Summary of the Struggle from June to October 2011

Struggle at Maruti Suzuki in India:
Wildcat strikes, factory occupations and protest camps

Since June 2011 around 3,500 workers at Maruti Suzuki car plant are confronting the factory regime and its institutional allies in Manesar, in the south of Delhi – also see GurgaonWorkersNews no. 41. Their struggle leaped over to other automobile factories in the industrial corridor, which brought the world’s third largest automobile assembly plant in nearby Gurgaon to a halt. In the most significant workers’ struggle in India in the last two decades the young workers managed to undermine the companies’ attempts to divide them along the lines of temporary and permanent contracts. The struggle attacked the core of the Indian development model and puts it into question: integration into global markets and production structures on the highest technological level combined with harshest casualisation of the workforce. This casualisation is enforced by various means, ranging from the use of country rifles by local labour contractors to sending individual text messages to the workers company mobile phone (a ‘company present’ for the production of 10 million Maruti cars), calling them back to work. The dispute developed in four phases.

The First Occupation

From 4th to 17th of June the workers occupied the assembly plant after management had tried to sabotage their attempt to form an independent union Maruti Suzuki Employees Union(MSEU). Friends, co-workers, family, supporters provided them with food and other necessities. Casual workers engaged in loading finished Maruti cars joined their strike and demanded the same wage rate as the truck drivers. The main trade union centres called for a solidarity strike on 14th of June, but called it off again last minute. The occupation ended with the management offering only a ‘faked’ recognition of the union as part of a ‘company committee’, while penalising the workers with wage reductions of two daily wages per day of strike.

The Underground

From the 17th of June till 28th of August the dispute continued underground. Workers said that after the occupation foremen and management treated them with slightly more respect than usual. During the first weeks only 1,100 instead of 1,200 cars were produced per day. End of June the state authorities refused the application for union registration for formal reasons. The workers refused to take part in the elections of the ‘company union’ Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU), which is based in the Gurgaon plant and which was set up after a major defeat of workers in 2000/2001, after a long lock-out. The company started hiring new manual workers for assembly line positions from Kanpur and other Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), at the same time they fenced of the grassy and open areas inside the premises, which had served the workers as assembly places during the occupation – which can be seen as preparations for a possible lock-out. On 28th of July the police arrived and took four workers from their work-places to the management offices – the management talked about ‘incidences of violence against superiors’. In protest, workers in the whole plant laid down tools and assembled. The company stopped the buses for the B-shift and refused entry to the arriving workers. The A-shift refused to leave the factory. After about an hour management agreed on letting the B-shift start working. At the beginning of August some workers hired through contractor (temporary workers) complained about the work load and demanded that more workers should be hired for the job. The line manager abused one of these workers, the other workers at the line stood up for him – in the end the line manager had to apologize in front of the gathered workers. The company started to complain about go-slows and According to company sources on 24th of August only 437 of the planned 1,230 cars were produced, out of which only 96 made it through quality check. During this period four workers were suspended and around 40 temp workers sent home.

The Lock-out / Protest-Camp

During the night of the 28th of August around 400 riot cops entered the factory and established themselves there. The company erected a metal barrier around the entrance of the plant and demanded from each worker to sign a ‘good conduct bond’ (no go slows, no sabotage, no singing during work, shave regularly etc.). Only twenty or so workers signed, the others set up a protest camp in front of the factory. Maruti Suzuki transferred engineers and supervisors from Gurgaon to Manesar and started to hire new skilled workers on temporary basis. Till the end of the 33 days of lock-out the numbers of workers inside the plant increased to about 1300, 800 of which had been hired fresh.
On 12th of September around 1200 temp workers at neighbouring Munjal Showa factory went on wildcat strike. Munjal Showa manufactures around 60,000 shock absorbers for two-wheelers a day – the tool-down threatened the production at the local Honda and Hero Honda plants. The next day the Munjal management promised to make 125 workers permanent and complained about the negative influence of the Maruti workers.
On 14th of September several thousand workers at Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki castings and Suzuki Motorcycles in Manesar area went on strike. [1] The HMS union at Castings and Powertrain had been recognised under the pressure of the first occupation at Maruti Suzuki – while at the time AITUC still made major efforts to control the MSEU at Maruti Suzuki. The workers at Powertrain etc. raised their own demands (wages, regularisation of casual workers), but also demanded the end of the ‘good conduct’ lock-out and withdrawal of the suspensions at Maruti Suzuki. Apart from the Maruti Manesar plant, Suzuki Powertrain also supplies the bigger Maruti Gurgaon plant with engines, gear-boxes and axles. After one day of strike management at Gurgaon plant announced to close the factory due to lack of parts for certain models. This is also of importance because Maruti had threatened to ‘re-relocate’ certain models from Manesar back to Gurgaon in order to compensate for the impact of the lock-out. On 16th of September the HMS union called off the strike, after management had considered some of the ‘company internal demands’.
The lock-out continued till 30th of September, in the end the main trade unions advised the workers to sign the ‘bond’, in turn management took back on 18 trainees and converted 44 terminations into suspensions. Both sides declared to take care for harmonious work relations.

The Second Occupation

On 3rd of October production in Manesar was supposed to resume. The management allowed the permanent workers to enter the factory, but refused entry to about 1,200 temporary workers who had taken part in the occupation and protest camp. Management also shifted a lot of permanent workers between departments and production lines, which caused discontent. The wage loss had been a drain on workers scarce resources. Between 3rd and 7th of October around 100 frustrated temp workers took their final dues. The others went to the factory gate put pressure on management (and on their permanent co-workers). On 7th of October the workers inside the Maruti factory occupied the plant again, together with them, workers at Suzuki Powertrain, Castings and Suzuki Motorcycles took the same step: they responded to the attempt of the Maruti management to divide the workers into temps and permanents by engaging in a sit-down strike. They demanded to take back the temps and to re-install the company bus service, which had been cancelled since early October. There were short solidarity strikes in eight more (mainly) automobile factories in the industrial area. At least half of those workers who had been hired during the lock-out and who were now inside the Maruti plant joint the occupation in support of the temporary workers outside.
On 9th of October local labour contractors appear in front of the Suzuki Motorcycle factory, they throw beer bottles and shoot and threatened the striking workers. The Haryana state accused the striking workers to have broken the agreement and gave them 48 hours notice. On 10th of October the Gurgaon plant manufactured only 1,000, instead of 2,800 cars due to lack of parts from Suzuki Powertrain. Two days later management announced closure of the Gurgaon factory.
On 14th of October, after district elections finished and more police force was available, the cops evicted the workers’ make-shift kitchen in the industrial area, which had provided food for around 4000 workers in occupation. Around 2,000 cops were now in the Manesar plant, they started to shut down the canteen, the water supply and the toilets. During the night workers decided to leave the occupation, the next morning the other two occupations ended, too. The strikes continued outside the factories, on the 16th of October Maruti announced that production in Manesar had started on ‘low levels’ with about 800 workers. The same day around 1500 workers at multi-national solar-panel and optical discs manufacturer Moser Baer in nearby NOIDA went on strike for higher wages. The strike at the Maruti Suzuki and the other three Suzuki plants lasted till the 21st of October. In the end management agreed to take back on the 1200 temps and take back some of the terminated and suspended workers. The MSEU is not recognised, but a ‘company welfare board’ is set up, with participation of representatives of both workers and management.

Who are these workers and what do they want?

The pyramid of valorisation
The assembly plant in Manesar was opened in 2007, Maruti hired young skilled workers from various ITIs in Northern India. The majority of workers in their mid 20s. Originally from the hinterland of Haryana or Uttar Pradesh they now live in the industrial dormitory villages around Manesar and Gurgaon, often sharing rooms. Around 1,000 workers are permanents, around 800 are trainees, 400 are apprentices (who work full-time as normal production workers) and 1,200 are temporary workers, hired through contractors. The permanents earn around 13,000 to 17,000 Rs, the trainees around 8,000, the temp workers 6,500 and the apprentices around 4,000. The wage of the permanent workers is composed of a basic wage of around 5,000 Rs (the minimum wage in Haryana) and 8,000 Rs of various bonuses (attendance etc.). This means that the young permanent workers earn considerably less than the permanent workers in the older Gurgaon plant in around 20 km distance or the neighbouring Honda motorcycle plant in Manesar, who both earn around 30,000 Rs. The Maruti factory in Gurgaon was opened in the early 1980s. In 2000/2001 the Gurgaon workers were confronted with a long lock-out of several weeks, similar to the Manesar workers today. Back then the company used the defeat of the workers in order to enforce a Voluntary Retirement Scheme and replaced around half of the permanent workers with temp workers. Today the majority in Gurgaon are temp workers, the severe wage difference – or class division – is managed by the trade union MUKU. The young workers in Manesar did not feel represented by this union and hoped for a solution to their problems by forming their own union.

The new anger, the new aspirations
The young workers have concrete desires: more money and less work and an end to the disciplinary factory regime. They compare their wages to those in other car plants. They complain, that Maruti cuts their bonus payments for any minor delay or as soon as they take a day off, up to 2,200 Rs wage reductions for a day off. They express their discontent about the workload, which does not leave time to get a breath in. The break time does not suffice to walk 400 metres to the canteen and take your meal. You need permission in order to go to the loo. They are angry about the never ending waiting-loops before you get a proper contract. But they did not put these aspirations – more money, less work – in the foreground of the struggle. This could have built a bridge to the 150,000 other workers in Manesar industrial area, because these are common problems and aspirations. Instead they demanded recognition of their union, and later on: re-instatement of the suspended and terminated representatives. They struggle hard and bear huge wage losses for a piece of paper, which they see as a symbol of their unity, as a thorn in the flesh of the hated factory regime and as a hope, that they can establish, solidify or delegate their gains and collective power to a permanent body of representation.

Suzuki Powertrain India Ltd employs over 2,000 (1,300 – 3,000, 1250 trainee and permanent and over 600 contract workers) workers at its Manesar plant, where it manufactures diesel engines (300,000 per year) and transmissions for supplies to Maruti Suzuki. Suzuki Castings has nearly 700 workers (375-400 trainee and permanent and over 500 contract workers). Suzuki Motorcycles India has 1,400 workers at its plant near Manesar and rolls out about 1,200 motorcycles and scooters a day.

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