A Japanese-Indian joint venture car manufacturer has utilised the full force of state violence to try to intimidate and coerce its Indian workforce.
On March 18, 13 strike activists and trade union leaders from the Maruti-Suzuki car plant at Manesar were sentenced to life imprisonment, 4 were given five years imprisonment and a further 14 were released, but with no compensation for the three years they had been kept in gaol. A futher 113 workers, most of whom had spent 3 years in gaol without bail, were acquitted.
The workforce has also been subjected to wholesale sackings, attempts to crush its union, and police violence.
Background to Maruti and Suzuki
In 1970, a private limited company named Surya Ram Maruti Technical Services Private Limited (MTSPL) was launched with the stated purpose of providing technical know-how for the design, manufacture and assembly of "a wholly indigenous motor car". This reflected the desire of the Indian national bourgeoisie for overcoming reliance on foreign car manufacturers. However, the company was unsuccessful and went into liquidation.
Revived in February 1981, Maruti was 74% owned by the Indian government, and 26% by Suzuki of Japan. In 1983 it went into production with a version of the Suzuki Alto. Initially, production was low and the company served mainly to import fully-manufactured Suzukis from Japan. The success of the joint venture led Suzuki to increase its equity from 26% to 40% in 1987, and to 50% in 1992, and further to 56.21% as of 2013. Thus, the aspirations of Indian national bourgeois elements were crushed by Japanese finance capital and a neo-liberal comprador Indian national government.
Workers organise to resist attacks, fight for rights at work
Workers at Maruti have been systematically denied their rights as defined by the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation. Despite being denied the right to organise and to bargain collectively, workers have persisted in struggle and learned how to organise despite obstacles. In 2000, workers at Maruti went on an indefinite strike, demanding among other things, major revisions to their wages, incentives and pensions. The management refused union demands citing increased competition and lower margins. The central government privatized Maruti in 2002 enabling Suzuki to became the majority owner of Maruti Udyog Limited.
Maruti-Suzuki opened the Manesar plant in 2006, employing trainees for up to three years and contract workers who performed the same tasks as permanent workers in core areas of manufacturing activity, but paid a lower wage. From the beginning of the Manesar operation, workers experienced extremely high work intensity, with unpaid forced overtime work, wage deductions even for planned leave and overbearing and abusive supervision and invasive surveillance.
On August 29, 2011, management demanded that all workers at Manesar sign a “good conduct bond”. The bond required the workers to declare that they would “not resort to go slow, intermittent stoppage of work, stay-in-strike, work-to-rule, sabotage or otherwise indulge in any activity, which would hamper the normal production in the factory”. The majority of workers refused to sign the bond although management made it clear that those who refused would be sacked.
It was clear from statements from the very highest levels of the Suzuki Corporation that the harsh tactics had the support of the Japanese. MSI’s parent Suzuki Motor Corp (SMC) stood behind the company with Chairman Osamu Suzuki ruling out any compromise on discipline.
Suzuki had told representatives of Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union (MUKU), the elected union of Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) that the management of the Indian arm would not accept any indiscipline in the company.
With the savagery of a war-time prisoner-of-war camp supervisor, Suzuki ranted that “Indiscipline is not tolerated... not in Japan, not in India. It is never in the interest of any company and its people.”
This was how the imperialists and their local stooges responded to their own company-created union which workers had been coerced into joining.
For the remainder of the year, workers fought for and won, on 1 March 2012, registration of their own union, the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) through which they submitted a Charter of Demands on 18 April 2012, Maruti Suzuki management violated core principles of bargaining in good faith, and refused to negotiate on a core issue related to terms and conditions of work – the use and treatment of contract workers. This created an industrial dispute.
In the course of the dispute a supervisor abused a worker with a caste slur. This was one of a series of provocations by management aimed at breaking off negotiations. When the worker was sacked, his comrades went on strike demanding his reinstatement. 200 "bouncers" (gangs of thugs) and police forces crushed the strike with brute force. When one of the company’s personnel managers died in a fire started at the plant during intense struggle between the workers and the thugs and police, 148 strike leaders were held responsible, slandered as "terrorists" and spent five years in prison with the trial continually delayed until March of this year.
Those arrested were denied bail by the Haryana High Court which confirmed that people’s democratic rights and liberties were secondary to the interests of imperialist finance capital: “The incident is a most unfortunate occurrence which has lowered the reputation of India in the estimation of the world. Foreign investors are not likely to invest money in India out of fear of labour unrest”.
Almost all 2,500 workers were dismissed illegally resulting in an almost complete replacement of the staff.
Solidarity against the verdict
Maruti workers at the Manesar plant have continued to lend their support to the imprisoned workers – financially, emotionally and morally. Every year, Maruti Workers observe March 1 in commemoration of the formation of the union and in these meetings, support is expressed for the imprisoned workers. This year, it gained significance as it was clear that the verdict was about to be pronounced. A massive meeting was held near the plant, and thousands of workers from other factories including Hero MotoCorp, Honda and other ancillary plants had joined them. More than 20 unions representing over 25,000 workers came together demanding the immediate release of the workers.
Even though such extreme instances of police violence were supposed to rein in labour unrest in the region, issues have only pushed more and more workers to protest and form unions to defend their rights. Struggles by workers in Honda Motors Scooters India, Hero MotoCorp, Bellsonica, Rico and Daikin only go to show the increasing class polarisation in the Gurgaon-Manesar region of Haryana as well as the Neemrana region of Rajasthan.
This criminalisation of Indian trade unionists is an attack against the workers of Maruti-Suzuki and their families, against the Indian workers and trade union movement and against automotive workers worldwide.
It is part of a pattern in which automotive manufacturing in developed capitalist countries is destroyed while its most exploitative features are transferred to low wage countries.
The history of the Maruti-Suzuki company verifies Lenin’s observation that “the specific political features of imperialism are reaction all along the line and increased national oppression…” (Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism).
Solidarity with the convicted automotive workers of Maruti-Suzuki!
Free the convicted Suzuki-Maruti workers – Financial compensation for the workers illegally imprisoned for up to 31 months!
Workers of the world – unite!
Postscript. The following solidarity message has been sent to the Maruti workers and the International Automotive Workers Coordination:
The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) unreservedly supports the heroic Maruti-Suzuki workers of Manesar in their struggle to defend their rights and liberties. The fascist repression directed at the workers and their leaders, including the creation of company unions, the replacement of permanent workers with temporary workers, police violence, media misrepresentation and heavy prison terms, place a heavy burden on those fighting for workers’ rights. However, when workers stand united and refuse to be intimidated, their eventual success is guaranteed.
Solidarity with the Maruti-Suzuki workers of Manesar!
Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
April 1, 2017
Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)
April 1, 2017