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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Maruti Manesar unrest and the voice supporting killing

Maruti at Manesar was on fire – in mid July riots broke out, in the widespread vandalism, the plant, many vehicles were damaged and more worrisome -    One person was killed and over two dozen people were injured as thousands of protesting workers locked its main gates trapping officials inside, authorities said. The company blamed the workers for sparking the fire.  The labour unrest reportedly followed the suspension of a worker by the company. Union leaders accused Maruti of taking action against workers “without any reason”. The company said the union prevented officials from taking action against the worker who beat up a supervisor on the shop floor.

From a dusty town to a fast growing industrial town in Gurgaon – Manesar owes its transformation to the Maruti plant. The place has developed and has many factories, offices, hotels and educational institutes. Manesar is 32 km from IGI Airport and has some of the best urban infrastructure in northern India.

The unit had witnessed three staff stirs last year and the company reportedly had to incur an operational loss of around Rs 2,000 crore.  After the violent gory incident at the factory, the Union mailed a signed statement alleging that the Maruti management had unleashed bouncers who beat up workers.  According to management, the violent clashes on Wednesday (18 July) may not have been triggered by impending wage negotiations, the workers under MSWU have been demanding a five-fold hike!

The disturbing Q is  how did the workers, who were apparently working peacefully till the altercation began with a supervisor, suddenly turn into a blood-thirsty mob?   The Officials allege that perhaps the workers came prepared to unleash violence.  The allegation further says that once the altercation remained unresolved, workers used the side-impact beam from the cars to hit management executives on their heads.  Another version points to workers actually getting steel rods and lathis in tractor trollies inside the factory premises when the situation got ugly towards the evening. Did the leaders of the previous union, which led a successful strike in three rounds last year, instigate the violence ?

Now days after the violence, the works remain suspended.  Maruti Suzuki needs to restart production at the Manesar facility sooner or risk losing customers to other brands.  The Company reportedly is still assessing the damage and working with the Haryana government to nab culprits as the plant stays under indefinite lockout.  Whether Maruti customers are loyal and whether Maruti is able to retain the customers is all far thought questions, when thought about the unrest and the way things have gone awry.   

A story in The Times of India mentioned of Maruti planning to hire at least 1,000 new workers to start work at Manesar though it also emphasises that there is still no timeline for work to begin at this plant. The Manesar plant was working with about 900 permanent and 2,100 contract workers when the violence broke out on the 18th.  The plant manufactures high-margin diesel cars such as Swift and Swift DZire.

There are some analysts that the marriage of convenience of Suzuki, a Japanese company with a reputation for maintaining a punishing work ethic among its workers and the laidback  ‘work culture’ was ridden with thorns.  In its early days, Suzuki hired about 2,000 local workers, brought them over to Suzuki’s main factory in Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, near Tokyo, and trained them in the ‘Japanese way of working’. For his efforts in inculcating the most elementary workplace discipline among Indian factory workers, Osamu Suzuki earned high praise from the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Suzuki, she acknowledged, had changed India’s work culture.

Things deteriorated for sure and there has been slow paced work and lockout and today eventually Suzuki’s Manesar plant is under a lockout following an explosion of workers’ anger. The workforce at the Manesar plant is typically young, drawn from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and less willing to tolerate the indignities they feel they don’t deserve on the assembly line. .And far from being thankful for the chance to earn a decent wage, they claim their frustrations are mounting because they cannot support themselves.

The Unions now claim that management has failed to uphold the dignity of workers, ensure their safety or even control the intensity or pace of work at the factory. But none of that can justify the killing of  HR Manager Awanish Kumar Dev; the MSWU demands that company should lift the lockout, begin talks with workers and punish the guilty. They also issued a veiled threat that unless the management bends, it would become difficult for it to hire new people to begin production at Manesar.

Sadly there is no cohesion and there is no mutual trust between the Management and workers, which makes the conciliation even more difficult. 

There would always be support from outside but this report in Times of India is nauseating to say the least.  Thousands of kilometers away from the Manesar is Hosur, situate in Tamilnadu – Karnataka border.  This being an industrial area, there are some militant trade unions and one of them has posted provocative posters inciting workers to celebrate the incident.

The New Democratic Labour Front (NDLF) is a splinter group with small pockets of support, but keen on widening its influence among workmen across Tamil Nadu. Their posters, stuck on factory gates of industrial units in Hosur, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri and Salem in western Tamil Nadu, wholeheartedly endorse the mob violence in Manesar, which claimed the life of a Maruti official and resulted in a lockout. "We congratulate the workers who burnt down the big boss attitude (sic) of the management," said one poster in Tamil.   The outfit, established around 2000-01, is known to take extreme confrontationist positions, which appeal to some sections during labour disputes.

The HR head of an auto component maker said on condition of anonymity, "NDLF is a registered trade union under the Trade Union Act. But they have demonstrated militant tendencies and forced several units in the Hosur belt by using the threat of violence."   The TOI report states that though  the outfit does not enjoy much patronage or support compared to CITU, INTUC and the DMK-backed Labour Progressive Front (LPF), its membership is clearly on the rise. In many areas, NDLF presence is marginal, but the numbers tend to influence labour relations, especially in times of crisis.

"We do not believe in democracy. We believe in fighting it out, fighting for workers right. We cannot achieve anything through democracy," said NDLF representative Santhosh, whose contact number was published on a wall poster in Hosur.  NDLF's growth belies Tamil Nadu's image as a region unexposed to industrial unrest and lockouts. Barring the odd labour strike, labour relations historically have been harmonious here. The one blot on the state's record was the September 2009 incident at Pricol's plant in Coimbatore when its HR manager Roy George was lynched by a mob of workers backed by a local political functionary from a regional party.  But the emergence of NDLF and other outfits with militant leanings may herald a change on the industrial landscape. AK Padmanabhan, national president of Left-backed CITU, says fringe outfits do not enjoy mass appeal, but hot-headedness and the language of violence tends to attract some following.

"Violence in any form cannot be accepted. It is important to realise workers' right to form a trade union, but the problem is most managements are averse to trade unionism."  The increasing number of disputes in companies is also due to the rivalry between unions competing to expand their support base. Before assembly elections in 2011, DMK nudged several units around Chennai to recognise its Labour Progressive Front (LPF) union. The government's informal diktat was followed and LPF allowed to hoist its flag outside their gates. But soon after the polls and a change of guard at the state secretariat, the status quo began to be challenged.

In a democracy or in any other form, justifying a killing, in fact hailing the gruesome killing should never be allowed…

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.


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  2. killers, rowdies, goon and others in the garb of Trade Unions - so many factories were closed by Communist Unions in Ambattur - they want to finish off Industrialists but in the process make the workers poorer...... Marx