On 18 July, yet another scene of violence in the auto industry was enacted, which claimed the life of an HR manager. What was responsible for this tragic sequence of events – which keeps being repeated in factory after factory in India?
The mainstream media is baying for the blood of the workers, accusing them of being bloodthirsty, ‘instigated by Maoists’, and so on. More than 90 workers have been jailed. The incident is being used as a pretext to prescribe stringent ‘reform’ in labour laws. The very root of the problem is being touted as the solution.
What made the workers erupt in fury that day? According to the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU), negotiations were underway on the charter of demands submitted by the Union. On 18 July, a supervisor on the shop floor made a casteist remark against a dalit worker of the permanent category. The latter protested – but he was suspended, while no action was taken against the supervisor. It is a tribute to the unity of the workers that all the permanent and contract workers, irrespective of caste, rose up to protest this discrimination. The workers approached the HR to revoke the suspension and act against the supervisor, but the HR officials refused. Negotiations were ongoing, but meanwhile the HR officials, as is common, brought in ‘bouncers’ (thugs) to intimidate the Union members. Hearing this, the gathered workers entered the factory. When the thugs attacked with sharp weapons and arms, the workers retaliated. In the ensuing mayhem, the HR department caught fire – and it was that fire that claimed the life of the HR manager.
Clearly, it is not just the khap panchayats that are a sign of stubborn feudal remnants in Haryana’s industrial semi-urban belt. The use of casteist slurs to discipline workers in a prestigious Japanese collaboration automobile factory is yet another such sign. Compounding this state of affairs, is the fact of blatant, open, violations of Contract Labour and other labour laws; and the total denial of industrial democracy, whereby thugs are routinely called in to deal with any instances of collective bargaining or Union negotiation. Unless some modicum of democracy and dignity can be guaranteed to the workers in India’s industries, the tragedies of Pricol, Graziano, and Maruti will keep being repeated.
The AICCTU called for a countrywide protest day on 19 July in solidarity with the Maruti workers. A protest demonstration was held at Jantar Mantar, which was addressed by AICCTU General Secretary Swapan Mukherjee as well as AICCTU leaders from Delhi. In Tamilnadu, AICCTU released a poster on 19 July demanding unconditional release of arrested workers and a stop to further arrests. Over 500 Pricol workers staged a demonstration at the factory gate on 19 July demanding release of the workers and a high level judicial enquiry into the issue. They also demanded that the factory be opened immediately. A demonstration was held in Ambattur on 20 July, in which over 175 workers participated. Comrade S Kumarasami, PBM of CPI(ML) and AICCTU All India President addressed the gathering.