for building a democratic labour movement in India
This is now third year, Maruti Suzuki workers are struggling for their rights guaranteed under the constitution and labour laws of India. Corporate-State collusion is not only denying their rights but continuously unleashing repression on them. This is probably one of the longest factory workers struggles of the time. The conditions that they are facing are general conditions of the time for working class, but the uniqueness of their struggle is in its uncompromising nature, innovative strategies to expand its support base and sustaining it for such a long time. 546 permanent and 1800 contract workers are thrown out of job, 147 workers are in Jail, and non-bailable arrest warrants are issued against 66 more workers. During one of their recent demonstrations for release of arrested workers and reinstatement of thrown out workers , around 100 more were arrested including workers and social activists supporting their cause, 11 of them are still in jail.
It is to be noted that Suzuki workers were facing serious problems of work pressure and various forms of exploitation for a long time. At Maruti Suzuki, the production capability and targets are set considerably higher than the installed capacity, i.e., production capability of the company is 1.55 million units per annum even though installed capacity is 1.26 units per annum. Workers are made to work non stop like robots for eight and a half hours, with a break of only 30 minutes for lunch and two tea breaks of 7 minutes each. For years, workers have been made to both report for duty 15 minutes before shift-time and also work for 15 minutes extra every day without any overtime payment. Further the policy on leave is very stringent and the leave record is directly linked to the wages. The wage deductions on account of leave are made from the incentive-linked part of the wages and a single leave taken by a permanent worker may cost him a loss of incentives up to Rs. 1200 to Rs. 1500 per month. On the other hand, to reduce labour costs Suzki was engaging more and more contract workers. In July 2012, according to figures tabulated by the Labour Department, less than 25% of the workers at Manesar were permanent. Contract workers are paid only for the days they work (i.e., 26 days a month) and considerably less than the permanent workers, for doing the same work. The company’s announced after the 18 July incident, that it will regularize its workers; however, it is yet to materialize.
The workers struggle in Suzuki started in June 2011, when workers applied for registration of their independent trade union and after getting this information the management started forcing the workers to sign on a blank paper. Both regular and contract workers started protesting against this and occupied the factory from 4th June 2011. There were so many ups and downs, some times management promised to accept the demands, then denied again, state labour department also intervened but did not act beyond false promises, suspensions, dismissals and arrests were also done to break the struggle. On 28th August 2011 around 400 riot cops were posted at factory gate and management demanded from each worker to sign a ‘good conduct bond’ (no go slows, no sabotage, no singing during work, shave regularly etc.). Workers protested, so they were not allowed to enter the factory, and in a way there was a lockout in the factory. On 14th September several thousand workers at Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki castings and Suzuki Motorcycles in Manesar also went on strike demanding wage hike and regularization of casual/contract workers, along with solidarity demand for ending ‘good conduct’ and lock-out at MSIL and withdrawal of the suspensions of MSIL workers. With these strikes, main plant of Maruti Suzuki at Gurgaon was compelled to close the factory due to lack of parts. The lock-out at MSIL ended on 30th September when workers finally signed the bond. After this management converted 44 terminations into suspensions, but refused to take back about 1,200 contract workers who participated in protest. So, on 7th October workers occupied the factory again. This time, workers at Suzuki Powertrain, Castings and Suzuki Motorcycles took the same step simultaneously. The demand was to take back all contract workers and regularize them. There were also short solidarity strikes in eight more factories in the industrial area. On 13th October, with the help of police force workers were compelled to leave the occupation. Soon the management was any how able to buy over almost all co-ordination committee members of the union, and all of them left the factory and union. However, by 3 November 2011, workers formed a new trade union and filed the application for its registration. After a long delay, labour department finally registered the union at the end of February 2012. Thereafter the union formally presented a charter of demand before management. The main demand was for regularization of contract workers, and end of the practice of hiring contract labour. Other demands included increase in salary, better medical facilities, relievers, leaves, 15 minutes of rest time from the company’s 8 hours etc. Management did not accept any of the demands and was not ready to negotiate at any cost on the issue of contract workers.
On18 July 2012 a violent incident occurred at the factory, in which an HR manager died and some other managers as well as workers were injured. The incident is still heavily shrouded in ambiguity and the real culprits can be identified only if a thorough investigation is done by an independent agency, in a situation when the Haryana state police have been consistently acting in a partisan manner favouring the management since the incident. The close correspondence between the FIR lodged by the police containing between 500 and 600 ‘unnamed accused’ and the termination of 546 workers by the company allegedly for being responsible for the violence on 18 July, cannot be a coincidence.
Thereafter, 147 were arrested and put behind the bars, and most of others went in hiding. After some time, workers again successfully reorganized themselves, formed a new committee of Maruti Suzuki workers Union, and started protest demonstrations at various levels for demand of release 147 workers from Jail, drop the non-bailable arrest warrants against 66 more workers and for reinstatement of 546 permanent and 1800 contract workers. Several demonstrations were organized by workers and social activists in Haryana state and Delhi in support of the above demands. Finally from 24th March an indefinite sit in protest was started in Kaithal, at the Mini Secretariat of Haryana state. However, there also repression was unleashed against them. On 18 May 2013, the Haryana police imposed Section 144 CrPC (no gathering is allowed under this) in Kaithal, resorted to lathi-charge and water cannons on demonstration, and arrested around 150 demonstrators. 11 of them are still in jail.
On 1st June 2013, workers again organized a rally in Kaithal city at Mini Secretariat of the state against the repression and arrests on 18-19th May 2013. The workers are calling for a Nyay Adhikar Sammelan (Justice Convention) on 11th June 2013 in Jawahar Park, Kaithal with a wider support from local people and social activist groups. They are demanding for immediate quashing of fabricated cases against the 11 workers and activists who are in Kaithal Jail, along with other demands of release of 147 arrested workers, dropping the non-bailable warrants against 66 workers and reinstatement of all terminated permanent and contract workers.