Past Tense / Present Unrest: Local Working Class History – Faridabad, India

Past Tense / Present Unrest: Local Working Class History – Faridabad, India

Below you can find various historical documents on working class experience in Faridabad in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite having been one of the largest industrial areas in India at the time and a hotspot of post-Emergency proletarian turmoil, the experience of workers in Faridabad rarely entered the realm of official labour history. For the current generation of workers and communists a critical engagement with the voices from the past is essential part of the search for new trajectories and new forms of organisation.

The material comprises translations of old articles from the still present local workers’ newspaper Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar; transcriptions of academic articles and other documents; and notes of ongoing conversations with workers about their past. The material is sketchy and the translations are not perfect – please see this as an open invitation to participate in the process.

In the near future we intend to bring more documents and voices back into our present discussions and extend the archive on this site. We will also try to debate some conclusions. At present we want to refer to the pamphlet on ‘Workers’ Self Activity’ by Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar, which you can find below.

Please get involved.

gurgaon_workers_news@yahoo.co.uk

List of Content

Sources:
Economic Political Weekly (EPW)
Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar (FMS)
Gurgaon Workers News (GWN)

/// 1970s ///

* Faridabad Workers’ Anger
EPW no.28, 1977: Report on mass strike and riots on 30th of June 1977 after death of worker Harnam Singh in police custody in Faridabad

* Capitalist Terror in Ghaziabad
EPW no.38, 1977: Report on industrial dispute and subsequent riot on 7th of September 1977 at Harig India, a company in Faridabad

* After CITU What?
EPW no.42, 1977: Analysis of workers’ discontent with union politics in Faridabad in 1977

* Anti-Worker Offensive in Haryana
EPW no.11, 1978: Analysis of post-Emergency repression of workers’ discontent in Faridabad

* Industrial Repression at Faridabad
EPW, 1978: Report on repression against workers, amongst others at company Autopin on 15th of February 1978 in Faridabad

* After the Massacre of Dalli Rajhara Mining Workers
EPW no. 24, 1977: Series of reports on contract mining workers struggle, the police massacre and the involvement of Congress and CPI

* Massacre of Kanpur Workers
EPW no.9, 1978: Report on police firings in Swadeshi Cotton Mills in Kanpur, on 6th of December 1977

* Police Massacre in Faridabad
EPW no.44, 1979: Report on police massacre and repression after general strike and demonstration in Faridabad, on 17th of October 1979

* From Emergency to Rural Maoism to Leninism in Faridabad
GWN Conversation, 2010

* Worker in Faridabad in early 1970s, Full Time Activist for CPI and later Naxalites, Sangarh Samiti 1979
GWN Conversation, 2010

* Escorts/Ford Worker in Faridabad in 1970s and 1980s
GWN, Conversation 2010

/// 1980s ///

* Revolutionary “Termites” in Faridabad
Loren Goldner, March 1998: Summary of important struggles in Faridabad in 1980s and 1990s

* Some Agitation in Faridabad
FMS, September 1983: Short news items on struggles in various companies (Biko Engineering, East India Textile Mill, Atul Glas, Usha Spinning Mills, JMA)

* Some Agitation in Faridabad II
FMS, October 1987: Short news items on struggles in various companies (HYDERABAD ASBESTOS LTD., Nukem Plastics, Autopin, Bombay Rubber, Metal Box, Escorts Anciliary, East India Textile Mill)

Escorts

* Escorts Intro
In 1980s Escorts was one of the ten biggest manufacturing companies in India. The Faridabad plants employed over 20,000 permanent workers, manufacturing tractors, motor-cycles, parts for the railways etc.

* “Interview with President of All Escorts Employees’ Union, Subhash Sethi”
by Journal of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the African National Congress (October 1981): Union leader who helped enforcing productivity scheme at Escorts portrays himself as anti-Stalinist revolutionary

* FMS – May 1983
Summary on powergame between old Escorts management faction Nanda and Indira Gandhi backed Swaraj Paul, from an internationalist Marxist perspective

* FMS – June 1983
Update on struggle about the Escorts ‘take-over’ through Gandhi – Swaraj Paul

* FMS – October 1983
Old Escorts union leadership breaks up workers’ protest and attacks new trade union leadership

* FMS – November 1983
Analysis on how both Nanda and Swaraj Paul make use of different trade union factions

* FMS – January 1987
Critique of Escorts Union president Subhash Sethi’s intimidating leaflet to the Escorts workers

* FMS – March 1987
Report on new agreement which settles a 50 to 80 per cent work-load increase

* FMS – December 1988
Report on how productivity bonus scheme has lead to productivity increase and piling up of inventory

* FMS – April 1989
Report on new agreement, which contains new work-load increase

* FMS – July 1989
Escort Union’s president resigns after only 17 workers turn up for 1st of May celebration

* FMS – February 1990
Report on introduction of compulsory pension scheme

* FMS – April 1990
Report on temporary closure of motor-cycle plant and mass lay-offs of temporary workers

* FMS – May 1990
Article on workers refusing the new agreement proposed by management and union

* FMS – July 1990
Article on reduction of over-time payment and the word-games attached to it

* FMS – November 1992
Article on the results of the formal breaking up of Escorts into various companies

* FMS – February 1993
Article on over-capacities and lay-offs in both motorcycle and tractor plant

* Escorts economic situation in 1998
News on take-over of motor-cycle division by Yamaha, of piston production by Mahle etc.

Gedore Jhalani Tools

* Self-Activity of Wage-Workers: Gedore Jhalani Tools
Kamunist Kranti / FMS, 1998: Summary of over a decade of practical involvement in Gedore Jhalani Tools dispute in Faridabad

* Revolutionary Termites: Gedore Jhalani Tools
Loren Goldner, 1998: Shorter version of the kamunist Kranti / FMS summary

* FMS – March 1983
Summary of 9 months of dispute previous to the tool down strike, which started on 12th of February 1983. The strike happens on the background of the threat of automation and mass lay-offs

* FMS – April 1983
Report on conflict between CITU and workers after workers’ rejection of agreement on 20th of March 1983, CITU leadership first tries to break strike, then has to resign

* FMS – May 1983
Short news item on union leader’s ‘excuse’ for signed agreement on 1st of May protest

* FMS – June 1983
First attempts of management to further delay wage payment and to provoke workers

* FMS – September 1983
Management pays outstanding wages to supervisors and staff after on one-day strike

* FMS – October 1983
Report that union leaders held plan for redundancies secret from workers

* FMS – November 1983
Short criticism of article on Gedore dispute published in the paper “April Kranti”

* FMS – January 1984
After having not been paid for three months staff of all three plants went on strike

* FMS – February 1984
Quarrel over minor issues between CITU and INTUC factions undermine workers’ unity

* FMS – March 1984
Lock-out at the third plant as first step for redundancy drive. CITU thugs start resisting workers (followed by summary of events between 1984 and 1988)

* FMS – December 1988
After having laid off over 1,500 workers in 1985-85 management started to loot the company – automation machinery has not been introduced

* FMS – May 1989
Several months of outstanding wages amount to 8,000 Rs per worker – the union suggests that the workers accept the companies’ ‘motor-cycle’-deal

* FMS – January 1990
Union leadership misinform workers about new agreement, workers confront them when they find out

* FMS – February 1992
Management cuts 800 Rs from monthly wage of some workers – according to the new agreement they have not met the production target

* FMS – July 1992
More arbitrary wage cuts based on ‘new agreement’, workers write collective letter

* FMS – March 1993
Wildcat strike and gathering against the new agreement on 9th and 10th February

* “The Company They Keep A Report on Workers of Jhalani Tools Ltd., Faridabad”
by Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, Delhi (November 1997): Longer report about dispute over outstanding wages – Jhalani Tools has not paid its workers wages due for the period March of 1996 to September 1997

/// 1990s ///

* “Dedicated to the Memoirs of Shankar Guha Niyogi”
FMS, October 1991: Memorial after murder of working class leader and review of struggles in Dalli Rajahara mining region since mid-1970s

* Police Firing on Striking Workers
EPW no.25, 1998: Report on police attack on protesting workers of the Pashupati Spinning and Weaving Mill at Dharuhera, Haryana, on 19th of February 1998

* Self-Activity of Wage Workers
FMS, April 1998: Political reflection on workers’ self-activity and the pitfalls of representation after nearly two decades of working class life and struggle in Faridabad

—————————–

* Faridabad Workers’ Anger

EPW 1977, No. 28
Ramnath Narayanaswamy

FARIDABAD is an industrial township, 20 kilometres from Delhi, with over 1,000 small-scale industries and a working class population exceeding four lakhs. On June 30, all activity in the township came to a standstill. Thousands of factory workers downed their tools in protest against the death in police custody of Harnam Singh, a maintenance foreman, working in one of the leading concerns of the area. Towards the afternoon, over 5,000 workers proceeded in trucks to Delhi to seek the intervention of the Union home minister, Charan Singh. Among the demands made to the minister were: a judicial probe into the alleged murder of Harnam Singh, immediate arrest of an inspector of the Haryana Central Investigation Agency and other police officials responsible for Harnam Singh’s death and the arrest of the owners of the factory where the deceased was employed.
Feelings ran so high that violence had erupted in many parts of Faridabad and vehicles proceeding to the capital were stoned, looted and burnt. Harnam Singh, it is alleged, had been tortured to death by the police on the factory premises in the presence of the managing director, a sub-inspector of police, and some other senior company officials. His co-workers allege that he was also administered some chemical and later taken to the hospital where he was declared dead. Harman Singh had been employed with the concern for the last 13 years. He resigned on June 13, when ‘the factory owners registered a case of theft where he and some of his co-workers were listed as the likely suspects. He was called to the police station on June 20 and after some preliminary interrogation permitted to leave. He was again called to the police station at 5 p m on the same day.

Balbir Singh, Harnam Singh’s brother, was called by the police on June 27 to Ballabhgarh where the CIA interrogation cell is located. According to him the CIA inspector systematically tortured his brother. Harnam Singh’s hands were tied and the other end of the rope was passed over the ceiling fan in the room. The fan was then switched on while the inspector kept asking Harnam Singh to confess. Lighted cigarette butts were applied to different parts of Harnam Singh’s body. Balbir Singh saw his brother for the last time on June 29. Harnam Singh was taken to the factory premises. After a cup of tea at the reception office, the police party proceeded to the electro-plating shop, beside which there was a well into which the stolen goods had been allegedly dumped. Harnam Singh breathed his last in the electro-plating shop allegedly in the presence of the managing director, assistant general manager and police officials. A brief view of the body at the mortuary revealed extensive torture marks. No part of the body had been spared and, according to one informant, the soles of Harnam Singh’s feet had been pierced with nails and subsequently burnt. While at Faridabad this writer also met Balbir Singh, who fully confirmed the reports of the torture of his brother.

On July 1, workers of the Okhla industrial estate observed a day’s strike to protest against the brutality of the police and the factory management that caused the death of Harnam Singh. The decision to go on strike was taken by over 2,000 workers in Okhla and a condolence resolution was adopted. The atmosphere was tense with rising anger at the police who the workers allege, are hand in glove with the management. Armed guards had become a common sight in Faridabad and armed police had been posted at various strategic places in anticipation of further disturbances. The same morning, an armed mob of over 50 persons, broke into the premises of the Presolite factory on Mathura Road and attempted to set it on fire. The security and accounts offices were set ablaze and a number of company records were damaged by the blaze. Local rumour has it that the fire was deliberately caused by one section of the management concerned in the Harnam Singh case. The fire, it seemed, was aimed at the location of the records that may have implicated the management.

A police camp and a special control room has been set up in Faridabad. Armed guards are on constant vigil while armed police who have been urgently summoned from Rohtak, Ambala and Karnal have been posted on Mathura Road to prevent further disturbances.
The police have registered 13 cases of rioting so far and made 158 arrests. On July 2, workers at Okhla decided to continue the solidarity strike the next day as a gesture of support to the workers at the Presolite factory. Some of the factories had begun to open their shutters while the Presolite factory remained closed. The Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights has called a protest. The march will be sponsored by 12 trade unions and democratic rights organisations and will condemn the high-handedness of the police in the Harnam Singh case and also protest against the firing in the Dalli-Rajahara mines in Madhya Pradesh on June 3. Efforts are also being made to secure the release of workers arrested under section 144 and to ensure that there is no victimisation. The Haryana government has announced a grant of Rs 5,000 to the bereaved family. An inquiry by a sessions judge into the incident has been ordered and the superintendent of police of Gurgaon has been transferred. An inspector of the Haryana Central Investigation Agency, who had been suspended on June 30, was later arrested in connection with the death of Harnam Singh.

* Capitalist Terror in Ghaziabad

S K Rao
EPW 1977, No.38

On the morning of September 7, Harig India, a machine tool factory located in Mohan Nagar near Ghaziabad, was the scene of a violent confrontation between workers and the management, in which two persons died, 76 were hurt and the factory was gutted by fire. The events leading up to this violent incident add up to a dismal story of murky methods and goondaism in management-worker relationships.

Harig India is a 16-year old plant manufacturing surface grinders, cylindrical grinders and other such machine tools. It employs about 128 workers, of whom about half are unskilled and semi-skilled. The semi-skilled and the unskilled workers, it is reported, get a monthly pay of Rs 200 to Rs 300, while the skilled workers get from Rs 300 to Rs 900.
The events of the 7th morning seem to be a direct culmination of the efforts by the management to prevent workers from voicing their long-felt grievances through legitimate trade union activity. The management, it is alleged, had brought in goondas to suppress the workers’ trade union, which resulted in these violent incidents.
Ramu Roy, the President of the Harig India Workers’ Union, says that none of the workers have got appointment letters or identity cards; and while provident deductions are made, the management refuses to give them receipts for it.
The workers of this factory formed a union in January 1977 before the Emergency was lifted. All the workers joined the union. After the Emergency was lifted, in June this union sought affiliation with CITU which has become the major trade union force in this area. CITU has managed to double its strength after the Emergency – its membership has gone up from about 10,000 before the Emergency to about 20,000 after the Emergency. During the Emergency and even before it, the other trade unions had lost much of their credibility because of their soft-pedalling of workers grievances. After the Emergency, the CITU, because of its militant advocacy of workers’ rights in the past and the favourable political climate, has emerged as the most important trade union in this area. And, precisely for this reason, the industrialists of this area, where about 100,000 workers are employed, have been resenting the growth of this trade union. They have been adopting various tactics to keep the labour servile and underpaid: very often, it is alleged, that several workers are employed under the contract labour system, which denies them the usual privileges which go with regular employment; and often even the recommendations of the engineering wage board are not implemented. To this day, it is said, the recommendations of the engineering wage board, made as long back as 1969-70 and which could make a difference of as much as Rs 90 and more in the monthly pay of workers, have not been implemented. The growth of the militant trade union, CITU, in these circumstances has caused much apprehension and anxiety among the employers in this area.

What happened at Harig India should be seen in this context. When the newly-formed factory union got affiliation with CITU and demanded recognition from the management, the management refused it. Not only that, the workers allege that the management set in motion a train of events which culminated in the violence of the 7th. On June 28, the Union presented a charter of demands including bonus payment, variable dearness allowance, house rent, cycle stand, canteen for the workers, right to casual leave and facilities for drinking water which had all been denied to them so far. The management, instead of accepting or negotiating these demands, brought in four new security guards who carried guns, kirpans, etc. and allegedly lounged about the place making threatening noises against workers. The workers allege that these new security guards were known goondas whom the management hired on a contract basis to suppress the trade union; they were to receive, it is said, Rs 50,000 as hush money, of which Rs 15,000 was paid in advance. Suraj Bhan Bharadwaj, the chief organiser of CITU in Ghaziabad area, has alleged that some of these new security guards were employed earlier by another firm, Bramac Suri (Pvt) Ltd., to break an 108-day old strike. The management of this factory denied this. At any rate, the allegation calls for investigation into the antecedents of these four people. It is also alleged by the AITUC leaders that these same people were employed by Harig India earlier to scare away some villagers from whom the land had been acquired by the UP government on which this factory is located. These allegations of unsavoury background of these new security guards has not yet been denied by the management through detailed clarification of their earlier careers. The police say that they are looking into the antecedents of these people but nothing has yet come up which denies these allegations of the workers.

The management then inducted these disputed characters onto the scene when the workers were presenting their charter of demands through CITU. Moreover, the workers allege, the management in an attempt to get rid of the activist workers started denying raw materials to the sections where they were working and eventually laid off eight workers on August 10. After this, the management says that there was a tool down strike on August 17, 18 and 22; the workers’ representatives deny this. The management in any case cut 7 days’ wages even for a single day’s strike. But before the workers discovered this on September 6 when the pay packet arrived, on August 30 the central office of CITU in Ghaziabad submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister of UP through the District Magistrate Ansari, in which among other things they pointed out that some managements, including that of Harig India, had been employing goondas to terrorise workers and that the authorities should take immediate steps. Bharadwaj says that he had even told the Police Superintendent verbally that an Assistant Inspector of Police was seen to be very friendly with the alleged goondas-cum-guards of Harig India and that the SD had assured him that he would look into this immediately.

Then came September 6 when the workers discovered that a week’s wages had been cut from their pay for the alleged tool down strike which, even according to the management, had lasted only three days. The workers, considerably incensed by this, refused to take any pay at all. The workers, according to Bharadwaj, decided on a strike following this and were planning to give notice of this to the management the next day in due manner. The next morning, that is on the fateful 7th, about 10 workers reached the factory gate by 7.00 am to put up posters and raise slogans. The new security guards, who were amusing themselves in a restaurant opposite the factory, it is alleged, advanced towards the factory workers with their kirpans. This confrontation immediately attracted some other workers and passers nearby. As the crowd grew in size, some of the guards allegedly opened fire; the pellets hit the crowd. The injured, among whom were Veer Singh, Nareshan and Dharm Vir Choudhary, were immediately rushed to hospital which was two minutes away. By 7.30 am the Shahibabad Police were informed; the police did not, however, come immediately because they were held up on the way by a crowd of students who held up the buses. According to Press reports, the Ghaziabad Police were also informed by 7.45 am and one industrialist even claims to have sent his own vehicle to fetch them. But they too did not come immediately. It is reported that by the time the first police party arrived it was 9.00 am.

But by 9.00 am a large crowd gathered numbering thousands. What happened that morning is reported in several contradictory ways, with different parties claiming different versions to be true. The first newspaper reports say, however, that by the time the police arrived the guards were on the roof firing gunshots into the crowd. About 70 people were indeed injured by pellets and other wounds – a fact that is not denied by anyone. The police, it is said, finding that the guards were firing dangerously into the crowd, ordered them to come down; when the guards refused to come down, the police made their way onto the roof and fired at the guards – a fact which again is not denied by the police. The guards when then disarmed and brought down by fire ladders – for the building had been set afire already. The workers say that the guards themselves had set the building on fire as they retreated onto the roof in the face of the surging crowd to prevent it from getting nearer; the management denies this saying that the crowd set it on fire. In any case, the first newspaper reports say that the police after firing at the guards on the roof disarmed them and brought them down. As they were being taken away, the police say, the crowd by now enraged asked the police to hand over the guards to them. The police refused, but the crowd seized two of them, Harbhajan Singh, a foreman, and Jeet Singh, allegedly a guard and lynched them to death. This is the police version. The workers say that while it is true that the crowd hit at these two people, they were already dead by the time they were brought down from the roof by the police; they say that the police in fact lowered them by ropes after tying them up, which shows that they were already dead. One should say, however, that this fact – that these two persons were lowered down by ropes by the police from the roof – is not reported in the news reports on the first day. However, the subsequent post-mortem reports on these two bodies say that while Harbhajan Singh died of multiple injuries, including damage to the vital organs, Jeet Singh’s death was caused among other things by a gunshot wound. As none of the reports say that anyone in the crowd was seen using a gun, who exactly fired the shot at Jeet Singh remains a mistery, for the police say that while admittedly they had fired at the guards on the roof, it was not a wound from a shot fired by them which was found on Jeet Singh.
Thus two people were dead; about 70, including some among the police, were hurt by pellet or other wounds. The whole event has enraged the workers in the area so much that most of the workers went on a snap strike that day, culminating in a public meeting in which about 20,000 people participated. Since then, Section 144 was imposed and several arrests were made, including those of Veer Singh and Nareshan, two workers, who, according to the workers’ representatives, had been wounded by the pellets and been taken to the nearby hospital much before the police came after which the alleged lynching took place. The workers are now demanding a judicial enquiry and release of all the arrested.
(…)

* After CITU What?

EPW 1977, No.42
ANS

An uneasy feeling of betrayal by the present political leadership is spontaneously manifesting itself among militant sections of the working class in and around the Capital. A great deal of the resentment bottled up during the Emergency, and quiescent for a period after, has begun to boil over in the manner witnessed at Faridabad in July and Ghaziabad last month.
For a brief period it was possible to argue that the ‘labour unrest’ was part of the post-Emergency euphoria. Not so any longer, as the frequent clashes in Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Sahibabad will testify. The cry for reinstatement of those sacked during the Emergency and restoration of rights and privileges is gradually giving way to resentment against the present “democratic excesses”, such as the UP government’s decision to ban strikes in a number of industrial units (private as well as public sector), the partiality of the Haryana police towards owners in Faridabad and the use of hired thugs by industrialists to terrorise workers at Pilakhua-Ghaziabad and Mohan Nagar.

The trade union movement in this region is itself in a state of flux. The unions have till now existed on the explicit understanding that the state had the right to formulate laws for all sections of society. Union struggles have, at their highest stage, been directed against particular laws and have not been part of a general struggle to recreate society itself. With the increasing inability of the unions to influence the government even as ‘pressure groups’ on behalf of labour, this role of the trade unions is being called into question by labour militants. Outside of the wage demands, there is a widening tendency for workers to “take the law into their own hands”. Trade unionists are forgotten, indeed they remain discreet bystanders, in direct confrontations between workers and managements. They often enter the scene after the event. In a confrontation between workers and some hired thugs in the pay of some Hapur industrialists in July, for instance, it fell upon local union leaders to play the role of “harvest brokers” to placate a 500-strong band of irate lathi-wielding workers. Similar confrontations have been reported from Pilakhua and Sonepat as well.
The major recent confrontations in Faridabad and Mohan Nagar (Ghaziabad) highlight this dichotomy between working class struggles and the trade union movement. At Faridabad, the confrontations reached the stage of an open battle against the government with the police emerging on the side of the owners. The entire working class upsurge at Faridabad in July had an element of spontaneity. Even the call for a general strike in Faridabad and neighbouring Badarpur came from the workers with the trade unionists lamely following behind. Indeed, most of the unions, including those of the left, were caught on the wrong foot. When irate workers stormed the Prostolite factory and set it on fire, the unionists were beseeching the workers not to destroy “national property”. Some unions, including those of the left, branded the destruction as the handiwork of outside saboteurs, thus disowning the working class they claimed to represent. It was only after workers in Badarpur joined the struggle that the unionists “rose to the occasion” by issuing statements of support and sympathy. They soon even claimed responsibility for a “successful general strike” which was not their doing.

At Mohan Nagar, resentment against the use of hired thugs by the managements had been building up since the early 1970s. Hired thugs are not new. The Emergency merely intensified such forms of coercion and the post-Emergency period has brought no let-up. Before the Harig India incident of September 8 (EPW, September 17, pp 1635-36), several other units had used thugs to break workers’ actions. A major textile plant in Modinagar nearby employed as many as 250 armed men to break up a strike which had been banned by the UP government a few days earlier.
When the hired goons of Harig India allegedly began firing on the workers, neither the trade unionists nor the police were much in evidence. The unit leader, Ramu Roy, was present, but he appeared to have very little to do with the developments. Once again the workers had reacted spontaneously. The general strike by workers, the processions and wearing of black arm-bands were decisions taken by the workers with the unionists endorsing them belatedly.
The present writer recalls a rather amusing meeting shortly after with an AITUC leader in the posh air-conditioned offices of a major liquor magnate in the neighbourhood. After some exchanges of compliments between the union leader and the industrialist, the former drew attention to the failure of the police to arrive on time and the resultant “sad loss of national property” (the factory was burnt by the workers). The union leader added, “there is no discipline left after the Emergency”.

Middle level trade union functionaries have had to face some difficult situations. One such left wing functionary in Faridabad was assaulted in early August by a 4,000 strong band of textile workers. The leadership of the union classified the event as a “plot” hatched by right-wing elements. The issue, however, goes much deeper than a right wing left wing confrontation and the hatching of “plots”, for, if there had been no initial resentment, it would have been difficult for agent provocateurs to forment a “plot” among workers who till the other day had enthusiastically accepted the leadership of the very unionist they later assaulted. The workers alleged that the assaulted unionist had been responsible for the arrest of numerous worker militants during the Emergency and was even in the pay of the mill management.

All this is not to say that the established central trade unions in the area are all on the wane. A shift is taking place. The INTUC and the AITUC are yielding place, mainly to the CITU – the fastest growing union in the area. In a few months, the CITU has taken over leadership of at least 70 units in the Ghaziabad area, creating alarm in political circles in UP. In fact there is every evidence of a concerted political drive by the UP and Haryana government to project the BMS (affiliated to the erstwhile Jan Sangh) and to stem the CITU advance.
Such shifts in alignment must, however, be viewed as temporary phenomena. The inability of trade unions to speak for labour as a whole is compounded by the fact that at no time does the total union membership of registered unions exceed 25 per cent of the total organised work force. The “peak periods” of trade union membership in the organised sector in recent times were in 1966 and 1971 when there were 4.08 million and 4.37 million union members (in central unions) out of an organised work force of 16.8 million and 17.49 million, respectively. If one were to take the unorganised sector, including the more than 100 million landless agricultural labourers into account, the performance of the trade unions would be seen to be pathetic. This trade union vacuum is especially felt in areas like Sahibabad, a fast developing industrial area in Ghaziabad district, and Hapur, a major foodgrain mandi in UP and also an expanding industrial town, both of which attract large numbers of seasonal labour from rural areas during slack periods in agriculture.

While all the central trade unions are, in one way or the other, linked to various political parties, the membership criteria is quite unambiguously non-political. Confronted by a wider choice of unions, labourers either continue to stick to the status quo or, if the present union should badly fail them, cynically shift over to the most likely to deliver the goods. Thus unions attached to the party in power may be preferred sometimes purely on the ground that demands made through them are more likely to be viewed favourably. The INTUC, for instance, registered a spectacular rise of 13 per cent in membership between 1975-76 and 1976-77 at the height of the Emergency. The AITUC and the HMS, on the other hand, registered increase of 3 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively in 1967-68 to 1968-69 which also saw the emergence of numerous united front governments all over the country. In this same period, INTUC membership fell by 8 per cent.
In this situation the failure of the central trade unions reflect not so much in the total decline in union membership as in their inability to induct new members (not yet unionised) into the sphere of union activity in keeping with the rising labour population. In and around the Union Territory of Delhi, such a situation has led to the growth, albeit still small, of ‘internal’ unions and of what are referred to as ‘Syndicalist’ tendencies on the part of the working class.
Another factor which is gradually becoming irrelevant are the ‘alternatives’ placed before the working class in the form of various unions. By now the organised sections of workers in Faridabad and Ghaziabad have gone through the whole gamut of unions and the sole ‘alternative’ left is the CITU. At each point of time, the shift has been leftwards to more militant unions, but disillusionment also has come faster. As Bhaskar, a militant worker in an oil mill in Ghaziabad said quite cynically, “they are all the same. The CITU talks of working class unity here while the CPI(M), its political leadership assures industrialists in Bengal that gheraos will not be tolerated. Leaders of the 1974 railway strike are ministers today and the same bonus demands of railway workers made then are no longer justifiable today. Such empty talk will not fill our stomachs.” Which still leaves us with the question, “After CITU what?”

* Anti-Worker Offensive in Haryana

EPW 1978, No.11

(…)
Since 1967 when the first united front government was formed in West Bengal followed by a spate of working class protest demonstrations, about 300 industrial units have shifted to the Haryana region from that state. One of the attractions in north India at the time was the ready availability on unorganised labour who were still unaware of the rights they enjoyed under the existing labour, and could therefore be made to work on subsistence wages.
But “the wind will not cease even if the trees want to rest”. Attempts to organise the workers into unions soon brought trade unionists into a direct confrontation with the employers. In 1973, during troubles at the Gedore Tools factory in Faridabad, a workers’ procession led by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions was fired upon by the police, and one worker was killed. Soon after this, a strike in the Usha Spinning mill fizzled out after police brutality and hunger had forced the workers to return to work without winning and concessions from their employers.
With the declaration of the Emergency, it became evident that labour in Haryana was more than ever at the mercy of the employer. The CITU was virtually banned since it was not allowed to function openly. The Trade Union Co-ordination Council consisting of CITU and AITUC, set up before the Emergency, became defunct.

Extreme Exploitation

A brief look at the working conditions in the industries in Haryana would reveal the extent of exploitation. Of the 100,000 odd workers in the area, more than half are unorganised. Although the minimum monthly wage fixed by the Haryana government is Rs 170, a large number of workers, particularly women, receive only Rs 70 to Rs 80 a month. It should be remembered that as far back as 1957, the 15th Labour Tripartite Conference held that a monthly wage of Rs 100 should be the minimum for a family of four. According to the present price index, trade unionists estimate, the minimum should be raised to Rs 350.
Quite a number of workers employed by the industries are what is known as “contract labourers”. They are not entitled to any casual or earned leave or any other facilities like provident fund. The employers’ rule of ‘hire-and-fire’ decides their working conditions. As soon as the Emergency was lifted, the accumulated grievances of the workers broke out into spontaneous protest demonstrations and charters of demands. Owners of at least 100 factories at the moment are facing charters of demand from their workers who mainly want the implementation of the minimum wages act and an end to contract labour and other unfair practices. (…)

Use of ‘Security Guards’

The industrialists of Faridabad, Ballabhgarh, Ghaziabad and other areas of Haryana have indeed begun to behave like the early American bourgeoisie. The latest feature of their labour policy is to hire so-called security guards to crush unions. One is reminded of the notorious US detective agencies – Pinkerton, Burns, Corporations Auxiliary Company – whose services were bought by American business firms to spy on employees’ associations, wreck them when they secured a foothold and destroy them when they tried out their strength. (…)
Something of the same sort is happening today in Haryana. The fact that some industrialists were maintaining a private army of their own to deal with recalcitrant workers came to light in October 1977 when ‘security guards’ shot down workers at the Harrig India factory in Faridabad. Since then the news of such mercenaries employed by several industrialists have been pouring in. The incidents at Auto Pins factory in Faridabad (on February 15) were sparked off by attacks of these ‘security guards’ hired by the owner on workers who were demanding a restoration of their wage-cut. According to later police inquiries, it was found that at least three of the 17 security guards were notorious criminals of Alwar. The Deputy Superintendent of Police of Haryana did not rule out the possibility of the remaining 14 having criminal records elsewhere.

That the owner of Auto Pins factory has been maintaining these guards on his pay roll for quite a number of years was revealed recently through the leakage of an old letter written by a fellow industrialist to another industrialist in Haryana. Piqued by abuses hurled by these guards when he came to attend a Rotary Club meeting at Faridabad, the writer of the letter dated November 22, 1974 complained that a “heinous atmosphere was being created by Mr Avtar Singh [owner of Auto Pins] and added: “25 to 30 goondas hired from Alwar have been retained by his group of industries and spread over the various associate concerns of M/s Auto Pins to be utilised as a terror at every eventual occasion to harras and horrify me”.
Avtar Singh has apparently given a lead to other industrialists in Haryana. It is estimated that as many as 15 agencies – the Indian counterparts of Pinkertons and Burns – are doing roaring business in recruiting and supplying ‘security guards’ to factory owners. The majority of these guards are recruited from professional criminals, and lumpen-proletariat from Muzaffarnagar and Alwar.

Pro-Employer Role of Government

The events at the Indian Dyes Chemical Organisation in Sunepta, which took place a few days before Auto Pins incidents, reveal not only the same pattern of hiring mercenaries to crush unions, but also the pro-employer role of the Haryana state government and the unfortunate contradiction between the unemployed and the organised labour force which is exploited by the employers. The management of the IDCO at first tried to prevent the workers from forming any union, notwithstanding which the CITU managed to organise a union and launch a strike demanding among other things implementation of the minimum wages act in August 1977. The then Haryana minister for Labour, Sushma Swaraj, asked the company to pay Rs 100 to each worker, which the company refused to do. Soon after this Sushma Swaraj was replaced by a new labour minister, Satwir Singh Mullik, who declared the strike illegal. The factory owners in the meantime succeeded in bringing in some villagers from nearby areas to replace the striking workers, who began a ‘dharna’ in front of the factory gates. On February 11 this year, the company director arrived on the scene and his ‘security guards’ demolished the workers’ tents and fired upon the workers killing a CITU office-bearer of the union.
There is a strong suspicion among many in Haryana that some of the leading members of the state cabinet have personal stakes in the industries, which explains the attitude of the state government. It is rumoured that the son of the labour minister is connected with agents who supply coal to the industry. The Home Minister, Mangal Sain, is reported to have shares in Auto Pins Ltd.
But it seems that the involvement of the politicians with the industrialists extends further up. When a calling attetion motion on the Haryana incidents was put up at the Rajya Sabha on February 21, the minister of state for labour, Ram Kripal Sinha, told the house that the law and order situation in Haryana was the responsibility of the state government and it would be desirable to leave it to the government of Haryana to sort it out.

False Propaganda

Utterances by various Central and State Ministers indicate that the authorities are going to be quite tough handling working class movements. To befuddle the public and alienate them from the workers, they are already harping on the theme of inter-union intra-union rivalries are the reasons for the industrial unrest. The President of the Employers’ Federation of India in a recent communication to the Union Minister has already given this cue which is likely to be followed by government spokesmen when called upon to inform the public about the growing labour troubles.
The facts of the cases in Haryana however contradict the version of the management. Also the Jan Sangh labour wing, the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and the Reddy Congress front, National Labour Organisation (NLO), are trying to make inroads into the industrial scene, they are still insignificant forces and the CPI(M)-dominated CITU is considered to be the main threat by the employers, some of whom have been known to have urged workers to join any union except the CITU. CITU spokesmen challenged the authorities to cite any single instance of clashes between their unions and BMS or NLO unions, and reject the management propaganda of inter-union clashes as causes for disturbances.
But it appears by default the CITU is assuming a political importance which is in no way commensurate with its organised strength in Haryana. By their own admission, the CITU has not yet been able to set up unions in the majority of the factories in the area, although they claim to be receiving invitations from workers from various units. But lack of organisers and a desire to concentrate on a few important units are probably the main two factors behind their present strategy.

Employers’ Calculations

The employers however are calculating on a long-term basis. The sudden surge of spontaneous militancy among the workers may force the hands of CITU or other trade unions to stage movements on demands like implementations of awards which the employers have been able to ignore all these years. In 1967 and 1969 movements on similar demands in West Bengal forced them to shift to unexploited areas like Haryana, Punjab or Uttar Pradesh. In 1978 however few such untapped areas are left. Although statistically industrial relations in 1977 was only marginally worse than that in 1976 (from January to October 1977 11.2 million mandays were lost on account of work stoppages against 10.2 million mandays for the corresponding period in 1976), the number of such stoppages increased in almost all the major states in India.
Such being the case, from the employers’ point of view, any manifestation of workers’ protest, however embryonic it might be, will have to be nipped in the bud. This explains the ruthless behaviour of the industrialists in Haryana.
It would be worth observing how in such a situation the CITU and other Leftist trade unions shape their strategy and tactics. The conventional form of struggle like ‘dharnas’, sit-down or tool-down strikes, or long-drawn-out strikes can sometimes be effective depending on the vulnerability of the employers and the tenacity of the workers.
(…)

* Industrial Repression at Faridabad

EPW, 1978
Ramnath Narayanswamy

VIOLENT clashes between management and labour have always characterised Faridabad, the industrial township of Haryana. On February 16, over 120 striking workers and 17 security guards of the Auto-Pin (India) were arrested in the evening on charges of rioting and arson. Over 17 people had sustained injuries – some of them, injuries on the chest and shoulders, caused by brickbats and lathis. The arrested were remanded into judicial custody by the sub-divisional magistrate at Ballabgarh. It is expected that AITUC and CITU will launch a series of demonstrations and gate-meetings to protest against the increasing industrial repression let loose by the managements of the leading concerns in Faridabad.

Management victimisation, non-payment of allowances, prevention of workers from forming unions, and low wages have continued to be the main grievance, of the workers in Faridabad. Refusal by managements to negotiate the question of forming unions has led to innumerable gate-meetings, tool-down strikes, and other forms of protest. Workers allege that it is common practice among concerns who have not allowed a union to be formed to employ ‘goondas’ to meet labour protest. The workers also allege that the police assiduously avoid interfering with the activities of the ‘management goondas’ who – well-armed with knives and in some cases even guns – are the primary forces of industrial repression against workers.

The February 16 incident centered around the strike which the workers of the Auto-Pin (India)- were waging against the company. Auto-Pin (India) manufactures leaf springs and bodies for tractors and defence vehicles. The workers were demanding negotiations on a charter of demands relating to increase in wages, bonus, incentives, and house rent.
Security guards (the workers allege they were ‘goondas’) were employed by the managing director about a fortnight earlier because he was apprehending “definite trouble”. It is significant that according to the managing director he had no knowledge of the past records of the ‘security men’ he employed where they came from. According to the workers, about three or four days before the strike began, they had begun to brandish knives and guns.

The trouble began when the tent in which the factory workers were lodged was ripped down at the orders of the management. When the workers resisted, the ‘security guards’ lathicharged the workers. The story was later confirmed by eye-witnesses who were present during the exchange between the workers and the ‘security guards’. The workers’ strength swelled, and the retaliation began when bricks were hurled at those inside the factory. Meanwhile brickbats continued to be thrown from inside the factory. How they got there remains unexplained. The workers insist that a day earlier they had been stored there by the management. There was an exchange of brickbats between the striking workers and those inside the factory. Several vehicles parked outside the factory premises were burnt and the windscreens of the cars smashed. The factory glass panes were also smashed, and the premises bore signs of wreckage.

The management has circulated a story that it was provocation by the workers that led to the violence on both sides. According to them, management personnel were prevented from entering the premises and the ‘security guards’ were “forced to act” when the striking workers refused entry to the management personnel and attempted to enter the premises.
When this writer visited the factory premises, there were a dozen armed policemen at the factory gate. According to some workers from the neighbouring concerns, the management was responsible for the destruction of the vehicles parked outside the factory, which they had caused in an attempt to rest the blame on the striking workers. According to both trade union leaders and workers, the employment of ‘goondas’ under the guise of security men by the management has become common practice in Faridabad. These ‘goondas’ are fully armed, and play a prominent role in breaking unions where unions exist, in preventing their formation. The managements employ them particularly when strikes are in progress.

According to the trade union leaders, the police in Faridabad turn a blind eye to the activities of the goondas even when acts of violence by them are brought to their notice. According to Sharms, secretary of the Faridabad unit of the CITU, three of the security guards of Auto Pin were well known thugs of Alwar. Consequently, the enormous arms build-up in the concerns at Faridabad and their free use by the goondas in times of industrial tension is not at all surprising. It is significant, too, that reportedly in the aftermath of the arrests at Auto Pin the security guards were released on bail whereas the 120 striking workers were not.
Indeed, incidents of victimisation, lay-offs, and management-hired goonda violence, have been increasing steadily over the recent past. Several instances can be cited. Among the most prominent of them was the case of Shiv Sharan, a worker, who was attacked en masse bv over 60 armed men at his residence in Ballabgarh. He was soon bullet-ridden, and succumbed to his injuries in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. Among the others shot, were his wife, his 17-year-old daughter, his 80-year-old mother, and over 20 other workers of the same locality. In the midst of such violence, the Haryana Home Minister, Mangal Sein, has declared that the law and order situation was completely under control. He also added that the government was in favour of trade unionism and assertion of workers’ rights, but that the government would not ‘allow anyone to take the law into his own hands’. According to the honourable minister, the labour unrest was due to “elements that want to misuse the restoration of democracy”.

* After the Massacre of Workers of Dalli Rajhara Mines

EPW no.24, 1977
N K Singh

[We suggest as further reading the article by FMS, which was published after the murder of Niyogi in 1991 - see section on 1990s]

KILL ordinary workers fighting for their just demands and dub them Naxalites. The police firing on the striking workers of the Dilli-Rajahara mines, in which ten persons, including a woman and two children, were killed and at least 15 others received bullet injuries, smacks of a carefully-planned plot.

On June 2, the president of the recognised union of the mines, a CPI leader, tells a press conference that Naxalites have ‘struck a reign of terror’ in the area. Acting quickly, the same night the police goes to arrest the ‘Naxalite leader’, Shanker Guha Niyogi, who had been making allegedly ‘derogatory speeches’ and ‘instigating’ the workers to continue their agitation. Niyogi is the leader of a union, Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh, which is not recognised by the Bhilai steel plant authorities who own the mines. Some two to three thousand workers assemble and resist the arrest of their leader.

They ‘turn violent’. The police ‘resorts to firing’. So runs the official story. When the first reports of the massacre arrive on the Samachar printer, it is given out that three workers had been killed. After some time comes another report, putting the number of the dead at five. Then comes a report that police had opened fire a second time, at noon, to ‘rescue’ some police-men allegedly held captive by the workers who were demanding the release of Niyogi. The toll goes up to seven. This time the report adds that among those killed were some police-men as well. By late night the figure mounts to nine. Samachar, which had failed to mention that among those killed were a woman and a 12-year-old boy, withdraws its earlier report that some policemen were in the casualty list. “No policeman was killed”, it now says. Next day yet another body of a 12-year-old boy is ‘discovered’ from the place where the firing took place, now under curfew. It is now disclosed that apart from the leader of the Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh, Shanker Guha Niyogi, five other persons have been arrested; that the police are combing the area for more union leaders who are alleged to be Naxalites; however, the law and order situation was under control. Peace at last!

The Dilli-Rajahara iron ore mines in Durg district are the captive mines of the nearby Bhilai steel plant. While the, mechanised section of the mines is run departmentally, the manually-operated units are run by contractors, violating the government directive, issued way back in 1971, to take over all such units where the work was of a permanent nature. There is a big difference between the wages and service conditions of workers employed by the Bhilai steel plant and of those employed by the private contractors. The contractors, it is an open secret, resort to underhand methods and use of force they employ a private army of armed goondas – to suppress the restive workers. Since almost all the contractors are Congressmen, political patronage was never lacking. Coupled with the vested interest developed by the officials in the contract labour system, the political influence of the powerful contractors had thwarted all the attempts of the workers to force the government to implement its own six-year-old decision to abolish the contract labour system. The recognised AITUC union, the Samyukta Khadan Mazdoor Sangh, was only too happy’ to play ball with the contractors and the Bhilai Steel plant managenment. Shanker Guha Niyogi, today’s much-maligned Naxalite’, entered the labour force in the area as an ordinary mine-worker. Most of the labourers employed through contractors are local people, while the better-paid jobs in the mechanised mines have been cornered by outsiders. Niyogi took up the cause of the poorly-paid local workers and named his newly-formed union the Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh. Although the union was not recognised by the management, Niyogi led many successful agitations and forced the contractors to accept a number of long-pending demands of the workers. Workers began to desert the recognised but inactive AITUC union and join Niyogi’s non-recognised but active union. At this point the authorities discovered that Niyogi was a ‘Naxalite’ and decided that his proper place was behind bars.

So in 1970 he was arrested and sent to prison, much to the relief of the contractors, the officials and the AITUC leaders. It was not till the Lok Sabha elections were announced in February this year that he was released along with other political prisoners. As was to be expected, during the Emergency the AITUC union had turned into a shameless lackey of the management. There was very strong discontentment among the workers and as soon as Niyogi reappeared on the scene a majority of the workers shifted their allegiance to the Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh, which gave a call for strike in support of its demand for abolition of the contract labour system, payment of bonus, and allied issues. The two-week long strike was a complete success.

What was the AITUC’ attitude to this success of the workers? Homi Daji (1), general secretary of the Madhya Pradesh AITUC, declared that “Most of their [the workers'] demands were unrealistic, which could not be met”. Talking to this writer a couple of days after the Rajahara firing, which he condemned like all the other political leaders by issuing a statement, Daji said that Niyogi and his men ran a trade union in “a non-trade union manner”.”‘They soon started attacking our workers”, he alleged. On May 30, the workers led by Niyogi gheraoed the Assistant Labour Commissioner, the agent of the mines and three of the contractors for 27 hours. They were freed after police intervention. All these officials and the contractors lodged a complaint with the police that they were made to sign an agreement conceding the workers’ demands under duress. On May 31, the workers allegedly attacked the AITUC office and burnt its flag.

On June 1, the Chhatisgarh Shramik Sangh launched a strike, completely successful again. The contractors and the AITUC leaders were desperate. The CPI addressed a press conference at Raipuir urging the authorities to intervene in the ‘explosive situation’. The district administration duly intervened and arrested Niyogi and his associates for making “inflammatory speeches – and inciting the workers”. The arrests led to the massacre of Itajahata. The ^state government has ordered a judicial enquirv into the incident. The enquiry commission is expected to determine whether the firing was warranted or whether it could have been averted by more tactful handling of the situation. Was there really any danger to the lives of the six policemen gheraoed by the workers, as alleged by the authorities? However, the facts speak for themselves. Two among those killed by the police were children. Among the 18 hospitalised persons 15 are workers. And all the 15, including two women, have received bullet injuries. The condition of two of the injured workers is said to be critical. Meanwhile, the workers’ strike continues.

(1)

http://www.mail-archive.com/marxist-leninist-list@lists.econ.utah.edu/msg09000.html

After the Massacre

EPW no.25, 1977
N K Singh

ALTHOUGH the poor workers of the Dalli-Rajahara mines are literally starving as they have not received their wages for the last three weeks, their two-week old strike continues. And so does the curfew, clamped on June 3, when the police firing on agitating workers resulted in the death of ten persons, including a woman and two children, according to official figures. The toll went up to 11 later when one of the 15 wounded workers succumbed to bullet injuries in hospital. The situation in Rajahara is peaceful, says the government. As anyone can find out for himself, this is the peace of the graveyard. The sirens are silent. The heavy machines at the mining site are silent. Many workers have fled to the nearby villages to avoid harassment by the police and their dark and dingy huts, which are an apology for dwellings, are quiet. The deserted roads and markets of the curfew-clamped township are silent. A pall of gloom hangs over this mining colony of some 11,000 workers.

Considerate as the district administration is, it asked a local merchant to arrange for free rations for the starving families. The merchant promptly agreed and later reported full compliance with the request. Pleased with themselves, the authorities praised the merchant for his magnanimity. And of course the matter received wide publicity in the local press. A check with the recipients, however, later revealed that none had been given the full quantity of five kgs each of rice, one kg of pulses, wheat flour, potatoes and onions. In fact, a few workers had received only just one kg each of rice, two potatoes and two onions. No one in Rajahara is prepared to believe the authorities’ claim that only ten workers were killed in the two police firings. “Anyone who received bullet injury was picked up by the police”, said Gaya Ram, vice-president of the militant Chhattisgarh Shramik Sangh, whose office in the mazdoor basti was the starting point of the trouble. According to the Bhopal correspondent of the Times of India who visited the spot a week after the incident, there had been “apparently some random shooting. A bullet hit the cement wall of a tank far away from the scene of the trouble”. Some of the workers said there had been no warning, while others said that they had been given three minutes to ‘clear out’ before firing was resorted to for the second time at noon on June 3. A large number of bodies, the workers allege, were taken away in trucks soon after the second firing. However, as many of the workers have fled to the nearby villages in panic, the actual number of deaths can be assessed only after the curfew is lifted and all the labourers return. The police contention is that they resorted to firing both the times only when the workers held some policemen as hostages and refused to release them and “even tortured them”. The workers maintain that they held some policemen as hostages only after, and not before, the first firing in which four of their men and a woman had been killed.

Gaya Ram recalls the moonlit dark night: “As the strike was continuing, we could not take any rest. That night [June 2-3] we were discussing our struggle, formulating the strategy for the future, at the union office. About four to five hundred workers were camping outside the office .. . When a strike is going on how can anyone go to sleep? At about 2.30 about three dozen police-men led by the district collector arrived in a vehicle and dragged Shanker Guha Niyogi outside the office. We protested. Meanwhile about five thousand people, including women and children assembled. They started throwing stones at the police party. The police burst tear-gas shells. And then, without any warning, they opened fire. When it was all over, we collected our dead and injured as well as the six policemen who were left behind in the melee by their colleagues. They had taken Niyogi away. So we said, first release Niyogi and only then shall we release the six policemen. They did not release Niyogi and so we did not release the policemen. Now they say that we tortured the hostages, that two of them nearly died of thirst as drinking water was refused to them. In fact, the authorities had themselves cut off our water supply to make us surrender. Now tell us, when we ourselves had no water to drink, how could we give it to them? The workers were very angry, of course. Who would not be when their comrades and their womenfolk and children are killed just because they protested against an obviously illegal step of the police? Was not the arrest made to break our strike? And when they opened fire the second time in the noon of June 3, it was sudden, without any warning.”

Out of the total working force of 11,000, about 3,000 departmental labourers employed. by the Bhilai steel plant get Rs 9.80 per day. Under the rules, those hired through the contractors or the labour co-operatives should also receive the same wages. But they are paid only Rs 4.50 per day. And of course they are denied the other facilities available to the departmental workers. “I had never heard of fall-back’ wages till Niyogi told me about it recently”, said a worker working in these mines for the past eight years. The Bhilai steel plant has been patently guilty of doing nothing all these years to remove the causes of squalor and subhuman living conditions of the workers. For instance, the water mains run right through the cluster of hutments, but there is no water available for the workers. There is just one tap through which some water trickles for half-an-hour in the morning and evening for some 4,000 residents. The immediate demand of the workers is for an increase in the pre-monsoon allowance for repair of their huts (from Rs 20 to Rs 100), payment of ‘fall-back’ wages for enforced idleness during the rainy season and bonus comparable to that given to regular mine-workers of the Bhilai steel plant. The bonus had been reduced from Rs 308 to Rs 70 during the Emergency.

Victory for Workers

EPW no.28, 1977
N K Singh

THE martyrdom of the 12 workers of the Dalli-Rajahara iron ore mines killed in police firings on June 2 and 3 has not been in vain. The striking workers of the mines have emerged victorious in their struggle against the contractors, the co-operative tycoons, the top brass of the Bhilai steel plant and the unscrupulous leaders of the ‘recognised’ trade union – whose unholy alliance had thwarted the implementation of the recommendations of the iron ore wage board. The workers’ demands for bonus, fall-back wages and increase in the pre-monsoon allowance for repair of their huts have been conceded. The workers will receive a bonus of Rs 100 each – to be shared equally by the Bhilai steel plant and the contractors – and the hut-repair allowance has been raised from Rs 20 to Rs 100. A committee consisting of, among others, workers’ representatives has been constituted to fix the norms for fall-back wages for enforced idleness at work-sites. What is more significant, however, is that the agreement was reached with the non-recognised union, the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh, whose leadership is drawn from the ranks of the workers themselves.

The recognised AITUC union was by-passed by the authorities, in effect conceding the workers’ plea that it had lost its representative character after the formation of the new union. With the settlement and the calling off of the strike, normalcy has been restored and the small industrial town-ship near Bhilai looks peaceful on the surface. But there was tension in the air still when this correspondent visited the area in the last week of June. The workers are particularly agitated over the fact that their leader, Shanker Guha Niyogi, whose arrest had sparked off the trouble, had not been released as yet, though there are no specific charges against him. Workers allege that the administration is using delaying tactics to prevent his release. Although Niyogi has been arrested under section 151, which relates to a relatively minor offence, a bail of Rs 1 lakh has been allegedly demanded. The CPI(M) MP, Ahilya Rangnekar, had visited the area a few days earlier and there was expectation that CITU may use its good offices to get Niyogi released on bail. What shocked this correspondent during his visit to the scene of the firing was the discovery that officials are tampering with and destroying evidence of the brutality of the police. A water tank far away from the scene of the trouble had received bullet marks, as testified by the Times of India’s Bhopal correspondent who had visited the spot a week after the trouble, suggesting the random nature of the shooting that had taken place. However, when this correspondent visited the place he found the walls of the tank all plastered up. It is to be hoped that the judicial commission appointed to probe into the incident will not ignore these pointers. Though the collector and the police superintendent were both transferred in the wake of the institution of the judicial enquiry, they are reportedly on 40 days’ leave and continue to live at Durg, the district headquarters. It is widely feared that they may use their influence to tamper with evidence which goes against the administration.

What marks the Rajahara workers’ agitation is the emergence of a leader-ship from among the workers. All the office-bearers of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh, the newly-formed militant union, belong to the working class. This is in sharp contrast to the other trade unions functioning in the area, whose leadership is provided by professional trade unionists from the middle class. The only person with a middle class background in the new union is Shanker Guha Niyogi, but he has been working as a farm hand and ordinary mazdoor for the last 10 years. There is no dearth of second-rank leadership in the new union. When Niyogi was arrested after the June 2 firing, the workers carried on their struggle successfully till June 17, when the management had to climb down. Ordinary mine-hands participated in the negotiations held with the contractors, the Bhilai steel plant officials and the Labour Department’s representatives and pleaded their case.

Another significant development is the radical role played by women workers in the agitation. A large chunk of the total labour force consists of women, who have occupied their due place in the new union. Quite a few women are in the executive and one of them, Durga Bai, an illiterate worker, has the reputation of being an excellent orator. Women workers braved police bullets as much as their menfolks (one of the workers killed was a woman). Last but not the least, though the majority of workers are illiterate – a few local educated unemployed persons have joined their ranks of late – the level of their consciousness has to be seen to be believed. It is, however, not political consciousness – the ‘Naxalite’ bogey has been raised by the management and government officials to divert attention from the real issue which is the ruthless exploitation of the workers – but class consciousness. The workers have become aware not only of their exploitation and their rights but also of the hypocrisy of their ‘leadership’ and the power of a
united working class.

“We toil all day long, and they [the contractors] have built up empires… While we get bullets in reward for our hard labour, those babus sitting in the Bhilai offices get high salaries and the benefits”, one worker told me in the shanty office of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh in the mazdoor basti which was dripping all over with the first onslaught of the monsoon. Another worker remarked, “it is we who are the real makers of steel. If we stop work there would be no steel”. When I told a worker that Prakash Roy, general secretary of the All-India Khadam Mazdoor Sangh (AITUC), says that it was his union which had been fighting for the workers’ rights for the last two decades and had secured many facilities for them, the worker retorted: “Yes, we know all about that. He has worked so much for us. And that is why he seems to have developed a disease which can be treated only in Russia. Every time he falls ill – and that happens so often – he takes the flight to Russia … He has the gumption to say that he has worked for us! They have worked for no one but themselves. Have you seen their office building in the main market here? [It is a huge building, whose value is estimated at over Rs 1 lakh. All of them arrived penniless in this town, and now they have purchased lands in the nearby villages, move about on motor-cycles. Where has this money come from?"

Both the government officials and the Bhilai management are afraid of the new militancy of the workers. "These same workers used to be so peaceful", said a high police official who has been camping at Rajahara since the firing. Manoharlal Jain, a contractor of the Rajahara mines and the treasurer of the Durg District Congress Committee, echoed him and lamented, "hardly a few months back the workers here were such an obedient lot that we used to raise our hands like this [precious stones set in half-a-dozen gold rings glitter in the air as the pot-bellied businessman raises his hands in a gesture of mock-offence] and the workers would flee from the spot. But this time … this time, we just could not believe it: their fellow-workers were dead, bodies were lying all over the place, but it looked as if they had lost all sense of fear. Instead of fleeing from the spot and taking shelter they fought ding-dong battles with the police.” The wealthy contractor confided to me, “they are not the same old workers. They have lost regard for the sanctity of the malik-mazdoor relationship”. “You know”, he whispered, “now they even say that it is we [workers] who labour and the contractors enjoy the fruits of our labour … Have you ever heard of any such thing?” The contractors are worried over this transformation and they blame Shanker Guha Niyogi for it.

But what about the old times, and the old union? “They were good chaps. AITUC used to raise only reasonable demands. They respected the rules, procedures and labour laws”, said Manoharlal Jain. In fact, the contractors and the representatives of the management whom I met were all ga-ga over the role of the old union. A spokesman of the Dalli-Rajahara Mines and Transporters, a private firm owned by Anupchand Jain, a big-wig of the area, told me that it was wrong on the part of the labour department to have by-passed the AITUC union in arriving at the agreement with the workers. “They were a responsible lot.” Most of the contractors asked me, “have you met Prakash Roy and other AITUC leaders? You must meet them”. A visit to both Prakash Roy and his union colleagues at Rajahara proved rewarding. Photographs of Lenin and Rabindranath Tagore hang side by side in Prakash Roy’s modest house in a lower middle class locality of Rainandgaon. He admitted that most of the workers have joined the new union, but contended that “they were forced to do so: coercion was used”. I gently pointed out that may be the workers deserted his union because it was not active enough to protect their interests. This provoked the ageing, veteran trade union leader, “What else we could do? It is obligatory for the recognised union to negotiate with the management. We can take to agitation only when the negotiations fail. This is the pre-condition of the recognised union.”

Roy’s comrades at Rajahara echoed him. “We follow the Industrial Disputes Act … We have also gone on illegal strikes, but never for more than one day. And these people – they are totally irresponsible. Ever since the new union was formed, there has been a spate of wild-cat strikes, gheraos, intimidation of loyal [sic!] workers and what not.” There is an INTUC union also working in the field, though its membership is limited to the co-operative societies that the union is running. The co-operative societies running the mines have a reputation of being as ruthless in their exploitation of the workers as the contractors. A spokesman of the INTUC union told me, “the leadership of the workers has gone into wrong hands. Shanker Guha Niyogi does not want to run the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh on established trade union lines”. The contractors agree. A memorandum prepared by them urges that the problem can be solved only by a “change in the leadership. A stronger, dedicated leadership is required”. But dedicated to whom?

Trade Unionism with a Difference

EPW no.29, 1977
N K Singh

SHANKER GUHA NIYOGI, leader of the ‘Naxalite’ union of Dalli-Rajahara mine workers, has alleged that the police tried to kill him after his arrest in the night of June 2-3. Niyogi – whose midnight arrest had led to police firings in which 12 workers were killed – has alleged that while being taken to the jail at the subdivisional headquarter of Balod, a police official accompanying him stopped the jeep in a jungle and told him, “if you want to escape, you may just slip away: only assure us that you would never again step into this area”. Niyogi says that he was not taken in by “the police trick”. “I know all about encounters and the killed-while-escaping stuff.” Obviously, Niyogi is a dangerous man for the contractors and the authorities. That is perhaps why he has not been released even a month after his arrest, although the ‘offence’ is a bailable one, under section 151 of the IPC. An impossible bail of Rs 1 lakh has been demanded and, of course, the poor workers of Dalli-Rajahara simply cannot manage it. Although at the time of his arrest it was given out that Niyogi had been arrested for “making inflammatory speeches and inciting the workers”, the officials have now discovered that “had we not arrested that man, they could have burnt the entire town the next day”. “We have definite information”, a high police official, who did not want to be named “in view of the judicial enquiry”, confided to me by way of justifying Niyogi’s apparently unjustified arrest.

In fact, the authorities, the contractors, and the CPI have painted such a picture of ‘Naxalite’ violence engulfing the whole area that, while entering the mazdoor basti at Rajahara, this correspondent had almost expected to be accosted by gun-toting guerillas. Instead, he was greeted by a stray dog, some sick workers, and the closed doors of the hut housing the ‘Naxalite’ union. All the workers had left for work, including those whose dear ones had died in the police firing. Mourning is a luxury which the workers cannot afford. After a long wait by me, the union leaders arrived. Exhausted with my encounter with simple workers, who did not know the difference between the prime minister and the chief minister, I tried to strike up a dialogue with the union leaders in Marxist jargon, but drew a blank. There were also no photographs of Mao or Naxalite slogans within miles of the union office. Shanker Guha Niyogi has become a household name in this industrial area of Chhattisgarh. Every one talks about him – many with reverence and af-
fection, and some with hatred and fear. But they all – contractors, police, administration, trade union leaders, and the people of Rajahara – seem to agree on two points: Niyogi is the undisputed leader of about 8,000 workers of Rajahara; and his honesty, integrity and dedication is beyond question. “You can buy every one of these trade union leaders here, but not Niyogi”, a police official told this correspondent at Rajahara. “Niyogi is made of different stuff”, agreed a contractor. “The new union was formed with the backing of the contractors to break the unity of the workers”, alleged an AITUC leader. “Do you mean to say that Niyogi was the contractors’ man?” “No, no, not Niyogi”, the trade unionist hastily added, “It is the other leaders of that union who are dishonest.” Onkar Jaiswal, a local journalist said, “I know all the union leaders of this town, but I had never noticed Niyogi’s presence till May 31, when he led a huge procession of workers to celebrate the acceptance of their demands after a 27-hour gherao of the contractors and the officials. It was the biggest procession in the history of Rajahara.”

Shanker Guha Niyogi denies that he is a ‘Naxalite’. “I have no connection with the CPI(ML) or any of the Naxalite groups. In fact, I violently disagree with them on the issue of trade unions”, said Niyogi in the first interview given by him to a newsman after his arrest. Tall, lean and darkish, the 28-year-old Niyogi, clad in a pair of not-very-clean white pajamas and shirt, was at first a little reluctant to talk – after all, I could well have been an intelligence man – and what he said was mostly about the exploitation of the workers and the complicity of the CPI union. But, gradually, he began to talk about his work among the working class and peasantry during the last one decade. His mission, Niyogi said, was to educate the working class and make them conscious of their rights. “Once they are conscious, nothing can stop them.” “Why talk about me? I am immaterial. A new wave of awareness is sweeping through the people. If I had not gone to Rajahara, they would have got some other leader.” Niyogi comes from a lower middle class family of West Bengal. He came to Durg, where his uncle lived at the time, in the early sixties for studies. Since then, he has identified himself with Chhattisgarh. Though there is a trace of the Bengali accent in his speech, he fluently speaks Hindi and Chhattisgarhi, the local dialect.

Owing to poverty, Niyogi completed his B Sc with difficulty, doing various odd jobs to maintain himself. As a student, he was actively associated with the student movements. He was the joint secretary of the student wing of the CPI. After his graduation, Niyogi plunged into revolutionary politics in 1966-67, the year of ‘spring thunder’ over India. He left the CPI(M) to join the newly-formed Co-ordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries. However, later he severed his connections with this splinter group of the CPI(M) too, unhappy with its stand on trade unionism – “they dubbed it as economism”. As a worker of the Bhilai steel plant, Niyogi helped organise the first militant trade union there – the blast furnace action committee. Soon, he was sacked from the plant on “security grounds”. His first arrest took place in 1968, when he started publishing a radical Hindi weekly from Jagdalpur, the heart of the adivasi belt. “Since then I have been arrested more than 20 times.” He has spent about five years in jail altogether, the longest term being 13 months during the Emergency.

Niyogi organised the workers of the Dai Tola mines, near Rajahara. He worked there as a daily, labourer, breaking stones in the quarry. “How can the workers treat you as their man, if you do not live as a worker, merge yourself with them, identify with their hopes and aspirations?” Niyogi also married a Chhattisgarhi mazdoor girl, Asha, working in the quarry. “She still works there.” At Dai Tola, as elsewhere in the area – “I know only about Chhattisgarh. I’ve worked in this region” the problem was the same. There was no honest trade union to protect the interests of the workers. Both the AITUC and the INTUC unions had become stooges of the management. They served the interests of the exploiter rather than the exploited. Niyogi first joined the AITUC union “all the workers were in their grip” and then, through dedicated work and persuasion, organised the workers under a new union. “It was not a difficult task. I was one among them, while the other leaders were outsiders, babu sahibs.” The contractors got worried over this new threat to their prosperity, and Niyogi was consequently arrested several times. Niyogi also tried to build up a peasant movement. He worked as a farm hand in Keri Jungata, a nearby village, and organised the agricultural labourers and landless peasants. “There is basically no difference between the peasants and the workers in the area. Both came from the same families. If the elder brother works in the farms, the younger one goes to the mines. If the father is a peasant, his son works as a miner to augment the family income.”

After the declaration of Emergency, there was a warrant of arrest under MISA for Niyogi. He managed to evade arrest for six months, but was then arrested and was released only at the time of the Lok Sabha election. Meanwhile, the workers of Dalli-Rajahara mines, dissatisfied with the agreement on bonus signed by their recognised trade union had started a spontaneous strike. The strike was also the product of grievances bottled up during the Emergency. The contractors and the trade union leaders thought that the disorganised movement would soon fizzle out. And so it did. On March 23, the workers ended their 19-day strike and signed an agreement for a bonus advance of Rs 50 as against Rs 70 earlier negotiated by the AITUC and the INTUC. Niyogi alleged that the workers were terrorised by the then Collector of Durg – now transferred after the institution of the judicial enquiry to sign this agreement. “He is known for his strong-armed tactics. Do you know, Durg ranked first in the country for the largest number of family planning operations performed? You can just imagine what he was like.”

Things changed radically when Niyogi was released and arrived on the scene. He organised the spontaneous movement of workers into a well-knit union. The contractors, who were initially happy at the recognised union losing its hold over the workers and the split among the workers, got seriously worried when almost all the 8,000 contract labourers joined the new union en bloc. The reason, Niyogi felt, was the same as in Dal Tola. The babu trade unionists had suddenly come into wealth. “What will illustrate the point better than the fact that many union men, like Jivan Mukherjee and Naseem, have left the party (CPI) to join the services of the contractors? The margin is so thin! The workers were becoming aware of this trend – the collusion of their ‘leaders’ with the management.” Niyogi maintains that he was arrested in order to break the morale of the workers, who were on strike at the time. He dismissed the allegation that the second firing in the noon of June 3 had become necessary because there was danger to the lives of the policemen held hostage by the workers. “Had they wanted to kill the policemen, they could have done it in the night, when five of their colleagues had already been killed in the firing.” The police were in a vindictive mood, enraged by the stone throwing of the workers. “All the injured workers have received bullet injuries – and that, too, above the waist.”

The Struggle Continues

EPW no.30, 1977
N K Singh

ON July 9 the pits of Dalli-Rajahara iron ore mines did not work because over 10,000 workers did not turn up. But they were not on strike; they had abstained from work because their leader, Shanker Guha Niyogi, had been released after 35-days’ illegal detention on the orders of the Durg sessions court and they wanted to accord him a heroic welcome. The acceptance of their immediate demands after a 19-day long successful strike which continued even after the police firing and large-scale arrests – an obvious attempt to break the strike – and the release of Niyogi has boosted the morale of the workers. Niyogi, whose arrest on June 2 last was followed by indiscrimninate police firing resulting the death of a dozen striking workers, had been ordered by the subdivisional magistrate of Balod to deposit a personal bond of Rs 25,000 with two sureties of like amount. Niyogi, a poor worker, was unable to manage this heavy bail of Rs 75,000. His lawyers, two CPI(M) sympathisers of Durg, challenged this order in the sessions court of Durg. On July 8, the sessions judge of Durg quashed the order of the subdivisional magistrate which was held “illegal and without jurisdiction”; the judge specifically held that the detention of Niyogi from June 3 to June 6 on the orders of the additional district magistrate was illegal.

Niyogi was initially arrested on June 2 under section 151 Cr PC and produced before the additional district magistrate of Durg who had remanded him to judicial custody till June 17. Meanwhile the subdivisional magistrate of Balod initiated proceedings under section 107 Cr P C on June 6. The case was again transferred to the additional district magistrate on June 13. On July 6, as soon as the section 144 imposed upon the township elapsed, over 10,000 workers brought out a procession to protest against police repression and in support of their demand for unconditional release of Niyogi, end of contract system in the mines and early implementation of the fallback wages envisaged by the wage board. The problem of fallback wages, denial of which means a saving of at least Rs 10 lakhs per year to the contractors and co-operative tycoons, has been hanging fire for the last several years. During the latest tripartite agreement between the workers, Bhilai steel plant, the master employer, and the contractors, the matter was referred to a committee to fix the norms of fallback wages. But if the past experience is any indication, it may take several more years before the contractors relent.

Before the formation of the new union, fallback wages for enforced idleness had never been an issue. The established unions, AITUC and INTUC, avoided the issue by saying that it was very difficult to fix the norms for wages for ‘not working’. The contractors as well as the Bhilai steel plant management were firm in their opinion that once fallback wages were enforced, workers would avoid work, for “who would like to work when one can get wages without working”. The real problem lies elsewhere. For instance, between May 27 and May 30 the contractors denied work to 669 persons on their regular roll as ‘blast’ had not taken place or because there was shortage of vehicles for loading and unloading operations. Such instances are not uncommon and fallback wages envisage payment of 80 per cent of the normal wages for such enforced idleness.

The management of the Bhilai steel plant has also its share of responsibility for the present labour unrest. Though the Bhilai steel plant is the master employer, the management has never cared for the labourers employed by the contractors and the co-operative society. For instance, over Rs 3 crores – half of which is contract workers’ share have accumulated in the welfare cess fund. However, although the departmental workers have been provided w[th quarters, the contract labourers have not received similar welfare benefits. The workers' money is lying idle, while they live in sub-human conditions. More recently, it was the Bhilai steel plant's decision to pay plant performance bonus to its departmental workers which sparked off the trouble. The contractual workers did not get their bonus. Unable to distinguish between the 'plant performance bonus' and 'bonus' - the regular Bhilai workers had not also received any bonus - they were angry that while they were engaged in the same work as the departmental workers, they were denied the facility given to the latter.

The contract system, continuing despite the seven-year-old Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, seems to be at the root of all the trouble. Though a committee appointed by the steel ministry had unanimously recommended in December 1976, after two years' extensive study of the problem, immediate abolition of contract labour in all the mines except at the loading sites of the railways, the system still continues. One reason for not abolishing it may be that it is very cheap; the cost of mining iron ore in the manual mines run by the, contractors is about Rs 30 per tonne while the mechanised mining by the Bhilai Steel Limited costs around Rs 50 per tonne. Another reason could be 'the vested
interest developed by a section of Bhilai steel plant management in the contract system. Officials get their 'cuts'. And it is interesting to learn that the manager of Bhilai Steel Plant is a Jain belonging to Rajnandgaon. This piece of information becomes significant in view of the fact that the majority of contractors too are Jains belonging to the same place. And so the struggle continues.

Shanker Guha Niyogi gave assurance of that while addressing a press conference at Raipur after his release from jail. Niyogi, who said that he and other union leaders had been threatened with dire consequences for opposing the contractors, has demanded a re-election in the Balod and Gunderdehi assembly constituencies from where two-office-bearers of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh had contested' during last month's assembly election. Supporters of the two contestants were arrested while canvassing and the candidates had to go underground due to police terror. The Election Commission had been informed of these facts. Niyogi has also alleged that there was a conspiracy behind the firing. The contractors, police officials and leaders of the 'recognised' union had held a meeting for about two hours in a bar-cum-restaurant of the township in the evening of June 2. According to Niyogi, the police had made a special target of Anusuya, a 30-year-old activist and inspiring folk-singer of his union. The police bullet hit her right on the chest. "They aimed at her straight." The most nauseating aspect of the whole affair is the role of the CPI. Like many Congressmen, the CPI is now shedding crocodile tears; but it was CPI activists who had instigated the police to "take action against the Naxalite menance". In fact, on May 31 an AITUC procession of about 1,000 persons, mostly consisting of the departmental workers, had gheraoed the Rajahara police station to press its demand for the arrest of Niyogi.

* Massacre of Kanpur Workers - Government's Lies Nailed

EPW 1978, No.9
Nikhil Chakravartty, A. K. Roy and Satish Saberwal

The tragic events in Swadeshi Cotton Mills in Kanpur on December 6, 1977 attracted nation-wide attention. Though even according to the government's version 11 workers had been killed and 43 injured in the police firing, the government refused to order a judicial enquiry. In the circumstances, the Citizens' Committee for Enquiry into the Kanpur Massacre constituted a three-member group (...) to undertake an on-the-spot investigation into the incident. The report prepared by the group after its investigations exposes many lies in the government's version of the police firing on the workers of the Swadeshi Cotton Mills. Most important of all, the group's findings established that, contrary to the government's claim, the police firing did not start after the two officers of the mill, who had been gheraoed by the workers, had lost their lives, it started earlier when the Superintendent of the Police had been hit by some hard substance dropped from the roof of one of the buildings in the mill compound. This gives the lie to the official propaganda that the police had been forced to open fire because the workers had murdered the two officers. The full text of the group's report is printed below.

We visited Kanpur on February 7-9, 1978 for an on-the-spot investigation about what really happened on December 6, 1977 when a number of lives were lost following police firing within the precints of Swadeshi Cotton Mills in the city.
In the course of our investigation we had the opportunity of meeting a large number of persons including the District Magistrate and other government officials, some of the officers of management of the mill, as also a large number of workers. The cooperation, which we received from different sources helped us to get a clear picture of the happenings that led to the tragic loss of lives in the Swadeshi Cotton Mills on December 6.
The Swadeshi Cotton Mills Ltd. Controlled by the House of Jaipurias, has been passing through a period of crisis, according to the management. Originally the Swadeshi Cotton Mills was started in 1911 by Sir henry Horseman. He sold it in 1946 for Rs 2.10 crores to Mungtu Ram Jaipuria who happened to be his trading agent in Calcutta. It was claimed to be the biggest mill in North India having a labour force of over eight thousand.
This turned out to be such a profitable concern that, over the years, the Jaipurias were able to acquire or establish five textile mills in other parts of the country - at Pondicherry, Udaipur in Rajasthan and in UP at Naini, Maunath Bhanjan and finally at Rae Bareli (Initially a synthetic fibres millwas to be established at Rae Bareli, but the license for this was transferred to Ghaziabad.) The Rae Bareli unit of the Swadeshi Cotton Mills was set up for what the management euphemistically calls "political considerations" - - in other words, to placate former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, whose constituency happened to be in Rae Bareli. In fact, quite considerable amount of machinery for the Rae Bareli unit was sent there from the Kanpur unit of Swadeshi Cotton Mills.

From this it is evident that the Swadeshi Cotton Mills, Kanpur, was for a long time fetching considerable profits for its owners so that they could set up five more profitable textile units apart from promoting the Swadeshi Polytex Ltd. In which it owns today 30 per cent of the shares with its block of one lakh shares originally priced Rs 10 each.
The trouble with the Swadeshi Cotton Mills started when the two brothers, Sita Ram and Raja Ram - the former adopted and the latter the real son of old Mungtu Ram - fell out. In November 1975 Raja Ram displaced Sita Ram as the Managing Director of the Swadeshi Cotton Mills while Sita Ram took over as the Managing Director of the profit-making Swadeshi Polytex Ltd. By March 1975, the company on paper showed loss. Meanwhile from 1974 onwards the management at Kanpur was found to be repeatedly defaulting in the matter of paying the workers' wages while at the same time it was not clearing its dues to the government. It has also eaten up the Provident Fund of the workers to the tune of over Rs 25 lakhs and the Employees' State Insurance accumulation to the extent of Rs 20 lakhs, both cognizable offence under law but the government did not bother to prosecute them.
From 1974, the workers of this mill had to resort to gherao to get their legitimate wages. This became regular practice from 1975. The state government, under Chief Ministership of N D Tiwari, arranged for the company a loan of Rs 1.50 crores in March 1976 from Punjab National Bank, underwriting the guarantee for it. But within a few months the company again started defaulting in the payment of wages. There are strong grounds for the presumption that this persistent defaulting arises from a sustained effort by the Swadeshi management to drain the company of its resources, possibly into unaccounted channels.

Why is the management creating this crisis? From all the circles we met in Kanpur - the management, the government and the workers - we formed the definite conclusion that the management is bent on pressurising the government to allow it to sell the Swadeshi Polytex shares at an inflated price; in addition, it seeks also to convert half of its capacity from cotton textile into synthetic textile in order to go in for large-scale profiteering.
The situation went from bad to worse last year and several gheraos had to be resorted to by the workers to secure their long-standing dues. In September 1977, the workers gheraoed the son and the son-in-law of one of the officers of the mill and only then the management could be forced to come out with a written assurance that they would disburse the wages long due by October 10. But nothing was done. The workers held a number of peaceful demonstrations including one before the luxuriously appointed Swadeshi House in the affluent part of the city. Meetings at the mill-gate followed in the next few days. Even the clerks of the establishment went on a strike on October 24.
On October 26, 1977, the workers gheraoed the Secretary of the mill, K P Agarwal, for a stretch of 54 hours. It may be noted here that the workers organised the gherao in such a way that production was not interrupted: those who were outside the shift took over, by turn, the task of keeping up the gherao. Agarwal was gheraod in anopen space near the cooling tank inside the mill. The next day the District Magistrate intervened and the state government hurriedly appointed a Receiver and at the same time arranged a loan of Rs 13.50 lakhs for immediate disbursement of the workers' wages which partly met the huge arrears due to them. During this gherao there was no question of the workers threatening the life of the gheraoed officer. Rather they even helped to instal a temporary telephone connection for the gheraoed officer so that he could speak to the mill authorities. At the end, when actually the cash was brought for immediate disbursement, the workers not only released but garlanded the gheraoed officer. So there was no question of menacing violence on the part of the workers.

The appointment of the Receiver naturally created a sense of expectation on the part of the workers and they rightly hoped that from now on they would be getting back not only their dues but also their wages regularly which were paid in fortnightly instalments. (...) [The Receiver] He was expected to supervise the sales of the products and to ensure the recovery of government dues “after the payment of labour dues and other essential items of the running of the mills”. What was interesting was that the Receiver was appointed “over the mills at Kanpur” and not over the company of the name of Swadeshi Cotton Mills Ltd. In other words, The Receiver was expected to oversee the financial position of only the Kanpur unit of Swadeshi Cotton Mills and had no jurisdiction over the other five thriving mills of the same Company located in different parts of the country. (…)
Towards the end of November it was clear from the testimony of the workers that they had the feeling that the Receiver was soon going to arrange for the payment of the dues by some means or other. But nothing of the sort happened. Even the officers began to disappear from the mill premises. The situation became desperate indeed for the workers whose wages for nearly two months were now overdue.

On the fateful December 6, two officers came to the mill premises on some other work: Iyenger, the Production Manager, and Sharma, the Accounts Officer were gheraoed by the workers roundabout 2 pm. It is to be noted here that on that day and for a few days preceeding there was power break-down in the mill due to a failure at the power station of Kanpur Electric Supply Authority. Most of the workers coming on shift duty were only signing for work were laid off. Only a few departments were functioning through the power supplied by the mill’s own generator.
The two mill officers were gheraoed exactly in the same way as it happened in the case of Agarwal on October 26. They were taken on the very same spot where Agarwal was confined in the open space in one of the yards near the cooling tank within the mill premises. Two police officers were also seen to be sitting near them and there was no sign of any menacing commotion.
From the evidence at our disposal it is clear that a large force of police turned up under the command of Superintendent of Police, Rai, somewhere after 3.30 pm, that is less than two hours of the start of the gherao. It may be noted here that no such force had been seen at such a short notice on October 26. The District Magistrate was on tour on December 6 and instead the Additional District Magistrate turned up, a man who is known to be very friendly to the Jaipurias.
From the evidence collected by us, it appears that the police started its operation first outside the mill premises on the main road and the lanes leading to the main road. There are reports of firing having begun in this area and we examined a number of spots inside the lanes in the crowded bustees opposite the mill gate – even bullet marks at a distance of more than 300 metres from the main road on which the mill stands. We also examined some people who were wounded by the police firing in this part of the town.

Meanwhile the police under the Superintendent of Police began to force its way within the mill compound. According to the version we got from the police, the SP as he was leading his force was wounded on the head by a hard substance (which might have been a brickbar or a piece of iron) dropped from the roof top adjoining one of the buildings within the mill compound. Since he was wounded the police which before that had tried teargas, began shooting.
The firing, according to the police, went on for twenty to twenty-five minutes. All other evidences, however, indicate that the firing lasted for nearly two hours. The police force not only went on charging while shooting but they climbed on the roof of one of the buildings from where they started firing indiscriminately on the workers. Rifles and muskets were both used liberally in this operation. With such large-scale firing most of the workers tried to escape from the backdoor, climbed over the wall at the rear of the factory, or tried to hide in the worksheds; and in course of it some of them broke their limbs also. We examined some of these workers including those who were wounded.
Meanwhile the workers who were still working in some of the departments which had power supply, did not realise that they would have to face the police attack. They were not participating in the gherao at all but they were forced by the police at bayonet point to come down and they were forced to run through two lines of armed policemen in course of which many of them had to suffer severe wounds. This was a totally unprovoked and calculatedly terror operation because these workers had nothing to do with the gherao.
The police rounded up nearly a thousand workers, those they could lay their hands on. Some of these were forced to load the wounded and the dead on the police trucks. After that the police left out the aged and put as many as 231 workers under arrest and sent them to the police lockup in different police stations in the city where in some cases they were beaten up and sent to prison next day.
As for the wounded who were taken to the hospital, most of them had to pay for their treatment and most of the wounded also were taken to prison as soon as they were discharged from hospitals.

What happened to the two gheraoed officers Lyenger and Sharma? A propaganda has been sedulously built up that the police shooting on the workers had to be resorted to because the workers had murdered the two officers. It is clear as daylight from the version we have heard from the authorities themselves that the police firing began when Superintendent of Police was wounded; there is not a shred of evidence of the two gheraoed mill officers having already been killed. The evidence that we have collected points to the fact that as soon as the indiscriminate firing was resorted to, the workers who were gheraoing the two officers ran away; and when these two were last seen they were standing under the portio leading to the building in which later on the police claimed that they found their battered corpses. The staircase leading to the room where the officers were found dead is such that nobody could be dragged through it. This leads to the reasonable inference that the two officers went up on their own for safety from police firing. (…)
In this context, it is worth noting that when the application was moved in court for the release on bail of the arrested workers who numbered over 230, the police at the beginning could not produce the FIR. (…) Most of the workers were released on bail only towards the end of January and the first week of February. We are informed that some of the workers are still in prison.
There is a wide margin of dispute over the casualty figures. The Government figure is that 11 workers were killed in police firing and 43 wounded and hospitalised. Many of the workers whom we examined claimed that a larger number were killed and some even said that they were forced to load the trucks with corpses which if counted would amount to a very large number. However, this requires further examination. What is clear is that the figure of killed in police firing must be more than 11. From the evidence that we collected in course of sixty hours, we could locate two cases in which the workers had not returned home nor could they be found in the hospitals nor in prison nor had gone back to their village homes. The obvious presumption is that they were killed in police firing. These two were Horilal, son of Mangali, living at the village of Macharia, PO Nauvasta (ESI No 237766; PF No UP 12/16367) and Gangaram, son of Narottam, living at 127/126 Juhi Bombaralaya. Both these names do not figure in the official list of the dead.

A lock-out had been declared at the mill since December 6. On January 7, 1978, the Company after getting a further loan of Rs 37.5 lakhs from the government cleared some of the arrears of wages to the workers. (…) Many of the workers, however, had left for their villages. From the side of the mill management we came to know that 267 workers had not turned up to take their wage dues. It is possible that these 267 had not got the information about disbursement of wages on that day. It is equally plausible that among these 267 missing, there might be a number of dead workers killed in the police firing. (…) During our on-the-spot investigation covering extensive talks with a very large number of workers, including trade union cadres of different affiliations, we could not help but realising that there has come about an erosion in the credibility of the trade union movement in Kanpur in the eyes of the working population, particularly at the Swadeshi Cotton where the trade union leadership proved to be ineffective in organising the workers’ struggle for securing the very basic demand of the workers, for their wages. (…)

* Police Massacre in Faridabad – Report of a Fact Finding Team

EPW, 1979, No.44

In one of the worst orgies of violence in recent times, Haryana police ran berserk and killed innocent people in Faridabad on October 17 and were engaged in concealing and destroying all evidence of their misdeeds, and in misleading the Press as to the actual nature of the incidents on that day. This is the finding of a three-member Fact Finding Team sponsored by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights, Delhi- Branch, which toured Faridabad on October 24, met victims of the police firing, visited the spots where the firing took place and talked to relations of those killed by the police and discovered that even though a week had passed since the incidents, the police were still persecuting innocent people. Contrary to what the police want to be believed, the Team found from its talks with those who had witnessed the police firing at Neelam Chowk’ on October 17, when a strike call had been given by different trade union organisations, that the provocation had come first from the police when Sub-Inspector Brahm Dutt opened fire on an unarmed demonstration of workers which reached Neelam Chowk. The Sub-Inspector had earlier given his policemen orders for a lathi charge to disperse the crowd which was not aware of the imposition of Section 144, promulgated by the police at 2 am on that day. No public announcement had been made. While some workers were engaged in an argument with the police, Brahm Dutt fired, killing one of the demonstrators on the spot. When the dead man’s comrades tried to lift the body, he fired again killing two more people. This enraged the crowd, who were reported to have pounced upon Brahm Dutt, who later succumbed to injuries inflicted by the mob.

The total indifference of the police and local administration towards basic human rights was described by the employees of a hotel at the Neelam Chowk, the epicentre of the incidents, in a statement made to the Fact Finding Team: When the trouble started, some policemen took up vantage positions above the building where the lime shop at Neelam Chowk is situated and started firing on the crowd in the streets. The policemen on the road started beating the people, including school children … The panic-stricken people moved to the railway bridge between Neelam Chowk and Mathura Road. Meanwhile a group of CRP men reached the Mathura side of the bridge to trap the crowd on the bridge between the two police forces. The police from both sides started attacking the crowd with gun shots. Many people jumped from the bridge down to a depth of between 25 and 40 feet. The policemen forced those who were dangling from the bridge to jump down by beating them on their knuckles. Also, some were physically lifted and thrown down from the bridge by the policemen. From the eye-witness reports that the Team heard from several sources, the lack of a properly organised labour force in Faridabad was evident. Those who were present at Neelam Chowk on the day of the incident reported that not a single leader of any union or political party was to be seen there before and after the incidents. This was corroborated by the CITU men whom the Team contacted at their office. Though various Haryana ministers have charged the CITU as having been responsible for the violence and disturbances, the CITU men appeared unaware of the number of dead, injured and missing and were generally ill-informed about the incidents of the17th.

On the other hand, police preparedness much before the trouble started was crystal clear. On the early morning of the bandh, Cr P C 144 was declared at 2 a m. According to the shopkeepers at Neelam Chowk, they were forced to close their’ shops and keep indoors by the policemen much before the trouble started. “The policemen themselves were preparing for a show-down” was how one shop-employee put it to the Team. Evidence suggests that after the death of the police officer, Brahm Dutt, the gun-carrying police force ran amuck, intent upon taking revenge. One engineer working in West Germany who is on a short leave to meet his relatives, told the Team that he saw a policeman stopping two young school children on their bicycles, returning from their school, unaware of the happenings. The school children were beaten mercilessly, although this was five hours after the morning incidents. Everyone in Neelam Chowk corroborated that the worst type of police raj prevailed in the whole area following the morning incidents. Policemen entered even shops and residences to beat up uninvolved and innocent people. One hotel employee showed the Team his right hand shoulder, which was difficult to move due to lathi-blows. He had been pounced upon by policemen while he was cooking inside the kitchen. Though the police and administration claim that no firing took place after 1 p m on the 17th, the gruesome incidents in the residential areas of Press Colony and Punjabi Colony speak otherwise.

The police did not stop at indiscriminately beating up and firing upon people who had either gathered in the demonstration or were watching as innocent by-standers at Neelam Chowk. They extended the range of their atrocities to areas far away from the scene of the demonstration, and to people who had nothing to do with the striking workers. The Team went to Punjabi Colony, 4 to 5 kms away from Neelam Chowk, and visited a house on the roof of which two of its residents, Kashmiri Lal Bali aged 42 and Jagdish Prasad aged 28, had been killed at point blank range by the police who had taken up positions at the landing of a stair-case of a house opposite the roof-top. Bali’s 12 year old son, Anil, who was shot in the abdomen, was still lying unconscious at the Safdarjung Hospital. Another boy, 16-year old Surendra Kumar, who was also standing on the roof-top was injured in the head and back by bullet splinters.

The story of Bali’s killing, as narrated to the Team by his brother-in-law and other relatives who were eye-witnesses to the incident, is pathetic. Bali was a printer at the Government of India Press. After his office closed at 4.30 pm, he came home and was told by his wife that -his eldest son Anil was playing on the roof. Asking his wife to prepare food, he went up-stairs to bring his son down. As he reached the roof, a bullet hit his head from across the road. Seeing him fall, Jagdish Prasad, who was staying in a room on the same terrace, came out to help him, but a bullet hit him in the waist and pierced his abdomen. He died in hospital. Bali’s son Anil was hit next, while the other boy Surendra Kumar, also a resident in the same neighbourhood, was injured by splinters from the bullet that had pierced Jagdish Prasad. This was a case of cold-blooded murder, as neither Bali nor Jagdish Prasad nor the two children were involved in strikes or demnonstrations on that day. That the police were keen on hiding all evidence of this murder was obvious from several facts. First, soon after the killing a police party came to Bali’s house and wanted to snatch away Bali’s dead body from his relatives. After they failed to take it away, a larger police party came headed by the DSP and forced the relatives to part with the body. But in the meantime, Bali’s relatives had managed to get a photographer to take pictures of Bali’s dead body and the scene of the killing.

Bali’s brother-in-law insisted on an inquiry into the killing, but the DSP said that the postmortem on the body would have to take place at Gurgaon on the orders of higher authorities. Bali’s brother-in-law then went to the Circuit House, where a meeting was in progress between a Haryana cabinet minister Khurshid Ahmed, high police officials and industrialists. When after an hour, the minister came out, the brother-in-law requested him to allow him to take Bali’s body and perform the last rites and cremate him. But both the minister and the industrialists who were present there rejected his request on the plea that “if the body was allowed to be cremated at Faridabad, it will further worsen industrial relations”. Finally, Bali’s relatives were allowed to accompany the dead body in a police van to the cremation ground at Gurgaon.

At the Gurgaon cremation ground, Bali’s relatives found that at least six more dead bodies were lying there to be cremated. The burning ghat people told them that the bodies had been brought by the police from Faridabad and were being secretly burnt there. They remained- unidentified. Bali’s brother-in-law told the Team that the same fate would have befallen Bali, had not his relatives insisted on getting back his body. The body of Jagdish Prasad was not handed over to his relatives after his death in hospital and no one still knew what happened to it. When relatives of the other dead people contacted the doctor at the Gurgaon Civil Hospital for post-mortem reports, he pleaded helplessness because of “limitations”. The relatives were in a state of utter desperation and helplessness. No one, including any political or trade union leader, had come to their rescue.

The story does not end here. On October 22, four days after Bali’s murder, a police party headed by an ASI visited the spot. Before killing Bali, the policemen who had aimed at him from the opposite house, had missed their target and one of the bullets had got lodged in the outer wall of the neighbouring house. To destroy this evidence, the police party which came on the 22nd climbed up the wall and with bayonets dislodged the bullet from inside the wall. The Team saw the original hole made by the bullet, further enlarged into a wide gap by the police team. The local people told the Team that the police were still on the prowl in the area to recover the cartridges of the bullets fired by them in the area on that day, so that they were not later produced by the residents to prove the misdeeds of the police. The police had also come to know of the photographs taken of Bali’s dead body. The photographer was being constantly harassed by the police. He told the Team that a senior police official had threatened him and even offered bribes to get back the film roll from him.

Thus, it was evident that the police were busy hiding and destroying all traces of their murderous activities of October 17. Plainclothesmen were prowling all over Faridabad, arresting people whom they suspected of giving out the real story. Reporters had not been allowed to enter the Badshah Khan Hospital where those injured on that day were being treated. The members of the Team managed to smuggle themselves into the male ward, and saw at least six persons with bullet injuries. They were shocked to see four of them – all with their hands or legs in plaster, and in no condition to move – chained to their beds in a separate corner of the ward and being guarded by armed police-men who were occupying some of the beds meant for patients. One of the injured was a post and telegraphs employee, who on the day of the firing was on duty on the bridge leading to Neelam Chowk. Hira Lal, Devi Lal, Jagdish K Pande and Tilak Kapoor (who is deaf and dumb) with bullet injuries on their bodies and chained to their beds, were workers who had been trapped in Neelam Chowk and shot at by the police. As they could not flee due to their injuries, the police arrested them and were planning to produce them as miscreants who had provoked the October 17 incidents. The Team also saw a 12-year old boy with bullet injuries under arrest. It came to know that at least three people who had been brought to the hospital on that day had succumbed to bullet injuries.

The Team also visited the neigh-bourhood of the bridge connecting Neelam Chowk with Mathura Road. During the day-long firing- and lathi charge, the police had spilled over into the outlying areas and beaten up innocent residents of the jhuggis and jhopris. One such victim was 60-year old Bishan Singh, a saintly looking Sardarji with white hair and beard. He showed the Team -the wall of his courtyard broken open by the police who entered the house as he was sitting on his charpoy and asked him to bring out those who were supposed to be hiding in his room. Bishan Singh said that no one was hiding, and offered to take the police to his room to prove the truth of what he was saying. Not satisfied, the policeman started beating him. With an injured leg, old Bishan Singh was now confined to bed. Children seemed ‘to have been a special target of the police. Wherever the Team went people complained that children were beaten up mercilessly.

The cases of Bali’s son and 16-year old Surendra of Punjabi Colony have already been mentioned. People with whom the Team talked at Faridabad estimated that from 50 to 120 people were still missing. Among them were a large number of children’. There was a widespread suspicion that the police had disposed of the dead bodies by burning them’ secretly – as evident from eyewitness accounts of the Gurgaon cremation ground – or by throwing them into the river. The Team found that there was widespread distrust among the people of Faridabad towards the local police force. For one thing, it was evident to all that the police had been giving out false reports. Immediately after the October 17 ‘incidents, they had said that firing had stopped at 1 pm on that day. But the Team was unanimously told by the people that at Neelam Chowk firing had continued till the evening. The killing of Kashmiri Lal Bali and Jagdish Prasad took place after Bali had returned from office, between 4.45 pm and 5.15 pm. As for the number of casualties also, the figure of eight given out by the police was dismissed as too small by the local people, many of whom were still searching for their missing relatives and friends who were suspected to have been killed. The people were further infuriated by the government’s immediate announcement of an award of Rs 15,000 to’ relatives of the dead sub-inspector. “What about the innocent people who were killed by him and his colleagues?” ask the people of Faridabad.

The Team was told that at every stage the local industrialists were influencing the police. At the Circuit House meeting where the industrialists, police officials and minister Khurshid Ahmed discussed the post-firing situation, it was the industrialists who had offered to pool the money and give the award to the dead policeman. It was they again who pressurised the Minister against giving Bali’s dead body to his relatives. There was a widespread feeling that the magisterial inquiry ordered into the October 17 police firing by the Haryana government would not lead anywhere, excepting defending the police. The people were demanding a judicial inquiry and suspension of the guilty policemen. The local people also complained that none of the major political parties or trade union leaders had bothered to visit the relatives of the dead or the injured. No help had been rendered to the victims in the hospital. The injured boy, Anil Bali, was lying alone in a critical condition when the Team visited him at the Safdarjung Hospital. In its report the Fact Finding Team has noted that the industrial climate at Faridabad had deteriorated over the years primarily because of the aggressive attitude of the local industrialists who habitually employ ‘goondas’ in the name of security guards to beat up workers active in the trade unions. For instance, it was alleged that on October 17, the ‘goondas’ employed by the management of a cotton mill near Press Colony, Faridabad, had chased workers belonging to the union. Eye witnesses told the Team that the police were protecting the goondas who hurled stones at the workers.

The Team has raised a number of questions in its report:

(1) Why is it that no arrests are made when organised goondas (working under the cover of security guards) attack workers whereas innocent victims of police firing are kept in chains in the hospital?

(2) Why is it that authorities in Faridabad impose Section 144 whenever there is even a notice of a strike in a single factory?

(3) Why is that compensations are paid by the government and the industrialists to the police personnel, while the victims of indiscriminate police firing are paid none?

(4) Why is it that seriously injured victims of police firing are kept in chains at the hospital with three armed guards? Summing up its findings about the events of October 17, the Fact Finding Team has stated that:

(1) Imposition of Sec 144 at 2 am, unannounced, was a deliberate provocative step.

(2) Disappearance of 150-200 men and children since October 17 was too much of a coincidence to be ignored.

(3) Threats, destruction of evidence and offer of bribes in some instances by the authorities proved their complicity in the incidents of the 17th.

(4) Disposal of dead bodies at Gurgaon without proper religious rites and the secrecy surrounding the act tended to suggest that the number of dead was much more than what the authorities want to be believed.

(5) People of Faridabad, workers, shopkeepers, housewives, children, etc., were all in fear of the police and critical of their acts.

(6) The reign of terror let loose by the authorities had to end before anything else could be done. A judicial inquiry must be held to inquire into the violent incidents of October 17 and the role of the police in them.

* From Emergency to Rural Maoism to Leninism in Faridabad

GWN conversation, 2010

We met some communist still active in Faridabad industrial area. Some of them entered reputable universities in the early 1970s, and spent their first years as ‘unpolitical’ students on the campus. Things changed during Emergency. Under the heavy atmosphere of the Emergency any kind of dissent obtained a new significance. Some of them had to leave university and joined a far-left organisation. The organisation sent these new recruits to work in the countryside, with Adivasis, the ‘indigenous population’. The Naxalite organisation had a kind of scale, there were class I areas, they were the poor Adivasi areas, class II for certain areas of poor peasantry, class III for urban working- class areas and so on. The Adivasi areas were not characterised by’ self-sustained communities’, most of them were wage workers for the timber industry. During these days these young comrades travelled from village to village, the organisation had contacts, often to village teachers or similar people. While being ‘underground’ the original organisation had split several times, but the young comrades were not aware of this. They continued their ‘organisational work’ for a non-existing organisation.

Some of them ended up in the ‘semi-tribal’ area of Mewat, a poor Muslim-dominated area in Haryana. They focused their activities less on the peasantry, but on the educated, unemployed poor youth. “We wanted to turn them into professional revolutionary cadres. We had some contacts within the Haryana electricity board. Some guys had been on strike in 1972, they knew people in various villages. In those days people liked revolutionaries, many people would help us and hide us from the state forces, give us food and shelter. Particularly in Mewat people were angry. The police had rounded up villages to enforce sterilisation – a sensitive issue particularly in the Muslim areas. We tried to break the encirclements, but this proved to be difficult. People were put into trucks and brought to the primary health centres. Each block and district local state officials were gratified for achieved numbers of sterilisation.”

The comrades met interested locals in B., a bigger village near Faridabad. They stayed with a mechanics and local teachers. Many underground revolutionaries arrived in B. after years of’ activities with the rural people’. There were CPI committees amongst peasants. Some clerk who had gone to Chandigarh to work had brought Marxist literature. “Although the official CPI line was against the Maoists and pro-Emergency, the CPI peasants in the village supported us. They were mainly from the Dagger tribe and had a history of resistance reaching back to feudal times. Every now and then the peasants of this village blocked power-stations, in order to protest against the lack of electricity. Police brutality in the area during Emergency had further radicalised them. A CPI official in the village had been to the Soviet Union as part of a party delegation. He was open towards the far-left, he managed to get people – who had returned from ‘activities’ in country-side – jobs in factories.”

Some of the peasants who had ‘joined the revolutionaries’ turned ‘workers’ for political reasons and went to work in factories in Faridabad during the late 1970s and early 1980s. “The factory was kind of a shock for the peasants. They were used to hard physical work, but not to having to stay in one place under surveillance and noise and the rhythm of the machines. Some of them wrote poems and songs about these experiences. Not just about the work, also about the ‘cultural changes’, e.g. at Bata shoe factory they found the village Pandits sewing leather sandals or Dalits in the restaurants serving food to the wider public, which was something unthinkable in the village. With the help of some of these ex-peasants we started our activities in Faridabad. We had broken with our Maoist heritage and had become urban Leninists.”

* Worker in Faridabad in early 1970s, Full Time Activist, Sangarh Samiti 1979

GWN conversation, 2010

I came to Faridabad in 1970. I got a job at Universal Electric Limited, a company manufacturing devices for the defence industry. There I worked for one year, I worked on a lathe machine. There was a strike by the union and in this I was thrown out.

Then I was employed at Porritts&Spencer Asia Limited, which was a British company, it still exists, but is now owned by Germany and America. In Porritts Spencer, I worked on the loom machine on which clothes are made. It was a factory where all the workers had to do all the jobs. They were trained in all jobs. So I was also trained in all the machines. At that time, in 1977, about 300 workers were employed. There was a strike in 1977. In that strike, I was the General Secretary of the union. Then I was thrown out.

Then I was fulltime with the CPI. Then I joined CPM full time. After that I worked for the Naxalite movement. In 1979 we formed the Sangharsh Samiti, the Struggle Committee. We brought the whole of Faridabad to a stop in 1979. Guns were fired in which many workers were killed. At that time, the Bhajanlal Congress government, ordered the gun fire. The guns were fired at the Neelam square which we today call the Martyr Square. The workers became martyrs. The government said 17 people had died. The workers and some police officers were hurt. The workers said that about 150-175 people had been killed. But the government made the dead bodies disappear. Because there were many arrests, in fear, the protest went down a little for some days. We could not find out whose dead bodies were missing.

Before that there were demonstrations in many different factories which the government could not control. At that time there were unions in about 50% of the factories and they helped one another. The police oppression was also very great, but the workers then were so militant that they used to fight with the police. This is the reason why in the Faridabad strike there was a struggle with the police, where the police fired guns and the workers were killed.

After that the workers movement declined, automation was introduced in the companies and the number of workers decreased. Many factories closed, a large number of textile factories closed and unemployment increased. Many factories were computerized and workers went back to their villages. The factories started outsourcing. Permanent work was reduced. People started to work on contracts. So the movement went back.

* Escorts/Ford Worker in Faridabad in 1970s and 1980s

GWN conversation, 2010

In the late 1970s and early 1980s trouble was brewing at Faridabad’s biggest company Escorts. The trouble was intensified and shaped by an internal fight between different management factions respectively supported by different political formations. In 1982 instigations against the old management started – a new management faction under Swaraj Paul and backed by Congress tried to ‘take over’. The emergence of a new union within Escorts was instrumentalised in order to attack the old management. After Indra Gandhis death in 1984, the new management under Swaraj Paul sold his shares. The old management and the old union were back in the seat. We mention these ‘power-games’ because they influenced and still influence any union formation in the bigger industry. We had a conversation with N., a comrade who worked at the Ford tractor department of Escorts in the 1970s and 1980s. N. got involved in union struggle on the side of ‘the new union’ – reading his story we have to see the double dynamic of workers’ unrest and internal management fights.

“I came to Faridabad from Kerala, in the early 1970s. In Kerala I had been engaged with the illegal CPI(ML), mainly struggling against land-lords. At the time it was not unusual for workers to come the long way from far – south Kerala, there must have been more than 20,000 of us working in Faridabad at the time. There was a huge demand for skilled workers which could not be satisfied from northern areas like Bihar or UP- that has changed quite a bit since then. In 1972 I got a job in the Ford tractor plant, where about 2,500 workers were employed. A comrade and me became elected as representatives of a left-wing union, which organised the vast majority of workers in the plant.

These were rebellious times. Workers were questioning a lot. Take the example of a struggle lead by a marginal work-force in the factory: the cleaners. Take their example of struggle over a seemingly minor issue: canteen food. During these times workers’ desires turned badly cooked vegetables into social dynamite. There was a canteen for workers and a canteen for the management. The production workers were allowed to use the canteen first, when they left, the cleaners could eat. This was not because workers would not have sat together with cleaners, it was because the cleaners would work while machines stood still during the workers’ break. Nevertheless, when the cleaners came to the canteen there were little vegetables left, just rice or roti. The canteen might have cooked more veggies, but they were often half done or there were literally five minutes left of the cleaners’ break for having a meal. The cleaners were not happy about this. They complained. The management did not listen. They addressed the left-wing union and asked them to do something. The management ignored the union. The next day about 150 cleaners entered the management canteen in protest and ate all kind of nice food, fish, deserts and so on. This was not heard off before and the management was in shock. The shock-waves entered various levels. The first reaction was to purify the canteen with Ganga water, purify it from the spiritually dirty cleaners’ hands. The next reaction was an attempt to suspend not only some of the workers involved, but also some ‘ring-leaders’. This was not that easy…

The management tried to ignore our union in the Ford plant. The Escorts and Ford management and the main Escort union plotted all kinds of coups against us. But they basically tried to keep us away from any kind of negotiations. The workers were rather angry about that, they had voted for us, because they wanted us to do things. When a general negation between Escorts management and unions took place about 2,000 Ford workers gathered in front of the administration building. They demanded that their reps could be heard. The management refused. Workers wrote a demand notice: “Either the management talks to our representatives or they will be beaten with sandals”. The management remained deaf. Workers then pushed into the main building and surrounded the management, started beating it with sandals like promised. This was hot. In Kanpur, where a similar thing happened in 1977 the police shot and killed hundreds of workers in side a textile mill – that was after the Emergency, in the so-called’ new democratic phase’. The next day Faridabad was full of police looking for sandal-wearing workers…

The police-force itself was not too reliable at that time – a clear sign for the depth of social discontent. The lower ranks of the police were badly paid and had to work long hours. In Faridabad they went on strike. Some of them were from Kerala and we got in touch with them. In the end they had to bring in the special police force CRPF. They sacked half of the local police and the CRPF disarmed the other half. We put up posters “Police against Workers – CRPF against Police – Army against CRPF: This is Indian Socialism!”. The activities inside Ford got us more and more into the focus of repression. Escorts paid the police good money to find and beat us. During these days most of the arrests were unofficial and never documented. They would pick you up, take you to a faraway station and give you a good beating. The home guards, a rather poorly paid part of the police informed us about the police plans.

Finally they caught us and drove us to a station near Balabgarh. There, the night-shift guards knew us and refused to beat us up. In the end we got a thrashing in the police station in Sarai. It was dark, we could not see who thrashed us, but they always asked: “Will you know leave Haryana?!”, and unsatisfied with the answer they would continue. I was kicked out of the Ford plant, six years of legal battle followed…”

* Revolutionary “Termites” in Faridabad

Loren Goldner

For complete text see: http://libcom.org/library/revolutionary-termites-in-faridabad-a-proletarian-current-in-india-confronts-third-worldist-statism

1980′s Struggles in Faridabad

The CITU in 1983 was involved in another militant strike in Faridabad, this time at Lakhani Shoes, which then employed 500 workers and is now much larger. The CITU carried out physical attacks on managers and supervisors, but the strike, which lasted for months, ended in defeat. It later came out that Lakhani had paid 35,000 rupees to the Faridabad leader of the CITU. (Subsequently, the CITU was ousted and replaced by unions affiliated with the Congress Party and then with the JP.)
Such union activity is not merely limited to manipulating struggles with management while covertly collaborating with the latter. In 1983, Dewanchard Gandhi, a CITU leader in Faridabad, was involved in a brazen use of union goons for a real estate scam. People from nearby village had occupied land in Faridabad’s Sector 6 and had set up a tea shop, thereby becoming de facto owners. The owner of the land sold it to Gandhi and his brothers. The Gandhi brothers’ own goons would not vacate the land for them because some of them were from the same village as the occupiers. Thus Gandhi organized a union in a nearby factory of 300 young workers, and called a strike. While they were on strike, he used them to forcibly vacate the land and to wall it off, in one night, telling them it was to be the site of a union hall. This accomplished, the workers went back to their picket lines, but the union stopped food deliveries to strikers. The workers resumed work and left the CITU. Ghandi kept the land. In the same year, a militant CITU union at J.M.A. Industries called a strike. Bombs were thrown, and the state arrested and brought to trial four strike leaders. Regional CITU leaders came in to replace them and announced a deal. It later emerged that the company had built a new roof on the house of one of the regional leaders; meanwhile, the four local leaders stayed in jail, 18 militants were laid off, and management’s aim were imposed.

In 1988, a struggle began at the Bata Shoe Company, a Canadian-based firm also operating plants in Batanagar, near Calcutta, in Bihar, and in southern India. Bata Shoe launched a plan to restructure and diversify into marketing. The offensive began with a lock-out of the roughly 13,000 workers of the Batanagar plant, where both Communist Parties had unions. As part of the strategy, the management of the Faridabad plant went from a 5-day to a 7-day work week, with the cooperation of the CP unions there. A month later, an all-India one-day strike against Bata Shoe was called; two months later, this was followed by a 3-day all-India Bata strike. Four months after the management offensive began, it imposed all 37 of its restructuring demands. The union in the Faridabad plant called another strike in April 1989, and 10,000 workers went out, followed by further strikes later the same year. At the beginning of the management offensive, Bata Shoe in Batanagar had 13,000 workers; at the end, 7,000. (KK points out that at every turn the Indian media gave very favorable coverage to the unions’ toothless strike strategy.)
In 1989, at K.G. Khosla Compressors Ltd., a plant with 2,000 permanent workers and 350 casuals, the union signed an agreement with the company in which they gave away the workers’ dues (“dues” in India mean severance pay, outstanding wages, pension funs and bonuses. It is common for management to quietly loot these dues in anticipation of a plant closing.) (Six years earlier, in 1983, the INTUC had led a militant strike which was crushed, ending in layoffs. When confronted, the local INTUC leadership said they signed the contract because the national leadership signed, and the national leadership said they signed because the local leadership signed.
Things came to a head in August 1991 as Khosla management declared a lockout, terminating 250 casuals, announcing 326 layoffs of the permanent work force, and offering only the minimum annual bonus of 8.33%, threatening closure of the plant if these demands were not accepted. No wages were paid for August and the lockout began in early September, lasting 8 months and breaking worker resistance. A similar downsizing was pushed through at Thomson Press, a printing plant in Faridabad, which reduced its personnel from 1700 to 900 between June 1989 and June 1991.

In 1987, Thomson brought in a new manager, replacing one who had had a close working relationship with the Congress-affiliated INTUC. The new manager preferred to introduce the JP-Iinked HMS, to the relief of the workers, who hated the INTUC leader. The new HMS leader was himself a dismissed Thomson worker. To start off the new regime, the company agreed to make casuals permanent.
In 1989, however, Thomson demanded 200 layoffs and the new HMS leader signed a giveback agreement. In August 1990, the workers responded by bringing back the old deposed leader. In response to this, the company announced the closing of one of the plant’s printing operations, cutting jobs. Two factions of workers formed around the two leaders. The state government exacerbated the division by cultivating ties to the INTUC leader, and fights broke out between the two factions. In March 1991 management suspended all production because of the fighting. Whereas the media had given wide coverage to the situation up to that point because of the state’s ties to the INTUC leader, there was a complete blackout of news on this lockout. Both leaders convinced the Thomson workers to leave the factory during the lockout, and that night the management removed machinery from the plant. The lockout continued for 70 days, at the end of which the HMS leadership announced that the workers did not want a fight. The plant reopened, with a very bad agreement in effect, and over the next 4-5 months 800 workers were forced to resign.

Relevant Struggles Elsewhere In India

One icon of the official left in India is the worker buy-out of Kamani Tubes Ltd. in Bombay, the Indian variant of the French LIP strike of 1973 (8), or the more recent ESOP’s (Employee Stock Option Purchase) in the U.S. Kamani Tubes Ltd. was taken over in 1987 by its work force of 450, after 60 workers were laid off. The workers raised the buyout funds by taking out mortgages, and received support from the Bureau of Industrial Finance and Reconstruction. The Kamani Tubes experience of self-managed austerity is still used as a paradigm by India’s NGOs and official left, and has been copied in a few other well-publicized instances, such as the Kanoria Jute Mill in Calcutta after 1993.

Not all workers’ struggles in India, however, are successfully contained or manipulated by the unions. In 1989, 35,000 textile workers in Kanpur, an old industrial city in Uttar Pradesh, revolted against all local unions and blocked the railway lines through the city, taking turns by shift. 100 trains were cancelled, and the government conceded their demands in 5 days. In this case, in contrast to the nation-wide, union-controlled Bata Shoe strikes, government propaganda and the media weighed in heavily against the action, and trade union officials also attacked it. (In 1977, just after Indira Gandhi’s state of emergency had been lifted and the anti-emergency Janata Party had taken power, the government had fired on Kanpur textile workers inside the Swadeshi Cotton Mill, killing between 30 and 150 workers and running off all trade union leaders. The textile mill had been nationalized shortly after the shootings.) In 1989, however, an impending election year militated against government violence. Nonetheless, once the struggle had died down, the government announced a retrenchment program and pushed it through over the next 4 or 5 years.
Similarly, in December 1988, at the No.7 mining area at the Dhanbad Coal Mines in the state of Bihar, the piece-rate workers, fed up with the unions and their goon squads, revolted. They drafted demands and started a hunger strike at the union regional headquarters, and surrounded the regional management offices with slogans denouncing both corrupt management and corrupt unions.
In July 1990, another struggle outside and against union control erupted. 5,000 miners from the Munidih mines of the Bahrat Coking Coals Ltd. (BCCL) struck on their own. The police opened fire, killing two miners. All unions opposed the strike, and denounced the influence of “outsiders”. Management refused to negotiate, until Aug. 7, when 2,000 workers surrounded BCCL headquarters and forced talks, in which management persisted in pressing charges against the strikers. On Aug. 10, fighting erupted with police, and union goons threatened workers. Under this pressure, 50-60% went back to work, but after an Aug. 17 solidarity demonstration that mobilized 1,000 workers, management caved.

The workers at Bengal Jute, living under the “Marxist” state government of the CPI (M) in West Bengal, were not so fortunate. Bengal Jute operates 49 jute mills, in which the CPI (M)’s own union, the CITU, and the INTAC were dominant. In 1984, in a previous strike, management had agreed to no layoffs of 250,000 workers, but subsequently managed to retrench 110,000. In June 1992, the two unions launched a strike demanding the reinstatement of the laid-off workers; during the ensuing, failed strike by its own union, the CPI (M), with state power, said nothing.

1990′s Struggles in Faridabad

Lakhani Shoes, which currently operates 19 plants in Faridabad, had been the scene of mass layoffs in 1983 (described earlier) and 1988. By the mid-90′s, it had become a joint venture with Reebok, using a large number of casuals in very hard work with low pay, rapid aging on the job, and loss of fingers. Many workers are Nepali, with a young work force because of the previous mass layoffs.
In these conditions, in May-June 1996, the workers decided to organize and went to the Hind Majdoor Sabha (HMS), mentioned earlier as the union affiliate of the Janata Dal. In July-August 1996, management suspended the union activists, and in September the union called a strike. Permanent, casual and contracted workers all struck. The strike continued into the spring of 1997, when workers began to disperse. The management resumed work using new hires, with the ex-leaders from the HMS as the labor contractors. A court order demanded that strikers stay 100 yards from the gates, and all strikers were ultimately fired.

In June 1995, a new struggle erupted at the East India Cotton Mills in Faridabad, where the 1979 strike was one of KK’s first formative experiences in the working-class milieu. In 1995, the mills employed 3,000 workers in two factories. When some equipment was dismantled and workers complained, six of them were suspended. 2,500 workers walked out and the six were reinstated. Management, however, wanted 600 layoffs. Without leaders among the workers, they were unable to control the work force. In the run-up to a confrontation over the layoffs, hunger strikes took place, and a group of rank-and-file leaders, demanding a “good contract”, took over. In June-July 1996 295 workers were forced to resign. Management floated a voluntary retirement scheme which found no takers. On July 10, they declared a lockout. 18 days later, the lockout was lifted and an agreement to resume work was signed, with 18 days pay lost.
In August, management simply paid no wages, and on Sept. 12 declared a lockout in both plants, backed up by the arrival of the police. In an unusual move in a lockout situation, the rank-and-file leaders told the workers to leave the factories. The lockout continued into the fall, with the workers dispersed. The rank-and-file leaders threatened to close down Faridabad if the lockout did not end before Diwali (a Hindu festival). At the same time they avoided demonstrations because they were afraid of losing control. The leaders tried taking the case to the Supreme Court. In January 1997, the smaller plant reopened, but two months later resumed the lockout, with management still demanding 600 layoffs. As of December 1997, the lockout continued.

* Some Agitation in Faridabad

FMS, September 1983

* At Biko Engineering situated at Mathura Road the pressure from management increased after the issuing of a demand notice. Workers got suspended.

* After workers at Elson Cotton raised their voice against lay-offs, they got beaten up and some of them suspended. The bosses hired goons.

* At East India Textile Mill INTUC keeps beating the drum and the management cries about’ worsening situation’ for the company while at the same time sending lots of workers back home.

*At Atul Glas workers are determined in their battle for creating a union. Management and police try to suppress the workers by beatings and arrests.

* At Usha Spinning Mills the lay-offs of workers continue. Workers are laid off without being paid outstanding wages. Now the union leader says that he will do something about it.

* After Indian Aluminium and Mahindra and Mahindra have fused and the atmosphere amongst the Indian Aluminium workers is heating up.

* The back-and-forth between JMA management and workers continues. In order to break the union the management has kicked out four leaders and now talks about a contract/agreement.

* Five workers at the Electricity Board have been suspended. The processions and protest-meetings continue. There are a lot of posters-meetings-slogans etc. about forming this or that union, but most of it is the usual ritualistic procedure.

* Some Agitation in Faridabad II

FMS, October 1987

* The company HYDERABAD ASBESTOS LTD. has changed its name to Hyderabad Industries Ltd., but in the Faridabad factories, the company continues to use the asbestos material like before, causing fatal cancer and asbestosis lung disease. The infamous management is in the first line when it comes to make workers fight among themselves. During the last ten years, whenever the management saw that trouble is brewing amongst workers, it used incantation-bribery-threats-divisions in order to make the workers smash each others heads. After having seen this happening again and again, this time the workers countered the management at the very attempt. This time, on October 14, the police shot at the workers. After this the management enforced a lockout. Apart from enduring the usual back-and-forth of the INTUC-AITUC-BMS, this time the Hyderabad Asbestos workers also had to see the pretentiousness of the HMS.

* Nukem Plastics manufactures by using poisonous gas, putting at risk the health of workers and the wider population. In the course of conflicts among workers, incited by management and trade unions, a worker died in October 1987. In 1977, the management of this factory used the BMS as their weapon. Being squeezed between management and this union, the workers tried to turn sometimes INTUC, sometimes CITU, sometimes HMS into their vehicle of rescue. A lot of empty promises have been made, causing damage to the workers and usually ending in a sell-out. This time the HMS, while hailing the Lok Dal government, created a big fuss in order to take over the chair at the negotiation table from its relative, the BMS. In the course of the dispute the workers anger got vented, a worker died in action, the workers got locked out from the factory and finally the union sold out. The factory management first locked-out the troubled workers and then handed out food to them. Now it has restarted production and disseminates its poisonous gas again – and both BMS and HMS are looking out for new grazing grounds.

* After having suffered under CITU, the Autopin workers are now pretty fed-up with BMS. In order to take over another chair at the table, the HMS created a lot of fuzz – they tore the BMS flag from the gate pole. They workers got agitated, the management resorted to lock-out. After ten-twelve days the HMS showed its true colours – exactly the same as BMS. Thanks to the new agreement signed by HMS, the bonus has decreased from 16 to 10 per cent, the September wages were paid in November and god knows when the October wage will be paid.

* At Bombay Rubber plant the CITU makes fools out of the workers. After two months of strike against the dismissals of five workers, the CITU now has signed an agreement which accepts the dismissals and has taken aback the rest of the workers – while the management distributes sweets amongst the workers.

* At Metal Box many workers had been dismissed in the recent passed. Management started to pay the remaining workers wages which are relatively higher than in other factories. Some of the Metal Box workers then felt big and they saw themselves as being different from other workers. Now, as consequence of capitalist reality, Metal Box has to face a new round of redundancies and Metal Box demonstrates the workers their essential existence as workers. In order to enforce the redundancies, the management of Metal Box has issued a lock-out.

* At Escorts Anciliary the union HMS has negotiated such great agreement that the workers organised a tool-down strike against it. HSM’s plan to sweeten the increase in work-load with a little wage hike – the two results of the agreement – did not go down well with the workers. The HMS leaders reacted by turning an issue, which essentially only concerned workers at a different Escorts plant into a point of conflict. In return management was then able to announce a lock-out in order to break workers resistance. In this way union and management forced workers to accept the work-load increasing agreement.

* Since ten years the workers in East India Textile Mill are looking for a messianic-miraculous solution of their problems. They have seen one Messiah after the other trying to perform these miracles, but the workers are still not satisfied. After the Lok Dal took over government in Haryana, workers once more stare at the performance of the HMS leaders. A series of meetings and speeches has been put into motion… on the other side the management smears honey around the mouth of the union president and sends him off in a specially provided car…

* Intro Escorts

GWN, 2010

In the 1980s the Escorts Group belonged to the ten biggest manufacturing companies in India, an industrial giant active in various product segments, such as tractors and agricultural machines, motorcycles, cranes, earth moving machines, parts for the railways. Like Maruti Suzuki or Hero Honda, Escort collaborated with various international companies, such as JCB, Claas, Yamaha, Ford Motors. Till the mid-90s about 24,000 permanent workers worked directly for Escorts Group, the main company in Faridabad at the time, which had various plants in the area. Hundreds of smaller factories and work-shops still depend on Escorts as their main ‘client’. From the late 1980s onwards permanent workers were attacked by various management schemes to increase the work load and productivity, often in collaboration with the union leader-ship. The union leader at the time, Subhash Sethi, interestingly enough presented himself as an anti-Stalinist revolutionary – see interview with ANC journal below. The underlying battle about re-structuring went on during the early 1990s; management used various strategies, such as shutting down certain plants for one or two weeks, putting pressure on older workers to accept early retirement etc.. This process got aggravated by various market slumps, which management used as a pretext to threaten workers with job cuts. From 1996 onwards the re-structuring process made great leaps forward: JCB, Yamaha and Claas split off from Escorts, the telecom division was sold. From then on Escorts focussed on the agro-machinery sector, of 24,000 former permanent workers now only 6,000 are left. This is not only due to the carve up of the former Escorts Group, but also because permanents were increasingly replaced by casual workers or workers hired through contractors. Till 1992 the number of casual workers in production was less than two per cent, today it varies from 10 percent to 50 percent, as per demand, and whereas there used to be no workers hired through contractors in the immediate production, now their numbers increase significantly. For current conditions at Escorts see:

http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no5/#fn1

* “Interview with President of All Escorts Employees’ Union”

Journal of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the African National Congress, October 1981

Inqaba interviews
SUBHASH SETHI,
President of All Escorts Employees’ Union,
Faridabad

India – ‘Workers must organise for Power’

India under capitalism is a giant In torment. With a population of 700 million (almost double that of Africa) and vast natural resources, India is potentially one of the most productive and wealthy countries in the world. Instead, after centuries of plunder by British imperialism, followed by the parasitic rule of the rotten Indian capitalist class, the country has been reduced to indescribable poverty and seething social tensions. Under the Impact of the mass struggle, India became politically Independent In 1947. British lmperialism handed power to the representatives of Indian capitalism. Though the trappings of a parliamentary system were established, for the mass of the people democracy does not exist. Enormous power has been concentrated fn the hands of Indira Gandhi and her corrupt family clique at the head of the Congress government. This power Is used In the most ruthless manner to enforce the interests of the big capitalists and landowners. Under their rule, over half the Indian people live below the official poverty line. 200 million working people survive on less than 20c a day. 100 000 children die of malnutrition every month. 80 % of children In the countryside will never go to school. The Indian workers and peasants struggle against these intolerable conditions. In every industrial city, heroic strikes have been fought in the face of murderous repression; in vast areas of the countryside, civil war reigns between landlords and landless peasants. In 1979, according to government calculations, there were 216 riots per day-nine riots every hour!

Pre-revolutionary turmoil

The capitalist class is completely incapable of solving the problems of the country. India has entered a period of pre-revolutionary turmoil. In the coming years the question of power will have to be decided-whether the present rulers will succeed in crushing the mass movement and stabilising their grip on the country, or whether their the only force capable of displacing them: the 21-million strong urban proletariat at the head of the countless rural masses. The most critical element in the workers’ struggle will be that of unity, leadership and programme. Thus far, the magnificent movement of the workers, in the towns and on the land, and the no less heroic struggles of the peasants, have been held back not by the power of the state, but by the failures of an utterly bankrupt and opportunist leadership. The leaders of the main organisations of the Indian working class-the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-cling to the bankrupt position that India is not ripe for the overthrow of capitalism. Therefore the task, according to them, is to consolidate ‘democracy’ on a capitalist basis. In practice, this means a series of compromises with reactionary have increasingly been driven into nightmare regime will be broken by capitalist leaders, watering down their half-hearted reformist programmes even more, and losing further support among the working people. It is due to the failure of the workers’ leaders to provide a socialist alternative that Indira Gandhi-brought down by a wave of mass struggle in 1977-was replaced by an equally bankrupt capitalist regime, and was then able to return to office last year. But the election result itself revealed the isolation of the ‘victorious* Gandhi regime. According to the official figures (despite widespread vote-rigging in Mrs Gandhi’s favour) little more than half the electorate voted; in all, less than a quarter of Indian voters supported Mrs Gandhi! In office, the Gandhi clique have continued to enrich themselves while building up the machinery of a police state to protect themselves against the anger of the masses. Their latest reactionary measure has been to declare a total ban on strikes in the main sectors of the economy. A punishment of a year in prison is laid down for organising strikes, and 6 months for taking part in a strike! These attacks will spur the workers on to even more determined struggles. Country-wide protests are already taking place. Everything points at an explosive sharpening of the class struggle in the period ahead. The capitalist class has no answer to the struggles of the workers and peasants except increasingly barbarous repression. Already sections of the ruling class are calling up the dark forces of communalism (ultranationalist fascism) as a bludgeon against resistance among minority national groups. Nationalist movements in different stales of India, reflecting a mood of despair, are struggling lo break free from the hated regime In New Delhi. Under capitalism, India faces a nightmare future of ruin and disintegration. Only the development of a Marxist leadership within the mass organisations of the Indian working class can provide a rallying point for the workers and peasants in struggle and show a way out of the present crisis. Organised on a socialist programme, the Indian working class can draw behind it the mass of the people, demolish the capitalist system and, on the basis of nationalised production under democratic working-class control, develop the resources of the country to meet the need of the mass of the people. The fate of the Indian revolution is of vital concern to the workers of South Africa and the entire world. If successful, it would enormously strengthen the workers in every country; If crushed, it would be a demoralising blow to workers everywhere.

INQABA has discussed some of the crucial questions facing the Indian working class with Comrade Subhash Sethi, a union leader from the Delhi area and a supporter of the ideas of Marxism. Shortly after giving this interview, Comrade Subhash Sethi was a leader of a 30 000 strong demonstration of workers in Delhi against the antistrike legislation. Many of the tasks of the Indian workers-in particular, the building of a united national trade union movement-are similar to the tasks, which face us in South Africa today. Many lessons can be learned from the experience of the workers in India, which will assist us in carrying forward our work.

INQABA :
Workers in South Africa are eager for information about the pre-revolutionary movement of the Indian workers and peasants, which has brilliantly begun over the last period. Could you describe this movement?

Sethi:
Sixty per cent of the people in our country are living below the poverty line. That means earning less than two rupees a day (20c). 74% to 80% of the people are living in the villages. Some are peasants, some are landless labourers. But when they go to the cities they see the capitalists living like princes, with cars, big homes and servants. Due to all these social evils the masses want revolution, they want to change society. They realise they are working hard and getting nothing. But the main problem is the lack of revolutionary organisation, the lack of national leadership. The left in India is split into many parties like the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the Revolutionary Socialist Party. But none of them provide a real alternative, a revolutionary leadership for the struggling workers and peasants.
None of the political parties is working democratically. This is a big problem and that is why they are divided. Anyone who criticises the leadership is sent out of the party. Also if he wants any change in the policy or programme, he is sent out of the party. Most of the trade unions are controlled by political parties and work in the same undemocratic way. What we need is to build one country-wide trade union organisation that will work democratically and carry forward the struggle for change. In the meantime we will also be building a revolutionary political leadership.

INQABA :
The name of Gandhi is well known in South Africa since Mahatma Gandhi was active In South Africa as well. Can you tell us about the regime which Indira Gandhi has set up in India today?

Sethi:
No doubt Indira Gandhis’ family were involved in the fight for independence, but she was not elected for this reason. 60% of the people have voted against her, always. Indira Gandhi game back to power in 1980 because the previous Janata Party government did not give what they had promised, and because of the failure of the main workers’ parties to provide any clear alternative. Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party is a nationwide party, but the other parties are regional parties. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is the biggest left party. It is the ruling party in three states – West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. In other parts the Communist Party of India has a hold. If the left put up a united front nationally Indira Gandhi could not win. She has to use bribery and vote-rigging in order to stay in power. But the left parties don’t unite. They are Stalinist parties, by which I mean that the upper leadership are the bosses of the parties. They dictate, they don’t want democracy in the party, they don’t want to lead the revolutionary struggles of the masses. That is why Mrs Gandhi is able to stay in power. This government of Indira Gandhi is pro-capitalist, anti-trade union and anti-working class. A new law has just been passed to ban strikes. But I tell you, half a million workers will march on 17 August to say to Indira Gandhi, you shall not pass this law. We in Faridabad are planning a strike on that day. But Indira Gandhi knows that the national trade union leadership do not have the courage to fight. After passing this law repression will increase. After that some workers’ leaders will be forced to come out in opposition because of the pressure of the workers. The workers will demand of their leaders that they to organise a united struggle.

INQABA:
What has been your experience of the struggle to create a united trade union movement?

Sethi:
Until 1974 I was working at Escort in Faridabad, when I was sacked for trade union activities. There were six trade unions in Escort, in a workforce of 10 000. The strongest of those unions were led by the CPI (M), the CPI and the Congress Party (Indira). I said to the leaders of the unions, why are we divided into six parts? We are crying that the employers are exploiting us, but we are doing nothing for the workers. We can’t get anything until we unite. The leaders agreed and said we should form a front. I said no, we should form one organisation, one union, and the workers should elect the leadership. The leaders said no. Then I went to the workers directly. I told them of my discussion with the leaders and explained to them that if we are divided our demands will not be met. The workers agreed. Then I asked them, why don’t we form one union and leave those other leaders? So they all left their unions and we formed one union. For the last four years we have had elections every year, and I have been elected President every time. After we formed this union we had a strike. It involved 10 000 workers, and we won it in three days. At first the employer said he would kill me. He said he would fire his factory before he would talk to me. But after three days he agreed to talk. Then we had a meeting with the management and got an increase of 125 Rupees (R12,50) per month per worker. And within three years we got another increase of 350 Rupees (R35.00). In the history of India there have never been such increases in such a short period. On that basis I went to the workers of the whole region of Faridabad. I asked them, why are we divided, why should we not form one organisation as we have formed in Escort? The workers agreed. We organised 15 000 workers more. Now we are the strongest organisation, in Faridabad. Within the next two years our aim is to organise 100 000 workers into our organisation, out of 200 000 workers in the region. They will come into our organisation because all the workers can see we are following the right path, we are following the democratic path and we are fighting for the workers’ interests.

INQABA:
How does democracy operate inside your union?

Sethi:
Democracy means, the leadership must be elected by the workers, if the workers believe they are right. I may be the leader of our organisation, but the leadership can be changed if it is not working in the interest of the working class. So I am not saying that I should be the leader, but that the leader should be elected every year. Any leader who is not working for the interests of the workers should be dismissed by election, according to the will of the workers.

INQABA:
What are the prospects for building trade union unity in India as a whole?

Sethi:
On the basis of our work in Faridabad we will try to form one trade union organisation all over India. I am working around Delhi but other people are organising the workers in every other part of the country. They are many and they are militant, but they cannot fight if they are divided. They will come together because they have similar ideas. When that happens we will form one national trade union organisation. That will provide the basis for a united political leadership of the working class.

INQABA:
What is the role of the present political leadership of the workers?

Sethi:
All the workers and the left should be united on the basis of a program and policy that is decided democratically. Every leader should be elected, from the bottom, to the city committee, district committee, state committee or central committee of the organisation. But at present the left parties are run by a dictatorial system. That is why there are splits. If there had been democracy in the party, there would be no need for splits. With democracy, the reformist leaders will be sent out because the working class want a militant leadership, they do not want reformists who cooperate with the authorities. The CP leaders have had many opportunities to build a mass revolutionary movement in India. But because of their policies they have always thrown these opportunities away. Instead they have taken their line from Moscow and betrayed the struggles of the Indian workers and peasants. The most notorious betrayal was in 1942-1945. At that time there was the ‘Quit India* movement to drive British imperialism out of India. The CPI opposed that movement, it opposed it because of Russia- because the Stalinist regime was in alliance with the British imperialists against Germany at that time. Because of its attitude to the independence movement the CPI was held in low esteem by the masses of India. If the CPI had been willing to support the struggle for national independence, then the workers’ movement would have become very strong, it would have led the national struggle. Instead, the people saw that the CP went against the movement, it was helping British imperialism. People were being hanged, people were sacrificing, and the CP went against it. Today the workers are very militant but the leadership is leading a princely life. The poor people are not able to eat; 70 million people don’t have houses but the leaders live like princes. How can it be possible for the people to believe in such a leadership? I can give you an example. In 1979 there was a one-day strike in Faridabad. This call was supported by all the left trade unions, so there was a complete strike. Everything was closed. The police prohibited any assembly of workers. We had a meeting already arranged but the police said, the order has been made so you have to leave this place. The workers said no. Then one of the police inspectors fired and a worker was killed. The workers then dispersed, and two workers carried the body away. The police inspector said, don’t touch the body, but they ignored him. Then he fired again and both the workers were killed. The other workers were watching this. After the police inspector fired, they ran at him and killed him. Minutes later, huge contingents of police arrived. They fired at the workers and more than 50 were killed. The workers had the support of all the people in the area. There was a mood of militancy. But this situation was turned into defeat by the leadership of the CPI and the CPI (M). The workers wanted to stay out on strike the second day but the leaders in Delhi said no, no strike. So the workers went to work. We were forced to go underground for three months. The workers said to me, what kind of leader are you-you tell us to go to work after 50 of us have been killed? I said, can there be a complete strike if only our union calls it? If the CP leaders ask you to work, can I alone ask you to strike? The workers were betrayed, very much betrayed. From that day the workers have been thinking very carefully before taking any action- whether under this leadership we should fight, or not.

INQABA:
How do you think the task of building the workers’ organisation can be carried forward in the period ahead?

Sethi:
I am going to collect 200 000 Rupees (R20 000) from the Escort workers for the purpose of organising the exploited, unorganised workers. We will ask 30 Rupees (R3) from each worker. We will explain to them that the unorganised are getting only 200 Rupees (R20) a month, whereas we get 600 Rupees (R60). We will explain that unless we can organise the working class in millions, there can be no social change. If this money is collected we can take on at least 15 to 20 full-time organisers. At present we only have 8 to .10 cadres working full-time for the union. In India the financial problem is a very big problem of trade union organisation. This problem has been caused by our leaders. Many of them are very dishonest. They have used the workers’ money for themselves. You have mentioned the problem of money and financial control, which is crucial lo prevent corruption in the leadership.

INQABA:
How do you tackle this problem in the union?

Sethi:
Our union is one of the most organised and financially stable in North India because we account to the workers, and the workers have control over the union’s finances. We show the workers every month, this is the income, this is the expenditure, and this is in the bank and in cash. We cannot draw more than 1 000 Rupees (R100) from the bank at once, and we cannot draw more than
3 000 (R300) in a month. If we need to draw more than 10 000 Rupees, the whole of the Executive Committee has to meet; and we have to get permission from a general meeting of the workers to draw so much money for such and such work. Then, if they give permission, the whole Committee has to sign. All these instructions have been given to the bank. This is the system we have. In the coming years we will have a very strong financial position. With these resources we will be able to meet our target of organising 100 000 workers.

INQABA:
We would like to turn now to the relations between India and the surrounding countries. A lot is said about the conflict between India and Pakistan. Can you give us your views on that?

Sethi:
Indira Gandhi says that we have a danger from Pakistan, and Pakistan’s Zia says that he has a danger from India. But Indira Gandhi has no danger from Pakistan, not at all, she is only making excuses to divert the attention of the people. The people are not afraid of Pakistan. The only thing the people want is to change society, they want to throw out the capitalists. There are so many struggles in different corners of India. The peasants have been fighting in Maharashtra, in Karnataka, in Tamil Nadu, in Haryana. They want lower prices, cheaper fertilisers, lower electricity costs. At least 100 have been killed. In Bangalore, 130 000 public sector workers were on strike for 70 days. They were only defeated due to a weakness of leadership. All these struggles are against Indira Gandhi, not against Pakistan. We need a national organisation to expand these struggles all over the country. There is no danger at all from Pakistan or China. The people are not thinking about it at all, they are only thinking about changing society.

INQABA:
What has been the attitude of the Indian workers’ leaders towards the struggles of the workers in Sri Lanka and other countries?

Sethi:
The more militant workers* leaders know the history of the revolutionary Sri Lankan working class, and know how the general strike was defeated. But the mass of the workers are not yet very conscious of the working-class struggle internationally. That is due to the nationalist policies of the workers’ political leaders. The CPI (M) and the CPI (ML) gave no help to the Sri Lankan revolutionaries at all. As for the CPI, it takes its line mainly from Russia.

INQABA:
We often hear about the caste system in India, which splits up the people and harshly discriminates against those who are born into the lower castes. How do you fight against this system in the workers’ movement?

Sethi:
Under capitalism it is very, very difficult to overcome caste divisions. Society is in such a form that caste differences are linked to economic and social privilege and power – The harijans (the lowest caste; the so-called ‘untouchables’-Ed.), for example, have almost no land, while the highest caste, the Brahmins, have among them many landlords and capitalists. But the workers’ leaders have failed to campaign on these issues, and so there is no clarity among the masses about the way in which casteism and religion are being used to divide and oppress them. In our agitation we concentrate on speaking against capitalism, why the workers are being exploited and how we can overthrow the capitalist system. When the working class takes power, casteism will be eliminated. But among the cadres we should always discuss these questions. We need to be clear about it at all times or we will have problems in the future.

INQABA:
Some of our leaders in the South African liberation movement still regard Indira Gandhi as an ally. She even gives out medals for the struggle of the South African masses. What is your comment on this?

Sethi:
Indira Gandhi did not fight for the masses, either in India or in South Africa, not at all. The working people of India are against Indira Gandhi. The people of your country should know this.

INQABA:
What do you see as the prospects for the Indian workers’ struggle in the period ahead?

Sethi:
In the next elections Indira Gandhi will probably win again because no alternative is being provided by the leaders of the left. If she does not win, then other rightist parties will come to power. But in the election after that, definitely we can come to power. By “we” I mean our organisations, like the CPI (M) and the CPI, when we have reformed them. The people will demand a leadership and a government that will make an end to the oppressive conditions of the capitalist system. We must use the time now to build that leadership. The conditions are very favourable. Thousands and thousands of cadres in the CPI, the CPI (ML) and the CPI (M) want to bring in their own revolutionary policies instead of the reformist policies of the leaders. If we can unite these cadres on the basis of a revolutionary programme, we can establish democracy in the parties and replace any leaders who don’t want to struggle for the demands of the workers and peasants. If this kind of party is formed in India, the left will be united, and a socialist government will be elected. It is possible that the capitalists will not give up their power peacefully, they will end democracy if they see that the workers and peasants will put their own parties in power. In that case there will be a fight. But with the revolutionary cadre united, and with the trade unions united, the revolution will be successful. The consequences of the Indian revolution will be very great. India is a country with the second-largest population in the world. If the revolution comes to India and capitalism is thrown out, the whole of Asia and indeed the whole world will be affected.

The things you have explained will contribute an enormous enthusiasm to the South African workers. Like the workers in India, we have the task of building a mass united trade union movement on the basis of a Marxist programme. We must do everything possible to link our struggles together, and with those of workers throughout Africa and internationally.

Trade unionists in South Africa who would like to get in touch with Comrade Subhash’s union directly can write to:
Subhash Sethi, President, All Escorts Employees’ Union, Neelam Chowk, Faridabad, Haryana, India.

* FMS – May 1983

Mr. Swraj Paul (1), a London-based citizen close to Shrimati Indira Ghandi, has stirred up trouble amongst the circles of local industrialists. Having his roots in the wealthy Amichand Pyarelal family, Swaraj Paul has become an English citizen. He controls the Caparo Group. The Caparo Group also owns 16 tea plantations in Asam. Swaraj Paul’s brother runs the APJ Company here in Faridabad.

In the current budget the Indira Gandhi government has dished out many offerings to the NRI’s. These ‘friends in the distance’ have replied to these offerings in the appropriate manner… Swaraj Paul has bought company shares from share-holding members of Escorts and DCM management. In a state of agitation the group around Birla-Jain-Modi-Shriram-Nanda has met the Finance Minister on 20th of April requesting, that the right of NRI to vote in share-holder companies should be abolished! So to hell with “Vasudeva Kutumb (2)”, what has become of the “Indian-ness” of the Birla friends?!

On 22nd of April we could see the troubled face of the Escorts chairman HP Nanda in the Financial Express. He announced that he would buy Escorts shares at all costs… Mr. Nanda said that those people eager to take-over Escorts are nothing but “money bags” who want to “trouble” companies which are run according to the national customs. So, Mr. Nanda, the aversion against “money bags” has now also entered yourself?! The pot calls the kettle black! And in regard to the “trouble”, Mr. Nanda, this is still the issue of the working class movement, isn’t it?!

Well, so trouble has broken out between “foreigners” and “locals” – and what do insecure wrestlers tend to do: they scream out loud. The BJP party-leader Vajpayee (3) met the Finance Minister on behalf of Birla and Nanda. A member of the Congress (S) asked the government during a session in Parliament to stop Swaraj Paul creating trouble in 300 factories! The Haryana Government announced through a district judge that it will make use of the National Security Act against Mr. Paul – based on the fact that he is a social enemy, a national enemy… Mr. Nanda, why don’t you throw Mr. Swaraj Paul into jail under the National Security Act – after his leave for London he seems to have forgotten that there are laws allowing to lock people up without trial!

On the 30th of April the Economic Times printed the declaration of ten senior MP’s of Indira’s Congress – denouncing Mr. Swaraj Paul to spoil the game. Factions are competing, and the niggling continues. Rajeev Gandhi and the Central Finance Minister position themselves in the middle… In the meantime Mr. Paul said in an interview with a London-based newspaper that he has invested capital after having been instructed by important people in Delhi – ‘in the interest of Hindustan’. He will make use of his shares of Escorts and DMC in order to give a push to the big corporations in Hindustan, given that most of the owners of big companies in Hindustan have actually invested very little themselves. Mr. Swaraj Paul said that he will free those companies from their feudal roots…

Obviously, in the majority of companies, banks and insurance, ‘state capital’ has the dominant position. Nevertheless these companies are categorised as ‘private’. These companies are managed by Birla-Tata-Modi-Nanda tycoons, whose shares constitute only around 10 to 15 per cent of total capital. A company of one crore Rs share-capital takes out tens of crore Rs of credits from the banks. In this way, the money of Birla-Tata-Modi-Nanda will amount to less than one per cent of the total sum invested in the company (Sanjay Gandhi, who holds 3,000 Rs shares runs Maruti, a three crore Rs company).

Mr. Swaraj Paul has bought one or two per cent of the shares of Escorts and DMC and… he has become part of the management. If the state-leaders want him to, he will take-over the leading position. There is another clear issue. The managing figures within Escorts and DMC will – now more than ever – try to intensify their good relations with the Delhi political class… the financial offerings will increase. This is the actual meaning of Swaraj Paul’s ‘putting an end to feudalism in companies’. Mr. Swaraj Paul has made Birla-Tata and friends realise the power of state capital, the power of Indira-Rajeev Gandhi. This is the current motive behind the wrestling.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swraj_Paul (in October 2010 he was suspended from the British House of Lords for fraud)
(2) Hindu concept meaning that the world is one family
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atal_Bihari_Vajpayee

* FMS – June 1983

From speculators at the Delhi Stock Exchange: Escorts chairman HP Nanda went to London to meet Mr. Swaraj Paul. Swaraj Paul bought thousands of 10 Rs-Escort-shares for 40 to 80 Rs each. Initially Nanda had offered the shares for 150 Rs each. Paul replied to Nanda by making following offer: Sell me all the shares you have for 200 Rs each. Given these large amounts of money, the Escorts workers are able to guess how much they are exploited. Swaraj Paul, a person close to Indira Gandhi, continues to put pressure on Escorts and DMC.

Nanda-Shriram and friends acknowledge the declarations of the government – Capitalists know their governments, therefore they don’t sit back and tighten their belts, no, they move their fat bellies and join the struggle over influence. Workers can take this as a lesson: they should give up their believe in the capitalist government’s promises. Obviously, behind all the chitter-chatter hides this main question: for whose private interest and to which extend is state capital employed. Therefore there is no clash between Birla-Tata-Modi-Nanda and Swaraj Paul. Their opponent is the head of state capital, Indira Gandhi. Nanda or Swaraj Paul? Whoever will benefit her more, will have Indira Gandhi’s hand in his back. Once either Escorts or DMC is handed over to Swaraj Paul there will be sweets in both of Indira Gandhi’s hands. From now on Birla-Tata-Nanda will be found more often in the palaces of state power – there will be more bribes changing hands.

Workers should take advantage of the in-fights between the different representatives of capital. This is a great opportunity for Escort workers to enforce their demands. Hence, it is time to put pressure on management through organised struggle, but the union leaders are entangled in a low level quarrel among themselves.

* FMS – October 1983

It has been an intensive week since the hunger strike of two dismissed Ford workers started on 23rd of September. The Ford workers have demonstrated a great unity and the workers in the second Ford plant have started to show on which side they are. But the Ford union leaders break the Ford workers’ eagerness to struggle by spreading the following wrong reasoning: if you fight back you might get hurt… so give up all this talk about struggle! On the eighth day of the hunger strike the leaders turned from being ‘peaceful’ to being ‘revolutionary’ – they stopped the demonstrations and the ‘lunch and tea’-boycott of the Ford workers! Instead of relying on the strength of the Ford workers the union leaders hope for miracles. And then suddenly they order to pack up the sleeping-mats of the hunger strikers on 3rd of October.

After having finished off the hunger strike, suddenly started to stir up trouble. Beatings in the Ford plant are followed by arrests of dozens of workers and the situation finally ends in a lockout.
Congress vultures turned all of a sudden pro-worker and bailed out the arrested Ford workers. The current situation, the conflict between Nanda management and other factions, are a golden opportunity for Congress to portraty themselves as ‘workers’ supporters’. These “workers’ supporter”-vultures of the Congress might bail out Ford workers, but are not bothered about the JMA workers being still in jail. How could they?! The order to put the JMA workers behind bars came from their INTUC [Congress Union} brothers.

DCS, PD, LC are experts in opportunism. In the current period the skills of these representatives of capital are coming into full bloom - the local lord is Nanda, but the main parental-power is Indira. Nanda's current interest is to keep 'peace' at Escorts, while Indira and Swaraj Paul are interested in 'trouble'. The bosses are solving this contradiction in an excellent manner. Presenting it as an 'external constrain' the 'peace-keepers' create 'controlled trouble'. The representative of the state are actually more 'militant' than both union leaderships: more than the leadership of the Escorts Union, who has been turned into Nanda's pawns and who preach that 'we have to keep the peace, because it is time for re-negotiating the agreement [collective contract]‘; and more than the leadership of the ‘troublemaking’ Ford leadership, who became pawns of Indira and Swaraj Paul.

Whoever portrays factions of the state as being ‘on the side of the workers’ has also to talk about the involvement of the state’s ‘law and order’… about the Atul Glas workers who have committed the crime to form a union have been stripped naked and beaten up in the police station; the lathi-attacks to prevent workers from holding meetings; the arrests of JMA Atul Glas workers, who were held in custody for four days without arrest notice. The police make sure that the Escort issue ‘is kept completely within the realm of the law’. To stick to the capitalist law in times when the bosses are in struggle with each other is hard work for the state representatives: “It is the order from above, what can we do, we are forced”…

* FMS – November 1983

In Faridabad, the struggle about the take-over of Escorts, which has erupted between the advancing Indira-Swaraj Paul faction and the Nanda clique, is heating up. Here the Indira – Swaraj Paul faction turns the Ford Workers Union leaders into their pawns, while Nanda does the same with the Escorts Employees’ Union leaders. At this point of time the main struggle at Escorts is not about the agreement. It is neither about the two leaders sacked at Ford. Neither is the struggle against the All Escorts Union leaders – so unpopular figures among the Ford workers – currently the main question at Escorts. Nevertheless, some stupid elements have used these questions to get workers entangled in a fight between each other: workers at the Ford plant on one side and workers of other Escort plants on the other side. At this point of time the struggle between Indira-Swaraj Paul and Nanda over Escorts is the central point of development and main concern at Escorts. To take advantage of the exploiters’ weakness – their factions being locked in a tug of war – is the workers’ task of the hour.

* FMS – January 1987

Leaflet of the Escorts Union Leader Subhash Sethi
When the struggle about the take-over of Escorts between Nanda and Swaraj Paul was still in full swing, the local trade union backed Nanda openly. During the peak-time of the tug-of-war over Escorts, the time came for a new three years agreement between management and union. The union presented a proposal to the workers: 20 per cent workload increase for a wage increment of 191 Rs per month. The workers ripped the proposal into pieces and demanded an agreement without inscribed workload increase. The union then proclaimed that they had achieved an agreement which would guarantee more money without higher workload – and they sold this to the workers as the most marvellous agreement under the sky of workers’ rights. Finally the Nanda management reclaimed the control over Escorts. Immediately after the successful re-instatement of Nanda management, both management and union told the workers to fulfil their part of the ‘whole agreement’: the wonderful agreement, which had guaranteed wage hike without asking for more work, contained I.E. Norms. And I.E. Norms meant that the workload of the Escort workers would be increased by 30 per cent. Facing this fraud, and given that they had turned a 20 per cent work-load increase agreement into shreds, the outburst of workers’ anger was not surprising. When the workers spat on an offered sweetener of 50 Rs wage increase, the union started to enforce the management’s policy by using threats and measures to create divisions among workers. When the workers faced a 30 per cent work-load increase the main union leader of Faridabad came out with a leaflet, with the headline “Two Issues”, which was distributed amongst the Escorts workers. The union leader’s [Subhash Sethi] leaflet reads:

“You can refuse the proposal for the agreement… but what right does exist to accuse leaders to have mingled with management… during the last negotiations the issue of 20 per cent production increase came up and you refused the issue, and we accepted your resistance. We then settled an agreement about the I.E. Norms and you were informed about this. Here and now we refer only to the decision about this issue, we don’t raise any new issues here.

It might well be that you have misunderstood things, we will have to explain to and understand from each other. “…but why all this general talk here”, you might think. “Why all this nonsense talk”, you might ask. “He is talking, but he does not say anything, and then he will complain again that all workers say that union leaders and management have mingled. Why all this double-faced attitude? Say what you want to say, speak straightforwardly. Unsubstantial nonsense-talk will not be tolerated. And we will have to find ways to deal with all this.”

Last year we have settled a mini-agreement. In this agreement the production increase was inscribed in ‘increase per cent’, but it failed. Now the management raised again the demand of production increase, again in terms of ‘percentage’. But one question comes up: if we apply a ‘percentage increase’ then those people who currently work 3 to 4 hours per shift will have to work only 40 to 45 minutes longer. Those who already work 6 to 6.5 hours will have to work 7.5 hours. The question has to be raised how this problem can be solved. One solution would be that those who work less will have to work the proper hours while those who work the full amount already, will not be bothered.

So now please tell us, should we have accepted the IE norms or not? Some were not accepting it. We – the union – thought that, alright, give us 50 Rs wage increase in the name of I.E. Norms. The management did not agree to this at all. Some people said at this point that “together with the I.E. Norms there will be a major increase in production targets”. Relating to this we told the management, that if there is a production increase, there should be a wage hike, too. So the management presented us this scheme. We did not agree to this scheme, but given that the I.E. Norms have to be introduced and that the workers should get something out of it, we thought that there will be no harm… Now, you will say: “this scheme is nothing else than the I.E. Norms in disguise”.

If you will not accept this agreement either, then you will have to accept that those people who work only 3 to 4 hours will continue to do so and those who work 6 to 6.5 hours will do so, too. Now you might reply that we should stop all the talk about I.E. Norms altogether, that the demands of the last settlement have been fulfilled from your side. The management will use this attitude of yours in order to obstruct the next settlement. To sort this out will take two months and the new settlement will be useless by then.

Now the question is: what are I.E. Norms? The management might have their position on this, but that does not mean that our union will have to agree. Our union delegates will see and find out how much work a worker is able to perform during 6.5 hours. Our union delegates and representatives of the management will meet and come to a decision about this. The norm that both sides agree on – which will have to be accepted by the workers – will be the I.E. Norm. You will receive 50 Rs wage hike for the I.E. Norm, if you will fetch more than that, that should be alright, and you should not worry about getting less than this. It is our task to establish the I.E. Norms, and in return there has to be a good settlement. Some people might now think that they could just work less during the I.E. Norms establishing process, or to create trouble. This was the case at Escorts plant in Bangalore – but go and ask the union leaders at plant 1 about the current conditions of the workers in Bangalore, these leaders have seen them with their own eyes. You will have to work double as much and will not get any wage increase at all – this is exactly what has happened in Bangalore.” [End of leaflet]

* FMS – March 1987

Three years agreement
At the beginning of every year Escorts management deducts the union dues from the wages of all workers and hands them over to the union – nowadays the annual dues amount to more than 200,000 Rupees. The last three years agreement between union and management is an example of how workers have to pay. Referring to the ‘last agreement’s conditions’ management and union asked workers to accept a 30 per cent increase of the work-load, which resulted in the workers becoming even more suspicious towards the union. Given this suspicion of the workers, the union did not manage to get the workers drawn into the whirls of their usual routine mobilisations, such as symbolic strikes “because the management is not willing to negotiate” – routine mobilisations, which, like at the moment, take place before the finalisation of a new agreement. When ordinary workers started to take the piss out of the union leaders cunning tricks, the union came up with their own remedy. Suddenly the union announced that in a struggle over life and death they have settled an agreement, which would guarantee the workers a 301 Rs increase of wages. For the desperate workers this was a rather surprising announcement – and the agreement received a nice applause.
But nowadays Nanda management is not engaged in any ‘internal’ struggle like during the last agreement, when the fight with Swaraj Paul was going on. Therefore it took less than a month before the workers had to face the truth of the current agreement. Shortly after the announcement workers were told that a further 50 to 80 per cent workload increase will be attached to the increase of wages. And the management in each plant made clear that the workers will have to meet the new targets first, before getting more money count in their leisure time.
The Escorts workers did not openly lament against this agreement, but in their groups they undertook steps against it. In all plants the maintenance workers strengthened their opposition against the agreement and formed collectives against it. In the third plant some department workers interrupted production and on the 28th of March in the Ford plant workers stopped the entire production acting against the agreement.

Here are some sections from the union-management agreement:
10. b) The union and the workmen agree that they will accept the production level defined by management and that they will undertake the effort to meet it.
c) If any workmen fail to meet the production level defined by management or are found being absent from their workplace, then the ‘no work no pay’ rule is applied.
e) …the union accepts that the company has the right to set time standards for different work tasks and methods. The workmen will deliver performance according the time standards defined by the company. The union also accepts that the time standard at one point defined by the company can be altered if there are changes in the production system, in the material or product, in machinery or tools or jig fixture, or any other factor which has an impact on the production system.
f) For production and productivity reasons a worker can be shifted from one machine or work station to another. If according to his skills the worker is able to run another or several other machines then the union will not interfere with or obstruct the worker being employed at this machine or these machines.
11. Whether the full amount of the wage is paid to the workmen will depend on the condition that the minimum production target is met, which is defined in the efficiency scheme.

* FMS – December 1988

Escorts: In Faridabad’s main company an incentive scheme has been introduced, based on last year’s agreement between management and union. Initially the workers were enraged about this work-load increasing scheme – but then, once earning two Paise extra, they only swore a bit and joined the scheme. Once the incentive scheme runs, the workers turn blind and drudge on. After only ten months the workers had already fulfilled the annual production target. At the beginning of November 5,500 Rajdoot motor-cycle stock started to pile up at the second plant. The situation is more or less the same at the tractor plant.

In this way ‘lay-offs’ entered the agenda of the management. The fact that now there is talk about a slow-down strike coming up, is not seen on the background of the looming lay offs. To suddenly come up with demands about pensions and to make workers engage in a slow-down can only be a measure to pull the wool over workers eyes. By having met the 12-months target in 10 months workers have handed over a sword to management, a sword to tackle and cut down 20 per cent of superfluous work-force.

* FMS – April 1989

Chess-Board Struggles
At the beginning of March, news about a “marvellous” agreement – all for the benefit of the Escorts workers – were published in the newspapers. In fact it was made to be published. But the Escorts workers were not too happy about this “marvellous” agreement, which the leaders had made ‘in the interest of the workers’. The same “marvellous” words were used during the 1986 agreement – which was forged in 1983 during the chess-board fights between Nanda and Swaraj Paul and which brought the I.E. Norms into effect.

Back then in 1986, the Escorts union president got enraged and threatened the Escorts workers in a leaflet named “Two Issues”. In the arbitrary name of I.E. Norms the work load of the Escorts workers had to be increased by 30 percent – and in the end the management and union leaders were able to force it upon the workers. The three-years agreement of 1987 again meant an increase of the workload for the workers – this time in the name of the incentive scheme. The Escorts workers verbally protested also against this agreement, but together the management and union were able to enforce it against the workers. For more and more incentives [productivity bonus] the Escorts workers started to speed up their work, exhausting themselves, shortening their lifetime. The workers, already running out of breath, had to face yet another “marvellous” agreement, which union and management put on their shoulders within less than a years time.

The incentive scheme ‘proved’ the management that the workers can easily work even more and that, up to now, they had intentionally worked less than they could. The Escorts union leader-ship agreed with the leading management – in their “Two Issues” leaflet distributed during the time of the I.E. Norms agreement they said: “Some people might think that they can work less and cause trouble… but in the end you will work double as much and will get nothing in return”. And the same union president, in order to enforce a 15 per cent work load increase, told the workers in March 1989 in a leaflet: “You will now say that we keep listening to the wrong advisors and that we should ensure that you will keep getting everything without being compelled to work a little bit: Then sorry! Such kind of leadership will not be given by Subhash Sethi!”

We actually do not know who is doing the wrong thing – the guy in the fine dress driving around in a car, agitating people; or the worker who uses the bike, wears blue-collar and drudges at his or her machine. But one thing is clear, that management and union have made the decision to threaten the Escorts workers. Having toughened the incentive norms, management will pay less for the workers, while at the same time they have increased the workload by another 15 per cent. In the last six-seven years again and again the Escorts workers and the union leaders have confronted each other over each and every main issues. It is clear that either the Escorts workers are to stupid to know their own interests; or the union leaders are wastrels who, in the name of the favour of the workers, do everything for the good of the management.

* FMS – July 1989

Union election
When out of the 12,000 members only 17 followed the call to come to the Mayday meeting, the union president made this the issue for his resignation. The actual issue is that during the last six to seven years the union has played a supervising and co-managing role when, under this pretext or the other, the work load of the workers has been increased. Therefore the union has lost its trust and credit amongst the workers. In the interest of the leadership of both union and management, something had to be done about this lack of credibility. The resignation was a step within the attempt to restore the credibility. The election of a new leader-ship was announced. During earlier elections it happened several times that the leadership had declare its resignation only in order withdraw it again shortly afterwards. This time they try to prevent this by ‘proper elections’, but actually the elections were hardly more than a drama. All leaders and their muscle men created a lot of pressure in order to prevent people from voting, and this actually made an impact. Nevertheless, 3,300 votes were counted and a new leader-ship elected.

* FMS – February 1990

Compulsory Pension Fund
The public workers got a little agitated about the current wage re-vision, they created a lot of fuss about the state’s announcement to transfer the outstanding wages – outstanding at the time of the wage re-vision – and the Dearness Allowance money into a compulsory public workers saving account. The government does not justify this compulsory saving scheme by saying that it is in the interest of the workers. The government says that it is forced to introduce it, it cries tears about having its hands tied. But look what’s going on here at Escorts.

In the name of the pension scheme the middle-men at Escorts do not just force the workers to pay into the scheme, but they directly cut money from their wages. Furthermore, this deed is portrayed as being a step in favour of the Escorts workers. This is published all over Faridabad. Lies don’t know any limits.
Every month Escorts deducts 125 Rs from each worker’s wage and pays it to the insurance. We do not know who will put commission-money from these crores Rs of insurance money into their own pockets, but fact is that the business of insurance companies is profit business and that in this case they extract this profit from the workers’ wages.

The Escorts pension scheme is actually a reduction of workers’ wages. Even according to the government’s own standards, a monthly wage of 3,000 Rs is hardly enough to fill the stomachs of a three-member family. Therefore, those who force us to cut money from a 1,500 Rs wage by beating the drum of a golden future actually make our black present even darker. And how should there be a golden future? One glimpse at the current Provident Fund policies is sufficient to see that if workers want to get their deposited money they have to pay bribes. In reality the Escorts pension scheme is a management scheme. Escorts biggest share-holder, the public company Indian Life Insurance Neegam (Bhartiy Jivan Bima Neegam) is already making money from the scheme, Escorts company also will use the gathered money of the workers, will invest for their own profit it and/or use it as credit.

* FMS – April 1990

Temporary plant closure
Since 23rd of March, production at the Escorts plants in Faridabad and the Yamaha plant in Surajpur has been stopped. On 23rd of March, 2,000 casual workers have been kicked out from their jobs. About 12,000 permanent workers will only get 22 days of wage paid for March. On 5th of April, the printing time of this issue, the production at the Faridabad plant was still down and the workers in a state of confusion. According to their business figures these are good times for the management – so why the production stop? In order to understand the management’s plot behind the decision to stop production for 14 days which produces more than 2.5 crore Rs per day, it is necessary to reflect on some facts in detail. The statistics we have taken from the management’s publication “Escorts News”.

In 1986 the production of Escorts was 382 crore Rs, in 1987 it was 482 crore Rs and in 1988 it was 600 crore Rs. Instead of taking January – December period as bases for their calculation of 1989 production they referred to the financial year period from April till 31st of March, meaning that they took a total of 15 month of production into account for 1989. From January 1988 to March 1989 the production was 783 Rs. The managing chairman told the share-holder meeting on 20th of September 1989 that production during the five months period between April to August 1989 was 308 crore Rs, which is a major jump compared to the 248 crore Rs during the same period in 1988. The profits in the April – August 1989 period were 80 per cent higher than those of the some period in 1988. And management and middle-men preach that Escorts workers work only four hours a day!

Given that their propaganda has an affect on some workers we refer to the figures given by management to the capitalist listeners, so that people can have a look at the bare facts. Obviously, from a superficial point of view in a production process, which runs in quick succession, any ‘resting’ workers look like they are idle. Actually, these workers subjected to the speed of work drown their mental and physical health – one expression is the increase in alcohol and gambling.
Well! In the Times of India of the 3rd of April 1989 it said that, according to a spokesperson of the chairman, the management proposed a 50 per cent increase in production – instead of a yearly production of 775 crore Rs an annual production of 1,200 crore. The management and the chief of their middle-men announced that he and his comrades are ready to increase the workload in order to obtain the 1,200 crore production… but management has to pour some sugar on this poison in order to enable the middle-men to get the 1,200 crore annual production down the workers’ throats.

After 18 years of increasing the work load, the collaborating union and their honoured management know very well that some minor incentives won’t do in order to further increase the work load: they will have to take more drastic measures against the workers. The current mini agreement which enforced 15 per cent workload increase and which was accompanied by speeches of the union middle-men, saying that there won’t be any further increases in the future, are recent events. Therefore, in order to grind workers down and to make them ready for the increased load, the management and middlemen arranged the drama of shutting down production on 23rd of March. Those 12,000 workers, who produce 20 per cent of all tractors and 40 per cent of all motor-cycles in India, have to face up to a serious issue.

* FMS – May 1990

Workers refuse agreement
The management and their middle-men announced the restart of production for the 20th of April, putting an end to their drama of shutting down production, which started on 23rd of March. In the last issues we had a look at the reasons behind this drama, based on the written announcements published by management and their middle-men: “In order to prepare workers for a 50 per cent workload increase, management and middle-men arrange this drama”. But this time the announcement that production would resume on the 20th of April, which was made by management middle-men during a meeting on the 19th of April, was torn to pieces by the Escorts workers. On 20th of April restarting production was not on the agenda, most of the Escorts plants were not even cleaned. It seems that the alliance of management and union middle-men, having their true pretensions revealed, will have to hurry up and get their own hands dirty.

Being irritated by the unaccomplished re-start of work the union middlemen called for another meeting on the 20th of April. Despite the drama staged by the union chief and his followers the workers could not be moved. For the first time since the events at Ford in 1983 the attempt of the union middle-men to silence the Escorts workers by threats and attacks failed. Despite being beaten and kicked the workers raised their hands against the 50 per cent work-load increasing agreement – those who raised their hands in favour of the agreement were mostly office staff who would not have been affected by the work load increase. The Escorts workers stand firm to oppose the workload increase. Having expressed their anger the workers also managed to extol money for the work (un)done in March.

* FMS – July 1990

Word games
The representatives of capital in India are experts in word games. English being the business language for the upper ruling layer, this game is their daily bread. In Faridabad there are two recent examples of how the representatives of capital use the ‘trap of words’ against workers.

In order to quell the initial collective steps of workers’ resistance at East India Cotton Mill, management suspended several workers in the power-loom department in December 1989. After six month of ‘investigation and inquiry’-drama around the question of suspension, management and workers were getting soft. Management told the suspended workers that they could be “dismissed”, but that they will actually be “discharged”. In this way, the power-loom workers at East India Cotton were sacked by management. In order to explain the mighty difference between ‘dismissed’ and ‘discharged’ capitalist scholars might meet you in that matter, but if you need a legal decision then please wait for the decision of the supreme court via high court via labour court – which, first of all, has to make a case concerning ‘dismissed in the name of being discharged’, which needs a decision of the supreme court and so on. Escorts management makes use of the mighty difference between ‘discharged-dismissed’, too.

At Escorts, nowadays workers do not work ‘over-time’, they do ‘over-stay’. You don’t need a Plato to explain the difference between ‘over-time’ and ‘over-stay’. For the Escorts workers the difference between these words is so big that an elephant could pass between them: for over-time double-rate was paid, while for over-stay only single-rate is given. Obviously, the law which fixes double rate for over-time is rather old. Most capitalists in Faridabad break this law without any shame – by changing hours in the over-time register etc.. But Escorts is a reputed and famous company and there are so many people employed in the middle-management strata that the top management does not dare to engage in such blunt swindles. But then Escorts is forced to make workers work over-time and they have to pay less for it – what has to be done? Together with the union the management made an agreement that at Escorts there will not be any over-time, instead workers will be stopped from leaving after their duty-time in order to work and they will do ‘over-stay’, paid at single rate.

* FMS – November 1992

In hundreds of small factories in Faridabad work for Escorts is done. Thousands of workers working in these factories are usually not paid according to the minimum wage fixed by the government. In the Escorts plant itself there is a notable amount of casual workers and workers hired through contractors who work extremely hard for very little money. And then there are 14,000 permanent workers, who have been subjected to a continuous series of workload increases issued by management-union agreements. These conditions have the combined effect that in the last ten years the business of Escorts has increased four fold, which amounts to an annual production of more than 1,200 crore Rs.

Normally the workload increase is accompanied by a nominal wage increase. But the real purchasing power is constantly falling. In this way the real wages of the permanent Escorts workers, like the wages of other workers in India, have fallen continuously. The reasons for taking an additional part-time job, to work over-time, to let children and wife run a shop, has to be found in the fall of wages. And concerning the right to leisure-time: workers would be shocked if they’d compare the official 60-70 years old laws and their reality.

Normally the statutory bonus is paid on company or factory level. Despite the fact that within Escorts there are various ‘Companies Ltd.’, bonus had been paid on the bases of the All Escorts Group as a whole. But this year there has been a change. ‘All Escorts’ is finished and the bonus payment on plant level has also ended up in the furnace. In the Escorts Plant I bonus is paid on department level. It was announced that workers in some departments get 20 per cent, while other get only 8.33 per cent annual bonus. Furthermore, while the 20 per cent bonus was paid on Diwali, the people who are paid 8.33 per cent received only 500 Rs as an advance payment. In the Motorcycle Division Rajdoot, Plant II) management announced the same thing: only 8.33 per cent, only 500 Rs advance. The Escorts management uses their union middle-men to whitewash these dangerous procedures.

Managements of other factories are not far from following the example given by Escorts: separate bonus for different departments. New machinery, difficult situation on the market, tight financial conditions: Escorts management plans some new and major attacks on the permanent workers at Escorts. To only swear at the union middle-men will not be a sufficient response, neither will a physical attack change anything.

* FMS – February 1993

Crisis kicks in
After the motorcycle department, now the tractor division is in trouble. The market slump gave Escorts a blow. The management reacts by cutting production, in one plant it is down to a half, in the other to a third of the normal level. Instead of two or three shifts only one shift is run. In addition to Sundays there are one or two more days off per week. The incentives [productivity bonus] drop. Permanent workers having to pay their instalments for their house-TV-fridge have to reduce their food to dal and roti. The supplying small factories and workshops are in trouble, too. There is less work and Escorts payments are delayed: Escorts pays only after six months, instead of every three months. The vendors at the Ford plant are only paid after 9 to 10 months. The situation of workers employed on 12-hours shifts in these smaller factories and workshops go from bad to worse.
Given the generally bad economic situation at Escorts, the internal wheeling and dealing of the Nanda management comes to the open more quickly. There are talks about the damaging impact of ‘corrupting relations’ on the company, e.g. there are fights between the sons of the chairman and other stories follow in rapid succession.

The situation in 1993 will be very complicated. The managers themselves don’t know what is going to happen. Insecurity is a normal atmosphere at Escorts. The sometimes 5,000, sometimes 8,000 casual workers know this atmosphere already, so do the workers hired through contractors; now 11,000 permanents and 3,000 staff and 800 managers know it, too. All Escorts Group wants to sacrifice 30 per cent of its work-force. On the Escort agenda is the dismissal of 3,300 permanent workers, 600 supervisors and staff and 240 managers. To blame this or that person for this situation only means to disguise the actual reasons.
Escorts is not an exception: in Italy thousands workers, managers and supervisors are laid off. It becomes necessary to look at the deeper reasons behind the possible lay-offs at Escorts. Individual workers have been replaceable and secondary, now managers and supervisors have become secondary, too. Nevertheless, managers and supervisors normally see the current system as being in their interest. Don’t the facts contradict this view? What does it mean that – once it becomes a ‘necessity’ – managers and supervisors are thrown on the scrap heap like unnecessary parts of the machine? Do these ‘necessities’ not increase on a world wide scale? And the issue does not confine itself to the workers. You might be a chairman, a managing director, a chancellor or prime minister: in front of the crisis of the industrial market system they are all helpless.

Having become parts of global competition means that in terms of their quality there is no difference between socialist, progressive, nationalist, culturally conservative or governments of other labels. There is only a formal difference: between the 60,000 lay offs at computer-giant IBM since 1986 (and the plan to sack another 30,000) on one side and the usage of armed police to quell workers resistance at Hyundai Heavy Industries in Korea on the other – the methods are different, the essence is the same. Behind their various veils the actual differences between Thatcher and Major, between Indira and Narasimha Rao, between ‘shining’ and CP political leaders are neglectable. So is the difference between the work of a highly paid genius, specially hired to run the company, and the old men of inherited family business with their rather general experience.

Production cuts, lay offs, reduction of wages and benefits, workload increase, continuous automation, growing numbers of unemployed – it might be Japan or America, Germany or Russia, Korea or India, the melody-rhythm of this lullaby-truncheon is present everywhere. General Motors is sacking 74,000 production workers in its global manufacturing units. There is the saying that what is good for General Motors is good for America (it is self-evident that workers are not part of this ‘America’). Having given the waking call of industrial revolution and it’s coal-steam force to spread around the globe, the English government has recently sacked 40,000 workers from the coal mines and moves heaven and earth to layoff another 30,000. Having used brute force to mitigate unemployment and to climb the ladder of development, Russia now makes big sacrifices to the crisis, which, apart from the usage of brute force, puts things topsy-turvy. The same process is happening in Vietnam and China. The seemingly solid foundation of the public sector has turned into a difficulty for the Indian government and the discussion about ‘privatisation as being the remedy or not’ continuous, despite the fact that it has ceased to say anything.

In this context of the fundamental issue the particularities become secondary. The company particularities become secondary. National particularities become secondary. In the times to come this fact will become more and more noticeable.
So should workers, should humans put their hope into ‘individual particularities’ when looking for a solution to their problems? Is there a solution on the level of ‘company particularities’? And can there be a solution to workers’ problems, to the problems of human-kind on a national level?

According to our understanding

After five hundred years of creating stronger ties and links day by day, the global market has now obtained a concrete form. Production for the market is now established on a world scale. All elements of human life are now controlled by the market or are affected by it.
Profit and competition are two essential elements of production for the market. Given that the market is now a global market, both profits and competition are now relating to a global level. It is for this reason that governments, which came to power because of their popular stance, might suddenly be forced to undertake unpopular measures. It is for this reason that companies – booming in terms of local competition and leading in terms of the national market – suddenly start to tremble. The new economic policies of the Narasimha Rao government and the collapse of Gedore Handtools company in 1982 to 1984 are current examples.
But to reduce production temporarily instead of increasing it; to take measures to cut losses instead of making profits; and to intensify the struggle over subsidies are becoming world-wide phenomena which make the fact more prominent that production for the market is prone to crisis. The path of fulfilling human needs through production for the market has become undermined. To leave human needs unsatisfied while cutting production at the same time… what is this about?
There is no lack of raw materials, no lack of machinery, no lack of people able to work… and reduce production! Lay people off! Cut wages! Drive forward automation!
America-Japan-Germany-Russia-England-India-China-Brazil-Egypt-South Africa: the wheels keep on turning faster and they run off track. The crisis is omnipresent and deepening. In order to overcome the crisis governments and managements in each country and company turn workers into offerings to be sacrified – as a result of which we seen two world wars and dozens of other wars in this century, killing 15 to 20 crore people. The devastating argument to save the hand by cutting off the fingers is established widely.
Today we do not face the problem of not being able to produce. The problem is that we produce for the market. From the issues mentioned above it becomes clear that the production for the market has entered a dead end and has turned increasingly anti-human. Therefore the search for an alternative to production for the market is an urgent agenda. This is where a solution to our problems can be found.
Once having broken the ties of production for the market and advanced on the path of a production for human needs, we will be able to build true relationships between individuals, as a society, with nature.
Be it the workers at Escorts, the mining workers in England, the General Motors workers in America or the steel workers in Brazil – the problem is identical. Not only that, the root problem of all workers is identical. Therefore we might struggle against the layoffs at Escorts or against wage cuts in Australia, the focus of our struggle should be to end the production for the market.

* Escorts economic situation 1998

EPW no. 4, 1998

With a view to concentrating on its core business of manufacturing and selling agri-machinery, the company undertook a major restructuring exercise during 1996-97 which involved divesting its piston and motorcycle businesses. The company’s automotive pistons business was divested to Escorts Mahle – an equal joint venture with Mahle GmbH (Germany) to enable this activity to access the latest technology vital for growth and expansion. The Rajdoot motorcycle manufacturing business too was transferred to Escorts Yamaha Motor on conclusion of negotiations with Yamaha Motor Co, Japan, while automotive shock absorbers will be transferred to a joint venture company with COFAP of Brazil. COFAP already has a large share of the international market in this field. The tractor market remained firm and Escort’s FARMTRAC brand maintained its leadership position in the market in the segment of 50 HP and above. While total vehicles sold increased from 2.28 lakh to 2.79 lakh vehicles, representing an increase of 22.3 per cent, sale of two-wheelers touched 2.36 lakh units while that of tractors touched 42,234 units as against 21,415 tractors sold last year. The company sold 4,349 more ESCORT brand tractors during 1996-97 than in the previous year, representing an increase of more than 20 per cent. With a view to upgrading the quality of its products to bring them on par with international standards, the company is now forging alliances with international industry majors in the field of engines, transmissions, hydraulics, etc. Escorts plans to set up a joint venture with Carraro SpA of Italy for manufacturing axles and transmissions for tractors, construction equipment, etc. In addition to introducing a special range of tractors from 60 to 85 HP, Carraro will support Escorts to upgrade its axles and transmissions for its full agri-machinery range including those that are currently being produced. The company fared well both in the domestic and export front. The export demand for tractors is expected to be in the region of 15,000 per annum, which is likely to materialise in the next three to four years. In order to meet this demand the company now plans to set up a new generation manufacturing unit near Pune at a cost of Rs 175 crore. This will be financed through internal resources. The company also plans to enhance the combined production volumes of all its tractor plants at Faridabad and Pune to 80,000 units per annum.

* Self-Activity of Wage-Workers: Gedore Jhalani Tools

Kamunist Kranti/FMS, 1998

Background Gedore Hand Tools, headquartered in Germany, had three plants in Faridabad exploiting 3500 wage-workers. U.S.A was a major market for its produce. Hand tools enterprises located in China and South Korea were Gedore’s market competitors. Shrinkage of production in the auto and engineering industries in the early 1980s sharpened the competition in the hand tools market. In this scenario, in order to maintain its competitiveness, Gedore management planned a major intensification of work through automation and large-scale retrenchment. For installation of an automatic plating plant Gedore management took a loan of Rs. 2.5 crores (~ $2.5 millions) from the Industrial Development Bank of India, a government of India enterprise.

The unfolding of events

In the beginning of 1982 incidents of chargesheeting, suspensions, transfers from one department to another, shifting workers from one job to another, wage-delays, downgradation in canteen quality, insistence on quality in production, strictness about production targets, time strictness, no rest during shift hours etc. increased noticeably.
In a gate meeting on June 7, 1982 union leaders spoke at length about capitalism, global crisis, company in crisis, and then asked the workers to make sacrifices in the larger interest. They put forward three alternatives to choose from:
- 25% reduction in wages.
- Go on special leave for six months at half wages.
- Retrenchment of 600 workers.
Workers rejected outright all these options put forth by the leaders. At this rejection, managements’ escalated their strong-arm tactics and instigation. Leaders and ex-leaders oiled their networks and accelerated mobilisations around caste and regional identities.

Workers disenchantment with leaders increased rapidly. Their self-activity became more pronounced. Large number of workers stopped paying union dues, attending union meetings, side-stepping leaders in day to day activity and began to deal directly with management individually and in small groups. Graffiti inside the plants increased. A group of workers belonging to, or influenced by, the fringe left posed inconvenient questions in a signed handbill on June 12, 1982. The handbill read “… management says that it does not have money even to buy raw materials – then where are the crores of rupees (millions of dollars) for automation coming from? Is it not because of automation that 600 workers are being told to resign? Soon, will you not talk of the need to retrench a thousand workers? Instead of struggling against it, haven’t union leaders become advocates of the management?”

The confidence of the leaders was shaken. Management was put on the defensive. Uneasy questions in the workers’ minds became points of widespread discussion. The tactic deployed by leaders and management – of announcing their attack in the gate meeting – had turned out to be a blunder. For damage control, the leaders adopted silence and the management took steps – show cause and advice l etters were issued to the signatories of the handbill. Through a circular, management warned workers to beware of disruptive forces. It said that automation was for the health of the workers. The management claimed that it had never had any intention of retrenching workers who would be made surplus by automation. If the management had wanted, it could have retrenched half the workers as it had been paying full wages to idle workers for one and half years. The circular ended with a rhetorical flourish: “Increase production OR perish!” A twisted version of the management slogan: “Increase production AND perish!” became popular amongst the workers.

The sequence of events at this point is as follows : there are prolonged delays in the payment of wages, machinery for automation reaches the plants, leaders maintain a strict silence, and ex-leaders attempt to form a rival union. There are physical attacks, by leaders and their network, on workers who still try to focus discussion on the looming retrenchment. To silence these voices, management uses suspensions. Besides the delay in wages, the issue of the annual bonus is used as another diversionary entanglement. Further on, the management goes for work suspension at half wages for three days and says that this may continue for quite some time.

Leaders complement these steps taken by the management for an open confrontation by ordering a tool down strike on February 12, 1983. Fiery speeches at gate meetings became a regular feature. Dissenting workers who have been trying to focus attention on looming retrenchment are denounced as disruptive elements and attacked. On February 21, 1983 leaders announce at a gate meeting that they have reached an agreement with the management. In the agreement it is agreed that no further work suspensions would take place but wages of January’83 would be paid in January’84. The workers reject this agreement. The management then tries, unsuccessfully, to instigate violent confrontations amongst workers through ex-leaders.

The same agreement is again put for approval at the gate meeting of February 28, 1983 after a number of thundering speeches challenging the management to lockout the factory if it wanted. The workers again reject the agreement. After the second rejection, the leaders announce that the way now is to go for an ‘open struggle’. A meeting of factory delegates (who had been elected in 1980) and other militant workers is called and suggestions asked for. Leaders then reject the suggestion for demonstrations on the plea that the conflict was with the Gedore management and not with the government. However, as soon as t he question of steps against the management comes into focus, the leaders somersault and announce a demonstration & a sit-down at the district administration chief’s office to be organised on Mar, 21.

On March 20, leaders call another gate meeting. Besides members of their network in the three plants, leaders bring their supporters from other factories and spread them out strategically. The same agreement is announced yet again. It is immediately hailed by the strategically placed supporters! And before the workers can react, leaders and their henchmen jump the factory gate and rush in to the plant to switch on the machines. The leaders had here used a time tested and most effective strategy. By switching on machines and restarting the plants, the workers would now be split into confronting groups, where one section would demand a continuation of the tool down strike while the other would be in favour of resuming work. This clash amongst the workers, and the concomitant unfolding of violence, would then facilitate large-scale retrenchment.

But in this case this strategy failed miserably. Enraged, the 3500 workers rush into the plant, shut down the machines and then beat up the leaders who are forced to run away. The President of the union who was also beaten and had to turn tail, had been the president of the union for ten years and was also the President of CITU, Faridabad district unit of the central trade union of Communist Party of India (Marxist). Production does not resume. There is now massive police deployment. Leaders again try to start the machines at night. They are again forced to retreat. Tool down continues.

Some workers belonging to the fringe left call a general body meeting on 23rd March, the weekly rest day. All the workers attend it. A committee proposed by militant, articulate workers and ex-leaders to obtain the resignation of leaders is not opposed. In view of the mounting discontent of workers, the leaders have to resign. After the resignations, the struggle committee, however, does not materialize and the ex-leaders take over. Tool down continues till April 14, 1983. The workers reluctantly accept the agreement that they had rejected earlier.
Stalemate. The issue of retrenchment has got bogged down.

The cycle of shopfloor instigation and wage-delays reemerges as a part of renewed attempts to retrench workers. Police are now posted inside one of the plants. Mobilisations being made on the basis of region and caste come to the fore. There is now a delay in the payment of wages to supervisory and clerical staff.
The management obtains government approval for retrenchment of 300 workers. Leaders hide the list and deny that there is any retrenchment on the cards. They start talking about a new long-term agreement and preparation of a demand charter for it.

At this juncture, management steps up attempts at violent confrontations amongst workers. Old leaders form a committee with the claim that they will negotiate a good agreement with the management. Mobilisation by the two lead-ry networks on the basis of caste, region and plant identity became frantic. The management flames the fire by locking out the third Gedore plant in February 1984. Enraged workers attack the existing leaders and the committee of old leaders uses this opportunity to take over leadership. Lockout in the third plant is lifted.
The finishing off And then began joint action by the management, leaders, police, state administration and the media, to retrench workers in Gedore Hand Tools. A gang of 15 to 20 leaders and their musclemen freely roam the three plants. They pick workers from their machines, take them to the plant time-office and force them, through physical violence and threats, to sign resignation letters. In this way, up to 50 workers are forced to resign in a single day. Workers coming to factory for work and those leaving after shift hours are attacked on the roads and forced to resign. Workers are threatened at their homes and forced to resign. Workers who had lodged complaints with the police find that the police have framed cases against them. Government administration merely files away the complaints made at the District Administration office. Newspapers do not print any news of these events. Not even letters about a fellow worker who committed suicide on the rail tracks after he was forced to resign.

In these circumstances hundreds of workers sought shelter in their villages for months. And the environment at Gedore? Armed police in tents inside the factory, armed police in trucks making rounds of the three plants. This is how the stalemate was broken and retrenchment implemented. Even then, it took one more year to retrench 1500 workers out of the 3500 in Gedore Hand Tools, Faridabad.

*** SELF-ACTIVITY OF WAGE-WORKERS AGAINST POLITICS OF CLOSURE DEFINING CLOSURE

A viable enterprise means that enough surplus is being extracted and realised in order to be appropriated as taxes, interest payments, cuts & commissions, managerial life-style and dividends. For financial institutions, management & state apparatus, a company becomes non-viable & sick when the extracted and realised surplus is not sufficient to meet the existing levels of taxes, interest rates, cuts & commissions, managerial life-style and dividends.

It is not uncommon to find that state apparatuses, financial institutions and management are sometimes forced to reduce their amounts of surplus appropriation to keep an enterprise running. But the overriding tendency, of course, remains one of perpetually increasing the amounts that are appropriated, resulting in increasing “sickness” and “unviability”. The dominant propaganda and media, however, all the while speaks of “sickness” and “closure” in terms of either mismanagement or lack of profitability (i.e. inability to pay dividends). This screens the fact that the major portion of extraction from wage-workers is appropriated as taxes, interest payments, cuts & commissions and managerial lifestyle.

POLITICS OF CLOSURE

The common interests of management, financial institutions and state apparatus dictate the survival, running and growth of an enterprise. In their common interest, they collaborate to increase intensity of work & workload, decrease wages, retrench workers and create techniques to counter wage-workers’ self-activity.

Despite all the cunning and guile, force and deception used to keep an enterprise viable, when an enterprise “becomes unviable”, then it is in the management’s interest to swindle as much as it possibly can of the company’s assets. When a goose no longer lays golden eggs, wisdom advises – ‘Cut and Eat the Goose’.
There is a well-tried out management method to grab as much as is possible of wage-workers’ legal dues before the closure of a factory. Along with the months of outstanding wages, years of provident funds/ pension funds, gratuity/ retirement benefits, years of bonus and leave travel allowances, etc. are also not paid. Company properties are then sold off with the management taking large cuts & commissions. This has been a routine exercise in a large number of factories which have been closed in Faridabad and other places. The dominant schema is:
When a factory “becomes sick”, and closure has been decided, management – through union leaders – instigates strikes, and/or violent incidents to create conditions for lockouts. This facilitates the dispersal of workers. In these situations, management stops coming to the factory and wage workers are channelised into long drawn out civil and criminal court cases – fifteen years is very common. During all this, closure is very actively camouflaged. In the rare cases where the court cases are finally decided in favour of the workers, and the workers are at hand to take their legal dues, there is no property in the company’s name to pay. Banks’ and state apparatuses’ dues (taxes and other bills) gulp most of the little that remains.

A BREACH IN THE POLITICS OF CLOSURE

This is the scenario that is being tried out in Jhalani Tools Limited, Faridabad. But the wage-workers in Jhalani Tools are actively countering this management-leaders-state administration schema to gobble-up workers dues through various modes of self-activity. These steps of self-activity, in our opinion, have wider ramifications for wage-workers. Management of Jhalani Tools stopped paying wages to workers from Mar’96. The past experiences of wage-workers in Faridabad and specifically in Jhalani Tools, have thoroughly discredited leaders amongst wage-workers. Through silence and passivity, the 2,000 workers countered leaders’ and management’s methods of instigation around tangential issues. No heed was paid to grand agreements, identity politics, change of union affiliation, change of leaders, provocation by transfers, instigation to violence etc. Four groups of leaders have come (have been brought) and gone, banging their heads against this wall of ‘dull and dumb’ silence.

With mounting legal dues and increasing hardships, workers had hesitatingly started looking for alternative courses of action. Initially a small group of workers in Sept.’96 had on their own demanded back wages from the state labour department officers. Slowly, in affinity groups of 5-8, workers complaints to the state officials increased. And very soon the working of the labour department and district administration was almost jammed when 300 small groups of workers separately started approaching the officers. Legal obligations of separate dates and hearings were done away with, but then talking to hundreds of workers at the same time was another impossibility. Like the management, the district officials desperately tried to foist leaders on workers, but failed. Faced by this stubborn refusal to accept anyone as leaders, district officials then tried their best toinstigate workers to violence. They failed again.

Another facet of this incident is that collecting a crowd by giving a single date to 300 affinity groups facilitates the spread and legitimization of the ageless rhetoric of unity and delegation (for negotiation with management and administration). This was attempted by the district administration. But an interesting metaphor to counter this arose from within the crowd outside the administration office. A worker responded to the call for “unity and delegation” by calling out that – “Bees united in a hive can easily be smoked off and their honey taken away. But if affinity groups of bees swarm about, no one dares to touch their honey”.

Then the management tried to create leaders and instigate strikes through summary dismissals of workers. But even when the number of dismissals reached a hundred, the workers neither made leaders nor took to violence.

With this stepping up of pressure by management, leaders and state officials, the workers of Jhalani Tools in August’97 started taking very simple steps to take their predicament to more than 300,000 co-workers in Faridabad & Delhi. Overcoming hesitation, fear & shame, some workers in small groups of 8-10 started standing along various roads during morning and evening shift hours with hand written placards. This was done to engage in discussions with workers of other factories without any intermediaries. They have been doing this daily since Aug’97.
On the placards is written:

“We are from the 2000 workers who have not been paid their wages for (so many) months”;
“What is to be done when management does not pay wages?”;
“We have changed leaders four times and union flags three times, but each time it has been from the frying pan into the fire”;
“We have made many complaints to govt. officials and ministers but conditions have gone from bad to worse”;
“Metal Box, Delta Tools, Electronics Ltd. and now Jhalani Tools workers. Whose turn tomorrow?”; etc.

Everyday they space themselves along a different road. Along each route that they stand on, workers from hundreds of factories pass by. The response of workers at large has been tremendous. Dispersed, multi-nodal conversations without intermediaries are emerging about the urgent need for new modes of self-activity of workers. Over this period of eleven months, more than 200,000 workers have read these placards and thousands of workers have stopped to have extensive conversations with them. In almost all factories of Faridabad (and large number of factories & offices in Delhi) questions posed by these workers are being debated.

What is being discussed by an ever-increasing number of wage-workers is how to act on their own strength against the triumvirate of state, management and representatives. It is a constant process of conversation, argument and counter-argument as to the ‘Whats’ and ‘Hows’ of steps of self-activity. There is awareness that the charted out paths and networks of representatives, leaders and their organisations are all geared to subvert this process.

Management, leaders and state officials are finding it difficult to instill fear in workers at large as they can find no appropriate targets for their terror tactics. More difficult than the small numbers of workers on the roads, is the problem that the straight and silent faces of workers are posing for the bosses. An additional difficulty for the bosses is the workers’ refusal to go to court despite all the advice that the specialists have been doling out wholesale.
More and deeper discussions have been taking place amongst Jhalani Tool factory workers. These have found visible expression in forms like wall letters and graffiti, but a truly significant fallout has been that workers have innumerable and extended conversations within and outside the factory premises and with co-workers as well as workers from all other factories. From being a problem of one fac tory, it has now become a problem of all workers.

To counter the increasing self-activity of wage-workers, the provincial government organised elections, in Oct’ 97 in order to establish a new leadership in the factory. From Dec’ 97 the management started paying wages. However, these steps failed to put a brake on the workers’ self-activity. Neither the issue of back wages & other dues could be side tracked, nor could the management sell the IIIrd plant of the factory, nor could it make leadership credible amongst workers.
In this situation, in Apr’ 98, the management resorted to massive wage-cuts in order to instigate workers. Failing again, the management then created an atmosphere of fear & violence and threw out the elected leaders – replacing them with its hand picked works committee in the first week of June’98. This hand picked committee has resorted to direct physical attack and identity politics. But the continuous rise in workers’ self-activity has put a hold on this.
Small groups of workers with placards standing on the roads have increased and are increasing in number and so are the workers in conversations with them. Thereby not only creating problems for Jhalani Tools management, which has not been able to close the factory, but also for managements of thousands of factories.

KK / Collectivities, June, 1998. Majdoor Library, Autopin Jhuggi, N.I.T. Faridabad, 121001, India

* Revolutionary Termites: Gedore Jhalani Tools

Loren Goldner
For complete text see: http://libcom.org/library/revolutionary-termites-in-faridabad-a-proletarian-current-in-india-confronts-third-worldist-statism

The extracts from Goldner’s article below can serve as a summary of the various articles in FMS covering the dispute.

In 1982, a struggle erupted at the German-owned Gedore Hand Tools works, consisting of three plants and employing 3,500. The dominant union was the CITU, the affiliate of the CPI (M). Gedore management demanded 600 “resignations” (6) and a 25% pay cut or six months of “special terms” for pay. All demands were rejected. Management attempted a “pinprick” strategy, to which the union responded with a “tools down” strike. Management attempted a lockout, and the union struck. As is often the case, the union called the strike just before payday, ensuring that the workers would go into the strike with the least possible financial cushion. A month passed, and two contracts were rejected; with a third offer, the union packed the strike meeting and ordered a return to work. The strike continued nonetheless, as strikers occupied their own union hall and demanded the resignation of the leadership, which took place, after which a new leadership took over the CITU. The strikers returned to work, but nine months later management locked out one of the three plants. A “Committee of 15″ was formed to get a better agreement, but it was then learned that the new leadership which had taken over in the original ouster had collaborated with management in the lockout, which brought the “Committee of 15″, which had ties to the original leadership, to power in the union. The “Committee of 15″ in turn began forcing people to resign by force. Armed police and police trucks were posted inside the plants. On some days as many as 50 workers were forced to resign and beaten by union goons. Many workers went back to their villages to avoid being forced to resign. In this conditions, it took a year to force 1,500 resignations (7), and in May 1985 the struggle was over. Later, the German management sold off the company, which became Jhalani Tools.

The (ongoing) struggle at Jhalani Tools Ltd. is one of the most recent struggles in which Kamunist Kranti has been involved, one of the most dramatic, and the one about which I have the most documentation so, at the risk of overkill I will give it more space. Jhalani Tools provides an unusually clear illustration of what Faridabad workers (and workers in other parts of India) are up against. Workers everywhere are familiar with asset-stripping by management. But most workers in Europe and America, when their company goes bankrupt or is absorbed in a leveraged buyout, at least expect to be laid off with a final paycheck, collect some unemployment compensation, and perhaps eventually some part of a pension. Of course in the fly-by-night sweatshops of Los Angeles and New York, as in similar maquiladora operations on the US-Mexican border, there are constant cases of companies folding up and disappearing while owing workers weeks of pay. But there have to date been few cases of decades-old, well-known “mainstream” companies operating for nearly two years without paying any wages.

Not so in Faridabad. Jhalani Tools Ltd. (9), the successor to Gedore Hand Tools (cf. above for the account of the 1982-85 struggle there) has not paid wages to 2183 workers since March 1996. Since there has been no hiring at Jhalani since 1978, (and the forcible “downsizing” of the work force in 1984) these 2183 employees have been at Gedore/Jhalani for a minimum of 20 years. They are the target of an asset-stripping strategy that is not uncommon among Indian firms. Jhalani Tools is not merely attempting to loot two years of back wages; it is also looting money owed workers for two annual bonuses, three years of “leave-travel” allowance, 3 years’ payments to the group medical plan, and other “contracted” benefits. It is able to blackmail workers in this way because of the difficulty, not to say impossibility, for them to find other jobs by walking away from their “legally guaranteed” employment.

After reducing staff almost by half by goon terror in 1984, as described earlier, Jhalani in 1989 colluded with the union to ram through a contract containing three secret clauses that were withheld from workers (the contract was read aloud, minus these clauses, at a gate meeting). The clauses linked wages to production targets (requiring a minimum of 200 tons before any wages would be paid), absolved the company of the obligation to pay workers when production was impossible because of electricity blackouts or raw materials shortages, and gave the company the right to assign work irrespective of job classification. Even after pay had been docked for electric outages and materials shortages, these clauses remained in a new contract pushed through in 1993. Pleading poverty from various causes, Jhalani Tools in December 1995 got an “ad hoc committee” to agree to a 50% pay cut until further notice. The company began paying wages months in arrears and finally, in March 1996, stopped paying wages altogether, largely blaming work stoppages and indiscipline for the company’s problems, using further endless salami tactics and manoeuvres, and blithely ignoring the occasional labour board and court decisions in the workers’ favour (the latter hardly being news).

Seasoned by decades of these tactics by management and the unions, Jhalani workers refused to be provoked into a set-up strike or other easily-targeted actions and instead took their case to the Faridabad working class as a whole with roadside informational pickets. (For further details cf. KK’s response to this article published in CAN, Fall 1998). As of this writing (March 1998), the standoff remains unresolved.

* FMS – March 1983

Since 12th of February 1983, Gedore workers in the three plants are engaged in a tool down strike against the enforced two days layoff per week. Without understanding the root of an illness it is impossible to cure it. This is why a report about the events of the last 8 to 9 months is necessary. The plans of the Gedore management to go ahead with mass redundancy were made public during a [union] gate meeting on 7th of June 1982. Please read the leaflet distributed in the name of six workers shortly after the meeting, on 12th of June 1982:

“At the gate meeting of the 7th of June 1982, the union leaders advocated following measures of the management: wage cuts of 25 per cent; lay offs; dismissals of 600 workers; workload increase. But the workers scolded their leaders. Let’s have a deeper look at the arguments presented by management and their advocating union leaders. The management and leaders claim that currently the bosses don’t have the money to pay for the raw materials. Therefore it is necessary to cut wages in order to be able to run the factory. Why don’t they take the money they spoil on air-conditioning, cars, bungalows and other luxuries? Moreover, the management drives forward automation and both management and union now say that the workload will have to be increased. Therefore additional raw materials will become necessary. So it seems that these people tell us that in order to keep the factory running we are supposed to work for free and that, apart from our last shirt, are supposed to hand over our money to the bosses – the January 1983 wages are now supposed to be paid in January 1984!

The situation of the bosses is bad. This is the argument of the bosses and their drum beating leaders for why the dismissal of 600 workers is necessary. To increase production through automation and thereby to create a surplus of workers is a common issue in capitalism. This is why workers fight against capitalism. But these leaders give support to the bosses, they became advocates for class collaboration. Even the INTUC leaders barely conceal their open advocacy for wage cuts. According to their argument it is necessary to cut wages in order to save the Gedore bosses in the current crisis of global capitalism: so that the workers still find work and their daily bread. The fact that these leaders not only put forward this line of argumentation, but at the same time shout slogans denouncing CPI(M) and CITU of ‘collaboration’ with the capitalists’, have crossed all the boundaries of shamelessness.

We ask the management and their advocate leaders: Where did the crores of Rupees for automation come from? Although it was not openly mentioned, wasn’t it clear already when automation started that 600 workers would become superfluous? Will you not very soon say that actually 1,000 workers have to go? Work-mates and comrades, it is a fact that in order to introduce automation a quarter of the work-force will have to go. This is why management cries about how bad their economic situation is. The management’s current trajectory is to incite us by paying wages late, by dishing out charge sheets at the smallest occasion.”

This was written in the leaflet from 12th of June 1982. After that the CP(M) – CITU leaders turned into silent ascetics. The reply to the leaflet was issued by the general manager (personnel and administration). He replied on behalf of these leaders and the Gedore management. He circulated a two-and-a-half page leaflet in English on 14th of June 1982. Some days later the Hindi translation was circulated amongst the workers. On 17th of June 1982, the management issued a letter [official warning] to those workers who had distributed the initial leaflet – on 16th of July 1982 management issued an advance letter to the same workers, making clear that they want to silence the whole dispute. In July 1982, in issue no.4 of our publication, we expressed some thoughts about the reply of the Gedore manager. Please consider some excerpts:

“On 4th of June 1982 the General Manager, Personnel and Administration, Gedore Tools announced following ‘facts’, in order for the Gedore workers to receive ‘information for finding a true position’, who ‘had been let astray by troublemakers’.

“1. Automation in the plating plant is being introduced for the benefit of workers’ health. It was never management’s intention to sack those workers who have become superfluous as a result of the automation. If the management had intended to sack workers, they would have been able to sack half of the workforce already. Management has paid the full wage to all those workers who sat idle during the last one and a half years.”
Capitalism obviously considers workers’ health a lot! And obviously you did not intend to lay off workers! We accept your words, but… the rule of capital does not function according to your will. So what will you do? It is a very good deed to pay full wages to those workers who sit idle – but how many unemployed are included in your royal court? Your endowments are also paid in order to save taxes and to give workers their bit of opium to smoke. In the current system we live in, every new machinery embodies both, the workload increase for some, the lay off for other workers. Therefore the managers, in the end, have to give out the slogan ‘increase the workload or be destroyed’, which obviously means ‘increase the workload and be destroyed’.

This was on 1st of July 1982. We ask the management: when you stopped paying wages to workers in January and February 1983, the time when they suffered hunger, you only had their health in mind, didn’t you? The CITU / CP(M) leaders kept on remaining silent, now the Gedore management, as well, retreated into convenient silence. In this situation we wrote in the issue no.5 on 7th of August 1982:

“At Gedore, the production runs on full steam now. But workers should not fool themselves by adhering to false hopes… machinery for automation has arrived in heavy trucks. The Gedore management is wielding the blank sword to sack at least 600 workers. On the bases of a proper understanding of the situation, the Gedore workers’ unity can secure workers’ own interests.”

This was on 7th of August 1982. In order to diffuse the workers’ attention regarding the threatening mass redundancies, the Gedore management resorted to the manoeuvre of delaying payment of wages. The CITU leaders, during the gate meeting on 7th of June 1982, did not open their mouth about this issue. In issue no.6 on 7th of September 1982 we wrote:

“The August 1982 wages of the Gedore workers are again delayed. In order to debate about the current threat of automation and dismissals, 200 workers asked the union leaders to call for a general union body meeting on 20th of August 1982 – they confirmed this demand with their signature.”

But why should the CITU leader get involved in a general body meeting? What kind of value should workers’ signatures have for them? In the meantime the Gedore management arranges religious ceremonies and offerings inside the plant in order to fool the workers. In issue no.8 on 7th of November 1982 we commented:

“And regarding the question of fear, you keep the sword of mass redundancies above of the heads of your (Gedore management) workers.”

After that the Gedore management tried to entangle the workers into the issue of bonus payment, while the attempt to form a second trade union inside the company failed. The CITU leaders escaped from the elections – everyone was now able to see them as what they are. In order to obstruct the elections they grabbed for the brought up issue of bonus payment. From the management’s perspective the redundancy program started to get more pressing. The Gedore management started to put pressure on the CITU leaders. This is when the leaders, trained by the CP(M), revealed their true character. While previously the CITU leaders used paid thugs, they now themselves beat up those leading workers who had showed opposition towards the collaboration between Gedore management and CITU leaders. The Gedore management fulfilled their part of the job by suspending one of the leading workers.

But the situation at Gedore developed in quite a different direction from what management and leaders had expected. Instead of being intimidated and silenced the leading workers stood firm on the side of their co-workers. At this point the Gedore management withdrew their believe that the CITU leaders will be able to arrange a ‘silent process of redundancies’. The management forged a new scheme. They suddenly enforced lay-offs [lay off meaning that people were not dismissed, but forced to stay at home or idle]. The CITU leaders saw no other chance but to call for a tool-down strike. After having been fooled around for months, the Gedore workers were now determined to fight back. After having called for the strike, the CITU leaders withdrew into their usual business. As a worker in the third plant put it: “At Gedore, the leaders don’t get engaged in struggle, it’s the workers who fight”.

Previously the conflict between workers and CITU leaders had never been as open as now. After having torn to pieces the agreement between Gedore management and leaders of the 21st of February 1983, the workers also rendered useless the management’s attempts to break them. On 28th of February 1983, the workers turned into shreds another agreement proposed by the CITU leaders, which would have meant that current January wages would have been paid in January the following year. The leaders also said: if the management wants to lay-off, they will do so, there is nothing we can do to stop them.

* FMS – April 1983

Since the 12th of February a tool down strike is on in three Gedore plants. A summary of the events in March: After the workers rejected their negotiated deal on 28th of February, the CITU leaders announced to ‘fight’. Those leaders elected as delegates in 1980 (and some others) called for a meeting and demanded suggestions. The CITU leaders refused to call for a demonstration, saying that the struggle is with the management, not with the government. Then the question was put in front of them to undertake steps against the management. In response to this question the CITU leaders made a u-turn and suddenly announced a protest and procession on 21st of March in front of the DC office. The CITU leaders started to plan their manoeuvring.

On 20th of March they held a gate meeting. They secretly placed external lumpen-elements in the meeting… and the CITU leaders announced that they have come to an agreement with management. The workers shouted enraged. The CITU leaders escaped and started the machines in the second plant. But… the Gedore workers taught the CITU president of Faridabad and the president of the Gedore Workers Union a little lesson. Work in the factory was not resumed. The CITU leaders disappeared. The police arrived. During the night the CITU leaders again tried to start running the machines. Again the leaders were forced to run from the scene. The tool-down continued. In fear, the CITU leaders tried to break the strike.

On 23rd of March, a bank holiday, the Gedore Workers Union called for a general body meeting. Having seen the strike-breaking role of the leaders, the general body meeting decided to make them resign from their posts. In order to enforce the resignation a committee was formed and the decision was made that after the resignation of the leaders another general body meeting would be called and that a struggle committee elected. Neither on 24th nor 25th of March the CITU leaders announced that they would resign. The discontent amongst the workers started to increase. On 26th of March a meeting was called for the morning and the CITU leaders were finally forced to resign. The tool-down strike in three plants continued. On 26th of March a faction of INTUC took over the leadership of the Gedore Workers Union and during the gate meeting on 1st of April they revealed their true nature to a lot of workers. They focussed the hope of some workers on a meeting with the Prime Minister of India on the 6th of April.

* FMS – May 1983

The same eminent leader, who had praised the agreement of the 14th of April as “a marvellous agreement”, said on the occasion of the 1st of May that “we ourselves have not been too happy with the decision [regarding the agreement]“. We see the same helpless state of being. But yes, it has helped the Gedore Workers to understand: ‘Neither the prime minister, nor the minister, neither the DS, PD, nor the LC will act in the interest of the workers, because they are all representatives of capital’. This is the outcome of two months of tool-down strike.

* FMS – June 1983

The 15th of May was fixed as the payday for the February-March-April wages. Management paid some wages between 20th and 25th of May. In any case, in front of some well-known people the INTUC-Leaders have settled the date for payment of salary and of the bonus. They have ‘settled’ dates before, why should the problem of payment suddenly disappear? And the management has put up a notice saying that the workers do not work properly! In order to prepare dismissals on a larger scale management is busy making use of lumpen-elements for provocations.

* FMS – September 1983

From the leaflet of the Gedore general manager, published on 14th of June 1982:
“Don’t be lead astray by instigating forces! The automation is implemented in order to benefit the health of the workers. The management does not intend to make workers redundant.

In the meantime, on 2nd of September 1983, the circular of the general manager reads: “The company can not be run with the current number of workers. We have to reduce the work-force by at least twenty per cent.”

The management cries about lack of money. “We nevertheless spend the little amount of money that we have. What can we do, we are forced by the circumstances”. In the first and third plant, the staff [middle management] engaged in a one-day strike. The following day management paid out the total bonus to staff of all three plants and sacked eight people. Suddenly there was money available, wherever it came from! The staff in the third plant showed their courage and went on strike against the dismissal of their eight colleagues. Management paid the first and second plant staff the June wages, as well. Where have they kept the money? After the staff of the third plant stayed determined, staff in the other two plants went on strike in solidarity – the management bowed a little. The strike of the staff has stripped the management plans for mass redundancies.

* FMS – October 1983

Since 16 months now, everyone who warns Gedore workers about redundancies is denounced as ‘misleading’. Some of those people who were busy denouncing the ‘misleading troublemakers’ had actually received lists with details about imminent redundancies. Hiding these lists from the workers they asked: what do you mean by redundancies? Now these friends of indecency themselves say that there will be redundancies. Redundancies are on the agenda, but the recently published demand notice of the INTUC faction does not even mention them. Let’s not believe in the reassurances of the state representatives; those representatives, who, while trying to appear as being on the side of the workers, set up police posts inside the plants.

* FMS – November 1983

“This is not a sweet agreement after all… there is no mentioning of the bonus anymore… and the management does not talk about the agreement anymore – they say that we first have to talk about redundancies! In fact, the issue of redundancies is nonsense talk.” This is how the current situation is portrayed by the ‘watch-guards’ of ‘April Kranti’. To cling to power they should lie upon lie. But the Managment is shameless. After all, how long can these ‘watch-guards’ keep telling lies ?

* FMS – January 1984

The management has not paid the staff the wages for three months. On top of that management started to threaten the staff. In response the staff in the three plants went on strike for their rights. The staff cooperated with the workers during the time of the workers’ tool-down strike. Management eagerly tries to break workers of the first-second-third plant, using the issue of the 75 per cent [bonus?].

* FMS – February 1984

The management has started again to lay off staff. In order to go forward with the lay offs, the management encourages the middlemen to break up workers unity. Sometimes the hand of the management is in the back of the INTUC faction, sometimes in the back of the former leaders belonging to the CITU. These leaders suddenly started a minor row about the 200 Rs agreement. They showed themselves outraged. They brought up the issue of union elections. The INTUC faction raises the issue of the 75 per cent and the bonus in order to prevent new elections. On 21st of January a decision was supposed to be made during a gate meeting. But on 20th of January the former leaders belonging to the CITU – who had raised the demand for union election – organised a separate meeting and instead of elections decided that their committee will recognise the 200 Rs agreement. On the 21st of January the CITU leaders created clamour. The police, the DLC and the management [mathadhisha] all showed full support to the CITU leaders. Since then there are two adhoc committees who claim to represent the majority – one of the INTUC faction the other of the CITU – both work day and night in order to undermine workers unity.

* FMS – March 1984

With the help of their middlemen the management has been successful to break the unity of workers. With the lock-out at the third plant management has given the scheme of mass redundancies a final form. In order to foster workers’ unity, individual workers of the first, second and third plant have gone on hunger strike at the gates. The middlemen try with all might to prevent these steps, which have been taken by workers. Thugs of the CITU have used brute physical violence to drive away the hunger-striking workers.

(Due to the fact that the newspaper ceased to be published between May 1984 and January 1987 there is a gap in the coverage of the events at Gedore. Given the importance of the events we summarise them in the following.)

Instrumentalising the anger of the locked-out workers of the third plant, the clique around the Faridabad CITU president beat up and chased away the leader of the CITU recognised Gedore Workers Union. Having started, the CITU and their thugs joined the ranks of Gedore management, the police, the state administration and the press in their effort to enforce the lay offs against the Gedore workers.

The management walked around the factories unrestrained in groups of 15 to 20 men. The workers were forcefully taken from the work-place to the time-office, they were beaten and threatened by groups of CITU thugs and forced to sign their notice letters. In this way they managed to force 50 workers per day to resign. They stopped workers on their way to or from work, beat them up on the street and forced them to sign their notice. They went to works homes, and forced them to resign through beatings and threatening. If workers went to the police in order to complain, the police filed a case against these very workers instead. The state administration piled up the workers’ complains untouched in a remote and forgotten corner. The daily newspapers refused to publish any reports about these incidents. After a worker – who had been forced to resign – committed suicide on the rail-tracks his work-mates wrote a letter about this: which the big daily newspapers refused to print. In this social atmosphere dozens of workers decided to leave Faridabad and go back to their villages. On the premises of the factory, inside the company gate, the armed police put up tents. The armed police patrolled the three Jhalani factories in trucks. The management unleashed an open regime of violent intimidation inside the factories. The labour department, the state administration and the press were their silent henchmen.

In this atmosphere Gedore management put into effect their redundancy policy. Nevertheless, it took them one year to lay off 1,500 out of 4,500 workers. This noteworthy chain of events at Gedore, which took place between 1982 and 1985, confront the workers’ movement with some serious questions. Can workers wage struggles over important issues successfully if the struggle is limited to the level of a single factory? Are unions still organisations on the side of the workers?

* FMS – December 1988

The company name is now Jhalani Tools. Seven years ago the management took out a 2.5 crore bank loan and installed machinery for automation. After violent repression 1,500 workers left their jobs in 1984. But five years later the automation machinery still waits to be switched on and used for production. It seems that in 1985 management realised that even after mass redundancies of 1,500 workers and introduction of automation the business will not yield too great a profit – since then management started to fill their pockets individually. Be it the money from the service and PF of workers or the money put in the pockets of managers in the name of loans for the company – from wherever it is possible Managment is busy collecting money.In the last three years the company stumbled and teetered. The root of the struggles around this or that director lies in this wider condition of the company. The company has already been declared as sick. The management is now engaged in looting before the company is declared bankrupt and finally closed.

* FMS – May 1989

Don’t ask for outstanding wages – take the motorcycle offer instead!
The Gedore management has been engaged in various rip-offs during the last four years: they did not pay the statutory contributions to the Provident Fund; they did not return the money taken from workers for a housing scheme even after having sold the housing plot; they did not account for the money collected for a company society. After four years of promises-postponements they have now taken seven months of outstanding wages from the workers. About eight to ten months ago management said that they will pay the outstanding wages in 200 Rs monthly instalments. But they even messed with the payment of the 200 Rs, so that now they owe each worker around 8,000 Rs to 10,000 Rs of unpaid wages. The union leaders gave a hand to the company in order to reduce the workers’ discontent – they suggested that instead of the wages the workers should take a motorcycle or scooter. Please be informed that the current union leader is the president of the CITU gangs of thugs who engaged in the beatings of workers in 1984, when Gedore management started their lay-off policy; the beatings resulted in 1,500 workers signing their notice letters. After the dirty involvement of the CITU president made too wide rounds, the Delhi CITU committee dismissed him and the Faridabad branch joint secretary from the CITU in 1987.

Currently a lot of workers think that in a situation where everything and nothing can be expected of the Gedore management, it might be better to take the offer of the motorcycle and sell it quickly. The workers have to understand that if the motorcycle-scheme comes into effect the actual bank loan will be in the name of the workers, the management will only give their name as security. The actual documents of the vehicle will stay with the bank, which therefore has the final word about selling it. There is another serious issue: if the worker does not pay the instalments in time the bank can fine the worker, who him/herself might not be aware of it, thinking that the management is responsible. A management, which evades paying the instalments for outstanding wages and does so openly in front of all workers, if such a management pays even one monthly instalment as a result of a bank letter demanding the instalments of the last six months – workers could count themselves lucky. The fine will be paid by the worker and together with the interests, the bank will cut the money for the fine from the workers’ service or seniority bonus etc.. In 1976 Gedore management took over a similar role as ‘guarantee for security’, when some workers were encouraged to take out a 2,000 Rs housing loan from the New Bank. Management deducted the monthly instalments from the monthly workers’ wages, but transferred this money only with three months delay to the New Bank. In the end the bank fined the workers – not the management – for not keeping up with the due payments.

* FMS – January 1990

The methods of the middle-men
At Gedore alias Jhalani Tools, union leaders called for a meeting on 20th of December in order to announce the next three years agreement. Workers from all plants and all three shifts came along. The leaders started their speech with the complain that once meetings concern issues of interest for the workers, thousand arrives – but that when the AITUC calls for a union meeting not even hundred workers attend. Then the leaders announced the agreement and repeated several times to the workers that they should accept it. Having heard this, the workers thought that the agreement will be alright.

Then union leaders went to plants separately and told single groups of workers that there have been wrong information in the announcement of the agreement. The union leader said that they were forced to speak untruthfully, because if they had announced the correct content of the agreement they would have been attacked – facing thousands of assembled workers. As a result of this betrayal a wave of workers’ anger surged in the three plants. The union president, once encircled by workers of the first plant, said: “The mistake has happened, now do what you want!”

The next day the union leaders announced that the reason for having lied is that otherwise – given the general chaotic situation – the ‘evil’ former Faridabad CITU president, who had just been expelled by the union, would have returned. Now the current CITU union leaders, who were goons of the former CITU president, have adopted the same attitude of 1984, when they compelled 1500 workers to sign an agreement: an agreement about which the workers had not been informed beforehand – just like today.

* FMS – February 1992

On 10th of January the workers of the second plant were thrown into confusion. Management had cut 800 to 900 Rs of the December 1991 wages of many workers. The wage cut was also documented on the pay-slip.

The management and their middlemen at Gedore alias Jhalani Tools are ill-reputed in the whole of Faridabad. After major efforts to lay-off workers failed in 1982-83, management and middlemen forced 1,500 workers to re-sign in 1984 by brute physical and mental violence. After the redundancies the remaining 2,500 workers stirred every now and then, but most of the time they kept being silent and afraid.

The wages of the 150 workers in the second plant have been cut. With the spreading of the news, the workers’ anger erupted and replaced the previously pre-dominant fear. Facing this anger the management and middle started whispering and finally paid out the missing amount to the workers. The issue over the wage cut calmed down, but workers’ worries increased. Some workers, who asked the middle-men for the reasons behind the wage cuts, were intimidated in response and the middle-men tried to silence them – but the workers did not keep silent about this. After consulting each other, workers decided to ask management in written form about the reasons for the wage cuts. The management refused to take the workers’ letter. If a worker would refuse to receive a document issued by management, this worker would be accused of and officially warned for not following orders. So, Jhalani Tools workers sent the letter by UPC post and informed the DLC of the issue.
Obviously, the cutting of wages of workers of the second plant was a way for management and middle-men to instil fear among workers and to find out how they would react. The management and middle-men came to the important decision to enforce the collective agreement upon the workers. Please have a look at the details of this agreement:

“Eight hours work performed by workers will be counted as four hours of production. The management will not be responsible for supplying workers with material and electricity. Any worker can be employed at any machine, for any job or task.”

It becomes clear that the issue is not about some workers at the second plant, but that we have to deal with a general attack on workers of all three Jhalani Tools factories in Faridabad. This is a serious issue for the Jhalani Tools workers. Only the collective strength of the workers will be able to take care of the workers’ interests. The Jhalani workers should remember that in 1983 their collective power made the chief of middle-men, the Faridabad CITU president, bite the dust. Their collective power also made Gedore management feel rather uneasy. But it was the united strength of management and middle-men and state together which the Jhalani Tool workers alone were not able to come up against. Workers managed to deal with the thugs of the CITU president in 1984 as long as it was just them. If Jhalani Tool workers continue to establish and strengthen the unity with workers of other factories they will manage to deal with the unity of management, middle-men and state. Courage and tenacity will be necessary.

* FMS – July 1992

In May, for the duration of a week, each worker of the rough grinding department (in the second plant) was given a letter – one on every single day of this week. The letters were written by management and written in English. The workers went to the union leaders in order to show them the letters. The leaders said: “This doesn’t mean anything, the management has always issued this type of letters.”
When May wages were paid, management had cut 100 to 150 Rs of the wages. After a lot of running about, workers found out that management’s letters stated that workers had not met the production target and had remained idle despite having been told to perform their duty. In fact, during the respective period there had been power cuts for two and a half hours each day and the electricity from the generators had not been supplied to the rough grinding department.

The workers reported this fact to both management and middle-men, but were only told that “we will see” – nothing else. Actually the CITU union and Jhalani Tools had just signed an agreement saying that wage levels depend on production levels… and that the supply of material and electricity is not part of the responsibility of the management. In June workers received another letter, similar to the May ones. This time workers replied to the management, but management refused to take the workers’ reply. The fact that workers showed resistance will surely have had an impact, given that the management refrained from sending a second, third, fourth, … letter like in May.

* FMS – March 1993

The management and leaders are very happy about their three years agreement. After announcing the agreement during a gate meeting on 6th of February, the leaders said that the first shift can take the rest working day off and management did not cut wages for these four hours of extra-holiday. The production target fixed in the previous agreement had already been difficult to meet. Stating that production levels were too low, management had sent various letters and cut wages of workers of all three plants several times, by in total around 800 to 900 Rs. After back-and-forth the deducted amounts were paid later on. In the new agreement production targets were raised by 25 per cent!

During the 6th of February meeting, some people who don’t have to work but nevertheless get the productivity incentives for ‘topping the target; plus some people who are close to the leaders; and some workers of departments where wages had not been cut, raised their hands in support of the agreement. These workers accounted for about 20 per cent of the total workforce. The leaders did not even come to their usual tricks of asking if there is anyone opposing the agreement. No one will speak against the agreement at this meeting – this is what leaders repeatedly said on 6th of February. One worker asked about the wage cuts, but his question was smothered by general racket and the announcement of the half-day holiday. Then the meeting was over.

Eighty per cent of the workers, those workers opposed to the increase of work-load – they kept silent during the meeting. Those workers whose wages had been cut under the pretext of ‘too little production performance’ – they, too, kept silent. This is not all: without even knowing its full content, workers signed a blank document in support of the agreement. For the last agreement it took groups of ten to fifteen musclemen to surround single workers at their machine in order to make them sign a blank document. “I signed because these hooligans forced me to.” This time no worker was surrounded and forced to sign, nevertheless they gave their signature? Why? What reason for?

On 9th and 10th of February wages of many workers were cut by 800 to 900 Rs – because “production was to low”. In the morning of the 11th of February – on the initiative of the workers of the grinding and forging department – workers of the first plant stopped production and gathered in front of the administrative block. The workers of the packing department acknowledged the fact that raising their hands in support of the agreement had been a mistake.
Union leaders came running from their office. One of them tried to appear commanding and to intimidate workers. The result of giving this guy a beating was that the president, the secretary and the cashier turned all soft. Facing the open and fierce opposition towards the agreement, the union leaders announced that they had not signed the agreement yet. The leaders gave their assurance that they would call for a meeting and only once all workers agreed they would sign the agreement.
The production was put to a halt from 8 to 11 o’clock – management put up a notice saying that three hours would be cut from wages. Not only this, seeing their plan going down the drain the management called the DLC. Within four hours after production was resumed, management and union signed an agreement in the presence of an official from the Haryana State Labour Department. In the end… union leaders are also entitled to democratic rights!

* The Company They Keep A Report on Workers of Jhalani Tools Ltd., Faridabad

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, November 1997

JHALANI TOOLS LTD. is a well known company which makes hand tools such as spanners, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, etc. It is a reputed exporter and has six plants in India 2 in Aurangabad (Maharashtra), 1 in Sonepat and 3 in Faridabad (Haryana). The company started its Faridabad operations in 1960 as a German collaboration project called Gedore Hand Tools. When Gedore withdrew from the company in 1985, it came to be known as Jhalani Tools. In 1986 Jhalani Tools had been declared a sick company but its process of recovery started by 1992 and currently it is no longer considered sick.

Today, at New Industrial Town, Faridabad only 2 plants are functioning. The third plant was shut down in 1984 but the workforce was absorbed in the other two. Through the decades of the sixties and the seventies the workforce had built upto about 4000. However, following mass retrenchment in 1984 this number today stands at 2183. All these workers are registered, permanent workers of the company. There has been no new recruitment since 1978, which means that almost all of these 2183 workers have served the company for at least 19 years. This report concerns such workers who have not been paid any wages for the last 19 months; who have been reduced to pulling rickshaws, setting up thelas of petty merchandise, or depending insecurely for survival on other family members.

Jhalani Tools has not paid its workers wages due for the period March of 1996 to September 1997. The company also owes its workers many other dues. For the last two years no bonus has been given, for three years no Leave Transport Allowance; and no dues for uniforms, shoes, soap or saafi (protective head gear) for a similar period. Further, the company has not paid its Employees State Insurance (ESI) dues for more than three years, and Provident Fund amounts have not been deposited since May 1994 (see Box-1).

However, it is the issue of non-payment of wages that is central to the current deadlock prevailing in the Faridabad plants. It is also the issue that brings out the complex role played by various mechanisms of governance and justice, including even trade unions, in helping the company to extract the maximum possible from its workers. And what’s more, to justify that extraction. In its investigation, PUDR team spoke to many company workers, the current workers union, the senior management of Jhalani Tools, the Deputy Commissioner (Faridabad), the Deputy Labour Commissioner (Faridabad), and other functionaries of the Labour Department.

Background

The history of the relationships between workers and management, workers and their unions, since the early eighties, seems to have been problematic. The company has played a visible role furthering, manipulating and gaining from this.

Over the years the unions in Jhalani Tools have not been chosen through election. Instead, barring the odd exception, groups have staked their claim to leadership by collecting in their favour signatures of a simply majority of workers, and sometimes by sheer muscle power. The groups that thus come to power are called “ad hoc committees”. It is such groups that negotiate with the management on behalf of workers and formalise labour-management agreements. The Gedore/Jhalani ad hoc committees have mostly been affiliated with CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) and sometimes with INTUC (Indian National Trade Union Congress). An example of the manipulative role that Jhalani Tools management has played in the functioning of these ad hoc committees is in the matter of union chanda (contribution). The management deducts the chanda directly out of the workers salaries and hands over a lumpsum to the committee in charge.

The most controversial year in the company’s history was probably 1984. In its drive towards automation the management decided on massive retrenchment. In Faridabad as many as 1500 workers were retrenched in one year. According to the company these workers had opted for the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS). But according to the workers and the press, the company used brute force, the complicity of the then CITU union and the help of armed police to terrorise the workers into resigning. The presence of a police chowki within factory gates in 1984 speaks for itself. Union leaders are alleged to have been directly involved in drawing up lists of workers to be targeted and in aggressive tactics used against the workers. (The President and General Secretary of this union were eventually expelled by CITU’s Delhi Committee in l985.) Notably, the company, having gained its ends in l984, today in all its statements and letters to authorities, glosses over that year as the year of “Voluntary Retirement”.

Another instance of management-union leaders collusion appears to be the 1989 long term agreement which workers today describe as a “terrible agreement”. At that time they were given no idea as to the specific clauses it contained. After the agreement had been signed, at a gate meeting, the leaders read out a certain version of the agreement. The very next day they confessed to individual workers that they had withheld information about three crucial clauses so as to avoid the eruption of workers protest. These 1989 clauses set the precedent for all later settlements. The main point was the linkage of wages to production targets. In 1989 it was agreed that the workers would be given wages only after they produced 200 tons of goods. Secondly, the company refused to take responsibility if there was shortfall in production due to shortage of raw materials and electricity. Thirdly, the company could switch around workers from one job to another, irrespective of their skills.

The impact of the first and second clauses proved to be lethal to workers interests. For example, in May 1992 wages were reduced for non-achievement of targeted production, even though this was due to erratic electric supply. Electricity shortage in effect thus became workers responsibility! The electricity problem grew to such an extent that, according to the management [letter to Deputy Commissioner, 17 October 1986], “there had been long periods of 100% power cuts from 1993 onwards”. Yet in the agreement signed in 1993, there was no attempt to take into account the electricity problem. At the same time the production targets were extended by 25%.

The latest agreement signed on 6th June 1997 once again links wages to production but it nowhere takes into account the lack of raw materials. At the time of signing, the ad hoc committee showed the Deputy Labour Commissioner (DLC) authorising signatures from workers in what the DLC calls “an irregular format”. Later he received complaint letters from as many as 1600 workers denying that they backed this agreement. The DLC formally declared it null and void (circular, 30 July 1997). The Jhalani Tools management, however, is still trying to uphold this officially invalidated agreement. In a notice signed Yogesh Jhalani 26 September 1997, workers are told “your agreement has taken place…under the care of CITU’s national Joint Secretary who has the trust of 20-25 lakh workers”. The invalidation of the agreement is explained away as the “pressurising” of the DLC by a few disruptive workers.

An important facet in the company’s history has been its `sickness’. In 1986 the company was declared sick under the Sick Industrial Companies Act, 1985. According to the management this was because a steep rise in the price of steel in 1981 made the company unviable in the international market. From 1989 remedial measures could be implemented as the government started providing steel at international prices. The management states that the next few years, till 1992-93, showed substantial improvement and the company started implementing a rehabilitation package approved by the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction. The Annual Report for 1996 states that the company has been consistently earning profits for the last six years and that the net worth of the company is now positive.

Today whenever the Jhalani Tools management has to answer for its workers’ problems this background of sickness is heavily invoked. The management admits that its problems have been mainly due to factors such as competitive international markets, the price of steel and, in the 1990s, massive power cuts, difficulties with creditors, postal and transporters’ strikes etc. Nevertheless, in dealing with the current problem it insists that the workers are mainly responsible for the company’s losses and cites go slows, stoppage of despatch and carelessness in handling material by workers as a cause of heavy damages.

The logic of the financial crisis is used to compel workers into agreements such as that of December 1995, in which the ad hoc committee agreed that workers would accept only 50% wages till conditions improved. And, as we shall now discuss, by explaining the present crisis in terms of workers `non-co-operation’ and misdeeds the management absolves itself of all responsibility for giving workers their dues.

The Current Problem

“Today the world is one of competition and no company can exist without productivity. Therefore every agreement is linked to production. In future too, any agreement, of any kind, at any time, will be linked to production.”

Translation of a Hindi notice to workers, signed Y.C. Jhalani, 19 September l997

The three agreements of 1989, 1993 and 1996 (and various interim mini agreements) established the linkage of payment of wages to specified production targets. Simultaneously, by 1996, lack of electricity or generated power, of raw material, and non-maintenance of old machinery were entrenched problems. So was the tradition of late wage payments. For example, wages given in March 1996 were for work done in November l995. Similarly wages given in May 1996 were for work done in January 1996. The current problem relates to wages for the period March 1996 to September 1997 which, on various grounds, the company refuses to pay.

March 1996 and part of May 1996 were times of no production because of intermittent work stoppage due to workers’ anger with the then ad hoc committees. There were resultant leadership changes. Workers did report for duty in April, part of May, and June to August. Lack of raw material remained a serious problem. In this period the management made statements that they had no cash to disburse. In July a date was announced, hopes were raised but no wages were paid.

According to the current ad hoc committee, in August 1996, production upto 200 tons was ready, with only 5 tons or so lacking. But the management contends that the shortfall was actually of 50 tons. With the management refusing to pay six month due wages, on the grounds of this shortage, the workers committee decided to stop despatch of goods at the beginning of September 1996. In retaliation, the management got the electricity connection cut so that no production could take place anyway. This stalemate lasted from September 1996 to January 1997.

Work was resumed in January 1997 after a settlement was reached between the ad hoc committee and the management via an interim memorandum of understanding. Instead of wages, this settlement announced “advance payment” for the next four months. About Rs.8000/-was given to each worker as advance. This was cold comfort to workers as the management announced that losses of the company from September to January would be `recovered’ from workers’ back wages and that this `recovery’ would continue till the loss was compensated. The recovery was thus to be effected from wages that had not been paid in the first place and from allowances and benefits that had not been paid for years. For workers, it meant that there was no hope of subsequent wages either. For the management, the issue of wages seemed to be taken care of.

Thus, barring the advance, no wages were paid throughout 1997 even though the workers reported for duty. (In fact a management notice of 3 July 1997 takes cognisance of the good work being done by the workers). On 6th June l997 another agreement was negotiated demanding a minimum 100 hours worth of production before wages would be paid. As noted above, this was invalidated by the DLC. Matters reached a stalemate as the management’s proposals continued to revolve around this agreement. In August the company tried to give another Rs.1000/- as advance, but the workers refused and demanded their back wages.

Meanwhile from 24th July to end of August 1997, the management illegally terminated the jobs of about 100 workers. The mandatory enquiry into the charges against them was not conducted. The dismissal notices cite “serious misconduct” and state that “since the atmosphere in and around the factories is totally surcharged it is not possible to conduct any enquiry against you…you are dismissed with immediate effect.” Through this tactic it appears that the management has simultaneously got rid of the more vocal workers and created an atmosphere of insecurity to pressurise the rest of them.

The Management

“Management advises all workmen….to accord top most priority, over their own payments, to inputs and to outside commitments to suppliers and bankers… You are however free to continue your present stand and jeopardise your own jobs.”

Notice to workers, signed by the entire top management, 28 October 1996

The nature of the agreements signed by the management and the unions, and unwillingly borne by the workers, lies at the centre of the problem for the past two years (see Box-2). It is clear that under the norm of wages linked to specific production targets, there is the potential situation of production shortfalls due to external factors. And the responsibility for external factors has been shifted onto the workers.

This has meant that the workers spend months without wages. It becomes possible for a permanent worker with 20 years of service behind him to not even get the statutory minimum wages. This situation is sometimes explained by the management, and even by the Deputy Labour Commissioner, in terms of “no work-no pay”. But the truth is that the workers have been reporting for work and producing as much as external conditions allow. Thus a recent production report signed by a supervisor shows in an 8 hour shift, most workers have put in 2 hours of work and for the remaining 6 hours there was “lack of material”. This is a situation more akin to “no production targets-no pay”.

Another attempt to shift responsibility for external factors onto the workers is evident from the interim memo of understanding of January l997, according to which it was agreed that workers would be paid in terms of despatch. While `production’ refers to the goods produced, `despatch’ refers to goods actually taken out of the factory for sale. Thus it is possible that only a part of the production is despatched in a given period of time. According to the agreement 17% of the despatch value was to be distributed among the workers. This distances wages from the actual amount of work put in by the workers. The agreement went even further than linking wage payment to production targets and sought to link wage payment to the ability of the company to sell its goods.

Wages have not been paid not only to workers but also to staff members. According to workers, staff salaries have not been paid for 19 months. The situation is not very clear, but salaries have definitely not been paid since September l996. In a letter to the Deputy Commissioner (17 October 1996), the management has offered this explanation for its conduct: “We do not wish to believe that the staff members have instigated workmen for negative activities… However, there appears to be no inclination on their part to make efforts to increase productivity or to guide workmen away from negative activities….and if assuming they are inclined to do this they are not effective at all”. These reasons are patently absurd not to mention illegal. For example, a telephone operator’s duty is not to persuade protesting workers. Nor can the company in such an arbitrary fashion thus deny wages to the staff for not being “effective” in curbing worker protest.

Administrative Response

According to the Deputy Commissioner (D.C) the Jhalani Tools issue deserves consideration on humanitarian grounds. He believes that the Jhalani family want to make money by selling property and wants “to get out of Faridabad”. He states that the company would not be allowed to sell any immovable property without paying the workers’ dues. However the D.C. sees no point in dealing with the middle level management and is waiting for the senior Vice President (who was in Germany at the time of the interview) to return to Faridabad.

The chief labour officer dealing with this issue in Faridabad is the Deputy Labour Commissioner. According to him such a problem can be dealt with in two ways. First, there is the Payment of Wages Act, 1936, under which a company can be fined for not paying wages to its workers. However, this Act applies only to those companies whose workers earn less than Rs.1600 per month and the Jhalani workers do not fall into this category. (On the other hand the Jhalani Tools workers point out the case of another company, Hitkari Potteries, that was `challaned’ for non-payment despite its workers earning more than Rs.1600 a month. This is confirmed at the DLC’s office and provides a clear instance of differential application of the law).

A second possibility is for the workers to formally make a `dispute’ of the matter and approach a labour court under the Industrial Disputes Act. The DLC says he cannot help in this matter since the contesting versions given by different parties necessitate the gathering of proper evidence, which only a court can do.

The bottomline in every statement of various officials involved is that the workers must move the labour court. They even give off-the-record assurances that the court verdict would certainly be in the workers’ favour. An unavoidable question arises. Why has the Jhalani management, who is said to be sure to lose in a labour court, not faced any punitive action from the labour department (except challans from the Provident Fund department) for all of 19 months? The workers disbelieve such assurances and understand them as the bureaucracy’s attempts to avoid having to deal with their case. This is not surprising since over the last few months these authorities have sent the workers to seek help from sources as diverse as the General Manager of the District Industrial Centre, Faridabad, and the local Grievance Committee constituted by the town’s eminent persons.

While officials ascribe the reluctance of workers to move court to their illiteracy and ignorance, workers themselves point out the countless examples of litigation that they have observed around them in Faridabad. The average worker cannot afford the time, money and energy that he must invest, from the labour court in Faridabad, to the High Court in Chandigarh to Supreme Court in New Delhi. Workers pointed out the case of the East India Cotton Company in Faridabad as an example of the near irrelevance of the legal machinery to their cause. The Jute Mills of this company were closed in 1983. Despite a prolonged court case the 900 workers retrenched at that time have still not managed to retrieve their due wages and gratuity in 1997. In August this year, they went back to sitting in demonstration outside company gates.

Conclusion

“…ration shops do not give us food on credit any more…electricity connections are getting cut…children’s education is in jeopardy…our daughters are of marriageable age…please do get our husbands their wages or we will be forced to commit suicide.”

letter to D.C signed ‘wives of workers of Jhalani Tools’, August 1997

Over a long period of time the Jhalani Tools management has deprived its 2000 workers of their wages and other rightful dues for no fault of theirs. In a vicious cycle, the management first created (and allowed to exist) such conditions that work could not efficiently take place. Then, the workers were denied remuneration on the grounds that no work had taken place. And when the workers protested against this injustice, remuneration was further cut in terms of fines and `recovery’. Moreover, they have had to face arbitrary dismissals, without any right of reply, from their 20 years of service.

In such a context many workers are being forced to seek new sources of livelihood, however ad hoc and insecure these may be, and are unable to pursue the matter of their dues any further. It is possible that some would accept a pittance from the management and in return forsake their rights to much larger dues. Thus, while the management has already laid off its workers without giving the situation its correct name (see Box on page 8), it is further, effectively creating a situation of retrenchment without having to bear the responsibility of calling it retrenchment.

Today, the fear of the workers is that the management does not wish to run the company any more but is not openly saying so. Jhalani Tool’s background of sickness in the 1980s and, even today, the management’s constant references to paucity of funds for paying wages, and to a backlog of problems, make workers apprehend that the management would prefer to close down the company and is trying to extract all that it can from various sources, before closure. The workers dues provide a large number of such sources to the management.

Many instances discussed in this report support such an argument. First, it is not just workers’ monthly wages that are in dispute. The crores of rupees involved in unpaid Provident Fund, E.S.I, gratuity etc. take this issue far beyond the realm of controversial agreements and disputes over work done or not done. Second, arbitrary non-payment of staff salaries also adds to the suspicion that the management is fomenting problems with the workers, to not only save on their dues, but also to appropriate money from other sources. Another pointer is the management’s attempts to sell the third plant which was closed in 1984. Questions are particularly raised about the closure of this plant, when of the three plants, it was in best running condition. The workers have petitioned the Deputy Commissioner to prevent this eventuality since, according to them, this would foreclose any possibility of third plant workers getting their wages and gratuity. Finally, even the Deputy Commissioner’s reading of the situation is the same. He asserts that the owners want to close the plant, sell and withdraw from Faridabad.

As things stand today the Jhalani Tools workers find themselves in a beleaguered state. Yet another ad hoc committee has been formed recently which is waiting for the management to initiate a fresh round of negotiations. The administrative machinery claims not to be able to respond to their problem and pushes them towards court. And courts provide an expensive, time consuming option that seems to be no option at all. For Jhalani Tools workers, will a backlog of unpaid wages, an absence of Provident Fund or gratuity to on and prolonged litigation with no guarantee of results, ever compensate for a lifetime of labour?

BOX-1

Saving on the Workers’ Bill

“The gain of the company is our collective gain. In its realisation some delay may take place. But it is an unbreakable law that when we gain from something [i.e. the company], or may gain from it sometime in the future, then it is essential that we have reverence and gratitude towards it”.

Translation of a Hindi notice to workers
sd/- Y.C. Jhalani and P.C. Jhalani, 27 December 1996

Non-payment of wages: Wages have not be paid to 2183 workers between March 1996 and September l997. According to the workers their salary ranges from Rs.2800/- to Rs.3200/-. Taking Rs.3000/- as a rough average the amount gained by the company at the workers’ expense adds up to 12 crore 44 lakhs and 31 thousand rupees.

Non-payment of bonus: 2183 workers have not been bonus for 2 years. At about Rs.800/- per worker, per month, this amount is 34 lakhs 92 thousand rupees.

Non-payment of Leave Transport Allowance : LTA is Rs.1500 per worker per year and has not been paid for 3 years. This works out to 98 lakhs 23 thousand rupees saved by the company.

The loss to each worker on account of the above three categories amounts to approximately Rs.60,000. However, the workers have also been denied other dues, of a qualitatively different nature.

Non-payment of ESI dues: The workers have complained to the Regional Director, Employees State Insurance Corporation that despite having ESI cards they get no medical facilities at ESI hospitals for 3 years now. “On being asked the officials say that the company has not deposited dues”.

Non-payment of P.F.: The current union calculates that Provident Fund amounts have not been deposited since May 1994. P.F dues are also missing for 5 years in the mid-eighties. (This is partially confirmed by the company’s annual report for 1995-96). According to Labour Department officials, challans have been issued against Jhalani Tools in this regard.

Non-payment of Gratuity: Workers allege that the company has not paid service gratuity due to them for many years. This too has been confirmed by Labour Department officials.

BOX-2

Relevant Legal Provisions

Minimum Wages Act, 1948: Under Section 25, “any contract or agreement whereby an employee either relinquishes / reduces his rights to a minimum rate of wages, or any privilege or concession accruing to him under this Act, shall be null and void in so far as it purports to reduce the minimum rate of wages fixed under this act”.

Indian Contract Act, 1872: Under Section 23 ,”the considerations of or object of an agreement is lawful, unless it is of such a nature that if permitted it would defeat the provisions of any law or the court considers it opposed to public policy”

Industrial Disputes Act, 1947: Under Section 2 (kkk), ‘lay off’ is a failure, refusal or inability of the employer on account of shortage of coal, power or raw material, or the accumulation of stock, or breakdown of machinery, or for any other reason, to give employment to the workmen.

Under Section 25-M lay off is prohibited:

sub-section (1) no workman in an establishment employing 100 or more workers are to be laid off except with prior permission of the government, unless lay off is due to shortage of power or natural calamity.

sub-section (2) a copy of the application for permission is to be served on the workmen.

sub-section (8) lay off without adequate permission is illegal and workmen are entitled to all benefits as if they had not been laid off.

Section 25-C entitles workmen who have been laid off (with adequate permission) to 50% of the total of their basic wages and dearness allowance.

Further, under the Provident Fund Act, (Section 14, Section 14A, Section 14 AB) non-payment of Provident Fund deposits and under the Employees State Insurance Act, (Section 85) non-payment of P.F. and ESI contributions are punishable offences. Criminal cases can be instituted, responsible persons arrested and prosecuted to ensure compliance. Payment of Bonus Act (Section 28) similarly makes the non-payment of Bonus an offence.

* Dedicated to the Memoirs of Shankar Guha Niyogi

* FMS – October 1991

On 28th of September 1991, the central figure of the Chattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh – Shankar Guha Niyogi – was killed through gunshot. With the explicit intention to quell the workers’ movement in the Bhilai area he was shot dead at three to four o’clock in the morning, in his house, asleep. This murder took the workers’ movement, which had been influenced by Niyogi during the last 15 years, to an important turn on its way. While the account of these 15 years is, above all, of utmost significance for the Bhilai area, its importance is true for the workers’ movement as a whole. Following we try to give a wider account.
The setting-up of the Bhilai steel plant forms an important link in the collaboration between Russian and Indian capitalists. Manufacturing hundreds of thousand tons of steel, the factory requires an immense supply of raw material. About eighty to ninety kilometres from Bhilai are the iron ore mines of Dalli Rajhara, source of the main raw material. In these mines about 12,000 male and female workers hired through contractor are engaged in bone-breaking work for 5 Rs a day. In 1977 these workers started a strike for bonus payment under the joint leadership of INTUC and AITUC. Seeing that the strike increased in might, the INTUC-AITUC leadership announced the end of the dispute, saying that the bonus has always been an exclusive entitlement of the permanent work-force alone and that the workers hired through contractors have no right to it. The striking workers reacted by chasing the INTUC-AITUC leaders away. They formed a strike committee and continued the struggle. Finally they chose the recently released Shankar Guha Niyogi as their strike leader – Niyogi had been accused of being a Naxalite and put into jail during Emergency. The strike carried on.
In 1977 the Janata Party Government – in an attempt to break this strike – managed to arrest Niyogi in a swift-raid, but the police unit did not manage to break through the subsequent encirclement formed by ten thousand workers. Under the pretext of freeing the trapped police unit a huge deployment of police started shooting on the assembled workers. The shooting continued throughout a day-long operation, killing eleven male and female workers. Even after the killings and the following wave of state repression the workers did not budge. After four month the strike forced the government to give in and the Bhilai Steel management had to offer a deal to the striking contract workers. In this way the Chattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh obtained its concrete foundation and Shankar Guha Niyogi came to the fore as its central figure.
The 1977 incidents of the Bhilai iron ore mining area Dalli Rajhara and the person of Shankar Guha Niyogi became of importance for the manoeuvres of the Indian political landscape – the Indian state being situated between the capitalist blocs of America and Russia. The CPI, for example, presented Niyogi as an agent of the CIA. The liberal and patriotic factions of capital started to get excited by Niyogi’s private life and by what they portrayed as his reformist efforts. For the section supporting ‘national capital’ – under the cloak of Naxalism – Niyogi became a bone in their throat, which they were neither able to swallow, nor to spit out. In Madhya Pradesh Niyogi was made into a part-taker in the in-fights between factions within the Congress Party and in the regional capitalist election politics. In the current elections he was a member of the Indira cabinet and he supported openly the Congress candidate for the Kanker (Chattisgarh) regional constituency, Arvind Netam, and the Janata Party candidate from Bhopal, Svami Agnivesh… but we think that the important fact remains that Niyogi has played a central role in starting a continuing workers’ struggle in the Bhilai area.

In 1977 the contract workers in the mining areas of Dalli Rajhara had been paid 5 Rs per day. Today they get 80 Rs daily wage. Since 1977 they are paid stand-by wages – before that they used to be sent back home unpaid once there was no work available. The workers were successful in halting a major redundancy drive, attempted by the management through mechanisation. Although only few people are able to get permanent job, the contract workers managed to enforce gratuity bonus (service) and 7 days casual and 5 days paid annual leave – a certain degree of job security. The workers fought a long and hard battle for this. In 1981 the struggle for job security and against mechanisation turned into a strike – Niyogi and Sahdev Sahu were arrested. During the long strike each demonstration of the workers in Dalli Rajhara got lathi-charged by the police and each following day the strikers returned and demonstrated in front of the main administration of Durga district. Nevertheless, over time mechanisation increased and numbers of workers fell due to, among other reasons, a stop in hiring – both diminished the power of the Dalli Rajhara contract workers. In the meantime Niyogi made a noteworthy active effort to foster the emergence of workers’ movements in the factories neighbouring the Byhilai Steel plant. The successful outcome of the three-month long struggle of contract workers at ACC Cement factory in July 1990 was the first gain of Niyogi’s union in this area.

According to the enforced contract at ACC Cement the contract workers were entitled to 20 days guaranteed work per month, provident fund, paid and casual leave, medical treatment and school education for children paid for by the company management. This agreement had an immediate effect on the workers in Bhilai industrial area. Only very few workers employed in the 105 factories of the area were permanent. The management in the area would not even stick to the capitalist labour laws. In the majority of the factories there were recognised unions affiliated to the two central trade union organisations, but instead of working in the interest of the workers they rendered their service to the management. Motivated by the success at ACC Cement tens of thousand workers started to get organised towards this new direction. A workers’ movement erupted in the area demanding higher wages, better working-conditions and 20 per cent bonus. In order to change the situation and calm things down the government tried to detain the general assembly of Niyogi’s union in Bhilai.
Despite the management’s unity, alertness and open intimidations a strike started under the lead of Niyogi’s union in the four Simplex factories – Bhilai’s biggest industrial complex. After attempts of bribery, threats, framing and arrests of 800 workers by the police did not prove successful in stopping the movement, the government came forward with an ancient legal case against Shankar Guha Niyogi and arrested him on 4th of February 1991. After two month he had to be released on bail. The workers’ struggle expanded and gained in strength. On 25th of June 1991 the demonstration of Chattisgarh Distilleries workers was attacked by police with lathis and gunshots – 150 workers were injured, 107 workers were arrested. In response to this attack workers in 1,000 factories of the area stooped work an demonstrations started in Dalli Rajhara and other places. Seeing that they could not control the workers the government tried to ban Shankar Guha Niyogi from the area of Bilaspur-Raypur-Durga-Rajanandgaon-Bastar – the High Court (only) officially put a halt to this ban. At the beginning of September 1991 hundreds of workers followed Niyogi to Dehli and protested in numerous places.
To keep the struggles in Bhilai Steel Plant area running, the support of the Dalli Rajhara mining workers 80 kilometres away played an important role. The Shahid Hospital in Dalli Rajhara – founded and run by the mining workers in memory of the victims of the 1977 police-attack – gave treatment to those Bhilai workers injured by goons and police during the dispute. Once a week a doctor from Shahid Hospital would go to the bastis of the striking workers for medical treatment. Despite having to be cautious given the running bail-cases, Niyogi’s union kept on supporting the striking workers with rice-dal and financial support. After ten months of strike a worker from one of the factories said in his own words: “This is a union of a different kind.”

To put it brief: in this situation, where many attempts to get workers back under control had failed, certain capitalist factions decided to have Niyogi murdered. In the current situation it is necessary to have a look at the weaknesses of the workers’ movement under Niyogi’s leadership, too. The importance of the permanent workers employed in both the mines and in Bhilai Steel plant has been neglected: this is to a significant extent due to Niyogi’s ‘ideology’. At times ‘tactics’ can be important, but in the attempt to ‘forge a unity at all costs’ the importance of individuals-particularities can grow in result. The way that Niyogi has operated in the area contributed to this tendency. In 1981 the workers hailed the Bharatiya Janata Party after the party gave some speeches against the arrest of Niyogi, after that the workers applauded the Janata Dal, they asked to vote for the Congress candidate, they praised Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi… this did not contribute to the development of a revolutionary workers’ movement. Once in this position it is not too difficult to turn workers into pawns for the various capitalist groupings. Today the Chattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh is pretty much in a similar situation to 1981, after Niyogi’s arrest. At that time a striking worker said: “Shankar Guha Niyogi is our eye, without him we are blind,” a meaningful comment then and still. Currently the the workers’ movement in Bhilai-Dalli stands at crossroads, the active people within the movement are confronted with a decisive moment. The swamp of liberal capitalists, the whirlpool of militant national-capitalists or revolutionary workers’ movement: the time has come to chose. The murder of Niyogi has made matters urgent.

[The movement in Chattigarh continued after Niyogi's death. The strike for better conditions continued till July 1992, attacks from state and companies increased, various parties tried to jump on the movement and at the same time tried to prevent a called for general strike, 800 workers were kicked out of Chattisgarh Distilleries in 24th of January 1992 by mass police force. In mid-June workers started rail-road blocks, e.g. the Calcutta-Bombay lines, In July 1992 police opened fire on a protest of 5,000 male-female workers, killing 16 people. A curfew was imposed in the area]

http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=M02JB6WZmKkgF5BNPH1tJmFN1G6j6sX2GPJbFmgf6kPpJZyLpylr!1896127874!1380883283?docId=98203572

[EPW Files]

* Police Firing on Striking Workers

EPW no.25, 1998

Striking workers of a textile mill were fired upon by the police, workers’ houses and property destroyed and residents of the colony beaten up. What led to this brutal attack?

ON February 19, a contingent of the Haryana police fired upon protesting workers of the Pashupati Spinning and Weaving Mill at Dharuhera, Rewari district, Haryana. Four workers were killed in the firing and five others received bullet injures. The workers then blocked National Highway 8 (on which the factory is situated) through the night. In order to remove them the police carried out a lathi-charge on the morning of February 20. In the course of this operation, they entered workers’ houses, destroyed household goods, smashed doors and windows,and beat up the residents, including women and others who were not associated with the mill. Twenty-one people were seriously injured in the process, and many others received minor injuries.

The Pashupati Spinning and Weaving Mill is part of a nationwide group of 50 companies, controlled by the Jain Shudh Group. It is a public limited concern, in commercial operation since 1981. It had a turnover of Rs 103 crore in 1997. The Mill is part of the Dharuhera Industrial area about 20 km away from the district headquarters at Rewari, and about 60 km from Delhi. The highway in front of the factory is the main trunk route between Delhi and Jaipur. There are four plants in the Mill, which operate on 3 shifts – A, B and C, each of eight hours duration, starting at 8 am, 4 pm, and 12 midnight respectively. In all, there are 3,000 workers in the factory. There are very few women workers. Most of the workers are migrants from eastern UP and Bihar and live in rented tenements owned by local residents next to the factory or in the nearby Kapdiwas village. About 200 labour quarters are provided by the management behind the factory. In the factory, workers are divided into unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled categories. While the nature of jobs vary, there is comparatively little variation in the wages received by them. These amount to about Rs 2,200 per month, for skilled workers while those in the semi and unskilled categories get somewhat less. None of the workers get proper appointment letters or proof of employment. Nor do they have attendance cards or leave cards guaranteed to them by the Factory Act (1948). The management therefore conveniently shifts permanent workers who go on legitimate leave for a short period into the temporary category when they return. There are at least 1,000 temporary workers in the factory at any given time. Many remain in this capacity even after working for several years. Such action by the management is violative of the right of the worker to be considered to be in continuous service if he goes on legitimate leave (under Section 25 B of the Industrial Disputes Act) and thus get their due wages. While the management claims that Provident Fund is being deducted from the salaries of the workers, no records to this effect have been maintained for a number of years. Some of the workers have not been covered under the Employees State Insurance (ESI) scheme and cannot avail the benefits of the ESI dispensary at Dharuhera. Non-payment of PF deposits and not giving ESI benefits are offences punishable under S 14, 14 A and 14 A-B of the PF Act and S 85 of the ESI Act. Compliance to these norms can be enforced by the labour court.

Union-building efforts had been started in 1987 under the Haryana-based trade union, Lok Hit Mazdoor Sangathan and its leader Sukhbir Singh Arya. This was smashed soon afterwards by the general manager, J S Marattha. The Lok Hit Mazdoor Sangathan, however, remains the official union in the factory. In October 1997, after a conciliation process, the management arrived at a 3-year wage settlement with this union before the deputy labour commissioner (DLC) at Gurgaon. The issues raised by workers were annual increment, issue of attendance cards, leave cards, maintenance of PF records and covering all workers under the ESI scheme apart from appropriate wage revision. None of the general demands were addressed by the settlement, and the wage revision too was an inadequate one. The DLC was guilty of not ensuring that the settlement was done with a union that genuinely represented the workers. Workers were not satisfied with the limited settlement. Subsequently another union, the AllIndia Textile
Mazdoor Janta Union (AITMJU), affiliated to the ANURAG Federation and headed by K K Shukla, started organising the workers around the same issues raised in the settlement. The workers under the new union also demanded that though inadequate, the conditions of the earlier settlement be implemented immediately. The agitation intensified in January 1998, and large meetings of the workers were held. The dispute between the workers, the new union and the management at the DLC’s court continued. The management on the other hand claimed that the settlement made in October had stated that no fresh demands would be made for three years, so the demands for PF records, employment proof, etc, were illegitimate. It also failed to implement the existing settlement. In February, workers launched a go-slow agitation over the same issues. The management then arbitrarily suspended one of the most active and articulate protesting workers on the grounds of deliberately preventing production and inciting workers. This amounts to an ‘unfair labour practice’ punishable under S 25 U of the Industrial Disputes Act.

Whatever may be the case the management had kept the police informed and demanded police assistance to put a stop to union activity from January onwards. The police were called during each of the meetings of the union. In February, the management, determined to break the union and to bring ‘indisciplined’ workers to heel, called upon the SP and the DC to give them extra policemen to deal with the go-slow agitation, which had been leading to loss of production and profits for the management. Industrial disputes do not fall under the jurisdiction of the district police. However this was not the reason given by the administration’s inability to aid the management in early February. It was said that the police were required for conducting the forthcoming national elections and would be able to assist only afterwards. And on February 19 therefore, the police served the ends of the Pashupati management and fired upon the workers.

At about 5.45 pm on February 19 (about a week after the go-slow agitation had been launched) soon after the second shift (B shift) workers had started work, most of them were ordered to go outside the factory by an enraged management, on the ground that if they were not interested in carrying out production work then they should leave the premises.
The management was assisted in carrying out this illegal lock-out by its own goons and policemen of the Dharuhera P S. The lathi-wielding police and goons numbering about 50 in all, roughly pushed workers out. About 200 workers were kept inside. As second shift workers were thrown out, other workers came out of their houses in the vicinity of the factory and joined them. All of them together demanded that the workers still confined inside by police and management should be allowed to come out. The police, having helped the management in throwing out workers, stationed themselves inside the factory gates. Instead of complying with the workers’ demand for the release of their fellows they ordered the 500-strong crowd of workers to vacate the area outside the factory. The SHO called the SP Rao Sohan Lal and SDM Roop Singh. They reached at about 7 pm. Tear-gassing was started by the SDM’s orders. According to the police, about 50 tear-gas shells were fired. However workers insist that tear-gassing lasted for a very short while. The police, under the SDM’s instructions, started firing even as the tear-gas shells were exploding. Approximately 50 rounds were fired. No warning of firing was heard. According to some of the injured, firing occurred in spurts. This is borne out by the accounts of two workers who have bullet wounds. Thinking that the firing had stopped, they went forward to help a fellow worker Pramod, when they themselves were shot. Two workers, Pankaj and Sardaru Singh, died on the spot, while Pramod and Vinod were seriously injured, and later died. Some of the workers also sustained injuries from country weapons fired by goons of the management working in concert with the police. The firing stopped at about 8.30 pm. The workers locked inside were allowed to leave the factory only at night. Many workers then blocked the highway in front of the factory and sat there guarding the two dead bodies till the morning. Reinforcements of police started arriving from 4 am on February 20 from the neighbouring districts of Mahendragarh, Faridabad and Gurgaon to clear the highway, under the orders of the DC. Over 200 policemen removed the protesting workers from the highway by lathi-charging them. What was described by the DC as a ‘mild lathi-charge’ led to several workers sustaining severe and multiple fractures. As workers ran off to safety into the nearby Lal Singh and Roshan Lal colonies, the police followed them. Long after their objective of clearing the highway had been achieved, the police continued to break down doors, window grills and locks, and even thrashed sleeping women, children and others not associated with the Mill. When our team went to Dharuhera on February 22, we saw broken doors hanging on hinges and bent and twisted window grills. After this assault, over 150 workers were rounded up and taken for ‘questioning’ to the police station. Eighty-six of them were brought back to Dharuhera at about 2 am on February 22, after pressure was exerted by workers of nearby factories, as they were found to be ‘innocent’. Seventy-one workers were found to be ‘guilty’ and arrested. Out of these 33 were arrested for the incident on the 19th (FIR No 100/98, Dharuhera P S) and sent to Rohtak jail, and 38 were arrested for the incident on February 20 (FIR No 101/ 98) and sent to the jail at Bhiwani. They were arrested under Sections 148, 149, 307,436, 341, 332, 353, 186, 283,506,450 of the IPC (for rioting, unlawful assembly, attempt to murder, arson, wrongful restraint, injuring and obtructing public servants, obstructing roads, trespassing and criminal intimidation). Those arrested for the incident on the 19th were also charged under S 25, 54, 61 Arms Act, solely on the basis of a police claim of having recovered a bullet casing of a country weapon from the spot. In fact (as mentioned earlier), it was the goons of the management who were wielding and firing country guns at the workers.

It is not clearon what grounds some workers were identified as guilty and others treated as innocent. The workers or their union were not given list of those picked up and arrested. This aggravated the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty as workers were unaware of the whereabouts of their fellows. In addition, after the lathi-charge on the 20th, the workers who used to occupy the few labour quarters provided by the factory were also forced to vacate by the management, and their property thrown out. Mostly migrants, some of the injured workers had no families at Dharuhera nor any alternative support system, and were dependent on their co-workers for medicines and money. Of those lying injured in the hospitals, some workers had families living near the factory, but were not aware of the condition of their families.

OFFICIAL STORIES

The police account states that they had gone to the factory on February 19 in response to an earlier complaint by the management. The management had accused some workers of breaking machinery and assaulting a supervisor. The police say that the workers voluntarily walked out in protest against the suspension of their colleagues and started throwing stones, after which they shut the factory gates in order to protect the machinery and the remaining workers inside. After appropriately warning the workers, the police fired from inside the gates. However, the police and the DC say that this was directed at the air, and not at the workers. Since workers were standing on roofs of nearby houses and trees in front of the factory, they got hit and some got killed. Three policemen were injured but none seriously. It is important to note here that there are no buildings in front of the factory gates, and the nearest houses are low roofed tenements located at a considerable distance on one side of the factory walls. The trees in front of the factory are of the tall, smooth-trunk variety, with very few branches. The workers continued to pelt stones even as some of them were getting injured and killed. According to the DC, they would break up into groups, collect stones, re-group to throw stones at the police, ‘like guerillas’. Although she was not herself present at the time, she felt that the response of the police was justified under such fierce resistance. The DC’s explanation for the attack on people on the morning of February 20 is that the workers who had been blocking the highway were given shelter by the residents in the colonies. Many of these residents were also fellow workers and guilty of stone- throwing the previous evening. According to her, women and non-workers had to be beaten to catch the ‘guilty’ workers. The workers had clung to the window grills, and had to be prised apart from them by the police, causing the grills to get bent and twisted. While maintaining that they had summoned the police because the workers had walked out voluntarily and started throwing stones at the factory, the management stated that the entire incident took place outside the factory gates, which allows them to disclaim all responsibility.

Treatment of those injured in the police firing and assault, a legal right of the injured was completely denied to the victims at Dharuhera. On February 19 night, five of the more seriously injured workers were brought by other workers and local residents to the Rewari Civil Hospital. One of them 20-year old Pramod Kumar, was referred from there to Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi, where he died. Another, Vinod died soon after he was taken to Gurgaon Civil Hospital. The remaining four in Rewari Hospital had not even been x-rayed till February 21, and their bullet wounds had merely been sown over. On February 21, three of them were sent to the government hospital at Bawal, about 25 km away, to be x-rayed. Most of the expense for this had to be borne by the workers themselves. Even at the government hospital every x-ray exposure costs Rs 60, instead of which the doctor at Bawal asked for Rs 110 each. The DC finally intervened on February 22 and two workers got x-rays through the Red Cross. Twenty workers had been admitted to Rewari Hospital on February 20, all with injuries sustained in the lathi-charge. Again, they were brought in by the co-workers and not by the police. One of the patients who had been sleeping in his room when the police raided,
said the police repeatedly tried to hit him on the head. He managed to fend the blows off with his arms and hands, which bore the marks of severe beating. The DC has persuaded the management to declare compensation of Rs I lakh to the families of the dead; Rs 20,000 for seriously injured and Rs 10,000 for simple injuries. The DC was trying unsuccesfully to get the management to give at least part of the money as a ‘gesture of goodwill’ to the workers on February 22 itself so that they could use it for their treatment. The management is clear that this is not ‘compensation’ since they bear no responsibility for the firing, but merely an act of largesse. The union has demanded Rs 5 lakh per deceased victim, which was refused by the management. No compensation has been declared by the state, in clear violation of the right of citizens to compensation when the state kills and injuries in blatantly unjustified firing.

The firing at the Pashupati Mill shows the way in which the law and order machinery was used to serve the interests of the Jain group. While The SP and SDM gave the actual order for firing, knowing well that the police were being used as a private army of the management, while the DC justified the firing and the lathi-charge. However, now that the police have served their purpose, the management is trying to distance itself from the firing and lay the entire blame on the police and the workers.
The NHRC is currently conducting an inquiry into this case. The agitation of the workers is now temporarily stalled. The same policemen continue to operate at the Dharuhera P S. Workers with fractured limbs and injured heads have used up savings to get themselves treated at private hospitals and some have gone back home. Ironically, through this one-sided intervention of the state, it is workers who were denied their rights, thrown out of the factory, fired upon, beaten up and are now in jail under grave charges punishable with terms up to life imprisonment.

A joint action committee (JAC) of representatives of workers and unions of different factories as well as 10 representatives of the AITMJU was set up on February 21 and a large demonstration of workers numbering between 5,000-10,000 was held. It demanded arrest of the GM, payment of due compensation and meeting all earlier demands of workers. The GM was arrested to humour the workers, under a minor charge (S 216, IPC harbouring criminals) for apparently giving shelter to the goons who he had engaged to break the union. He is out on bail. Through continuous meetings before the DLC between February 27 and March 6, a temporary agreement was reached between the management and the union regarding compensation. It finally agreed to a compensation of Rs 1.75 lakh for death. Moreover it promised to extend ESI facilities to all workers and also provide a job for one member of the family of each worker killed. The JAC meanwhile held another large public demonstration on March 5, and continues to push ahead with its demands. In the firing at Pashupati Mill both the state and the management stand completely exposed by the management agreeing to pay compensation for firing actually executed by the police. Instead of ceding the workers’ demands earlier, or even negotiating with workers the management decided to end the workers’ agitation by declaring an illegal lock-out without any prior notice. This led to the police firing. The brutal fact remains finally that the management agreed to a few of the reasonable and legitimate demands of the workers only after four workers were killed. Several demands have still not been agreed to.
[This is a slightly condensed version of a report on the incident. The People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) which sent a five-member fact finding team to Dharuhera and Rewari on February 22. The team met the factory workers, Navraj Sandhu, the deputy commissioner at Rewari, Ram Kumar, the SHO of the Dharuhera PS and Ramesh Jain of the Pashupati Mills management at Delhi.]

* Self-Activity of Wage Workers

Theories and practices of representation & delegation are a stumbling block in the self-activity of wage-workers. They hinder wage-workers’ resistances, refusals and steps of change. What follows is a part of a larger critique of representation & delegation that we are engaged in. We invite you to join us in this attempt.

CONTENTS

*** Lead-ry
*** Routine lead-ry
*** Lead-ry – Department of conflict management
*** Self-activities of wage-workers
*** Activities of a fringe left
*** A critique of a fringe left
*** A preliminary sum-up
*** Self-activity of wage-workers against Politics of Closure

KK/ Collectivities, April, 1998 Majdoor Library, Autopin Jhuggi, N.I.T. Faridabad, 121001, India

*** Lead-ry

For over four years now we have encountered numerous arguments and counter-arguments in conversations amongst wage-workers on the role of leaders in routine factory life. The backdrop to these conversations has been the unfolding of events in factories where workers find themselves trapped. What is attempted here is a systematization of numerous experiences and observations to obtain a better understanding of shop-floor life in order to confront it more effectively.

“On the shopfloor we are at all times in direct antagonism with the supervisor/ foreman. This antagonism is because of the supervisor’s constant attempt to maintain work flow.”

“Supervisors constantly keep their eyes on us. They threaten us with charges, threets & suspension, placate us with overtime & advance payments and use outright deceptions to keep us in check.”

“Supervisors constantly nag us to fulfill production quotas and maintain quality. They perpetually hassle us to ensure a minimal rejection of products. Raw material utilization is another never-ending bone of contention.”

“We never tell supervisors what is in our hearts. No supervisors can know what we are thinking and planning. They are actually in constant fear of us.”

“Routinely we engage in slowdowns, quality slackening, wastage, breakage and clogging. Breakage and clogging are what we all do, all the time – but never talk about it, even with each other. We never even voice our appreciation or acknowledgment of what someone has done … its an open secret.”

“Whenever the discontent on the shopfloor becomes very sharp and the atmosphere surcharged, supervisors lose their voice.”

*** Routine Lead-ry

“Leaders are from amongst us. We have an ambivalent relationship with them.”

“Because they are from amongst us, leaders know a lot about us, about our inclinations and our thoughts. Leaders do not work themselves. They tell us to ensure that production does not fall and promise to take care of the rest as they claim to be our watchdogs (pahredar).”

“Leaders have financial clout. This is not just from union dues & other collections. A lot of money comes from cuts & commissions in the purchase of uniforms, shoes, festival sweets, festival gifts like blankets, almirahs, suitcases, watches and kitchenware. Cuts from canteen contractors and scrap-dealers. Lumpsums from managements for long term agreements. Control of cooperative societies and welfare funds.”

“Contenders for leadership spend a lot of money during elections (in the factory). Because leadership means financial clout.”

“Being a leader entails no work in the factory and much money. This is enough to sway a lot of workers.”

On small benefit networks

“Leaders, ex-leaders and potential leaders create and maintain intricate networks spread throughout the factory through incentives like advances, loans, lighter jobs, preferable shifts, employment to kith & kin, gate passes, tours, better food from the canteen without any payment, grants from welfare, first preference.” Networking by leaders also uses caste and regional identities.

“Leaders and ex-leaders are often found ensconced in the offices of the personnel manager or some other official. Persons with close links to this or that managerial faction can provide facilities to their close followers (laguea-bhaguea). Leaders and their camp-followers makeup ten to fifteen percent of the factory’s workers.”

“Those who constitute the networks are articulate in various ways from muscle power to slippery tongues.”

“These networks which are constituted on the basis of material incentives and favours are very intricate. They make a “tantra” and “jaal” (apparatus and mesh) to keep constant tabs on, as well as affect the weather and temperature on the shopfloor.”

“Those who constitute the networks are conduits for the circulation of rumours, baits, airy-fairy promises, and even lies. These networks make constant efforts to justify and valorize leaders and their powerful social & political links.”

“Leaders are basically middle-persons. And like all middle-persons they sometimes get small things done for us on an individual basis.”

“We have everyday fears of disciplinary actions, chargesheets, suspensions and physical attacks. Leaders’ networks routinely highlight, heighten and exaggerate these fears to keep us pacified.”

During shopfloor confrontations

“Supervisors run away from the shopfloor whenever worker discontent grows and workers take an openly confrontationist stance. In such cases management refuses to talk to workers directly. It sends leaders to the shopfloor.”

“Most of us weigh the situation again and again, and hesitatingly take steps back and forth on contentious issues. Leaders’ networks try to pacify us by exaggerating our fears. Meanwhile, the networks of ex-leaders and potential leaders try and instigate us to an openly confrontationist stance in an attempt to establish their leaderships.”

“Leaders’ pet rant to pacify us is that ‘you start the work, we’ll take care of the matter’. When workers refuse to listen and open confrontation continues, selective suspensions and dismissals begin.”

“In such situations, suspensions and dismissals force workers to talk to the leaders. The leaders then scold workers for having taken steps without their advice. They present the suspensions and dismissals as a consequence of not heeding them.”

“The issues of contention are effectively sidelined by the leaders. They shift the focus to suspensions and dismissals.”

“Routinely, when workers demand small relief on individual or group basis, the management does not act. When leaders say the same thing, the management acts. This increases the power of the leaders.”

Some conclusions

“We used to give union dues on the understanding that we would get benefits in exchange. Wages will increase and our jobs will be safe. But during the past twenty years things have been just the opposite.”

“For twenty-eight years I have been witnessing a reduction in the number of workers and an increase in production.”

“Earlier we used to give union dues but now the management deducts union dues from our salary.”

“Trapped by one assurance or another, we contribute union dues. It is only later that we find that all these assurances were hollow.”

*** Lead-ry: Department of conflict management

Lead-ry is an art and a science, mastered only by a few, and used to sit on our heads. It requires:

· Sharp skills in discontent measurement and the ability to arrive at swift quantitative solutions i.e. ‘at what’ and ‘at how much’ will the workers accept the disagreeable. This involves a wide spectrum of activities ranging from passing on sums of money to slapping a supervisor’s face.
· Highly developed rhetorical skills, which are used to sway, to create prejudice and to convince.
· Organising skills, which are used to build and sustain well-oiled networks at minimal cost. These skills involve astute psychological reading of individuals and groups of individuals. They also require a down to earth grasp of identity politics and maneuvers.

Managements’ regime of work, productivity and discipline is routinely confronted and opposed by wage-workers. Routine activity of lead-ry is to coax, cajole and threaten wage-workers into accepting these regimes. Lead-ry routinely negotiates agreements with management and attempts to implement them by overcoming wage-workers’ opposition. “Whenever a new machine or fixture is brought workers refuse to work on them. Leaders are the main instruments to implement these changes. Placation, suspension and fear are used by leaders for this.”

The main activity of lead-ry is to actively discourage the routine self-activity of wage-workers. Individually and in small groups, workers are always taking steps on their own that disrupt the work-routine. These seemingly minor irritants are a major threat to production and discipline. Leaders and their networks, i.e. lead-ry, is constantly engaged in hindering, devaluing and hijacking the self-activity of wage-workers.

To put it bluntly: higher management makes strategies, leaders & personnel managers act as tacticians, and supervisors & leaders’ networks execute these strategies.

*** Self-activities of wage-workers

Perhaps not universal, it is still true that most people have the capacity as well as the ability to act and participate as “NOT AS UNEQUALS” in small informal groups. The layering of experience, the excitement and the unpredictability associated with what takes place each day is not because we participate as ‘equals’. Instead, it is because each of us carries our individuality and is able to express it freely in such groups. This participation as “NOT AS UNEQUALS” is spread over various facets of life and an individual is often a participant in more than one informal group at most times. The wider implications of these informal groups of “NOT AS UNEQUALS” stand out clearly when we look at their play in some detail in institutional structures, whether factories, offices, banks or the media.

The moment of entry into a factory is the moment of entry into the disciplinary grid of work & productivity, as well as a jungle of informal groups. Strict entry schedules set up by managements are transformed into stretchable entry times. The act of punching-in is often put into disarray by proxy-punching or transformed by kicks that literalize the machine into a punching bag. ‘Entry time’ is made distinct from ‘commencement of work’ by long handshakes – backslaps – chitchat. It is often that work commences after 9 o’clock tea in an 8 A.M. shift. Management strategies like changing the placement of the ‘punch-in’ from factory gate to departments, the imposition of fines, like a fifteen minute wage-cut for being late by one minute, are visible signs of managerial desperation.

Proxy-punching in the Goodyear Tyre factory has forced the management to issue identity cards containing computer floppies, even though it has meant an increase in cost. Workers’ kicks in the Bata Shoe factory repeatedly dysfunctionalized the punching machine and forced the management to appoint an attendance clerk to go to each department and mark workers’ attendance.

Using lead-ry networks, management conducts time studies to work out grids of intensification. These are the periods when the wink of an eye and the utterance of a phrase put into practice well thought-out schemes involving co-ordinated steps by small affinity groups of seven-eight workers. And, whether they are premised on time studies or on agreements with leaders, the biggest stumbling block to increases in the workload are the informal groups of workers.

Keeping the immediate supervisor in check is a task that all workers have to take up. It is a very common sight to find five-six workers heckling a supervisor when s/he is trying to boss over some worker. Immediate supervisors are often nervous, tense and anxious despite the brave face they put up. In a hand tools factory, a supervisor who bullied and humiliated workers was lucky to survive. On a cold winter night shift, the machines lay idle because of shortage of material and the supervisor went to sleep in his cabin with a coal fire to keep him warm. Workers slept on as a factory ghost locked the supervisor’s cabin door. It was the routine round of security personnel that led to the breaking open of the door and the saving of the supervisor’s life.

Helping one-another does not remain confined to affairs dealing with the company. Discussions of events in one-another’s residential locality, schools, hospitals, etc. are very common amongst groups of workers during breaks which are often extended, to the constant chagrin of managements. Intricate inter-linking amongst workers coagulates them into entities where a member is never alone. This plays a major role in keeping the bossism of management or the goonery of lead-ry in check, whether in the factory, on the road or in residential localities. Anyone mistaking an individual to be only an individual is immediately shown the real side of things. In fact, the affinity groups in factories are a continuation of affinity groups at large in society.

Innumerable actions, immense diversity and an extremely high unpredictability of affinity groups keep management and leaders in check. A phrase often floating in management-lead-ry negotiations is “Will the workers accept this?” Rules and regulations are easily made. Agreements can easily be signed. Workers not accepting or fulfilling given production targets can have their services terminated. Given the universal co-option of unions and leaders by managements, there seems to be nothing stopping managements from doing what they want. Then, why the ever-present, ever-troubling question “Will the workers accept this?”

In a factory manufacturing wires, management stream-rolled workers from one job to another. Anyone saying ‘NO’ was shown the gate. The coolness and quietness with which small groups of workers accepted this and interchanged operations, from acid to water to oil back to water, oil and acid, only infuriated the management when they discovered that ninety tonnes of wire was sent back by a consignee as being defective. Arbitrary job changes came to an abrupt end. To counter the delay in wage-payment, a handful of workers working for a contractor in a textile factory simply went to the canteen and sat there. The workers’ silence in response to the haranguing of the chief executive completely unnerved the management.

A management of a tractor factory increased production quotas using agreements with the union. Workers operating computerised machines responded by changing around the tapes that governed work sequences. The management had to very quickly replace the machines.

Anyone blowing the whistle is shown his or her place. In a hand tool-manufacturing factory, new machinery even further cut down the time between two operations. In order to obtain some breathing space, two cranes were made to move from opposite sides, clash and cause a breakdown. A maintenance worker complained to the management. One day, cranes were in operation but were said to be not working. The maintenance worker was called for repair. He climbed a crane and when he was checking it, the other crane began moving towards his crane. His shouts for mercy braked the other crane, but they proved to be a brake for management schemes as well.

And then, things like not greeting a boss. The management of a factory stopped overtime payments to pay clerks. The five pay clerks responded to this loss of dues by moving like automatons whenever they came across their boss. The silence of the clerks got on his nerves and the management had a nervous breakdown. Overtime dues were restarted.

It is these constant innumerable, insidious, unpredictable activities by small groups of workers that underlie the stress that managements give to representation – articulation – long term agreements. Representation – articulation – unity – long-term agreements versus wage-workers’ silences – mumbling – incoherence – constantly nagging non-unitary demands are expressions of the functioning of a large number of small informal groups in an institution. They are the signs of expressions of the individualities of workers.

In a factory, workers in small groups would often go to the general manager to put up their grievances or seek relief. The harassed manager met this self-expression of workers by posting a guard in front of his office and issuing explicit instructions that workers would not to be allowed to enter his office in groups and only one worker would be allowed to go in along with a leader. In this way, not only was his paternal mask shattered but also the upkeep of his position demanded new costs. Management responds to the adamancy of these small groups of workers by harping on the threat to harmonious industrial relations. Lead-ry denounces the actions and demands of these small groups as a selfishness that poses a threat to workers’ unity.

Sixteen hot chamber workers in a factory left their place of work on a hot summer day complaining of excessive heat. Operations involving five hundred workers came to a standstill. Hot chamber workers had been demanding relief during summers through a lowering of temperature, but the management was not willing to agree, as this would lessen the pace of drying and therefore slow down the chain of work. Assurances had been aplenty and many a long-term agreement had completed its tenure. This step of the hot chamber workers was met by the leaders with such epithets: “All these years they did not feel the heat, it is only today that they have acquired this delicacy. They want to spoil our relation with the management. Wheat advance is around the corner – now the management will refuse to give it. They only look at themselves. Their selfishness is harming all the other workers. The management listens to us because we represent you. But if small groups do not listen to us and take steps on their own, then why will the management talk to us? It is only our unity that is holding back the management, otherwise it will do whatever it wants. These hot chamber workers are harming our unity, and if tomorrow the management takes action against anyone we will not be responsible.”

In the Escorts Yamaha motorcycle manufacturing factory, disenchantment with and denunciation of leaders was similar to innumerable other places. In a confrontation with the management, 300 workers on the assembly line refused to have anything to do with leaders and jammed the assembly line on their own. Leaders denounced these workers and reciprocated by saying that they would not intervene on their behalf – this would teach them a lesson. Workers in other departments did not lay down their tools in sympathy with the assembly line workers. Instead, what was observed was that management and leaders were conspiring for a lockout/strike to launch a major attack on the workers. There are two thousand five hundred workers in the factory. All the workers side-stepped the leaders and decided to continue production in other departments while the assembly line workers would keep the line jammed. Meanwhile, money would be collected department-wise to compensate their financial loss. As the assembly of a motorcycle per two minutes stood still, management and leaders bid their time, confident that the past would repeat itself and workers would have to accept the mediation of leaders. A week after the jam, overtime payments of the previous month were made. One hundred rupees was contributed by each worker, and collected in a rota department-wise. It was decided that a like amount would be contributed when monthly wages were to be paid. This step of the workers unnerved the management as well as the lead-ry. Leaders on their own started holding talks with the management and an ex-partie agreement fulfilling the assembly line workers’ demands was made to get the assembly line moving.

Refusals

Self-activities of wage-workers also encompass layers and layers of routine refusals. A few such refusals are:

“Never make a complaint against a co-worker to a supervisor or to a manager.”
“Never to give evidence in favour of management against a co-worker.”
“Not to get entangled in competition. To give more production in competition with co-workers is unacceptable.”
“Refuse to be carried away by managerial appreciation & recognition to give more production.”
“Even the shadow of money is unacceptable in inter-personal relations.”

Seismic lead-ry

It is not un-often that competitiveness in the market demands sharp rise in productivity. This entails a major attack on wage-workers. Major attack means large-scale retrenchment, big increase in work intensity, sharp cuts in wages besides other cost cutting and efficiency drives.

In these conditions managements plan new strategies and lead-ry adopts new tactics. The unfolding of events is very intricate. To discern the intricate web of strategy and tactics we take as an illustration the unfolding of events in Gedore Hand Tools, Faridabad in 1982-1984 of which we have a first hand experience.

Background Gedore Hand Tools, headquartered in Germany, had three plants in Faridabad exploiting 3500 wage-workers. U.S.A was a major market for its produce. Hand tools enterprises located in China and South Korea were Gedore’s market competitors. Shrinkage of production in the auto and engineering industries in the early 1980s sharpened the competition in the hand tools market. In this scenario, in order to maintain its competitiveness, Gedore management planned a major intensification of work through automation and large-scale retrenchment. For installation of an automatic plating plant Gedore management took a loan of Rs. 2.5 crores (~ $2.5 millions) from the Industrial Development Bank of India, a government of India enterprise.

The unfolding of events

In the beginning of 1982 incidents of chargesheeting, suspensions, transfers from one department to another, shifting workers from one job to another, wage-delays, downgradation in canteen quality, insistence on quality in production, strictness about production targets, time strictness, no rest during shift hours etc. increased noticeably.
In a gate meeting on June 7, 1982 union leaders spoke at length about capitalism, global crisis, company in crisis, and then asked the workers to make sacrifices in the larger interest. They put forward three alternatives to choose from:
- 25% reduction in wages.
- Go on special leave for six months at half wages.
- Retrenchment of 600 workers.
Workers rejected outright all these options put forth by the leaders. At this rejection, managements’ escalated their strong-arm tactics and instigation. Leaders and ex-leaders oiled their networks and accelerated mobilisations around caste and regional identities.

Workers disenchantment with leaders increased rapidly. Their self-activity became more pronounced. Large number of workers stopped paying union dues, attending union meetings, side-stepping leaders in day to day activity and began to deal directly with management individually and in small groups. Graffiti inside the plants increased. A group of workers belonging to, or influenced by, the fringe left posed inconvenient questions in a signed handbill on June 12, 1982. The handbill read “… management says that it does not have money even to buy raw materials – then where are the crores of rupees (millions of dollars) for automation coming from? Is it not because of automation that 600 workers are being told to resign? Soon, will you not talk of the need to retrench a thousand workers? Instead of struggling against it, haven’t union leaders become advocates of the management?”

The confidence of the leaders was shaken. Management was put on the defensive. Uneasy questions in the workers’ minds became points of widespread discussion. The tactic deployed by leaders and management – of announcing their attack in the gate meeting – had turned out to be a blunder. For damage control, the leaders adopted silence and the management took steps – show cause and advice l etters were issued to the signatories of the handbill. Through a circular, management warned workers to beware of disruptive forces. It said that automation was for the health of the workers. The management claimed that it had never had any intention of retrenching workers who would be made surplus by automation. If the management had wanted, it could have retrenched half the workers as it had been paying full wages to idle workers for one and half years. The circular ended with a rhetorical flourish: “Increase production OR perish!” A twisted version of the management slogan: “Increase production AND perish!” became popular amongst the workers.

The sequence of events at this point is as follows : there are prolonged delays in the payment of wages, machinery for automation reaches the plants, leaders maintain a strict silence, and ex-leaders attempt to form a rival union. There are physical attacks, by leaders and their network, on workers who still try to focus discussion on the looming retrenchment. To silence these voices, management uses suspensions. Besides the delay in wages, the issue of the annual bonus is used as another diversionary entanglement. Further on, the management goes for work suspension at half wages for three days and says that this may continue for quite some time.

Leaders complement these steps taken by the management for an open confrontation by ordering a tool down strike on February 12, 1983. Fiery speeches at gate meetings became a regular feature. Dissenting workers who have been trying to focus attention on looming retrenchment are denounced as disruptive elements and attacked. On February 21, 1983 leaders announce at a gate meeting that they have reached an agreement with the management. In the agreement it is agreed that no further work suspensions would take place but wages of January’83 would be paid in January’84. The workers reject this agreement. The management then tries, unsuccessfully, to instigate violent confrontations amongst workers through ex-leaders.

The same agreement is again put for approval at the gate meeting of February 28, 1983 after a number of thundering speeches challenging the management to lockout the factory if it wanted. The workers again reject the agreement. After the second rejection, the leaders announce that the way now is to go for an ‘open struggle’. A meeting of factory delegates (who had been elected in 1980) and other militant workers is called and suggestions asked for. Leaders then reject the suggestion for demonstrations on the plea that the conflict was with the Gedore management and not with the government. However, as soon as t he question of steps against the management comes into focus, the leaders somersault and announce a demonstration & a sit-down at the district administration chief’s office to be organised on Mar, 21.

On March 20, leaders call another gate meeting. Besides members of their network in the three plants, leaders bring their supporters from other factories and spread them out strategically. The same agreement is announced yet again. It is immediately hailed by the strategically placed supporters! And before the workers can react, leaders and their henchmen jump the factory gate and rush in to the plant to switch on the machines. The leaders had here used a time tested and most effective strategy. By switching on machines and restarting the plants, the workers would now be split into confronting groups, where one section would demand a continuation of the tool down strike while the other would be in favour of resuming work. This clash amongst the workers, and the concomitant unfolding of violence, would then facilitate large-scale retrenchment.

But in this case this strategy failed miserably. Enraged, the 3500 workers rush into the plant, shut down the machines and then beat up the leaders who are forced to run away. The President of the union who was also beaten and had to turn tail, had been the president of the union for ten years and was also the President of CITU, Faridabad district unit of the central trade union of Communist Party of India (Marxist). Production does not resume. There is now massive police deployment. Leaders again try to start the machines at night. They are again forced to retreat. Tool down continues.

Some workers belonging to the fringe left call a general body meeting on 23rd March, the weekly rest day. All the workers attend it. A committee proposed by militant, articulate workers and ex-leaders to obtain the resignation of leaders is not opposed. In view of the mounting discontent of workers, the leaders have to resign. After the resignations, the struggle committee, however, does not materialize and the ex-leaders take over. Tool down continues till April 14, 1983. The workers reluctantly accept the agreement that they had rejected earlier.
Stalemate. The issue of retrenchment has got bogged down.

The cycle of shopfloor instigation and wage-delays reemerges as a part of renewed attempts to retrench workers. Police are now posted inside one of the plants. Mobilisations being made on the basis of region and caste come to the fore. There is now a delay in the payment of wages to supervisory and clerical staff.
The management obtains government approval for retrenchment of 300 workers. Leaders hide the list and deny that there is any retrenchment on the cards. They start talking about a new long-term agreement and preparation of a demand charter for it.

At this juncture, management steps up attempts at violent confrontations amongst workers. Old leaders form a committee with the claim that they will negotiate a good agreement with the management. Mobilisation by the two lead-ry networks on the basis of caste, region and plant identity became frantic. The management flames the fire by locking out the third Gedore plant in February 1984. Enraged workers attack the existing leaders and the committee of old leaders uses this opportunity to take over leadership. Lockout in the third plant is lifted.
The finishing off And then began joint action by the management, leaders, police, state administration and the media, to retrench workers in Gedore Hand Tools. A gang of 15 to 20 leaders and their musclemen freely roam the three plants. They pick workers from their machines, take them to the plant time-office and force them, through physical violence and threats, to sign resignation letters. In this way, up to 50 workers are forced to resign in a single day. Workers coming to factory for work and those leaving after shift hours are attacked on the roads and forced to resign. Workers are threatened at their homes and forced to resign. Workers who had lodged complaints with the police find that the police have framed cases against them. Government administration merely files away the complaints made at the District Administration office. Newspapers do not print any news of these events. Not even letters about a fellow worker who committed suicide on the rail tracks after he was forced to resign.

In these circumstances hundreds of workers sought shelter in their villages for months. And the environment at Gedore? Armed police in tents inside the factory, armed police in trucks making rounds of the three plants.
This is how the stalemate was broken and retrenchment implemented. Even then, it took one more year to retrench 1500 workers out of the 3500 in Gedore Hand Tools, Faridabad.

Fallout

The inability of the management, lead-ry and state administration to entrap wage-workers in time tested snares, forced them to divest themselves of their constitutional garbs as well as leader militancy. They had to resort to brute force to implement their policies. This repression, however, could not bring with it the myth of “glorious defeat” with its martyrs and heroes as well as the attendant mortgaging of wage-workers’ critical evaluation.

But not getting trapped was not sufficient for the workers and they were disabled by the methodical repression of the management. This could happen, fundamentally, because management repression did not create sufficient ripples and repercussions amongst other wage-workers. Workers’ self-activities had remained disjointed, unlinked and uncoordinated even within the enterprise. A dynamic expansion of wage-workers’ self-activities is critical for linking wage-workers of one enterprise with those of other enterprises. But the unfolding of workers’ self-activity was impeded by their not questioning of representation & delegation.
Seismic lead-ry – at a higher level The frequency of extensive area-wide, region-wide, nation-wide attacks on wage-workers, compressed in ever-shortening periods of time is increasing. The attacks entail huge wage-cuts, enormous increase in work-load and mass scale retrenchments. And they are implemented, primarily, in two ways.

One: through instigation to mass violence by playing the politics of identity, and
Two: through the foisting of credible, militant leaders.
In Indonesia, 1997-98, through the massive attacks on wage-workers, one can see these strategies being played out:
I. Media highlighted riots between ‘ethnic Indonesians’ and ‘migrant Chinese’;
II. “Confirmed reports say that the US has been pressuring Jakarta to release one of the top political dissenters from imprisonment. ‘The US move is to enable Jakarta to cool the rising temperature down to some extent’, say sources”. [HT, Delhi 29 March 1998]

*** Activities of a fringe left

The fringe left that was a participant in the events in Gedore Hand Tools in 1982-84 existed around a monthly workers newspaper. Some workers of Gedore were members of this fringe left and we have emerged from this background.The activities of this fringe left had been geared:
- to unmask the collaboration of leaders with managements.
- to keep in focus the issues that managements and leaders seek to hide.
- to unmask formal and phoney steps like one-day token strikes, token demonstrations and formal mass meetings that are organised by leaders.
- to create and establish an effective alternate leadership to be constituted by militant, credible leaders from amongst the workers.
- to unify workers around this alternate leadership.
- to launch organised, conscious struggles under this alternate leadership.
- to push for demonstrations, mass meetings & strikes.

*** A critique of a fringe left

The process of unmasking management-leader collaborations brought into focus contentious issues that management and leaders seek to hide. This centre-staging of otherwise hidden agendas helped unleash the self-activity of wage-workers. Management notices and leaders rhetoric, demand charters and agreements, all came under constant scrutiny by wage-workers. “What to do?” and “How to do? ” became topics of routine discussion. Routine self-activity of workers as individuals and in small groups increased.

The medium of circulation of information around these activities was through a regular monthly newspaper, frequent handbills, wall-letters and conversations. These simple acts created considerable hurdles in the implementation of the retrenchment policy at Gedore Tools.

But it is the alternative proposed by fringe left that is problematic, in fact, fatal. The mobilisation of wage-workers envisaged by the fringe left, in fact, is premised on the erasure of the self expressions and self-activities of wage-workers at large.

The problem of militant and credible leaders

In the latter half of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century, fierce polemics raged on the question of real and phoney representations/ representatives of the interests of wage-workers. The polemics spanned ideology, strategy and tactics. ‘Reform or Revolution’ was often the high point of the debate. The reality that has unfolded since has, however, made the very premises of this debate redundant. Towards the last quarter of the 19th century, requirements of production enterprises for accumulated labour reached such dimensions that individual ownership of production enterprises became unfeasible. to to as the major source of funding for production enterprises are what has unfolded in these one hundred years. Individuals as owners/ part owners of production enterprises have increasingly become insignificant. Acts forcing bankruptcies of individual owners have lost their cutting edge. Enterprises have acquired institutional forms. With enterprises becoming monoliths of massive amounts of accumulated labour, head-on collisions of living labour with these institutional monsters are counter productive for living labour, whether in the form of an individual wage-worker, a group of wage-workers or a mass of wage-workers. And, working for head-on collisions is the raison d’etre of the fringe left.

In this scenario, the blurred boundaries between phoney, formal and real struggles have melted, become indistinguishable, giving way to a continuum. Formal-token, phoney-instigated-provoked, militant struggles, despite some differences of form, have in essence become indistinguishable. It is through repeated experiences that large numbers of wage-workers have learnt that these are harmful for them. It is this that underlies the unwillingness of workers to struggle – the word ‘struggle’ is here being used in the sense of the dominant meaning s that it has come to have. And it is this that underlies the fringe left’s activities to ‘agitate workers’ in order to overcome what it decries as the apathy and passivity of wage-workers. It is in this context that the fringe left creates the polemics of militant & credible leaders.

In general, the alternate leadership, the militant & credible leaders for whose creation the fringe left is geared, is a fringe phenomenon like itself. It is only in the event of major attacks on wage-workers that the alternate leadership of militant & credible leaders can and often does acquire leverage amongst large numbers of workers. And it is only then that the ‘dead-endness’ of militancy, and the fact that it actually causes serious damage, becomes obvious.

Unity and unifocality are the mantras of state and proto-state apparatuses. Even those fringe left groups that are explicitly anti-state have as their axis activities that are geared to unity and unifocal forms. This is what makes even such fringe left groups proto-states.

In fact, it must be stated that it is very doubtful if representation was at any time in the interest of wage-workers. A hundred years compel us to engage in a critical retrospective analysis. With all that wage-workers have experienced in this time, history proves that any and every representation is counter-productive for wage-workers.

Demonstrations, mass meetings and strikes are all events premised on unity and unifocality, and implicit in them are both representation and delegation. The logic for these events is that these are shows of strength and thus in the interest of wage-workers. Facts, however, point to the contrary.
Demonstrations Demonstrations involve an elaborate plan of date, time, route, destination, pace, slogans, demands, those to lead, those to maintain order, those to address and those to talk ‘on behalf’. Organisational infrastructure is a prerequisite for a demonstration. Ninety-five percent of wage-workers cannot organise demonstrations themselves, they can only join in as followers. For a worker to become a part of a demonstration, the worker has to in effect erase any idea of self-activity and self-expression, or, has to deceive him or herself by parroting the pre-written script as self-expression.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations are means and occasions for displaying the strength of organisations and leaders. The index of strength is numbers and the index of militancy is the number & intensity of skirmishes with the police, which range from charges by mounted police, water cannon charges, tear gas shelling, arrests, and firing. The success of a demonstration is measured by the grandiosity of the spectacle it provides to the media. What are erased are the injuries and the long court cases inflicted on wage-workers. Those who are killed are made into martyrs and transformed into icons to shackle any criticism or questioning. Workers, by and large, are aware that demonstrations make them easy targets for police attacks besides gagging their self-expression. This is evident from the distance that workers maintain from demonstrations. In fact demonstrations often have to be organised during shift hours with the connivance of managements.

Mass Meetings

Mass meetings Most frequently, mass meetings that wage-workers have to encounter are gate meetings at the factory and office. Gate meetings are held by leaders. The rule is that only leaders will speak in the gate meetings. The logic put forward is that any other vocalization will show disunity amongst workers to the management and weaken bargaining power. To see to it that the rule is implemented, lead-ry musclemen are strategically placed in gate meetings in order to summarily deal with any worker who tries to speak. Recognition of a new leadership hap pens with the successful holding of a gate meeting, because holding a gate meeting constitutes a challenge to the existing leadership.

The most encountered mass meetings, i.e. gate-meetings, exclude wage-workers self-expression both by logic and force. The fringe left often called for general body meetings (GBM) away from the factory premises in order to overcome the prohibition of any expression of dissent at gate-meetings. However, an elaborate organisational apparatus is also a prerequisite for holding general body meetings. These are occasions that require venues, agendas, stages, stage-managers, order keepers and elaborate time management. By their very nature, general body meetings are arenas for fights between leaders, ex-leaders and potential leaders with their lists of articulate speakers and cheer groups.

General body meetings demand from wage-workers time bound (two to three minutes) coherent presentations on specific agenda. These presentations have to be speeches to audiences of hundreds or thousands. This demand on the workers by itself excludes most workers from expressing themselves in general body meetings. Those who are not thus excluded have to filter through the lists of speakers of contending lead-ry networks. Workers have seen through general body meetings for what they are. Now the norm is that out of a thousand workers, approximately 150 will attend them.

There are other kinds of mass meetings that play on higher scales of representation. An illustrative example: From 1977 to 1979 in Faridabad, there were sporadic multi-nodal outbursts of workers discontent in hundreds of factories. In October 1979 unions jointly called a mass meeting. Around 100,000 workers assembled and the atmosphere was very charged. The huge number of workers spilled out of the meeting ground and road and rail traffic was forced to halt. Well-prepared police and paramilitary forces then began indiscriminate firing. Factories functioned normally from the next day. This incident ensured a smoother functioning in the industrial b elt for the next few years. And a martyrs’ column was duly erected.

Strikes

This fringe left’s activity regarding strikes was on two planes. One – phoney strikes called by leaders for the implementation of management policies and formal strikes to make their presence felt, were denounced. Two – The call was given for real strikes, and for militancy in real strikes.

Denunciation of phoney and formal strikes opens greater possibilities for workers self-activity as questions regarding what to do, what not to do, how to do, how not to do are unleashed. However, calling for real, militant strikes has disastrous consequences for wage-workers.

Vis-a-vis management, work stoppage at either factory or larger levels is no longer a powerful weapon of wage-workers. On the contrary, lockouts by managements and strikes by leaders are powerful instruments used to launch major attacks on wage-workers. In the last twenty years we have not come across any strikes, anywhere in the world, that have not resulted in large-scale wage cuts, retrenchments, work intensification or closures.

A few illustrative examples:

Bombay Textile Strike of 1982-83 in 60 textile mills. 250,000 workers unified under a militant leadership on a charter of demands. Management policy was to retrench 90,000 workers and close down old mills & sell the premium land. Under normal circumstances, such large-scale retrenchment would have taken more than ten years. Through the strike, however, this policy was implemented in one year.
East India Cotton Mills, Faridabad, 1979. Automation was to be implemented. Management needed to retrench 3000 out of 6000 workers. A strike was called by the union for a one-percent increase in bonus. Militant strike, and a lot of violence. Three thousand workers dismissed. Lakhani Shoes, Faridabad, 1983,1988,1996. Three major strikes by three different unions. Each time there is violence and militancy. Each time all workers are dismissed. Lakhani Shoes has registered a very fast growth rate in output. Number of factories of the company has increased from 3 in 1983 to 22 in 1997.

Requirements of a strike

The requirements of a strike are factory-wide issues and an elaborate organisational structure. Also, mobilisation of workers through persuasions, deceptions, hopes and threats. The activity of fringe groups during strikes that are not organised by them is geared to make the strikes increasingly militant. In factories where they have a physical presence and they are able to get an echo they may be able to take over the leadership of the strike by forming struggle committees of militant workers. What are the courses open to these struggle committees?
Prolongation of the strike does not help. Rather, the longer the strike is stretched, the weaker becomes the strength of the workers vis-a-vis management. Such being the reality, struggle committees are forced to resort to:
· Direct confrontations with state administration to pressurize the state-apparatus to act on the management. The steps are big and volatile, be they demonstrations, mass meetings, road jams and railway stoppage. These steps provide easy and visible targets to repressive organs of the state-apparatus. Given past experience, workers rarely follow those advocating these steps.
· Mobilisation of media, artists, stars, influential persons, other representatives, parliamentarians, grass-root activists to persuade state administrations to act on management.
Wage-workers are initially hopeful spectators to these performances and then slowly disperse as disenchantment sets in.
Both these action-courses lead to an immobilization and dispersion of workers and ensure an implementation of management policy.
Unified militant struggles, whether in the form of demonstrations, mass meetings or strikes, are akin to military operations with their generals, captains, sergeants and, of course, foot soldiers. Organisations linked to the management or organisations that are proto-states are alone capable of running such operations.

*** A Preliminary Sum-up

In general, when wage-workers resistances, refusals and steps of change are discussed, the imagery that crop up is that of mass demonstrations, mass meetings, strikes, pitched battles, insurrections. The corollaries to these are the non-mundane qualities of heroism, sacrifice, bravery, martyrdom, courage, wisdom, articulation, discipline and unity. By these very definitions, the self-activities of most wage-workers are excluded. This imagery inherently posits a spectacular arena for lead-ry to deprive the wage-workers of their voices. More painful still is that big, mass, spectacular movements make easy targets of wage-workers for managerial apparatuses to control, manage and, if necessary, crush.

Big implies mobilisation on a mass scale. Conducting and directing committees are intrinsic to such events. Seemingly a large number of people become active, but actually it is representatives and leaders who think, decide and issue orders whereas numbers at large have to march to the tunes trumpeted. Mobilisations by representatives are for representatives. Defeats are camouflaged as victories in order to legitimize the re-creations of these representational forms. Repeated experiences with ‘big’ have led wage-workers at large to keep aloof from them. This is often characterized as passivity and apathy of wage-workers.

When wage-workers daily routine oppositions become too much for a management or when a management has to go in for a major restructuring, retrenchment, wage-cut or intensification, it often resorts to spectacular work stoppage. Since production enterprise is no longer the private property of individuals (i.e. capitalist), prolonged stoppage of production is no longer a question of life and death for a management as it was for a capitalist. When necessary, managements resort to strikes, lockouts, work suspensions, suspension of operations by creating big factory-wide, area-wide issues with the help of representatives.With strikes becoming the weapon of managements, those attempting to genuinely represent wage-workers’ interests are crushed. Furthermore, individuals have become so insignificant vis-a-vis institutional structures that commitments or personalities hardly make any difference.

For all of us self-activity of wage-workers is of paramount importance. It is this area that we want to open out for discussion and debate. As wage-workers we know that all of us, everyday and at everyplace, have to contend with oppressive and exploitative conditions around us. Individually and in small groups we take steps on our own. In small groups, we interact with each other ‘not as unequals’ ensuring the self-expression and self-activity of each one of us. Confining ourselves to workplace experiences we can say that each one of us has an affinity group of half a dozen or so amongst whom all participate ‘not as unequals’. In these affinity groups a lot of premeditation and co-ordination takes place. The activities of affinity groups span from mutual help to routine resistances against productivity and discipline, along with refusals and steps of change that question and challenge hierarchy, competition, money relations and wage slavery. The problems as we see them are:

I. The importance of self-activity as reflected in these steps taken by affinity groups is denied. The steps by themselves are small and thus belittled. When they are talked about, they are derisively characterized as insignificant workplace skirmishes, or merely survival calisthenics.

II. Constant attempts are made by managements to suppress these self-activities through representation.

III. Wage-workers often do not give much importance to their self activity because of the invisibility of the social effects of the small steps engendered by their self-activities.

IV. There is a tremendous lack of linkages between affinity groups (which can only be horizontal and multi-nodal). This lack makes wage-workers vulnerable to getting coagulated into a mass whenever wider level issues are forced or arise. This coagulation if not created by representatives (which is ofttn the case), then in itself engenders representation.

V. More importantly, co-ordination between affinity groups is hampered by a lack of discussion on experiences of affinity groups.

Lest we be misunderstood, we would like to make it clear that we are not for small steps per se but our concern, rather, is for self-activity. Self-activity in terms of routine resistances, refusals and steps of change by wage-workers at large on a sustained, extended and expansive scale, encompassing a multifaceted global reality.

*** SELF-ACTIVITY OF WAGE-WORKERS AGAINST POLITICS OF CLOSURE DEFINING CLOSURE

A viable enterprise means that enough surplus is being extracted and realised in order to be appropriated as taxes, interest payments, cuts & commissions, managerial life-style and dividends. For financial institutions, management & state apparatus, a company becomes non-viable & sick when the extracted and realised surplus is not sufficient to meet the existing levels of taxes, interest rates, cuts & commissions, managerial life-style and dividends.

It is not uncommon to find that state apparatuses, financial institutions and management are sometimes forced to reduce their amounts of surplus appropriation to keep an enterprise running. But the overriding tendency, of course, remains one of perpetually increasing the amounts that are appropriated, resulting in increasing “sickness” and “unviability”. The dominant propaganda and media, however, all the while speaks of “sickness” and “closure” in terms of either mismanagement or lack of profitability (i.e. inability to pay dividends). This screens the fact that the major portion of extraction from wage-workers is appropriated as taxes, interest payments, cuts & commissions and managerial lifestyle.

POLITICS OF CLOSURE

The common interests of management, financial institutions and state apparatus dictate the survival, running and growth of an enterprise. In their common interest, they collaborate to increase intensity of work & workload, decrease wages, retrench workers and create techniques to counter wage-workers’ self-activity.

Despite all the cunning and guile, force and deception used to keep an enterprise viable, when an enterprise “becomes unviable”, then it is in the management’s interest to swindle as much as it possibly can of the company’s assets. When a goose no longer lays golden eggs, wisdom advises – ‘Cut and Eat the Goose’.
There is a well-tried out management method to grab as much as is possible of wage-workers’ legal dues before the closure of a factory. Along with the months of outstanding wages, years of provident funds/ pension funds, gratuity/ retirement benefits, years of bonus and leave travel allowances, etc. are also not paid. Company properties are then sold off with the management taking large cuts & commissions. This has been a routine exercise in a large number of factories which have been closed in Faridabad and other places. The dominant schema is:
When a factory “becomes sick”, and closure has been decided, management – through union leaders – instigates strikes, and/or violent incidents to create conditions for lockouts. This facilitates the dispersal of workers. In these situations, management stops coming to the factory and wage workers are channelised into long drawn out civil and criminal court cases – fifteen years is very common. During all this, closure is very actively camouflaged. In the rare cases where the court cases are finally decided in favour of the workers, and the workers are at hand to take their legal dues, there is no property in the company’s name to pay. Banks’ and state apparatuses’ dues (taxes and other bills) gulp most of the little that remains.

A BREACH IN THE POLITICS OF CLOSURE

This is the scenario that is being tried out in Jhalani Tools Limited, Faridabad. But the wage-workers in Jhalani Tools are actively countering this management-leaders-state administration schema to gobble-up workers dues through various modes of self-activity. These steps of self-activity, in our opinion, have wider ramifications for wage-workers. Management of Jhalani Tools stopped paying wages to workers from Mar’96. The past experiences of wage-workers in Faridabad and specifically in Jhalani Tools, have thoroughly discredited leaders amongst wage-workers. Through silence and passivity, the 2,000 workers countered leaders’ and management’s methods of instigation around tangential issues. No heed was paid to grand agreements, identity politics, change of union affiliation, change of leaders, provocation by transfers, instigation to violence etc. Four groups of leaders have come (have been brought) and gone, banging their heads against this wall of ‘dull and dumb’ silence.

With mounting legal dues and increasing hardships, workers had hesitatingly started looking for alternative courses of action. Initially a small group of workers in Sept.’96 had on their own demanded back wages from the state labour department officers. Slowly, in affinity groups of 5-8, workers complaints to the state officials increased. And very soon the working of the labour department and district administration was almost jammed when 300 small groups of workers separately started approaching the officers. Legal obligations of separate dates and hearings were done away with, but then talking to hundreds of workers at the same time was another impossibility. Like the management, the district officials desperately tried to foist leaders on workers, but failed. Faced by this stubborn refusal to accept anyone as leaders, district officials then tried their best toinstigate workers to violence. They failed again.

Another facet of this incident is that collecting a crowd by giving a single date to 300 affinity groups facilitates the spread and legitimization of the ageless rhetoric of unity and delegation (for negotiation with management and administration). This was attempted by the district administration. But an interesting metaphor to counter this arose from within the crowd outside the administration office. A worker responded to the call for “unity and delegation” by calling out that – “Bees united in a hive can easily be smoked off and their honey taken away. But if affinity groups of bees swarm about, no one dares to touch their honey”.

Then the management tried to create leaders and instigate strikes through summary dismissals of workers. But even when the number of dismissals reached a hundred, the workers neither made leaders nor took to violence.

With this stepping up of pressure by management, leaders and state officials, the workers of Jhalani Tools in August’97 started taking very simple steps to take their predicament to more than 300,000 co-workers in Faridabad & Delhi. Overcoming hesitation, fear & shame, some workers in small groups of 8-10 started standing along various roads during morning and evening shift hours with hand written placards. This was done to engage in discussions with workers of other factories without any intermediaries. They have been doing this daily since Aug’97.
On the placards is written:

“We are from the 2000 workers who have not been paid their wages for (so many) months”;
“What is to be done when management does not pay wages?”;
“We have changed leaders four times and union flags three times, but each time it has been from the frying pan into the fire”;
“We have made many complaints to govt. officials and ministers but conditions have gone from bad to worse”;
“Metal Box, Delta Tools, Electronics Ltd. and now Jhalani Tools workers. Whose turn tomorrow?”; etc.

Everyday they space themselves along a different road. Along each route that they stand on, workers from hundreds of factories pass by. The response of workers at large has been tremendous. Dispersed, multi-nodal conversations without intermediaries are emerging about the urgent need for new modes of self-activity of workers. Over this period of eleven months, more than 200,000 workers have read these placards and thousands of workers have stopped to have extensive conversations with them. In almost all factories of Faridabad (and large number of factories & offices in Delhi) questions posed by these workers are being debated.

What is being discussed by an ever-increasing number of wage-workers is how to act on their own strength against the triumvirate of state, management and representatives. It is a constant process of conversation, argument and counter-argument as to the ‘Whats’ and ‘Hows’ of steps of self-activity. There is awareness that the charted out paths and networks of representatives, leaders and their organisations are all geared to subvert this process.

Management, leaders and state officials are finding it difficult to instill fear in workers at large as they can find no appropriate targets for their terror tactics. More difficult than the small numbers of workers on the roads, is the problem that the straight and silent faces of workers are posing for the bosses. An additional difficulty for the bosses is the workers’ refusal to go to court despite all the advice that the specialists have been doling out wholesale.
More and deeper discussions have been taking place amongst Jhalani Tool factory workers. These have found visible expression in forms like wall letters and graffiti, but a truly significant fallout has been that workers have innumerable and extended conversations within and outside the factory premises and with co-workers as well as workers from all other factories. From being a problem of one fac tory, it has now become a problem of all workers.

To counter the increasing self-activity of wage-workers, the provincial government organised elections, in Oct’ 97 in order to establish a new leadership in the factory. From Dec’ 97 the management started paying wages. However, these steps failed to put a brake on the workers’ self-activity. Neither the issue of back wages & other dues could be side tracked, nor could the management sell the IIIrd plant of the factory, nor could it make leadership credible amongst workers.
In this situation, in Apr’ 98, the management resorted to massive wage-cuts in order to instigate workers. Failing again, the management then created an atmosphere of fear & violence and threw out the elected leaders – replacing them with its hand picked works committee in the first week of June’98. This hand picked committee has resorted to direct physical attack and identity politics. But the continuous rise in workers’ self-activity has put a hold on this.
Small groups of workers with placards standing on the roads have increased and are increasing in number and so are the workers in conversations with them. Thereby not only creating problems for Jhalani Tools management, which has not been able to close the factory, but also for managements of thousands of factories.

KK / Collectivities, June, 1998. Majdoor Library, Autopin Jhuggi, N.I.T. Faridabad, 121001, India

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Django
Jan 2 2011 14:16

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