Struggles and union issues at Honda and Bellsonica in Manesar, India

Translation of four recent articles from Faridabad Majdoor Samachar (Faridabad Worker' News, India), reflecting on the union question regarding two current struggles at Honda motor-cycle factory and Bellsonica car parts supplier.

Submitted by AngryWorkersWorld on October 3, 2016

Through the prism of Honda Tapukara

On the afternoon of 17th February, while distributing Majdoor Samachar, conversations took place with the workers of the A and B shifts of Honda-Manesar factory. [1]

Against the dismissal of 4 permanent workers in the Honda two-wheeler factory in Tapukara, Alwar, Rajasthan, Honda Manesar union leaders told workers in Manesar factory to boycott tea on 16th February. Leaders and permanent workers also shouted slogans inside the factory. Temporary workers said that instead of boycotting tea, extension of the tea-break to half an hour would have affected production & put pressure upon the company. When permanent workers shouted slogans, the production lines were functioning and temporary workers were at work. Most of the production work in the Honda-Manesar factory is done by temporary workers and permanent workers could be said to be overlooking the production process. Temporary workers are four to five times more in number than permanent workers, and permanent workers' wages are four to five times the wages of temporary workers. The Honda-Tapukara factory was started in 2011. In this factory there was not much difference between the wages of permanent and temporary workers. On the afternoon of 16th February, after stopping production, permanent and temporary workers gathered at a place in the factory. Around 7 pm, Rajasthan police baton charged and made arrests to throw the workers out of the factory.

The Honda-Manesar factory had begun in 2001 and the increasing bonds-relations-talmels [2] amongst permanent, trainee, and temporary workers had become a pain in the company's neck. Bonds amongst all workers working in the factory in today's situation started giving shape to a real wage-workers organization on factory basis by 2005. To overcome this, the company and the state on the one hand used the police, and on the other hand a union was registered. All the 500 trainees who were in the factory in 2005 were thrown out and hence onwards the company stopped having trainees. All the temporary workers who were working in Honda Manesar factory in 2005 were thrown out, new ones were hired, and from then on the number of temporary workers has increased a lot.

After registration of the union in 2005,the Honda management recognised the union. The union office is inside the factory. Only the permanent workers are members of the union. Temporary workers cannot become members of the union. Such is the rule, the law. Whether it be Escorts factories in Faridabad, or Maruti Suzuki factories in Gurgaon and Manesar, only the permanent workers are union members in them. Not one temporary worker is a member of these unions, and cannot become a member. And today normally in factories there are 5-10-15-20 percent permanent workers and 80-90-95 percent temporary workers.

In 2006 in Honda-Manesar a three year agreement between union and management took place in which production was increased and permanent workers wages were increased. Temporary workers work load was increased and wages were not raised. On the next day of the agreement, 1500 temporary workers of the A-shift, instead of starting production at 6.30 am, went to the canteen, and at the same time temporary workers of the B-shift gathered at the factory gate. The management, police, administration, courts, and middlepersons of various hues had to do strenous exercises for five days.

Union-management agreements have been taking place in Honda Manesar since 2006. After each agreement the difference between the wages of permanent workers and temporary workers has been increasing. And today, 1.6 million two-wheelers per year are manufactured in the Honda-Manesar factory.

The Honda-Tapukara factory started in 2011and 1.2 million two-wheelers per year are made here. The company's third two-wheeler factory was started in Narsapur, Karanataka in 2013 with an installed capacity of 1.8 million two-wheelers, which has been increased to 2.4 million. Recently the company's fourth factory in Vithhalpur, Mehsana (Gujarat) has commenced production from 16.2. 2016 in which 1.2 million scooters per year will be manufactured.

To overcome the increasing bonds-relations-talmels amongst about 400 permanent workers and 4000 temporary workers at the Honda-Tapukara factory, the company and state have now, in 2016, repeated their modus operandi of 2005: use of police, and registration of union [has become the main] issue! Four thousand temporary workers, that is, ninety percent of the workers working in the factory cannot become members of the union and middlepersons of different colours are trumpeting union registration.

After they were thrown out of the factory, Honda Tapukara workers were called to Haryana by leaders of unions in Gurgaon. As support, leaders of many unions gave speeches on 19th February, announced a committee of 13 union leaders to act as godfathers of Honda Tapukara workers, and gave leadership to the demonstration............

Maruti Suzuki Manesar's permanent, trainee, apprentice, and workers hired through contractor companies maintained and increased the bonds-relations-talmels amongst themselves during June 2011 to July 2012, and did not allow any middlepersons to become their godfathers. [3] The upsurge of wage-workers went on rising and despite concession after concession by the company and by the state, the upsurge reached that height on 18 July 2012 where two symbols of the wages system, managers and factory buildings were caught in the workers' upsurge. Middlepersons of various hues had then become hyperactive and constituted a leaders committee of 16 unions declaring it the godfather of Maruti Suzuki-Manesar workers. That committee shifted the sphere of activity away from Manesar to Gurgaon. Activities were : to give memorandum to this-that leader-minister, holding meetings now and then as opportunities for speeches and speech makers, to lead demonstrations now and then, and hunger-strike. Most of the workers of Maruti Suzuki-Manesar did not get ensnared by this 16 unions committee of leaders but they could not present the thousands of factories in Industrial Model Town Manesar as the alternative place and point of departure. Inside the factory throughout the year Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers had done a lot for which they had not taken permission from anyone. That is why they had kept moving ahead. In July 2012 it had become very much possible to act in the whole industrial area without taking anyone's permission but it did not happen. And in this scenario, the 546 terminated permanent workers and families of 147 workers in prison became as if in bondage to that committee of 16. By December 2012 the committee of 16 became intolerable. Then its place was taken by aggressive language speakers and they took those as if in bondage further away, from Gurgaon to the agricultural hinterland Kaithal. Result : one year later, on 18th July 2013, the anniversary of the workers' upsurge was celebrated in a park (designated by the police) in Gurgaon by lighting candles in the day, holding aloft a photograph of the manager who died and declaring him pro-worker................

Now the committee of 13 unions leaders told the Honda Tapukara workers called to Gurgaon that since due to the reservation turmoil Section 144 (gatherings of five and more prohibited) is in force, therefore for demonstrations-protests they should go to Jaipur. And then, in Jaipur the leaders told Honda Tapukara workers to go to Alwar...........

The important thing is why despite experiencing so many times the middle-manning of union leaders, do we let them come near us ? Tea estate women workers in Munnar (Kerala) chased away middlepersons of all hues. What is it that we think the union will do for us ? After obtaining permission from the police, holding meetings, demonstrations, submitting memorandum after memorandum to officer-legislator-minister, now and then a handbill-poster, hearing dates in labour department-court, these are the visible acts of the unions. Many things take place behind curtains. And, the huge number of temporary workers working in factories today cannot even be members of factory unions. In this scenerio what do we expect from unions ? Why do we expect ? Something to consider. Necessary to think.


From June 2016 issue of FMS

Bellsonica Auto Components

In the Bellsonica factory located at Plot-1 Sector-8, IMT Manesar (inside Maruti Suzuki campus), parts for Maruti Suzuki cars such as front pillar, front end, center pillar, rear framework, side bumper framework etc are made by 89 permanent workers (technician), 354 trainees and 500 workers hired through 4 contractor companies. 45 workers of the permanent workforce had just got their union registered when the management suspended all of them on 10 Oct 2014. The management then formed a committee of some permanent workers and attempted to create an atmosphere of fear in the factory.

The workers work hard at the factory : Sheet metal work. 1500 ton and 1600 ton transfer press, 1000 to 300 ton tandem line, 300 to 80 ton progressive press and along with that 145 spot welding robots, 23 AW welding robots, manual welding, station spot welding. And in the B shift, work for 12 hours is compulsory. The difference between the wages of permanent, trainee and workers hired through contractor companies is not much and all workers do work. All the workers have similar uniforms. Conditions are fertile for good bonds between all the workers - permanent and temporary ones. Even under such circumstances (or perhaps because of such circumstances), union registration was attempted - which was to be constrained to the 89 permanent workers. But the 45 workers who registered the union were shown the door by the management. The 45 permanent workers were then compelled to talk to and build relations with the 900 temporary workers.

Whenever meetings were called by the 45 involved in union formation, at least 700 workers would show up. The company's agents would secretly film the meetings based on which the management would expel workers. The number of expelled permanent, trainee and workers hired through contractor companies reached 180. However, in the last 6 months, the company has put a stop on expelling workers.

Bellsonica holds 70% of the shares of the company and Maruti Suzuki holds the remaining 30%. Bellsonica has 3 factories in Japan and one in Indonesia also.

The Registrar of Haryana government registered the union. Bellsonica company challenged the registration in the High Court at Chandigarh. In course of arguments, the company claimed 354 trainees as workmen (permanent) while the union claimed that trainees were not workmen (permanent). Meaning, as per the company, trainees were eligible for union membership while according to the union, trainees could not be members of the union. Supreme Court rulings were cited. Finally, the High Court dismissed the company's appeal on Dec 9, 2014. Neither the company, nor the union said anything about the 500 workers hired through contractor companies.

The 45 permanent workers went to the Labour Department to challenge their suspension. The Deputy Labour Commissioner issued summons to the Bellsonica management which the latter ignored. Acting on the report of the Deputy Labour Commissioner, the Labour Commissioner at Chandigarh served notice to the company for unfair labour practices. The management provided the charge-sheet to the suspended workers after a delay of 3 months, in January 2015, only on being ordered by the Court to do so. Leaders say that the Bellsonica management has taken the matter to a Division Bench of the High Court which heard some arguments on 12 April 2016 and fixed the next date for 12 July.

During these 1.5 years, on being asked by the union, that is the permanent workers constituting the union, the Bellsonica workers have given them Rs 2000 on 3 occasions adding up to Rs 18-20 lakh. And the permanent Bellsonica workers who have become union leaders are so caught up in legalism that they present to the workers that they should maintain peace and keep up regular production – those being the workers' weapons. In these 1.5 years, work was never stopped in the factory, there were no disturbances and production went on peacefully.

85000 unions are registered in the domain of the Indian government. According to rules-laws-legislation-constitution only permanent workers can become members of registered unions in factories. Casual workers, workers hired through contractor companies, trainees or apprentices cannot become members of these unions. Currently 80-90% workers in factories cannot become members of these unions. Bellsonica factory is not outside these rules. The examples of Honda, Maruti, Napino Auto, Munjal Kiriu, Asti Electronics – which are all factories within IMT Manesar, are before us.

The fees for union registration is Rs 5. Typing-postage etc expenses come up to Rs 200-300.
In factories, only permanent workers can become members of unions.
Temporary workers cannot become members of unions in the factory. Temporary workers, casual workers, workers hired through contractor companies, trainees, apprentices cannot become members of unions in the factory.
Currently, 80-90% workers working in factories cannot become members of factory unions.

In these circumstances, it is necessary to question legalism, to question factory unionizing. It is even more essential to increase coordination, bonding, talmel amongst workers - permanent and temporary - within the factories and industrial areas. The women workers in the garments sector in Bangalore have given a glimpse of the impact of worker coordination independent of leaders and unions – they compelled the government to cancel its new PF [4] rules.


July 2016 issue of FMS

The role of Middle-persons in these times

When a hundred persons speak, they say thousand different things, in thousands of different ways. People are speaking up in hundreds, thousands, millions, a 7 billion people.
How can one talk to 500 people? Select 5 persons and send them for discussion! When the selected ones are sincere and honest they get out-maneuvered and if they turn dishonest, they sell-out.
In the conflict between self-action, acting in groups and acting by means of a representative-leader, the representatives-leaders are being beaten up.
Everyone compromises and sells-out. All leaders are cheats. It's common to hear this every where the world over. Yet, conditions are created for intervention by such middlemen.
Bonds between workers weaken the control of the company on the factory. Increasing bonds and coordination attain the potential of dislodging the control of the company. In the process, there are incidents of workers dismissed from jobs and police action which create space for middle-persons. Space is created for middle-persons – space emerges for middle-persons - when the workers look to law-legislature-government for immediate relief from suspension-dismissal-arrest-court cases.

Workers do not get relief through middle-persons. In pursuit of relief, middle—persons take workers through a tiring grind of memoranda-court dates-protest-demonstrations and assurances. Honda Tapukara is again an example of relief for the companies coming from the work of middle-persons. And, Bellsonica Manesar is yet another example of companies getting relief by means of middle-persons.

Honda Tapukara

A description of the unrest at the Honda factory in district Alwar, Rajasthan can be found in the March 2016 issue.

On 16th February, in order to stem the upsurge of temporary and permanent workers, the workers were evicted from the factory by means of police action. Following that, a huge number of new temporary workers were recruited and the factory was kept operational through them and a few permanent workers. In parallel, the workers evicted from the factory were made to run around Gurgaon, Jaipur, Alwar by middle-persons for obtaining relief.

On 6th June, there was a settlement between the Honda management and unions in the presence of the Labour Commissioner of Rajasthan government. Out of more than 4000 workers evicted from the factory, 256 permanent workers were to go back to work at the factory starting 8 June. As for the rest, it was decided to have talks on 13 June at the Labour Department.

The union thanked the Honda management and Labour Department of Rajasthan Government in press releases.

On 8 June, the permanent workers went into the factory to work in accordance with the settlement.

And then, come 13th June, the Honda management never showed up for the talks scheduled at the Labour department. The company bluntly said that it would not recall even a single worker of the thousands of temporary workers evicted from the factory.

102 permanent workers of Honda Tapukara have been dismissed and 47 have been suspended.

With the Honda management “going back on its words”, the union has once more started a series of protest-demonstration-appeals since 20th June.

Bellsonica Manesar

Description of the happenings at Bellconica factory can be found in the June 2016 issue.

Union has kept saying : Workers will benefit from peacefully keeping up regular production at the factory, through the Labour department and the Courts. Far from the workers gaining anything through these things going on since 1.5 years, the company has instead fired many permanent, trainees and workers hired through contractor companies.

In June, workers at the factory bluntly told the union leaders that the union right away do something for immediate relief failing which the workers would act on their own.

The union which had been holding out hopes since months for the decisive date of 12 July at the High Court, taxed its brains and made a plan : kill the snake, yet do not break the stick. To ensure that the production does not suffer, the company does not face losses, the company does not get annoyed – the weekly off day in the factory was chosen. Lot of thought also went into the “action” to be taken - to act without putting the government authorities under pressure, or tension, without being a bother, without angering them. A Sunday was found to be the best choice. 6000 handbills were printed for distribution. 1500 posters were printed for putting up in Dharuhera, Bawal, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Delhi University and IMT Manesar. Towards the end of June, the union kept busy many workers working in Belsonica factory and their colleagues outside the factory.

Sunday is a holiday at the factory. Government offices are closed on Sundays. Hence, the middlepersons calling for revolution-vivolution announce
“Program : Collective Hunger Strike
Venue : Mini Secretariat, Gurgaon
Time : 9 AM – 5 PM
Date : July 3 2016”

We are not talking about 1 or 2 workers. We are talking about groups of workers. It is clear what worker groups should not do. On being fired from work, arrested, embroiled in Court cases – in such situations having expectations from law-legislature-government is akin to getting trapped in a mire for worker groups.

So the important questions are : Who to look to? Who to approach? Who to talk to? What-all to do? From our side, to initiate discussion we would say: workers should look towards other workers, workers should approach other workers, workers should talk to other workers. The points of departure to think and act together are the forming of bonds, coordination amongst workers within the factory, between factories, within the industrial area, between industrial areas, and at dwelling quarters. It is necessary to increase them.


From August 2016 issue of FMS

On loosening the control of middlepersons

Bellsonica auto components : On Aug 3 2016, the management on its own made the following proposals at the Labour department : all the dismissed permanent workers and trainees will be taken back; permanent workers and trainees will be paid for the days that they were kept out of work; 32 trainees shall be made permanent; other matters will be settled with the union in the factory within 2-3 months. The Labour officer also keenly said that he would not sign on the settlement unless the company gave an oral assurance to take back the dismissed workers hired through contractor companies. The union leaders of Bellsonica, who are permanent workers, said that if the dismissed workers hired through contractor companies are not paid by the management for the days that they have been kept out of work, then the leaders will distribute the pay received by permanent and trainee workers among all the workers equally. A tripartite settlement between Bellsonica management, the union and Labour department was signed on Aug 3.

The events at Bellsonica have been described in the June and July 2016 issues of Majdoor Samachar. The union leaders had called for a hunger strike on the Sunday, 3 July outside government offices which remain closed on Sundays. Following the hunger strike, the permanent workers, trainees and workers hired through contractor companies at the factory started making a dent in the production. The 12 July date at the High Court went by without event. Bellsonica workers turned out in large numbers at the Sunday Struggle on 18 July arranged by the Maruti Suzuki Manesar Union outside government offices at 4pm.

In the past 9-10 months, there has been a substantial increase in the bonds, coordination, talmel between the permanent workers, trainees and workers hired through contractor companies at the Bellsonica factory. Although, the union registration was worked out by middle-persons from outside, the actual worker organization arising in factories out of prevalent circumstances has made the factory union leaders distance themselves from these outsider middle-persons. The 7 suspended union leaders are active among the 140 dismissed workers and within the factory, the 11 member union executive and 60 coordinators are actively facilitating exchange among nearly 1000 workers. The workers have greatly weakened the control of the Bellsonica management on the factory floor. All the workers – permanent, trainees, workers hired through contractor companies have refused to work overtime on many days. The assembly lines of Maruti Suzuki cars are being affected. Maruti Suzuki has a 30% share in Bellsonica. Hence the proposal put forth on Aug 3 2016.

The management does not want that the workers in the factory unionize. More accurately, it can be said that managements do not want unions in factories as long as there is not much coordination or solidarity between workers. The reason is that managements steal from companies and pay workers less than what is shown on paper. For instance, at Bellsonica factory itself “trainee [category] 1 and workers hired through contractors are paid only Rs 6573 even while their wages are shown on paper as Rs 8500 – they say that 24% has been deducted towards PF but show only 12% deduction on the pay slip” - this was reported in the April 2013 issue of Majdoor Samachar.

Companies have chairmen, managing directors, CEOs, other directors, presidents, general managers, other managers, supervisors etc. Companies have managements. Companies don't have owners.

It is when bonds, coordination and solidarity between the workers increase that the managements want union formation within the factory. The management makes efforts to form unions going as far as sending Managers to Chandigarh to get the union registered. And then managements make the union and some union leaders appear important – all to keep the workers under control. By recognizing unions, managements exercise extra legal methods also to control workers and maintain and increase production. This used to happen even in the days when most workers at the factory were permanent. This is what happened at the East India Cotton Mill at Faridabad in 1969. Again, it happened in Faridabad at Escorts Tractor and motorcycle factories and Gedore Hand Tools. At present, most workers at the factory are temporary workers. Hence, it only helps the management that the law allows only permanent workers at the factory to become members of the factory union. At Maruti Suzuki Manesar, the management was initially firmly opposed to forming a second union at the factory. But, in 2011, the management played a pro active role in getting the second union registered when the bonds, solidarity and coordination greatly increased amongst the permanent workers, trainees, apprentices and workers hired through contractor companies. Later, on 26th September 2015, in opposition to the 3 year settlement signed on 24 September 2015 between the management and union, when the temporary workers at the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory stopped work, fought the goons brought over by the company and tried to face the police, the union cooperated with the management to keep production going at the factory. At the Napino Auto and Electronics Factory, 140 workers hired through contractor companies working at the factory for 5-10 years who had played an active role in forming a union at the factory, were dismissed by the management on 28 June 2016 with the support of the union. At the Manesar factory of Honda two-wheelers, after the union was formed in 2005, it signed a 3 year settlement with the management in 2006 which was opposed by the temporary workers. The temporary workers stopped work for 5 days but the union stood in support with the management. Recently, when a new management-union 3 year settlement was signed, temporary workers boycotted meals at the canteen for 2 days while the union sided with the management and the permanent workers continued to have meals at the canteen. And at Asti Electronics factory, within a year of union formation, 380 temporary workers who were very active in forming the union were thrown out of the factory by the management with the help of the union.

Such is the scenario, the state of affairs. The Bellsonica management's encouragement for union formation at the factory has to be examined in this light. According to a source observing the events unfolding at Bellsonica from proximity, the management's agenda is to strengthen its control by using the union to bring down the number of proactive workers from 1000 to 150. It is necessary to be wary of quick-fix advisors of various hues, especially workers hired through contractor companies and trainees need to be watchful. But being watchful is not enough. It is necessary for all workers to think in a new way and act to form new structures. And the tea workers of Munnar and garment workers of Bengaluru are already progressing in this direction. New structures need to emerge and are emerging with workers approaching workers, workers forming bonds, relations and increasing coordination with other workers within the factory, between factories, within the industrial area, between industrial areas, and at dwelling quarters. We are living in the times of lively pulses of global wage workers.

Translated from March 2016 issue of Faridabad Majdoor Samachar
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More on Honda Manesar workers’ struggles history:

‘Talmel’: Hindi word for collectivity, togetherness, coordination

Material on Maruti Suzuki struggle:

PF: Provident Fund, a kind of unemployment/pension fund


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