(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 05, 2012
Growing Attacks on the Rights of the Working Class
THE recent violence in the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki, in which a senior manager of the plant was killed and several others seriously injured, evoked widespread debate on the situation of industrial relations in the country. While all the trade unions have condemned the violence in strong and unequivocal terms, the way in which the workers are being targeted and terrorised is also deplorable.
The method in which violence on such a large scale erupted is surprising. Unrest in the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki is not new. There have been many earlier instances when workers went on agitation to press their demands. But despite tremendous repression and provocations from the management and their goons including suspension, summary dismissal and forcible debarment of workers from entering the plant, the workers maintained absolute restraint and peace. There was not a single incident of violence even when thousands of workers stayed day and night inside the plant for more than a month in different spells; there were no reports of damage to the equipment.
There are different versions on how the violence erupted. While the management was quick to blame the workers, the workers' representatives including trade unions denied this and have alleged that the management brought in 'bouncers' who confronted them leading to the eruption of violence. There were also media reports based on individual workers' accounts that said that violent activities were not at all planned. Despite this, large sections of corporate media have not only concluded that the workers were responsible for the violence but also started blaming trade unions and trade unionism.
The Haryana state government has gone on large scale and indiscriminate arrests of workers putting around a hundred of them including many who were on leave behind bars. For example, a worker named Pradip who was in Jind on leave for his wife's delivery and came to Manesar only after hearing about the violence, was arrested and put behind bars. Even the family members of the workers were not spared. Workers' houses and colonies have been rampaged. Such acts of terror on the workers through mass scale arrests and foisting of false cases and the statements by some representatives of the employers unilaterally holding the workers responsible for the violence are entirely uncalled for. An impartial and independent enquiry is required to determine the real culprits and punish them. Victimisation of workers must be immediately stopped and all the innocent workers must be released at once.
There has been a spurt in violent incidences in industries in recent times. The violence in the Manesar plant of Maruti, the killing of Murali Mohan, a worker and the general secretary of Regency Ceramics in Yanam at the beginning of this year, and several such incidents, bring into focus the deteriorating industrial relations scenario in the country. In the aftermath of the Maruti violence, some ‘captains’ of industry, ‘impartial’ observers etc have demanded that such acts must be dealt with ruthlessly. Concern is also expressed about the return of ‘militant trade unionism’. An orchestrated campaign is being conducted in sections of corporate media to denigrate trade unions, particularly Left trade unions. Attempts are being made to project that unionisation by the workers drives out ‘investment' and to pit the people around the industrial areas against the workers. A ‘mahapanchayat' of some contractors, transporters etc from villages around Manesar has threatened that they would not allow any trade union activities in the area.
These are nothing but attempts to utilise the Maruti incident to further increasing the attacks on the rights of the workers including their right to organise and collective bargaining, which cannot be condoned. What this campaign seeks to mask is the blatant flouting of labour laws by the employers, particularly by big multinational corporations like Maruti, Honda, Hyundai, Foxconn etc in various parts of the country. These multinational corporations refuse to abide by the laws of the land. Workers are denied their basic right to organise and collective bargaining. There are several instances where they have refused to even attend conciliation proceedings initiated by the labour department. Of course, intolerance to workers getting organised is not only confined to the multinational corporations. There are many instances of Indian corporations like Reddy Labs, Regency Ceramics etc resorting to victimisation and large scale repression to prevent unionisation.
Such open and widespread violation of labour laws with the connivance of the government machinery is resulting in simmering discontent and dissatisfaction among the workers in many industries. Today, employment of casual and contract workers, even for permanent and perennial jobs, has become a common practice. It is reported that contract workers comprise more than 55 per cent of the workers in the public sector. In many private sector industries their share is even more. In an Israeli company manufacturing ‘off road’ tyres in Thirunelveli, all the workers were contract workers. Thus the work place in many factories presents the picture of two categories of workers doing the same job but in entirely different working conditions. While the permanent workers get better wages and benefits, the contract workers get meagre wages and no social security benefits.
This fact and the growing discontent among the workers due to such inequalities and discrimination at work place is now being acknowledged by the senior officers in the labour ministry and even some employers’ organisations. The Economic Times reported that ‘the central government has identified corporate India’s increasing reliance on casual and contract labour to get routine operational jobs done at cheaper rates as the primary reason for the recent increase in labour strife and violence’. Ravi Mathur, additional secretary in the labour ministry has reportedly said that ‘In every industry you will find a larger number of workers on contract than the regular workers… ‘Apart from being paid less than regular employees on corporate payrolls doing similar tasks, contract workers have virtually no job security and are usually denied benefits like gratuity, provident fund and health insurance’. Rajiv Dubey, president of the Employers’ Organisation of India also said that employing contract labour for jobs of permanent nature and paying them less is a problem.
But the government is more concerned about ‘attracting investment’ and protecting the interests of the employers. The amendment of the Contract Labour Act on payment of equal wages and benefits to the contract workers as the permanent workers in the industry, which was agreed upon by the state governments and the trade unions in the Indian Labour conference is pending since the last more than two years. It is not likely to be placed in the parliament even in the ensuing monsoon session. In the name of curtailing ‘inspector raj’ employers are allowed ‘self certification’ about implementation of labour laws. There is a huge shortage of staff and of labour inspectors in the labour departments. When a group of MPs met the prime minister on the demand of regularisation of the contract workers in Neyveli Lignite, a navaratna public sector company, the prime minister said that Neyveli Lignites was earning profits and maintained the status of a ‘navaratna’ company because of contract labour.
If the government is really concerned about preventing industrial unrest, it has to ensure that the labour laws are strictly implemented and those violating labour laws are punished. It has to ensure that the right to association and collective bargaining of the workers are honoured by the employers.
It is commendable that the workers' union in Maruti's Manesar plant not only included the demands of contract workers but also stood firm, despite the management's attempts to dissuade the union from taking up the demands of the contract workers and to create a division among the permanent and contract workers. After the violence, Maruti chairman RC Bhargava was compelled to say that the company would phase out contract workers and stop using contractors to employ casual labourers. He also said that the company would directly hire workers and give priority to contract workers for permanent jobs in the future.
It is heartening to note the determination of the workers to unite and continue their fight for their rights. On July 25, 10,000 workers from around 30 plants including Hero MotorCorp, Honda Motorcycle, Suzuki Powertrain, Rico Auto, Omaxe Auto, MESL, Suzuki Motorcycles, Maruti Gurgaon, Mark Exhaust, Hi Flex, FCC Rico etc in the area gathered together to observe ‘Mazdoor Ekta Divas’ and commemorate the struggle of the Honda workers in 2005. The Hooda administration has clamped section 144 to prevent the meeting; the ‘mahapanchayat’ of vested interests threatened that they would stop the meeting using force if necessary. But the workers were undeterred. Addressing the gathering, Satvir Singh, president of Haryana state committee of CITU demanded release of all the innocent workers, reopening of the plant and reinstatement of the workers at the earliest. The ‘Trade Union Council’ of the unions from these plants has sent a memorandum to the Haryana chief minister demanding action against wrongful police detention, against the ‘bouncers and company people involved’, protection of innocent workers, raising of the minimum wages from Rs 4200 to Rs 15000, strict action against labour law violations, clearance of old cases pending with Honda and conversion of contract labour into permanent workers.
The entire working class and democratic movement in the country must stand united in solidarity with the workers of Maruti Manesar.