PUDR hails the victory of panels put up by the terminated and jailed workers of the Maruti Suzuki Workers' Union in the elections of the workers unions held at the Gurgaon plant and the Manesar plant on 26 April and 4 April, respectively. These victories are an extraordinary assertion by workers of their right to elect their own representatives and their ability to remain united in the face of insurmountable obstacles and repression. The right to form a trade union, of their choice, is necessary guarantee against violation of workers right to a life of dignity and livelihood and one way in which workers can ensure respect for their rights in an unequal battle against corporate owners.
The victory of 11 out of 12 members in the Manesar unit (where the MSWU is the registered union), and 5 out of 6 of the top posts, in the Gurgaon unit (where the registered union is the Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union), from the panels put up by the MSWU in union elections, is particularly important because all the earlier elected leaders and active members of the MSWU have been in jail since July-August 2012, for almost 2 years. Implicated by the management and arbitrarily charged for the violent incident of 18 July 2012, bail has been consistently denied to the 147 workers while another 546 permanent and 1800 contract workers, who were terminated after the incident, remain so, as the legal cases continue. The lengthy process of the legal struggle continues while hundreds of family members and friends and fellow workers await justice for the Maruti workers.
The Maruti management has had a long history of over 14 years of consistently violating workers’ rights to organise. This started with the attack on the earlier union at the Gurgaon plant in 2000, as the government divested public shareholding to Suzuki Company of Japan and the company began withdrawing the gains made by the workers. Not only was the union de-recognised but a virtually non-unionised work force faced retrenchment. The composition of the workforce changed with a largely contract labour force with a smaller regular workforce. Workers were represented for years by a Company promoted union. The intensity of work and penalties imposed on workers for non-compliance with demand for higher productivity played a role in the revival of workers' struggle in 2011 at the Manesar unit, with the main demand being formation of an autonomous union. The struggle now drew support of both regular as well as contract workers. The company’s inability to break this unity and the attacks which ensued saw intensification of the workers' struggle in mid-2011.
The management then targeted workers through suspensions, terminations and registration of false cases against them. The Haryana Labour Department connived with the management in depriving the workers their right to unionize. The workers' application for registration submitted on 3 June, 2011 finally resulted in actual registration of the MSWU on 1 March, 2012 after months of battering by the management and bitter struggle. The incident of 18 July, 2012 at Manesar occurred in the context of the struggle of the union to get the management to implement its charter of demands, about 3 months after it had been presented. After the union leaders and workers were arbitrarily arrested and the plant reopened in September 2012, the company actively prevented the legally registered MSWU from functioning inside the plant. Management personnel routinely severely harassed, intimidated workers who were in touch with terminated, jailed workers. It also attempted a farcical gesture towards dealing with workers’ issues, by setting up a joint worker-management ‘grievance committee’ and compelling the workers to be a part of it.
As the tenure of the MSWU at Manesar came to an end in 2014 and its leaders continued to languish in jail, the management tried to delegitimize the union and break its unity by setting up a puppet union. In response, the workers, along with the active support of the terminated and jailed workers put up a panel of workers representing the MSWU. The workers' union candidates at Manesar won with a wide margin of almost 80% votes. The MSWU panel winning key posts, including that of the union President, in the elections at the Gurgaon unit on 26 April shows the legitimacy and support the terminated and jailed workers and union have among all Maruti workers, despite threats and coercion by the management.
These rare victories won against great odds show the strength of the workers' struggle and unity. PUDR affirms workers' right to unionise and organize and expresses its solidarity with the struggles of the Maruti workers for their rights and against the repressive policies of the management.
D. Manjit and Asish Gupta