People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 45

November 06, 2011

The Struggle for Trade Union Rights Will Go On



A K   Padmanabhan


THE strikes and struggles of workers of Maruti-Suzuki in their Manesar plant in Haryana have attracted attention of various sections of media, employers and also of the government.  Working people all over the country and also to an extent at the international level have reacted to these developments through various solidarity actions.


The fact is that the workers in Manesar plant have gone on strike three times within five months.  Now, the third strike has ended in a settlement with the management and workers in the presence of officials from labour department of Haryana.




The basic issues involved in these strikes are not being discussed seriously in many of the discourses after the strike. The issue is that of trade union rights to the workers.  The workers are demanding that their right to have a trade union of their choice be respected and the right to collective bargaining be ensured.  This `simple’ demand of ensuring a fundamental and democratic right of the workers in manufacturing sector is being denied in this largest democracy in the world!


The question is whether all the tall talks of democracy have any meaning at all?  The working class in India had conducted strikes and struggles for this fundamental right of forming trade unions even during the colonial period.


The Trade Union Act in India was enacted in the year 1926. Our constitution, `guarantees’ freedom of association.  At the international level, India is one of the founders of International Labour Organisation (ILO).  ILO was formed in 1919 and India has the distinction of being the only `slave’ country to be among the founders of ILO. But all these did not matter to our ruling classes, Indian monopolies and their organisations, all these years.


ILO’s core conventions on freedom of association and right to collective bargaining are not ratified by the governmnet of India though they were adopted in the years 1948 and 1949.  Despite all these, Indian working class has treated this right of forming a union as a sovereign right and India has a history of trade union movement of more than 110 years.


Now, in the years of neo liberalisation, things have reached another stage.  Not only the multinational corporations, but even the `native’ employers now take a position that they will not allow their workers to have a union of their choice.


Years long struggles have been going on in different parts of the country.  Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu and Karnataka have seen many of these struggles for trade union rights and have been met with large scale victimisation of those who  had the `audacity’ to initiate forming of a trade union – a legal right for any worker in this great country.


Issues involved in the struggles in Maruti Suzuki are now well known. In Gurgaon area alone, there have been struggles by various other workers for the right to form a union, which has seen attacks and killings by `musclemen’ engaged by the employers.  Ghaziabad in UP also has seen many struggles and an HRD manager, considered to be one of the experts in `union busting’ fired upon the workers from his revolver inside the production area of the factory and in that melee, he lost his life. Reacting to another incident of the same hue, labour minister of the government of India at that time  (Oscar Fernandez) had to condemn the attitudes of the managements, though he was forced to withdraw his statement later.


In Maruti Suzuki’s Gurgaon plant – their first plant, management has been successful in having a union, which is forced to act to the their tunes.  It was their effort to `impose’ this union on the Manesar plant workers and not to allow them to have their choice that resulted in the series of struggles. The government of Haryana also played its supportive role to management by abruptly rejecting the application of the Manesar plant workers for registering their union.


Denial of registration of unions is now becoming a serious issue in many states.  When this issue was continuously taken up with the government of India, the labour ministry had called a Tripartite meeting to discuss the issue.  Though the officials of states like Kerala, under LDF government at that time, could state that registration of unions is a routine affair in their state, many issues regarding denial of registration of unions in various other states were brought up.  The meeting could conclude only with a general appeal that registrations of unions should be done within a stipulated time.


The struggles of workers in MNCs like Hyundai, Foxconn in Tamilnadu and Volvo in Karnataka are on issues of registered unions being denied collective bargaining rights.  In Hyundai, there was only one registered union for more than three years which the management refused to recognise and also dismissed, suspended and transferred office bearers and leading activists.  Even when workers went on strikes against victimization, the labour department officials had to hold separate discussions with the union and managements. The management even refused to attend a meeting in the presence of state labour minister, where union leaders were present.  When the pressure was mounted on the management through continuous struggles, management got a `pocket union’ registered and declared that union as recognised!  Now, workers from the first union who command a huge majority support are demanding a secret ballot for recognition of union.


In Volvo, in Bangalore, 60 days of strike has just ended but four of the office bearers of the only union are still under suspension, but forced the management to settle other issues like regularisation.


Even after ILO office in Delhi, initiating and assisting trade unions on a campaign to force the government of India to ratify the Convention Nos 87 and 98 on freedom of association and right to collective bargaining, the government refuses to act.  A massive signature campaign on the ratification of conventions is on as a pilot project in Tamilnadu where ILO and central TUs are all involved and will be submitting those signatures to the labour minister, government of India on December 10 – the Human Rights Day.


With 30 workers from the Manesar plant still under suspension, and many others suspended or dismissed in different parts of the country, the central TUs have taken up the issue of ensuring trade union rights, ensuring registration of unions within 45 days of submission for registration and ratification of ILO Conventions 87 and 98 as some of the major demands of joint trade union campaign in the country.


The struggles like in Suzuki, Hyundai and Volvo will go on as also the solidarity actions with those struggles.  These will surely converge into a national movement in the coming days, with local struggles developing into national struggles.  None will be able to cry `halt’ to these waves of struggles in the coming days for ensuring trade union rights and mandatory recognition of trade unions to ensure right to collective bargaining.