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GurgaonWorkersNews no.61 – January 2014

by GurgaonWorkersNews, 29 January 2014

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For a revolting 2014…

GurgaonWorkersNews – Newsletter 61 – January 2014

Snapshots of the situation at Maruti Suzuki Manesar after the riot on 18th of July 2012 and further reports from the automobile front-line in India and beyond – For an organisational leap forward.

On 18th of July 2012, the struggle at Maruti Suzuki Manesar plant culminated in an attack by two, three thousand workers, both permanent and temporary, on the symbols of capital. Parts of the factory were burnt down, a hundred managers were hospitalised, one of them died. The representatives of capital and the political class were stunned by incomprehension: these workers had been given considerable concessions after the factory occupations in 2011, and to have a permanent job at Maruti Suzuki is or was considered a life-time achievement by most workers in the Delhi area and beyond.

Why then this rage?

We ask the same question, although from a perspective of appraisal and hope for widening unrest towards a social alternative. More than a year after the incident we are only able to give snapshots of the current situation at Maruti and in the wider sector. Rather than it being a mere documentation, we hope that it will become part of the debate for a collective organisational process. We therefore emphasise the importance of small steps, such as the international leaflet on the condition at the automobile supplier Sandhar and the international solidarity action for Alfa Laval workers in Pune, which you can find in this issue of GurgaonWorkersNews.

List of (Dis-)Content:

*** A balance-sheet of class struggle and class divisions in the global automobile industry: Translation of a recent article by collective ‘wildcat’ from Germany
We think that this article provides a good analysis of the global context within which we can locate the unrest in and around the Maruti Suzuki plant in Manesar, India

*** Automobile crisis in India: A short current overview on the crisis in India in general and at Maruti Suzuki plant and its suppliers in concrete terms
The management’s reaction to the workers’ attack in 2011 and 2012 take place against the background of a slump in the automobile market and the general deepening of the crisis in India.

*** Interpretation of a riot: Different perspectives on the 18th of July 2012
We briefly summarise the different political reactions in the aftermath of the riot and document a pamphlet on ‘workers’ violence’ by Mouvement Communiste, which relates to the events at Maruti Suzuki

*** Defensive attacks by state and management: Summary of developments inside and outside the Maruti Suzuki plant after 18th of July 2012
We document changes introduced in the workforce composition, wage differential and production output inside the plant. The strategical changes inside the plant were accompanied by policing measures of the state apparatus e.g. by taking 150 Maruti Suzuki as political prisoners. We have a critical look at how state repression channeled the Maruti workers’ movements after the 18th of July 2012.

*** Hidden impact of the Maruti Suzuki struggle
Two years later, workers at Napino Auto recall how the factory occupation and further struggle in their plant was influenced by the events at the nearby Maruti Suzuki plant. We encourage special attention towards this report because it demonstrates quite clearly the dynamic between workers’ self-activity and subsequent institutionalisation.

*** The impasses of trade union struggle: Recent local and regional examples from the automobile industry
Struggles continued after the 18th of July 2012. We visited workers in struggle at Munjal Kiriu in Manesar, Autofit automobile suppliers in Gurgaon, Hyundai workers in Chennai and Alfa Laval workers in Pune. We encourage a critical reflection of these experiences and the current limitations set by the trade union form.

*** Political conclusions: For an organisational leap forward
We try to raise some questions concerning the relation between ‘practical solidarity’ and ‘productive criticism’ of current struggles and the necessity for an international coordination of our efforts. One of such efforts are the regular meetings in Sewagram, India, which address comrades in the region.

http://radicalnotes.com/2014/01/07/meeting-on-working-class-politics-january-18-19-2014-sevagram/

*** Appendix I
Two leaflets; a) addressing workers who are either locked-out or in an ‘isolated strike’ and b) international leaflet from and for Sandhar Automotives Workers in English, Hindi, Tamil, Polish and Spanish

*** Appendix II
Automobile workers’ reports from Delhi area, published and circulated in Faridabad Majdoor Samachar in 2012/2013. The reports demonstrate the vast network of the supply-chain and its internal segmentation.

JCB, Escorts, Honda Motorcycles and Scooter, Honda Car (Factory construction worker), Maruti Suzuki (Factory construction worker), DS Buhin, Chassis Breaks International, Track Components, Satyam Auto, Amtek, Belsonica, G Tech, Auto Ignition, KR Rubberite, SW Bajaj Motors, AA Autotech, Super Auto, Vinas Corporation, Vinay Auto, Vimal Moulders, Clutch Auto, Kiran Udyog, Nita Krishna, SKH Metal, no-name workshop worker, Autodecker, Rico Auto, Satellite Forging, Super Auto, ASK Automotive

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*** A balance-sheet of class struggle and class divisions in the global automobile industry: Translation of a recent article by collective ‘wildcat’ from Germany

We think that this article provides a global context within which we can locate the unrest in and around the Maruti Suzuki plant in Manesar, India

(from: Wildcat no.95, Winter 2013/14 – http://www.wildcat-www.de)

Automobiles – Struggles and Class Divisions

In the last auto-article we expressed the vague hope that the defensive struggles in Western Europe and the US would come together with the offensive ones in the East (and South). Although actions and strikes in and around car and supplier factories have increased around the globe, they haven’t, up until now, converged. Struggles are happening against the background of a polarisation of car companies into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, as well as internal divisions within companies. Exceptions were strikes that emerged in the South African auto industry and at Dacia in Romania. Fiat workers in Serbia at a new factory in Kragujevac were also able to push through a considerable wage increase very soon after the plant became operational.

Winners and Losers

The crisis is splitting the workers into those that are fighting against the closure of their factories and those others that are being showered with money in the form of wage increases, company bonuses etc. (‘showered’ in relation to other workers) – while their work becomes ever more intensive. For example, Porsche in Germany shortened working hours by an hour per day whilst not cutting workers’ wages. The ‘winners’ stand in a relatively good position in contrast to the ‘losers’ (not only at Opel/General Motors but also at ‘Schlecker’ [drug store chain in Germany, which closed hundreds of branches] and so on) –but they also lose ground in relation to the bosses. The core workforce at VW in Germany get a one thousand euro premium even in the midst of the company’s violent cost-cutting programme. Work becomes extremely intensified, attacks on workers happen with increasing frequency – at BMW and Daimler, the ‘secure permanent workers’ are also being confronted with the fact that nothing now is ‘secure’ or ‘permanent’. 350,000 agency and contract workers work in the German car industry – half as many as those employed directly by the corporations.

Daimler Bremen (Germany)

In the meantime, the repeat strikes in Bremen show that the ‘permanents’ are also trying to fight against further outsourcing. Their wage increases and premiums depend on the low wages of those that work in sub-sub-sub supply chains – but what use is that if at some point there are no more ‘permanents’ left? The last action took place on the 1st of October 2013. When it became known that Daimler wanted to outsource production of the press and weld shop, 2,000 people stopped work for 2 hours. Shortly after came a short-lived blackmail attempt of the management, saying that parts of the new E-Klasse model shouldn’t stay in Bremen, although work had already begun on building the new production unit. These actions, in which a big part of the workforce took part, could only delay the outsourcing. The logistics in the press and weldshop unit is now run by a company called Rhemus under much worse working conditions. The employer wouldn’t let itself be deterred through symbolic actions and one or two hour strikes.

Divisions within the company

Meanwhile, a production system similar to those in H&M and Wal-Mart has been imposed in the auto and supplier factories, Behind the ‘big brands’, an innumerable number of workers in numerous subcontracters are linked together in a production and logistics supply chain. Most well known in Germany is BMW in Leipzig, where a third of the workforce are permanents, a third contract workers and the remaining third are agency workers who are employed by over 20 different subcontractors. Daimler also wants to further decrease the amount of parts produced directly in the assembly plant. New factories are already planned with this in mind, and ready to run in a way in which the largest possible number of workers in the plant are employed by separate companies. It’s more difficult to enforce these divisions in the old factories because there, the workers resist attacks on their existing ways of working. Therefore, the conditions there will never get worse for everyone at the same time, but rather only for a limited section of workers.

The strike at Maruti Suzuki in India two years ago was a milestone because it could overcome these divisions. Temporary and permanent workers occupied the factory twice for several days and could push through better conditions for everyone. After that, a wave of repression followed, but this short burst of workers power, once the divisions were dissolved, was important.

That this doesn’t happen easily and isn’t just a question of will or ‘consciousness’ was made clear in the year-long conflict around agency and contract work in South Korea. The latter has always been illegal in the country but persisted nevertheless at Hyundai. Even though workers there won a court case to get permanent contracts, Hyundai didn’t care and carried on with the contract system regardless. In 2010, temporary and contract workers occupied a whole unit in the factory in Ulsan for 25 days to demand their permanent contracts. The permanent workers didn’t get involved in this, which obviously marked a big split and the limits of the struggle. Ever since temporary work was legally limited to 2 years, Hyundai fires temporary workers shortly before the end of this time period. Unfortunately, the reaction to this is not always an offensive struggle but sometimes desperate acts like suicide or actions of a single worker e.g. to occupy a electricity pylon or cranes to create at least a ‘public awareness’ by demonstrating their willingness to put themselves on the line.

A further attempt took place on the 14th August 2013 at the same factory. Temporary workers gathered in front of the gates without the support of the union and demanded a wage increase because they were only getting 60 per cent of the wage of a permanent worker (approx. 1100 Euro). The KMWU (Korean Metal Workers Union) alleged that a media campaign about the permanent workers ‘aristocracy’ that “costs Hyundai more than in the USA” would have hindered a common struggle. Nevertheless, the same union a month later enforced a 5 per cent wage increase for the permanent workers, a one off payment 5 times higher than a month’s wages plus (!) a 9.2 million WON (around 6,500 Euro) productivity bonus. As if the media and ‘negative’ public perception would be the problem, not the division in the factory!

Trade Unions

That leads us to the role of the unions, who are called in if the workers ‘feel’ too weak, mostly during the many struggles against the closures and worsening conditions we’ve seen in the last few years (e.g. Neupack, S.X). At Iveco in Weisweil iin Freiburg (Germany), the workers organised an effective gate blockade by phone-tree and stopped the removal of machines. But they left the negotiations to IG Metall (metal union). At the end of September, a year after the gate blockade, the lights went out and the factory closed. The same story at the headquarters of Renault Trucks in Brühl. At the beginning there were demonstrations that were reported on continuously by the local media, then negotiations with IGM, then a ‘sozialplan’ (sponsored training for dismissed workers, severance packages, redundancy payments etc.), and finally, closure in June.

The same situation is playing out on a larger scale and time-frame at the Ford plant in Genk (Belgium) and PSA in Aulnay (France) – with the difference being that parts of these workforces tried to bring other workers into their actions. On the 7th November 2012, about 250 union-organised Belgian Ford workers stood in front of the gates of the Ford plant in Cologne (Germany) and expressed their anger. It was reported widely in the media but the action didn’t bring them any closer to their German co-workers. The short wildcat strikes of a small number of workers at supplier factories had more substance, that could bring production to a standstill. Now the Ford workers get on average a144,000 Euro severance payment but the conditions for the workers at the suppliers have also essentially improved: they get the same amount of severance pay and despite the introduction of a new law that stipulates that workers can only apply for benefits when the severance payment is ‘exhausted’, they are able to claim unemployment benefit immediately.

The strike of initially 500 PSA workers in Aulnay. whose numbers went down to 200 workers (out of a total 2,500 in the plant), went on for five months and couldn’t kickstart a wider movement, despite a tour of strike activists and a large amount of workers, who likewise were about to lose their jobs. After that it was easy for PSA to freeze the wages in the remaining French plant for two years and to reduce overtime payments. In Aulnay most people now leave with up to a 100,000 Euro severance payment, some were transferred to other PSA factories in France. During the struggle, the striking workers were subjected to the usual threats, acts of repression and slander from the media. The fact that the workers didn’t act together but rather had already been divided at the outset of the struggle became the biggest problem. By ending the strike, they just about managed to evade the imminent defeat. New job guarantees, withdrawal of the criminal cases, pay covering the strike days, a 19,700 Euro ‘premium’ for every striking worker who left the job immediately, and severance pay taking into account the strike days when calculating the pension money – in the end that was as good as they could have got.

The disillusionment after such a struggle usually turns into an anger against the union; they’ve ‘betrayed’ us yet again because they obstructed so much. In this way, we overestimate their capabilities in two ways and thereby let ourselves be deceived. Firstly, the union can’t create a unity and secondly, if such a unity exists beforehand, they wouldn’t be able to destroy it. An example of this is the three week strike of workers at Daimler Trucks in Portland in the US in July 2013. The workforce is organised across four unions but despite the recommendations of two unions leading the negotiations (one mechanics and one paintshop workers union), who wanted to accept an offer by management, the workers of the two other unions (Teamsters and SEIU) also joined the strike action. Daimler got in strike breakers who weren’t able to manufacture a single LKW (truck). The offer was improved and the workers agreed to it.

Struggles in booming factories

A modern car factory is profitable if it is runs at about 80 per cent capacity and manufactures 150,000 units a year. The capacity and output of some factories are actually well above that and provide the basis for workers struggles, in which workers are able to enforce things.

Fiat Kragujevac in Serbia

…is an converted factory, which was opened in the middle of 2012. Comrades report that the plant is “a type of forbidden town, from which hardly any information can be leaked to the outside”. One worker earns 300-400 Euro net. That is lower than the Serbian average of about 400 Euro, a fifth of their colleagues in Italy and a third of their colleagues in Poland. Breaks are not long enough to even go to the toilet. But shortly after the opening, the workers threatened a strike and got 13 per cent more wages, an increase in their christmas money and a 320 Euro premium payment. In May, a sabotage action hit the headlines, where 31 finished cars were scratched with slogans against Fiat and for higher wages. At that point the workers became interesting for the radical left scene: anarcho-syndicalists organised protest demonstrations in front of the factory in Kragujevac in front of the Polish plant in Tychy.

Dacia in Romania

In March 2013, some of the workers went on strike for two days in Pitesi for a wage rise of around 500 RON (112 Euro), which is about 25 per cent of the wage of an assembly line worker, and against the work-step time of 40 seconds. Not only the management, but the union too called the strike illegal because under 20 per cent of the workforce would have taken part. After that, the negotiations went on for another four weeks, which ended in 220 RON more for workers, 110 for white-collar workers, plus a five per cent individual wage increase (six per cent for foremen). The yearly premium (‘Easter money’) was raised from 1023 to 1680 RON gross (376 Euro).

Since the big strike at Dacia in 2008, management threatens the workers with relocation to a new ‘state of the art’ factory in Morocco, which is now the biggest car factory in Africa. They say that the wage of one worker in Pitesi is double that of a worker in Tangier, who earns 320 Euro (Renault in Tangier pays 12-15 per cent above the legal minimum wage). State subsidies in Morocco are attractive and the machinery supposedly more energy-saving than in Pitesi. They emphasise the good location of Tangier with its little utilised major port, which is only 14 kms away from Spain. And the most important thing: most of the workers in the new factory are supposed to ‘work hard’ for their ‘first real job’. But up till now the First Time Correct (FTC) rate (for a flawless product that doesn’t require re-working, an important reference point for the capitalists) is rarely above 70 per cent, expensive repair work is a daily occurrence. A training centre is run by Renault and funded by the government, where half of the workers who are trained fail the exam. Before they are ‘allowed’ on the assembly line, they have to repeat their manual operation 6000 times! When they finally get through all of that and start work, a section of them soon afterwards get fed up; they just don’t come back after the Ramadan holiday.

Strikes in South Africa

The big exception in the past year was South Africa. After a massive struggle in winter in the mining and agricultural industries, a part of the car production process came to a standstill for weeks during the summer. It started as early as May with a two-day strike at the Mercedes factory in East London (in S. Africa) against the same plans as in Bremen (Germany): outsourcing of logistics work, against unpaid overtime, against one of the managers in the paintshop and for travel expenses. The work stoppage began with an extended lunch break and developed into a wildcat strike. The NUMSA union stepped straight into negotiations with the management, who had already obtained a legal notice against the strike. On the third day NUMSA was able to move the workers to resume work. At the time, the demand for a 20 per cent higher wage was already public knowledge. It was a small taste of things to come: a three-week strike in the car factories and another four at the supplier factories.

On the 8th August 2013, 2200 workers at the BMW factory in Rosslyn entered the strike. NUMSA supported the demand for a 50 per cent increase in the shift bonus. On the 19th August, 10,000 workers from all the other seven car manufacturing factories joined the strike. Membership of NUMSA (who had organised the strike) ranged from two-thirds (in VW) to 80 per cent (GM, Toyota) across all these factories. Workers demanded 14 per cent more wages and allowances for housing, medical care and commuting. A line worker earns 8,500 Rand (620 Euro), of which 20 per cent goes on travel costs.

At the end of August, BMW threatens a relocation of the factory and postpones planned investments, the newspapers complain about the insecure conditions for investors. The boss of NUMSA emphasises that the car companies are dependent on their South African factories because they’ll rarely find such low labour costs and receive such high state subsidies. After a three-week strike, there is a 11,5 per cent wage increase for 2013, 10 per cent for 2014 and again 10 per cent in 2015; a yearly travel voucher of 1200 Rand, 750 Rand housing allowance, and a 70 per cent company contribution for health insurance. An assembly line worker now earns 10,300 Rand (760 Euro) on average a year.

Production had scarcely started again when it had to stop again. As well as organising the petrol station workers, car sellers and so on, NUMSA organised a strike of the auto-supplier workers, which lasted a month. The result: an immediate ten per cent wage increase, an 8 per cent rise in each of the following two years. These results are due to the continuous struggles. in which NUMSA also has to achieve an increase in real wages, they don’t want to suffer the fate of NUM in the mining sector. From capital’s perspective, the long-running wage agreements have at least re-established a relative stability for future planning.

The attack on one prepares the attack on the next

The polarisation in the crisis into winners and losers leads to big differences in conditions for struggles. Accordingly, the struggles develop in different ways. The factory closures in Western Europe and the attack on the ‘permanents’ shows that everyone is affected at some point. In the old factories in Germany that’s no longer just the logistics companies but also ‘core competence’ manufacturing departments like pressshop and weldshop and engine production. Nobody is safe anymore. The feeling of no longer being untouchable has spread to the auto industry. Therefore struggles are important in which workers manage to overcome the divisions into permanent workers, agency workers and contract workers. Trade union attempts to overcome these problems by ‘applying the law’ (legalistic struggles, ‘legal case struggles’) have ended in defeats; the divisions between workers have further deepened due to separating walls, company rules which prohibit them from speaking to each other and through dismissals. In contrast to this, there are encouraging first steps being undertaken in Bremen e.g. by not obeying the company rule of not speaking to the contract workers, or the factory-wide assemblies of Daimler workers concerning contract work.

Opel Bochum is the first automobile factory in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, which will be closed without offering workers alternative employment – and without there being new sectors that would be able to suck in workers on a similar mass-scale into a productive cycle. In Germany as well, workers are in search for new answers – and this is where we can get involved: in front of the gates or in conversations. Or why not getting a job in one of the plants ourselves, as contract or temporary workers? Opel in Bochum is constantly looking for new people, because the sickness rate of the permanents has increased rapidly.

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*** Automobile crisis in India: A short current overview on the crisis in India in general and at Maruti Suzuki plant and its suppliers more specifically

Sales decline

Between 2005-06 and 2010-11, passenger car sales in India grew at 15.2 per cent per annum. That fell to 4.7 per cent in 2011-12 and decreased further in the financial year 2013. Maruti Suzuki’s local car sales decreased by 11 per cent in 2013, compared to the previous year. At the same time, the growing trade deficit forced the state to hike petrol and gas prices, which in turn will put additional pressure on car sales. Up to now, the decline in real wages had been buffered by relatively cheap consumer credit. Between 2003 and 2010, the ratio of credit advanced by commercial banks to GDP rose from around 25 per cent to above 50 per cent. The two sectors that benefited most from such lending were housing and automobiles. Recent interest rate hikes by the Reserve Bank of India to cool down inflationary over-heating resulted in the decline of the growth rate of passenger car sales. This may just be the first casualty. The next could be the real estate market, where there are signs of rising defaults. One splendid local example of default is the Delhi-Gurgaon stretch of the National Highway NH8. In late 2013 it became clear that after the default of the private developer, banks which issued 1,800 crore Rs loans for the construction of the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway will possibly lose 80 per cent of their money.

Wages and divisions

The wage development in the local automobile industry is seen as a bench-mark by workers in the area. While Hero and Honda increased permanent workers wages by 17,000 Rs over a three years period in 2012, partly as a reaction to the trouble at Maruti Suzuki, most wage negotiations at bigger automobile suppliers in 2013 crashed into a wall at 10,000 Rs over three years for permanent workers. The minimum wage, which is the reference-point for most temporary workers in the sector, was announced to be increased from around 5,500 Rs per month to 8,500 Rs in January 2014.

The inflationary pressure on workers’ wages is enormous. But in the given economic scenario (credit crunch, general decline of export markets etc.), state and capital have to make sure that wage levels remain as low as they are, which is expressed in the following quote from an article debating the possible minimum wage increase in Haryana in January 2014:
“More than pressuring corporate profits, these rapid blue-collar wage increases threaten efforts to quell inflation by India’s new central bank chief, Raghuram Rajan, the former International Monetary Fund economist who took over as governor at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in September. Rajan has made price stability a policy priority, calling it a prerequisite for reviving economic growth that has slipped to 5 percent a year, the lowest in a decade.”

The slow down in growth requires ‘adjustments’. ‘We already have over a month’s inventory with us and want to adjust our stocks according to demand in the market,’ a senior Maruti Suzuki executive said in summer 2013. The decline in sales will force the companies to re-adjust production in a way that, as far as possible, maintains stable relations with the core workforce. So far the main dam to curb wage pressure from below was the division between the core workforce and the majority of the low-paid temporary workers.

The current re-adjustments in production, might shake-up the material basis of this division. For example, in the past the company have been able to enforce big pay differentials in order to keep the higher paid permanents ‘sweet’ and keep workers’ organisation divided and contained. As financial pressures grow, they will be increasingly unable to keep enough numbers of permanents at these wages and conditions. So either discontent will grow amongst this more ‘privileged’ set of workers, who will increasingly need the contract workers to support them, and/or the numbers of contract workers are such that paying off the permanents will make less difference to the eruption of struggles.

Local impressions of the slump

During the distribution of the Faridabad Majdoor Samachar newspaper, we tried to verify to what extent the ‘slump in sales’ actually impacts at the shop-floor level. We can say that production is running fairly full-steam at Hero Motorcycles and Honda Motorcycles. Production at Maruti Suzuki Manesar plant has increased in total since the opening of the C-plant in July 2013, although the production output of the A- and B-plant has declined slightly. Only at Maruti Suzuki Gurgaon plant is production significantly reduced, which translates into production cuts also at its supplier plants.

At the petrol car lines, production has come down by 60 per cent in 2012/13 in the Gurgaon plant. Permanent workers are sent on extra holiday, while 600 temporary workers have recently been kicked out. Permanent workers are sent from the Gurgaon plant to the Manesar plant and this is where ‘economic reasons’ (less output in Gurgaon plant) and ‘political reasons’ (undermining of workers collectivity in Manesar) are combined – old loyal workers are brought together with inexperienced ‘freshers’ from the technical colleges. Management at Premium Moulding, a supplier for the Gurgaon Maruti plant, has reduced working-times from three 8-hour shifts per day to two shifts in August 2013. At Arjan Auto, a break pad manufacturer, there is only one 12-hour shift instead of previously two. The same at JBM in Gurgaon. In this sense then, the following report is not just an individual example, but to a certain extent describes the general current condition. For example Hyundai workers in Chennai told us in December 2013, that during recent months the output of the factory has come down. It used to be an output of 56 cars per hour, now it is 53 cars. This has meant that the workforce has been reduced e.g. in the paint-shop 15 out of 150 workers per shift had to go, all of them temporary workers.

Lumax worker
(Plot 46, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
There are 38 moulding machines in the factory, used for manufacturing of seats for Honda two-wheelers, mud-guards of Maruti Suzuki cars and petrol tanks and air filters for for General Motors, Mahindra and Eicher tractors. In 2008 the production volume was 4 crore Rs per month, in 2009 8 crore Rs and between 2010 and 2012 it was 11 to 12 crore Rs. The factory runs on two 12 hours shifts, workers also work on Sundays. Because orders came down in December 2012 the company kicked out 150 temporary workers. The production output came down to 7 to 8 crore Rs. The 56 permanent workers work on three 8 hours shifts, the remaining 225 temporary workers still on two 12 hours. Now Sundays are off. There is a trade union for the 56 permanents, but the temporary workers have nothing to do with it. When the 150 temporary workers were kicked out after two years of employment they did not get their PF money, which was deducted from their wages.

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*** Interpretation of a riot: Different perspectives on the 18th of July 2012

We wrote a short comment on the riot shortly after the incident in summer 2012, published in GurgaonWorkersNews no.51. One and a half years later, we see that the reactions to the workers’ unrest depends very much on the relation and interest of the various political agents towards the workers.

a) Maruti Suzuki management clearly defined the incident as an act of ‘class war’ and called it as such in media interviews. The immediate reaction was the dismissal of over 500 permanent and around 2,500 temporary workers. In the speaking order of August 2012, which was sent in two letters to all of the dismissed workers, management cited ‘instigation and participation’ in the riot as a reason for dismissal. Management of other major companies in the area reacted by increasing permanent workers wages substantially (e.g. Honda HMSI increased wages by 17,000 Rs over three years) and in some cases, such as at Napino Auto, by taking back previously suspended workers and making some of the temporary workers permanent.

b) The state reacted in immediate support of Maruti Suzuki management, but beyond that in the interest of general industrial peace, being aware of the ripple-effects and wider social tensions. The riots during the general strike in early 2013 – see GurgaonWorkersNews no.57 – confirmed that Maruti Suzuki was not an insular case. The police was armed with a company list of active workers, those that had formally been part of the independent union that had been set up the previous year. The cops followed workers to their villages beyond state boundaries and arrested around 150 of them. They have been imprisoned since then without chance of bail and kept de facto as political prisoners. The state knows that these workers will likely act as ‘subversive elements’, whether they get new jobs in the industrial area, which is unlikely, or remain ‘unemployed activists’ as part of the campaign for re-instatement.

c) The dismissed permanent workers focus their campaign in support of the imprisoned workmates and for re-instatement. Their activities are largely symbolic e.g. one day hunger strikes, or remain in the Haryana hinterland, partly because official demonstrations in the industrial areas have been banned by the state. Under the pressure of the legal system and pending court decisions, they publicly call the incident ‘a management conspiracy to break the efforts of the trade union’, while privately confirming that it was a violent act of a sizeable section of the workers. We also have to state that the big mass of temporary workers, who were active during the struggle 2011 to 2012 are not taking part in the current campaigns for prison release and re-instatement. For permanent workers it is difficult to find another permanent job of comparable status, they therefore focus on the demand of re-instatement, despite the knowledge of it being more than unlikely. Temporary workers have less resources and are also less attached to their ‘previous job’, so they looked out for new employment more quickly.

d) The official mainstream left and trade union burocracy stick to the conspiracy version. Their perspective on and interest in the struggle since 2011 was that of a struggle for ‘constitutional rights’, meaning the right to form a trade union. The fact that the struggle went beyond this legal framework posed a problem for most of them in the sense that they were not able to turn workers’ activities into a ‘formal and civil’ settlement. Only this would have both guaranteed a strengthening of their trade union structure and, more importantly, acceptance by management as negotiation partners. During the struggle Maruti Suzuki workers operated according to the principle: ‘we listen to everyone, meaning to all central trade unions and political groupings, but we do our own thing’. Having offered no practical support during the actual struggle, various trade union leaders, amongst others the leader of the MUKU union at Maruti Gurgaon plant, now use the stage of ‘support for the victims’ for their own agenda.

e) The ML-left displays the usual tactics. Given the fact that their influence in the struggle was based largely on the relationships with the 150 ‘trade union body members’, and the fact that close friendships developed over the course, their first act was to denounce the incident as a management conspiracy, while talking differently about it in less public circumstances. Since then one or two articles have appeared in their publications, which describe the riot as an expression of workers’ mass anger, while at the same time the ‘conspiracy’ position is upheld in their other publications. Furthermore, the event is described as ‘spontaneous’, and consequently as an act of immature organisational consciousness. We can see this as a voluntaristic position, which does not start from what happened and asking why, but starting from how things should be. Since July 2012 one part of the ML left has turned their back on workers in the bigger industry, describing them as ‘aristocratic’ and focussing instead on ‘super-exploited’ workers in the ‘unorganised sector’. The remaining ML-factions engage in a more substantial review of previous positions internally, e.g. questioning the old Leninist conviction that trade unions are the ‘primary workers’ organisations’, while at the same time they continue focussing their activities on the ‘struggle for independent trade unions’.

f) Comrades from Faridabad Majdoor Samachar see widespread attempts to display workers as pure victims of management and state. Against this they feel the need to maintain that it was workers mass activity that attacked the symbols of capital on the 18th of July. The riot is described as a more general expression of the fragility of the system: despite concessions given by management previous to the riot and despite the seemingly ‘privileged’ status of being a permanent worker at Maruti Suzuki, the general discontent bursts out into the open. The workers directly involved might get victimised, but the wider atmosphere changes and leaves state and representatives of capital in a condition of ‘non-understanding’. The ‘repression’, e.g. the permanent presence of police on Maruti factory ground, the continuing incarceration of workers, is mainly an expression that the system is not able anymore to integrate workers by material promises.

We agree with comrades of Faridabad Majdoor Samachar that we have to see the July riot as a sign of the times, meaning, the increasing incapability of the system to appease workers’ discontent. Nevertheless we think that although the result of the riot has to be seen in a larger context, we cannot ignore the fact that the immediate collectivity which developed during 2011 to 2012 has been ‘dissolved’ as a consequence of the riot. It is true that workers rioted because after more than a year of collective struggle, the thought of bowing to management’s authority in particular and the authority of the Maruti factory regime in general was felt as untenable. But it is also true that the riot was an expression of a certain impasse of workers collectivity, which over the 2011 to 2012 period remained largely confined to the Maruti Suzuki company, apart from individual incidents of direct workers solidarity and the joint factory occupations in October 2011. The fact that no larger independent workers’ organisational structure emerged in 2011 contributed to the dynamic of mass violence in July 2012: we don’t bow down in front of management, despite all of the concessions, but we also know that our factory based collectivity has come to a dead-end.

We agree with Faridabad Majdoor Samachar that there is a wider significance of the riot, but presently we have to see that workers in the area also perceive the more individual result of the aftermath: workers who have attacked the company are now dispersed and to a smaller or larger degree been ‘victimised’. We have met ex-Maruti workers in various situations. Some have returned to their villages, after having been black-listed. Permanent workers won’t find another permanent job in bigger companies if they mention that they had been employed at Maruti Suzuki during the respective period. A handful of permanent workers have become ‘professional activists’, who have gone through a phase of ‘politicisation’, with all the flip-sides: dependency on the party organisation and a certain detachment from the ‘unconscious’ rest of the workers. We met a worker who invested 20,000 Rs in order to open a road-side shop next to the NH8 highway. He has still outstanding bonus payments, but many of his former Maruti colleagues are not reachable by phone anymore. Another Maruti worker is now employed as a temporary worker in a cement machinery manufacturer. His personal account of the incident amongst a group of new workmates is largely negative: the riot marked an end, which would not have been necessary. We are sure that he will also have other, more positive experiences of the 2011 to 2012 struggle to share and thereby add to the collective wealth of workers’ experiences, nevertheless, the individual balance-sheet of a defeat is not completely detached from the atmosphere in the wider working class.

It is true, as FMS comrades put it by drawing a parallel, that the Paris Commune became an experience of historical importance for struggles beyond its limited temporary and spacial existence, despite the fact that it was bloodily defeated. It might also be true that the Paris Commune might never have emerged in the first place if workers had first sat down and rationally analysed the prospect of their uprising. Nevertheless we feel the need to support exactly this ‘collective analysis’ within ongoing struggles which broadens the scope of ‘strategical steps’ as far as possible. For an analysis of the relation between ‘workers’ autonomy’ and workers’ acts of violence please read the current pamphlet of Mouvement Communiste. Click heregwn61_mc1

In the following part we give a short summary about the contradictory ways in which Maruti management and the state tries to prevent a re-emergence of workers’ collectivity.

———

*** Defensive attacks by state and management: Summary of developments inside and outside the Maruti Suzuki plant after 18th of July 2012

After a prolonged period of struggle from June 2011 to July 2012, culminating in a mass attack on the factory and company representatives, it was clear that management would try to go to the root of workers’ collectivity and try to change the composition of the workforce substantially.

Work-force composition: wage divisions and generational hierarchies

After 18th of July around 550 out of 1,000 permanent workers were dismissed. To replace some of the 550 sacked permanent workers around 150 workers from Gurgaon plant were shifted to Manesar, mainly to the C-plant, which became operational in July 2013 – not without short strikes of the construction workers, as you can see in the reports in the appendix! Apart from the 550 permanents also around 2,200 out of around 2,500 temporary workers were kicked out. They were replaced by workers hired as ‘company casuals’.

The first announcement after the riot on 18th of July was that Maruti Suzuki will from now on abstain from using ‘contract workers’ (temporary workers) in the production department. First of all this was a kind of political signal: we see the fragility of this system and we try to do something about it. Instead of using contractors they introduced a new category (Company Casuals). Workers hired in this position are directly hired through the company, which does not give them higher wages or more rights, but Maruti Suzuki now has more direct control over the hiring process. “We have done away with the recruitment companies and the contractor. We have gone back to the system we had in Gurgaon. We do a complete background check – we look at where the candidate comes from, how is his family. Candidates are first taken as apprentices and watched for a whole year. The apprentice then takes an examination and is selected as trainee for two years. The most important thing is the attitude,” announced Chairman Bhargava in a recent interview. The company casuals are only employed for six to seven months and then kicked out again. Some of them are re-hired after two, three months. In this way Maruti Suzuki tries to prevent a more ‘permanent workforce’.

Previously the temporary workers’ actually worked at Maruti for a longer period of time compared to the company casuals now, they often stayed for several years. The change to short-term casual work is a political decision by the management, which impacts on production. If most of the production workers are replaced after six months, loss of experience and necessity for training new people hampers productivity. In general, production levels have come down since the first factory occupation in June 2011, from 45 seconds a car per line to 1 minute a car, which is 960 cars on two shifts. In November 2013 the output-levels came down to 795 cars, but were supposed to go back up to 900 by January 2014. After the initial slow-down of the assembly line after June 2011 the line speed has not been reduced further, even though due to the current slump, production demand and output levels are less. Management rather stops the line and sends workers to sweep and clean for an hour per shift than further slowing down the line – knowing about the potential discontent as a response to any speed-up.

All in all we can say that the numbers of permanent workers has actually come down since July 2012 in relation to the company casuals (or previous temporary workers) and trainees. Although management said that they won’t use ‘contract workers’ in production departments anymore, there are still around 150 workers hired through contractors doing material handling and transport. This leaves us with following composition in wage terms. We can clearly see that since the wage settlement post-July 2012 the wage gap between permanents and other categories has increased considerably.

June 2011

Permanents: 13,000 to 17,000 Rs
Trainees: 8,000 Rs to 10,000 Rs
Temporary: 6,500 Rs

November 2013

Permanents: 32,000 to 36,000 Rs
Trainees: 16,000 to 18,000 Rs
Company Casuals: 13,800 Rs (11,000 after deduction of ESI and PF)
Temporary: 5,500 to 6,000 Rs

In addition the annual ‘profit-share’ bonus for permanent workers, which is around one monthly wage extra, has been granted again in 2013, after it had been suspended in 2012. In the Gurgaon plant, Maruti Suzuki expanded the so-called ‘company loan scheme’, which gives permanent workers the ‘opportunity’ to get a lower interest rate loan of between 100,000 and 300,000 from the company, if they find two Maruti employees as guarantors. This further ties the permanents to the company.

After 18th of July, older workers from Gurgaon plant shifted to Manesar, many of them waiting for retirement with a comfortable monthly wage of 40,000 to 50,000 Rs plus. They were combined with newly hired company casuals and trainees who are fresh from the ITI training institutes. The workers we spoke to knew only little more about the 2011 – 2012 struggle than that ‘a manager was killed’. This generational divison between loyal old workers and unexperienced new workers is supposed to avoid the explosive mixture of ‘angry 25 year olds’, the generation which pushed forward during the Maruti struggle of 2011.

More transferrals take place between Maruti Suzuki Manesar and Suzuki Powertrain, also in Manesar. The two companies merged in 2012, but Powertrain workers have retained a separate union (HMS). This union now opposes the transferrals, fearing that shifting of workers between Gurgaon plant, Manesar plant and Powertrain is meant to undermine their union position. Last, but not least there are the directly political transferrals of ‘active workers’, e.g. the company transferred the thirteen union body members who were elected after 18th of July 2012 from the Manesar plant to remote Maruti show-rooms. This was done with considerable pressure and collusion of the police, e.g. the family member of one of these workers was summoned to the police station and told that if the worker didn’t accept the transferral he’d be locked up like the other 150 ex-union body members.

Outside the factory: political prisoners and industrial appeasement

Outside of the plant, the main visible pressure remains on the 150 ‘political prisoners’ in Bhondsi jail near Gurgaon. The number of workers and families involved in solidarity campaigns such as hunger-strikes or bike-tours throughout Haryana has come down since end of 2012. Attempts to have official demonstrations in the industrial areas like Manesar are prohibited by the police, e.g. the planned memorial day protest on 18th of July 2013 was met with a deployment of 10,000 police. At a different occasion, when the ‘workers bicycle’ tour from Haryana came too close to Manesar, workers were arrested and put out on the road towards Rohtak, a place with less ‘contagious potentials’ than the industrial centres. Workers and activists largely stick to these types of symbolic activities, which might be necessary, but not sufficient. One of the main objectives of repression is to channel struggles into the narrow lane of anti-repression, which usually does not expand and hit state and capital at the level of profit production. It is true, the collusion between state and local industry is revealing, whoever has any illusions in democratic freedom can learn a good lesson.

While the play of the police, the court, the labour department and management is more easy to disentangle, it is more difficult to understand the dynamic between capital and state’s attempt to establish industrial peace and the strategies and limitations of trade unions in the area. As you can read after the example of the struggle at Nappino Auto, the attempts within the automobile and wider industry to establish ‘company-based trade unions’ continued after the 18th of July 2012 and we have to analyse to what extent the trade unions are – willingly or not – part of the state and management’s appeasement or at least containment strategy.

*** Hidden impact of the Maruti Suzuki struggle

Two years later, workers at Napino Auto recall how the factory occupation and further struggle in their plant was influenced by the events at the nearby Maruti Suzuki plant.

(translated from: FMS 303 – September 2013)

Napino Auto and Electronics Worker
(Plot 7, Sector 3, IMT Manesar)
There are 800 workers employed working on three shifts, producing main wire harnesses for Hero motorcycles and Maruti Suzuki cars and electronic parts for Hero and electronic parts for export.

Factory Occupation, 2010

In May – June 2010 during the A-shift, after having made a small mistake, a worker was forced to stand for a long time in the heat and a manager pulled his ear to make him squat. In response the workers in the main harness department on the ground-floor stopped work and went upstairs to the electronics department, where workers also laid down tools. All workers stopped work and sat down. They refused to eat lunch and to drink the offered tea. The company closed the canteen. At 2:30 pm, the A-shift workers refused to leave the factory at the usual end of working-time. After half of the B-shift workers had arrived management stopped the other workers from entering. The workers remained inside the factory for four days. Around 100 female workers of the A-shift stayed together with their male co-workers. The female workers did not stay over night, they brought in food in the mornings, which had been cooked by people outside. The workers shared it amongst themselves and ate together. After four days people of the labour department arrived and asked the workers to sent five representatives. The company chairman promised that in future such misbehaviour won’t take place. When workers said that the wage is too low and that the company should increase it the chairman said that he’d rather close the factory, but that he won’t give a paisa more. Workers insisted, so an agreement was made that the wage will be raised by 3,500 Rs over three years, but at the same time the production target was also increased a lot. Actually, up to today the production target fixed in the agreement has not been met.

Lock-out, 2011

The company prepared itself for a counter-step. Management gave a 500 Rs wage increase to some individual workers. Some workers were promised to be made permanent. Management prepared to hire 400 new workers from outside. The police settled down near the premises. After a minor issue was blown up 100 workers agitated to take a step, so in May 2011 workers of the A-shift went on strike (or were agitated to go on strike). The police arrived and used force to kick workers out of the factory. Management stopped the B-shift from entering the plant. The 400 workers were brought in and hired on the spot. Workers continued the strike for eight, nine days from the outside. Around 150 permanent and temporary workers who had been most outspoken were sacked. Most of the permanent workers took 20 to 25,000 Rs final dues and also left the job. Most of the 400 newly hired workers were also sacked again.

During the 13 days factory occupation of the Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers in June 2011 Napino Auto closed its plant. Twelve Napino Auto permanent workers who had not taken their final dues went to the labour department to object the dismissal. There they met a union leader who told them to register a union at Napino Auto. Secret meetings started with workers who were still employed inside. When 90 per cent of these workers agreed to the registration plan the twelve workers filed an application in Chandigarh. Management said that these twelve workers had been terminated and had the registration file closed.

When the Maruti Suzuki struggle intensified in September and October 2011, around 400 female and male Napino Auto workers went three, four times to meet the Maruti workers at their factory gate. In March 2012 the twelve workers again opened a new union registration file. In May 2011 90 per cent of the workers started to wear black arm-bands in order to demand the re-hiring of the twelve workers. They refused working over-time – they used to work 150 hours over-time per month, paid single instead of statutory double rate.

Impact of the 18th of July 2012

Again, on 18th of July 2012 the situation at Maruti culminated, 100 managers were admitted to hospital and the factory was closed. The Napino Auto management was very afraid, negotiations re-started. In August 2012 all twelve workers who had been sacked in May 2011 were taken back on in the factory. In addition, Napino Auto management called 50 to 60 temporary workers, who had been working in various production positions and who had been kicked out, and re-hired them for one year as trainees. Fifteen of the workers hired through contractors working at Napino at the time were hired as trainees for three years.

Trade union registration and wage dispute, 2013

In October 2012 the union was registered. The union gave a demand notice to the company. For two, three months management did not reply. In November 2012 the company made 51 workers hired through contractor permanent. After July 2012 management stopped threatening workers in the plant. In preparation for the India-wide general strike, 500 Napino Auto workers took part in a trade union event in Faridabad on 6th of February 2013, handing over a memorandum to the labour minister. But on 20th of February 2013 production kept running in the factory. When workers’ riots kicked off in NOIDA the company sent workers on holiday on 21st of February 2013 and told them to work on Sunday instead. The workers refused. The union said that union and company are in a formal dispute and that therefore workers should come to work on a Sunday, making up for the 21st of February. Negotiations started between union and management at the labour department. After eight to ten days the issue was not settled. The union asked workers to wear black arm-bands from 26th of August 2013 onwards. This did not have any impact. The appointment at the labour department on 29th of August also remained without result. On 30th of August the union gave the company 5 days ultimatum.

Since March 2012 out of 800 workers 631 workers paid 100 Rs monthly to the union. The 325 workers hired through contractors had also paid 100 Rs per month to the union, but they were not given membership. Only 306 workers are members of the union, amongst them the union leadership. The union leader said that everyone will get the same wage increase and that everyone will be made permanent, that the negotiations were positive. But the actual leadership regarding negotiations at Napino is with a Honda union leader and everyone knows about the relation between permanenet workers and workers hired through contractor at Honda. We know what the Honda union does in the factory. At Napino the management fears some of the permanents, but the workers hired through contractor specifically. The demand notice states 25,000 Rs wage increase over three years, but we have heard that the management so far agrees only to 8,200 Rs. The workers hired through contractors know that their increase will be less, so they told the union leaders that if it will be much less, if it will be less than 7,000 Rs, then they can get lost with their union and the company will have to pay in this way or the other.

*** The impasses of trade union struggle: Recent local and regional examples from the automobile industry

* Analysis of local examples of recent struggles: Autofit, Munjal Kiriu, Nerolack, Daikin
* Conversation with Hyundai workers in Chennai, November 2013
* Struggle of Alfa Laval Workers in Pune

We highlighted the report of Nappino Auto workers for two reasons:
a) because it demonstrates the impact of the Maruti Suzuki struggle on the wider class territory, an impact which does not show up in any ‘formal’ organisational way and remains therefore largely unnoticed;
b) because it shows the prelude to the official (trade union) conflict, the conflict which becomes visible to the wider left (and often to other workers, too), and is therefore seen as the ‘origin’ of struggle. This leads to misconceptions with quite significant political consequences, as we will point out in the last part of this newsletter in our critical reference to the ‘Gurgaon Workers’ Solidarity Centre’.

* Analysis of local examples of recent struggles: Autofit, Munjal Kiriu, Nerolack, Daikin

In the following, we look at struggles which took place in the local, mainly automobile industry in late 2013. We got to know about these conflicts only at the point when workers were kicked out or decided to ‘go on strike’ after the suspension or dismissals of some of their work-mates – mainly those representing the trade union. The prelude is missing. We therefore remain slightly puzzled:

Why would, in the same week, two managements of two independent suppliers of the two most significant automobile companies in India take a step which very likely will impact on production at a time when the demand at Maruti Suzuki Manesar and Hero Dharuhera is still very high? The following will be an approximation towards an answer. We visited workers at Munjal Kiriu and Autofit, for Daikin and Nerolack we depend on information by comrades of the ML-movement.

* Autofit, Dharuhera
The company is a supplier for Hero motorcycles, which is located next to the plant. Autofit assembles 14,000 motorbike wheels and 7,000 seats per day. Around 95 workers are permanent, 20 technician trainee, 298 casual (who’ve been working for 12-18 years without permanency) and 150 workers hired through contractor. Wages of permanent workers were 6,000 to 7,000 Rs, only slightly higher than the wages of the other categories. In June 2013 workers filed for registration of a trade union and got their registration on 15 October 2013 (HMS). In the a wage settlement, while the workers demanded Rs.10000 increment in a period of three years, the company agreed to less than half the demand and this too in CTC (gross Rs.2346). The demand for workers hired through contractor was 3,500 Rs from trade union side, which was ignored. Since 7th December 2013, 17 workers which includes the entire Union body members were suspended, and Good Conduct bond issued for all workers. Workers stay outside in 100 metre distance, management has hired new people, production at Hero is affected (down by 30 per cent, according to Hero workers), but running. During our visit there were 100 workers present at the protest.

We asked whether the workers’ representatives have addressed the 7,000 Hero workers, who work 200 metres away, but they said that they had just spoken to the permanent workers trade union leader and that it is their task to talk to ‘their workers’. They said that trade union leaders at nearby Rico and Omax have shown support, but in no practical terms. We asked them whether they have addressed the Autofit workers in Gurgaon and Manesar, but they said that these workers have no trade union. “They know about the situation in Dharuhera, but they cannot do much about it”. There is another company which supplies Hero with seats, Minakshi in nearby Manesar. Autofit workers haven’t contacted these workers, who currently will probably work overtime. The trade union representatives guessed that due to missing wheels, production at Hero will be down to 30 per cent, but when we talked to a Hero worker he said that there is only ‘a slight lack of wheels’. Nevertheless there is a positive sign: around 30 of the newly hired ‘scabs’ have come out of the factory and joined the workers outside.

* Munjal Kiriu, Manesar
The company is a supplier of brake discs and crank shafts for Maruti Suzuki. Around 240 workers are permanent, 300 are temporary. There were conflicts around the question of termination of trainees after one year of training, about work-load increase. On 29 February 2013, workers filed for registration of a trade union. Management terminated the job of 5 out of 7 of the Union body members whose names appear in the file sent for Union registration. The workers however got their Union registered on 12 June 2013 (HMS). Most of the demands were disregarded during the settlement on 26 November 2013, which imposed a mere Rs. 4500 to 7200 wage increment in a period of 4 years. Discontent over sacking of further trainees led to a short wildcat strike in November 2013 and again, on 18th of December 2013, workers of all shifts sat down to demand re-instatement. The police arrived in bigger numbers (500 to 1,000) and expelled the workers from the factory. Since then workers sit in 100 metres distance from the factory, while the company has hired new workers. During our visit there were 100 workers present.

http://sanhati.com/articles/8781/

* Kansai Nerolack Paints, Baval
The company supplies 90 per cent of the paint for Ma

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