Sad End of the Viva Global Dispute: Dead End of Institutional Trade Union Struggle?

We have documented reports about the dispute at the garments export factory Viva Global before – see GurgaonWorkersNews no.32

The struggle has been lost in an objective sense: the workers engaged in the trade union lead dispute are now unemployed and the factory has been closed. The buyer ‘Marks&Spencer’, which has been in the focus of the media campaign and petitions, denies that it has received goods from Viva Global during the months before the dispute. The struggle has been lost despite the fact that it has been ‘promoted’ by international media campaigns and activities.

The local revolutionary left target the ‘easily identifiable weak spots’ when criticising the organisation behind the strike: the union is part of a NGO-set-up, which, through mediation, is funded by the US-based Ford-foundation. The resources have been used to recruit ‘organisers’ among students and workers and to ‘drive for union registration’. We think that the criticism should go a step further and raise the question of how ‘victorious’ struggles are imaginable in a globally squeezed and structurally weak industry like the garment sector. It will not be enough to replace the ‘NGO’-union with a ‘revolutionary’-union and the ‘paid organisers’ with ‘professional cadres’. From the IWW strikes in the US at the threshold of the 19th to the 20th century to the garment workers riots in Bangladesh today: the strikes in the textile industry have always involved a level of mass violence if they did not manage to spread beyond their ‘structurally weak foundation’ – it is relatively easy to shut and re-open a garment factory.

We have no practical alternative on offer, but to learn from the ‘many defeats’ of individual struggles for union recognition in the garment sector of Delhi’s industrial areas and the few example of very short, but temporary successful ‘direct action’ of workers, mainly during the time when new orders came in or when shipping dates had to be met. You will find many examples in previous issues. It requires deep understanding of daily factory reality and global industrial structures in order to find the form of struggle appropriate to the specific material conditions. Only based on the insight of the ‘immediate production process’, forms of organisation can be determined which allow the workers the highest degree of control over their struggle. Many ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘well meaning people’ lack this knowledge. ‘The registered union’ is their external way to relate to workers’ reality, a way which reserves a role for them as middle-class people: spokesperson, legal advisors, negotiators, agitators. If they refuse to reflect their social position and consequently present ‘the trade union’ as the ‘organic workers’ organisation’ and ‘all-time solution’, they create traps for the workers and unnecessary limitations to future movements. The following report is by a worker employed at Viva Global. In the case that it is not accurate, please get in touch.

Viva Global Worker
(413 Udyog Vihar Phase 3)
About 30 of us were hired through contractor in March 2010, we were working on piece rate. On 25th of August 2010 we were stopped at the gate and asked to request the outstanding final wages from the contractor. The wages for August – around 125,000 Rs – we have still not received, it is now the 26th of October. The company says that it won’t pay wages, because we went on strike, which has caused the break-up with the buyer [Marks&Spencer]. They say that, but it was the company management itself which had kicked us out. The dispute had involved 100 permanent workers who had been hired by the company directly. From 23rd August onwards 100 permanent workers staged a protest sit-in in front of the company, while 40 permanent workers were working inside. Now that there is a case running with the labour department, the protest has been called off. Those 40 workers who had remained inside were given their final wages on 1st of October. Out of the 100 workers who had been involved with the union 35 workers took an extra of 10,000 Rs as a final payment. 30 women workers and 35 male workers are still with the union. The production department has been closed. Some office employees are still working.