Gurgaon Workers' News assess the recent massive strike at Maruti Suzuki auto in India.
Preliminary Balance Sheet of the 13-Days Sit-Down Strike at Maruti Suzuki Factory in Manesar/Gurgaon, India
From 4th to 17th of June around 2,000 young workers engaged in a wildcat sit-down strike at Maruti Suzuki factory in Manesar . With the following text we hope to contribute to the necessary debate about this important strike and invite friends and comrades, particularly in Delhi area, to share their experiences and views. Before we go into chronological details of the strike we try to provide a rough political summary.
It was an important strike in local terms. The two Maruti assembly plants coordinate hundreds of local supplying factories , the Manesar plant dominates a new industrial area of major importance. There has been silence at Maruti Suzuki for more than a decade: the workers in Gurgaon plant have been silenced by the lock-out in 2000/01 , and they did not join the strike in June. The Manesar plant was opened in 2006/07, but the young and casualised work-force had not found their voice as yet.
It was a hard strike. The workers gave no notice to management, they stopped production completely and around 2,000 workers stayed inside the factory for nearly two weeks. The strike ‘postponed’ the production of 13,200 cars and caused a loss of about 6 billion Rs. (133 million USD / 100 million Euro). Maruti Suzuki’s June sales figures dropped by 23 per cent, the sharpest fall in two and a half years. In July management announced to shift one production-line back from Manesar to Gurgaon plant. Workers continued the strike despite the police stationed within the factory premises and despite strike having been officially declared illegal by Haryana government on 10th of June.
Management and state did not dare to attack the workers inside the factory – a lot of workers’ struggles in the area had been attacked physically once workers left the factory. This is partly due to the management’s fear that plant and machinery could be damaged during the course of a police intervention, but mainly due to a fear of the state that – in the current local and global social situation – repression could cause unpredictable trigger effects. While state and management did not know how to deal with the situation, the main unions repeatedly emphasised, that ‘the workers are victimised’, that the workers, and not the company, are in a difficult spot.
Despite the young workers’ courage and the fact that the company was hit at times of full-capacity the strike ended in a defeat for the mass of workers: they did not enforce any betterment of conditions and wages, which was their main concern. Instead the agreement included a ‘punishment wage cut’ of two days’ wages per day of strike – something rarely seen in industrial relations in India. Another element of the agreement states that the 11 workers (union leaders) sacked during the strike were taken back, though they have to undergo an ‘inquiry’. We are not able to say whether workers at large felt demoralised after the strike, but we can imagine it.
The strike could have spread. The initial demands and underlying motivations of the Maruti workers matched the atmosphere of the young work-force in the area: more money, less work. In Manesar more than a hundred thousand young workers have similar concerns . The strike stopped production at around 200 local supplying factories, but no active connections were established between Maruti workers and the wider work-force in the territory. This might be one of the main differences to the Honda strike in China last summer and main reason for the fact that the strike was very underrepresented in both mainstream and left-wing global media – despite the ‘emerging’ position of Maruti Suzuki and ‘India’ in the global market.
The focus on ‘formal representation’ choked the dynamic of the strike. During the course of the strike, the direct demands of the workers were reduced to the question of which union-flag should be put up at the gate. We could summarise the main reasons for the defeat of the strike as follows: workers raised direct demands, but early on these demands were ‘integrated’ in the workers’ hope that by formal recognition of an independent union their material situation would improve; we then saw an attack both by management and state, cutting of electricity, isolation of workers by army of security guards, declaring the strike formerly illegal and last but not least by sacking the 11 ‘leaders’; the main unions then offered ‘support’ and at the same time focussed the struggle on the question of ‘taking back the leaders’ and ‘workers’ rights’ for representation. Workers did not manage neither to break out of the material encirclement set-up by company management and state nor to escape the ‘embrace’ by the main unions.
The fate of the strike was handed over to the ‘negotiating forces’. It is naïve to repeat the phrase of ‘betrayal’ of the main unions. It evades the question of what gives them the power to betray in the first place. Instead we should focus on the question how workers can struggle in a way, which leads both to an immediate material gain and to ‘political’ experience of self-organisation and generalisation beyond the company walls – the latter becoming increasingly a precondition for the former.
A short video documentary can be found here soon(with English and German subtitles):
Material on re-structuring at Maruti Suzuki Gurgaon plant:
Paper on Potential for Wage Struggle Offensive in Gurgaon-Manesar: