Workers’ struggles in the Auto Industry

Gurgaon – Manesar belt: The struggle to unite regular workers and contract workers advances

Throughout the auto and auto components industry, the capitalists have ensured that workers are kept divided on the basis of whether they are regular workers or contract workers. For the same work, contract workers are paid much less than the regular workers. They do not have any social security benefits. The capitalist owners, together with the labour department of the government, ensure that contract workers are not allowed to organise themselves into unions. Neither are they allowed to join the unions of regular workers as members.

Both regular workers, as well as contract workers recognise the importance of coming together in one organisation to fight for their rights. The workers union of Bellsonica Auto Component India Private Limited opened its doors to contract workers in August 2021. It did so, fully aware that the management would leave no stone unturned to make it reverse this decision. The union had decided that it was in the interest of all workers to stand together. They took in one contract worker as the first step.

Acting on behalf of the management, the Labour Commissioner of Haryana, who also functions as the Registrar of Trade Unions sent a letter to the union seeking an explanation within 20 days for the action which according to him was illegal. The workers union has replied defending its decision. It defended the right of workers to form or join a union of their choice. It pointed out that no distinction must be made between regular and contract workers on this question.

The example of the workers of Bellasonica will give a fillip to the united struggles of regular and contract workers for their rights. It will also unite and strengthen the workers’ unions, and challenge the managements’ attempts to use rules and procedures to keep the workers split in various unions and play one against another.

Maruti workers demand reinstatement in the company

546 workers of the Manesar plant of Maruti Automobiles had been sacked from their jobs, citing “loss of confidence”, in the wake of the violence at the plant in 2012.

Of the 546 dismissed workers, 426 had no criminal charges against them. There was no internal investigation by the company to buttress its claim that these workers had acted in any way that was inimical to the interests of the company.

The sacked workers have been searching for other jobs in vain. Most of them had returned to their villages on losing their jobs, unable to pay rent for accommodation and make two ends meet in Gurgaon. Many of them are working on contract as farmers or in other occupations in the village.

However, the workers have not given up their fight against the unjust attack on their livelihood. Hundreds of them took part in a two-day hunger strike outside the Haryana. government’s mini-secretariat on 11th-12th October, demanding reinstatement.

To recall, the death of a senior manager occurred on 18th July 2012 in the Maruti company office. The incident occurred when workers were agitating to demand reinstatement of a worker who was unjustly expelled and talks were going on between representatives of Maruti Company and the workers. The workers were charged with rioting and arson, including causing the death of the manager who died in a fire. The incident was used to spread a reign of terror throughout the Gurgaon Manesar industrial belt. It set back the workers struggle for rights, not only in Maruthi Suzuki, but throughout the belt.

Hundreds of workers were arrested and tortured for months on end. On March 10, 2017, the court convicted 31 of the 148 accused in the case and acquitted the remaining 117. These 117 workers had already spent nearly five years in jail! Thirteen of those convicted, including 12 office-bearers of the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

During the prolonged court hearings, the state offered no convincing proof that workers set the office on fire, in the course of which the manager was killed. On the other hand, eye witness accounts point to the fact that agitating workers were kept outside the gates, while the goondas of the management were in control inside the factory premises. It cannot be ruled out that the murder of the manager was organised by the company itself, in order to crush the powerful struggle of Maruthi Suzuki workers, and destroy their union.

About 340 dismissed workers had moved the court in 2016 against their illegal dismissal. But there has been no movement in the case, which has been lingering now for six years without any end in sight. The workers have decided to unite and carry on their agitation to press for reinstatement. The demand of Maruthi Suzuki workers for reinstatement has found a lot of support from workers’ and trade unions in the Gurugram-Manesar-Bawal auto belt.

Workers of Yamaha Motor foil management plans to split them

The workers of Yamaha Motor Private Ltd. called off their strike on 20th October, 2022 after a 10-day-long sit-in at the plant in Kanchipuram, on the outskirts of Chennai. The union did this in response to the management agreeing to hold talks with it.

The workers had gone on an indefinite strike on 11th October against the attempts of the management to break their unity. The management had created a puppet union in an attempt to break the workers’ unity and even signed an agreement with that union.

For the past 13 months, the workers union has been trying to get the management to negotiate a long-time settlement (LTS). The management refused to hold negotiations with the union. Instead it began negotiations with the other union it had set up.

After repeated demands by workers to deal with their union yielded no result, they resorted to an indefinite strike and sit-in protest inside the plant. More than 500 workers participated in the strike.

Various attempts of the management to break the strike – from seeking a ban from the court, to suppressing the struggle with the help of the police force and threatening to shut down the plant – proved futile. The striking workers continued their round-the-clock dharna in the plant’s campus, braving the threats and rain. The management went even further in its effort to foil the strike by promising permanent jobs to apprentices and casual labourers working in the plant. The management’s intention was to increase the number of members in the pro-management union, at least on paper. Apart from promising jobs to temporary workers, they also promised promotions for workers to executive levels. However, most of the workers refused these carrots that were dangled before them.

The determined struggle of the workers forced the management to finally agree for talks with their representatives.

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