[Source: Thozhilalar Koodam]

On 18th March, 2017 a sessions court in Gurgaon gave 13 Maruti workers (which included all the 12 office bearers of the union which had formed in 2012) life imprisonment. The sentence itself which is a combined effort of the axes of capital, state and judiciary, was an act of vendetta against the Maruti workers as they had stood up to the might of an MNC and fought for their fundamentals right to unionize and for regularisation of the precarious workers. Even though the intention of such a sentence and similar sentences of the workers of Pricol and Graziano may have been to silence the working class of the country, this goal has not been accomplished. As various initiatives by the BJP government amount to a direct attack on the working class, workers all over the country are fighting to preserve their basic rights. On the one year anniversary of the current phase of the Maruti struggle, we look back at some of the recent struggles in the Gurgaon-Dharuhera-Manesar-Bawal Automobile belt and see how a venomous mix of increasingly precarious labour, a near complete dissolution of labour laws and ease of shifting the production from one unit to another is testing workers’ resolve to an extreme.

After a protracted fight, struggle of Aisin workers gets confined to legal realm

Aisin Automotive is a vendor company in IMT Rothak, Hariyana. It makes auto components like door lock, hinges and manifolds, and counts Maruti, Honda, Toyota among its main customers. The plant at IMT Rothak had started in 2012. In beginning of 2017, Aisin had around 800 workers which included around 340 permanent and around 170 trainee workers. The permanent workers used to get a monthly salary of Rs 9600, trainees got Rs 8600 and contract workers got Rs 6800-7200. Due to worsening working conditions, humiliation by management staffs and low pay, the workers decided to form a union in March 2017 and filed for union registration in April 2017. The workers had placed a demand notice right after applying for registration. This initiative of the workers started a chain of attacks by the management with full support of the state apparatus. 20 worker leaders were terminated within 2 days .

From 3rd May , the company declared lockout and forced the workers to first sign a good conduct mode to come back to work. When the workers protested outside the factory gate , they were lathicharged on 1st June. 425 workers were arrested and put in jail , which Included 35 women workers. This did not dent the resolve of the workers who came out on bail and continued the protest. After a struggle of 91 days, the workers suffered a real setback when on 23rd June , jobs of all the workers were terminated. Out of these 425 workers around 170 were permanent , 83 were on probation, 90 were contract workers and remaining were trainees. (Most of the women workers were permanent ). This shifted the phase of the struggle from the protest site to the court room, where the legal struggle still continues. It is abundantly clear that management violated section 332B and did not apply for permission prior to termination. Workers are fighting with the hope that this blatant disregard for laws by the management will tilt the balance in their favour. But as recent judgments have shown, the judiciary is overwhelmingly in favour of the capital and Aisin workers face an uphill battle. They are also also fighting under section 33C2 to recover the back wages and are also applying under section 31 for unfair labour practice.

The court cases of the 425 workers who are out on bail continues as a form of protracted harassment. These workers have been charged under 9 sections merely for protesting against their unjust suspension! They have been charged under sections 114, 148, 149, 283, 323, 341 , 342 and 506. Even a cursory examination shows that these are farcical charges . Let us just look at one of the charges under section 323 . This section is applicable when the accusation is of causing hurt to a person. During the entire protest, there was not a single incident of violence however.

By shifting the terrain of the battle to the court room, management has already won half the battle. Aisin struggle showed tremendous potentialities as workers of all the categories fought together. However it also shows the uphill tasks workers face when the police, the state bureaucracy and judiciary blatantly side with the management.

SPM struggle is at a boiling point

SPM Autocomp. pvt ltd. is a vendor company in Haryana which makes engine parts . 80% of it’s production is for the “model anti-worker” company Maruti.

In last few years, around 4-5 workers have died at the factory due to various accidents. Workers we spoke to, said that serious injuries like chopping off of fingers etc was a rather regular occurance at SPM. Absolutely none of the safety regulations are practiced there.

Last year on April 1st, a worker at SPM factory died after getting stuck in a converyer belt. SPM had no union , but workers from surrounding factories went there for fact finding. This included union members of Maruti and Honda. They found out that, this was not the first death on this specific conveyor belt. However even before they could raise any demands for inquiry into these incidents, the management and local administration filed cases against the fact finding team itself. These cases are still going on.

SPM had a total 200 permanent workers and remaining workers were on contract. Permanent workers only got minimum wage. After this incident, workers realised that they had to unionise to force the management to increase their wages and ensure safety at workplace. They applied for union registration in September 2017 and also gave a demand notice to the labour department as well as management on 18th September. Within 2 days, 10 workers of union body were suspended . However workers did not get demoralized and in fact started participating in various workers struggles in and around Gurgaon. In the months leading up to December, 20 more workers were transferred to different plants all over the country. On 23rd December, the labour department rejected the registration application.after which, the management terminated employment of 2 workers who were at the forefront of the struggle. Workers are challenging the rejected application in high court. 8 workers are under domestic inquiry. They did a protest (putting cloth on their mouth) outside the court in January. Workers are determined to form a union and are not backing down. Its a volatile situation. Workers said that they are ready to strike anytime.

Trainees fight for their rights and eventually walk out of NSK factory at Bawal

Rane NSK steering systems Ltd. is a vendor company which supplies steering wheels primarily to Maruti and Honda. It has around 120 permanent workers, 150 contract workers and around 250 workers are the “lucky participants” of the skill-development initiative of Modi Government, and are participating in core production thoughthey are only diploma trainees . This feature is of course not specific to NSK factory or even the industrial sector in Bawal, but is rampant throughout the country including Sriperumbudur, Oragadam, Thiruvottiyur belt In Bawal,, trainees are made to work for less then minimum wage for three years under the lure of skill-development-certificate. Skill development initiative is thus nothing but a trick to turn trainees into bonded labour. For the three year period, these trainees are forcefully made to work in factories in most inhuman conditions, as all their certificates are kept by the factory management and are only given back after the training period is over. NSK trainees decided to fight back against this bondage system and sent three of their representatives to the management with three demands on 12 February 2017. These demands specified that they should not be thrown out after the completion of 3 year period, their incentives continue and their gate passes not be revoked. Management kept these workers locked up in their offices from morning to night and, forced them to resign from the factory by intimidating them. The next day, all the diploma trainees in the morning A-shift struck work. As the core production was predominantly done by the trainees, the production stopped. Union members of neighbouring factories, labour department, management and representatives of the trainees held a two day meeting but management refused to accept any of the demands. After 2 days, all the 250 trainees handed in their resignations and left the factory.

Of course as long as skill-development/bonded labour program of our esteemed prime minister continues, there will be no shortage of trainees at NSK factory.

Militant struggles of EGLO workers brings the management to its knees

EGLO factory in Bawal industrial belt in Haryana is a “model factory” as far as the neo-liberal regime is concerned. It employs 700 workers out of which not a single worker is permanent. 150 women workers as well as 550 male workers are all on contract. When EGLO was established few years ago in 2014, it started with 70 contract workers. They were given assurances of permanent employment after the initial training period of 1 year. . Even three years , management did not regularlise the workers and lived up to its class character. InDecember 2017 they put all the 70 workers under a contractor. Those who refused and asked to be made permanent were terminated from their employment. Those who worked there for 3 years as trainees were made to rejoin as trainees. And just to rub salt to the wounds of the workers, double overtime was reduced to single overtime. This last action was a final straw and extremely angry workers took over the factory on 12th February 2018 and presented three demands to the management – to regularise the 70 workers who had worked on contract for 3 years, to reintroduce double overtime and to introduce a bus service within 25 KM radius for the workers. Workers also demanded to introduce rank of seniority among contract workers based on which regularisation procedure of contract workers be carried out. The militancy of the workers forced the management and esp. the company owner to agree to all the four promises. Not only this, the administrative staff of the factory which was dictatorial and extremely oppressive was removed.