A report of a wildcat strike at Honda in Gurgaon, India in December 2010.
Wildcat Strike at Honda HMSI in Gurgaon, Manesar
On 17th of December 2010 a security personnel at Honda factory misbehaved with a temporary worker. In response temporary workers – not represented by the union – went on a wildcat strike, which brought production to a halt. The temporary workers raised demands concerning their precarious work-contract. The established union asked them to get back to work and promised that things will be taken care of. The strike continued for 24 hours, the security personnel had to apologise in front of the workers. Since the police attack on Honda HMSI workers and the registration of the Honda union in 2005 there have been several incidents of wildcat action. Most of these actions originate in the discontent of the casual and temporary workforce. Their situation has not improved since the establishment of the union, the material divisions between permanent and temporary workforce in terms of wages and conditions have widened since 2005. When they go on wildcat action the union leadership speaks of ‘instigation by pro-management forces’.
Honda Struggle 2005:
Wildcat Strike 2007:
Working Conditions 2010:
Working Conditions 2010:
According to some friends who visited the factory during the strike:
“On 17th of December 2010 at around 1 pm a temporary worker, who had been employed at the plant for a while was asked by his supervisor to perform duties outside the factory. He reported to the supervisor that he has not been issued a company ID, which is required when entering the premises individually. He was nevertheless sent outside. When the security personnel found out he swore at the worker and made him perform exercise as a form of punishment. The worker was upset and complained to his work-mates. They stopped working. The work stoppage spread to the other part of the plant. Finally the whole production came to a halt. The workers went to the union office, the representatives told them to wait for the union president who would come back at 5 pm. When he arrived he listened and told workers to go back to work. He promised them that the security guard would be suspended. The workers replied that they also demanded that the temporary workers were not given a break of employment after one year – the company resorts to these breaks in oder to avoid to have to give them permanent employment. The president asked workers to return to work. The permanent workers tried to resume work, but the temporary workers prevented them from doing so. During the night union representatives said that management spread the word that they would engage in a lock-out if work would not restart next day. This increased the division between permanent and temporary workers. Of the arriving early shift only the permanent workers were allowed to enter the factory. The security guard were made to apologize in front of the workers, but the other issues (break of employment) were ‘taken care of’, as said by the union representatives. To outsiders the union president said that apart from the issue of misbehaviour by security personnel there was no ‘other issue’. The company organised extra buses to get the workers back home. The next day, on the 19th of December the factory was closed for an early weekend. The temporary workers left with a general feeling of anger.”
We met a canteen worker some days after the strike. He said:
“After the incident with the security guard small groups wandered around the premises. When the second shift arrived at 2 pm, all workers gathered and encircled the management building to shout slogans. At that point the permanent workers were still with the casual and temp workers. Only after the security guard apologized and the temp workers still maintained their demand concerning the enforced break of employment, the permanent workers left the action. There were no leaders among the temporary workers – but the fact that there will be union elections at the end of January and the fact that there is an opposition within the union will have played a role. The numbers of workers on the premises came down. At the end about 250 workers stayed in the canteen over night. The management did not try to intervene, but there were about 150 police on the factory premises. Some managers say that the action has caused a loss of 7 crore Rs.”
According to the media:
“The workers at Honda Motorcycles & Scooters India (HMSI) plant in IMT Manesar, called off their strike following the suspension of one of the security personnel. The end came about only after Haryana labour department officials and leaders of the HMSI Workers Union intervened. The HMSI management suspended the services of the guard. They also advanced the Sunday weekly off to Saturday, to soothe tempers. According to the workers, the security guard insulted one of the casual workers by asking him to hold his ears as punishment for trying to enter the factory without his identity card, which he forgot to bring. In a written statement, the HMSI termed the affair a ‘small incident of indiscipline between security personnel and casual workers’. Senior HMSI official Harbhajan Singh said the workers had been instigated by a group of trade union members. Workers sources, said there was still uncertainty and the production shutdown has resulted in a loss of about 5000 units since yesterday. The workers claimed that about 2,500 casual labourers went on a flash strike. Singh said the guard was suspended from work pending investigations and labour leaders had addressed workers on Saturday to bring the situation under control. With two groups of trade unions operating, there was a chance for ‘trivial issues’ being blown out of proportion, Singh said. The Manesar factory produces 1.6 million two-wheelers per annum with a daily production of 5,500 units. The company is building another R500-crore plant at Tapukara in Rajasthan with a capacity of 600,000 per annum. Last year HMSI suffered a loss of over Rs. 300 crore after workers went on a go-slow strike that had resulted in production dipping by over 50 per cent for nearly three months. The strike, which the company says was a minor incident, happened a day after Honda announced it will sell off its 26 per cent stake in world’s largest two-wheeler company, Hero Honda Motors Ltd. It symbolised the Japanese firm’s problems in managing industrial relations in India.”