in the form of land and other benefits offered to the automobile industry by the state of Tamil Nadu. Has this expansion of manufacturing industry in the state brought “decent work” to large numbers of workers? What has the establishment of the auto industry in Tamil Nadu meant for labour, in terms of working conditions, job security and workers rights? What lessons can we learn from workers struggles in other auto industry hubs of India?

About the Film:
“Count On Us”.  This documentary film  explores the stories of Jitender Barot and Rajesh Goswami, ex Maruti workers from the Manesar plant at Gurgaon.  As part of the solidarity week for the still suffering, jailed and dismissed workers of this plant, we screen this film to unravel the events of 18th July 2012 at the plant through the voices of its workers, voices which have been systematically ignored by the media, judiciary and company management.  The film explores the struggles of the factory workers, and is a comment on current capitalist structures and the weaknesses of our judiciary.

Background note

1st Anniversary: Jailing of Workers at Maruti Suzuki’s Manesar plant – July 2013

On July 18th 2012, violence broke out in the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL), partially gutting the factory and resulting in the death of a management staff. While the immediate provocation of the violence was a casteist invective by a supervisor, trouble had been brewing in MSIL for quite some time. MSIL, with 50% controlling stake by Japanese multinational Suzuki, has refused to recoginse and bargain with the independent workers’ union –- namely, Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU). This union was formed as workers had no confidence in the ‘yellow’ union imposed by the company.

The ‘rioting’ of 18th July, beamed into the homes of millions of Indians by TV channels portrayed an unruly and violent ‘mob’ that had set fire to the Maruti factory that was India’s pride and killed a HR manager. Media, politicians and the judiciary demonized the workers. Since that day, no impartial inquiry has been conducted to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of the HR manager. Instead, 147 workers have been thrown into Gurgaon jail, where they have remained without any charges or bail for the past year. Many of them have been beaten and tortured in custody. The Punjab and Chandigarh High Court rejected bail for 9 workers of the 147 on May 22nd 2013 stating that the workers have “lowered the image of India in the world” and that “foreign investors are likely not to invest the money in India for the fear of labour unrest”. On 18-19th May 2013 police brutally lathi charged workers, family members and supporters of MSWU for protesting in Kaithal and arrested 11 people who are still in custody. Further, MSIL summarily dismissed 546 permanent workers and 1800 contract workers.

Families of the jailed and dismissed workers have been reduced to penury; children had to leave schools for being unable to pay school fees; elderly parents of jailed workers are being forced to travel great distances to find work; many of the young workers languishing in jail had been denied permission to see their new born babies or to attend last rites of their family members.  The state has unleashed an atmosphere of terror in the area by arbitrary arrests and harassment of workers and their families.

What the media failed to portray is the harsh working conditions, the stress of producing one car in 45 seconds, lack of rest time and bathroom breaks,  precarious jobs, arbitrary nature of wage structure, an average of two hours of unpaid overtime a day, and insecure tenure for workers, where 75 % of them are engaged as contract workers, trainees or apprentices.

Maruti Suzuki is not an isolated case. Tamil Nadu, projected as ‘Detroit’ of India by former CM, has similar horror stories. Hyundai Motors, a Korean auto company, located in Irungattukottai, Sriperumbadur, produces a car every 30 seconds. In 2011, when workers of Hyundai Motors protested against the downsizing of manpower in the assembly line for production of new EON cars and the management’s decision  to produce a  car in 40 seconds (instead of 60 seconds as was the case). The management responded by getting the protesting workers arrested. Since 2007, an independent union has been formed by the workers – Hyundai Motor India Employees’ Union – which the management has refused to recognize. After subjecting the union leaders to arbitrary transfers to distant locations outside Tamil Nadu, the management dismissed them in 2009. Hyundai workers have complained of stress; use of abusive language by Korean management staff (calling workers bastards if they are unable to meet production targets); kicking the photographs of gods (which the workers keep at their work station) and asking them not to pray at work; constant surveillance at work; in one instance an image of a dog chasing a bone held by a man was posted on the notice board which was meant to portray the dog as a worker, bone to be the incentive and the management holding the bone — it was meant to motivate the workers to work like a dog! Like in Maruti, in Hyundai too, 80 percent of the workers are on insecure tenure – contract, trainee or apprentice workers.

Daimler, a German automobile company, located in Oragadam has similar stories of precarious employment, long and stressful hours of work, hiring mostly migrant workers, no union, and low wages. Renault Nissan, a French multinational, which set up its factory after the government forcibly took over bhoodan land from dalit people, has no union either. Most of the factories do not recognize independent workers union, they prefer to form workers committees over which the management has full control.

In 2011, striking workers of Comstar Automotive Pvt Ltd located in Maraimalainagar, a key supplier of spare parts to automobile companies like Volvo, Jaguar, Ford, General Motors, demanding recognition of their union, were asked by the management to sign a ‘good conduct bond’ if they wanted their jobs back. The bond read:

I, hereby undertake not to hereafter, instigate, indulge or participate in any illegal activities against the company such as illegal strike, sabotage,….tools down, hunger strike, go-slow, stoppage of work for any sort (of) grievance……I will adhere to the staggered work timings, staggered breaks/meals, follow all lawful rules…and work on Saturdays/holidays/over-time work strictly as per decision of management……In case I fail to adhere…I will accept immediate disciplinary action…

Right to form an association, a right guaranteed under the Indian constitution is systematically flouted by companies in collusion with the states keen on attracting investments by providing a ‘conducive labour climate’. Workers across the country, inside and outside of factories, are faced with everyday injustices, indignity and insecure employment. Most of these issues never make it to the mainstream media, unless something dramatic like Manesar happens. And even then it’s the biased corporate media spinning an anti-worker story.

Campaign for Justice and Peace – Tamil Nadu

& TN Labour Blog (http://tnlabour.in)

No. 92, Thiruvalluvar Nagar 3rd Cross, Besant Nagar, Chennai 600 090

Contact: Madhumita Dutta – 9444390240 or Chandrika – 9884004612

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