Police repression against Hyundai workers in Tamilnadu

The Tamilnadu Government has unleashed massive repression on workers of Hyundai car assembly plant in Sriperumbudar, 40 Km from the capital Chennai.

The Tamilnadu Government has unleashed massive repression on workers of Hyundai car assembly plant in Sriperumbudar, 40 Km from the capital Chennai.

On June 8, 2010, police entered the Hyundai plant at the behest of the South Korean company’s management and broke up the two day occupation of the plant by the workers. The workers of Hyundai have been fighting militantly for the recognition of their union, the Hyundai Motor India Employees Union (HMEIU). In addition, they have been fighting for the reinstatement of 67 workers fired as the result of an earlier strike over the same issue.

In this police action, 196 workers were arrested and jailed. Later, another 86 workers were arrested and jailed from outside the Hyundai complex gate for continuing with their agitation. The arrested workers were released only on June 11, after having to get bail. The threat of fines and incarceration in jail continues to hang over these 282 workers.

The occupation of the Hyundai plant by the workers began in the early hours of June 7, when between 250 and 400 workers sat down on a conveyor belt. Fearing the action would spread, the South Korean-based automaker quickly moved to shut down both of the assembly plants it operates in Sriperumbudur. According to Hyundai management, the shutdown was costing it the production of 1,200 cars, valued at $14 million, per day.

Declaring the workers’ action illegal, Hyundai turned to the DMK government of Tamil Nadu for help. With the prompt police repression, the Tamilnadu government has sought to reassure Hyundai, the state’s largest foreign investor, that it can be counted on to police Hyundai’s cheap-labor operations, suppress worker unrest, and attack the rights of workers including the right to organize into a union. With the state government’s backing, Hyundai resumed production on June 9, using apprentices and other non-permanent staff.

According to reports, an agreement has been signed between the Union and the management with the mediation of the state labour department. Under this agreement, the fate of 35 of the 67 victimized workers will be decided by an ad hoc company-union-government arbitration committee. Hyundai has refused to even consider the case of the remaining 32 victimised workers. Hyundai has also not agreed to recognize the union. It may be recalled that there have been 4 strikes in the Sriperumbudur complex of Hyundai since 2008, against the anti worker activities of the Hyundai management.

It is reported that the Hyundai management has thanked the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu for the government’s assistance in quelling the workers strike.

The Sriperumbudur complex is central to Hyundai’s world operations. Many of the cars that the Hyundai sells in Europe and southeast Asia are made in India.

The extreme exploitation of workers at Hyudai’s Sriperumbudur plant can be gauged from the following — the extremely small number of permanent workers the company employs. The workforce is comprised of 2,000 casual labourers, 1,500 apprentices, 1,000 trade apprentices, 1,200 technical trainees, and just 1,650 full-time, permanent workers.

The Hyundai strike in Tamilnadu has coincided with a series of strikes that have disrupted its operations in China. Hyundai has plants spread all over the world. In all countries where it has operations, it imposes harsh working conditions on workers, and works with governments to attack the rights of workers and increase their degree of exploitation to ensure maximum profits. In many countries around the globe, workers have been protesting against Hyundai’s attacks on their rights. Hyundai is the world’s largest automaker in terms of profit, the fastest growing automaker, and the 4th largest in number of units sold.

The Hyundai strike is part of a series of struggles involving the workers of the auto industry in India. Recent months have seen several militant strikes in the country’s auto industry. The strike in October 2009 of some 3,000 workers at Rico auto parts plant in the Gurgaon industrial triggered a mass sympathy protest involving over 100,000 workers of the Gurgaon Manesar industrial belt. There is also an agitation going on in Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd’s Nasik auto plant in Maharashtra following victimization of Union leaders.

A major spark for this unrest has been the automakers’ drive to speed-up production and cut jobs in response to the world economic crisis. A similar factor has provoked the struggle of Air India workers.

The response of the Central and state governments to the strikes of workers — be it the case of Gurgaon auto workers, or the Air India workers, or Hyundai workers, has been to use savage repression and violence to suppress the workers struggles.

Workers will draw appropriate lessons from the role of the government in their day today struggles for livelihood and rights, against the ever increasing exploitation. One lesson is about the character of the political parties in power and in opposition in the Center and states — that they are all parties of the capitalist class. Another lesson is that the capitalist class controls the state machinery, both the repressive arm, as well as the labour department, and the workers can get no justice from the state. Therefore, even as they wage militant struggles against the individual managements, there is necessity to build a powerful front of workers which fights for political power in alliance with the peasantry and all the other exploited and oppressed. MEL extends its full support to the workers of Hyundai motors.

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