Violence at Maruti Suzuki Plant

Nine months after a settlement was forged between the workers and the management of the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar, Gurgaon (Haryana), violence erupted, after a scuffle broke out in the shop floor, when a supervisor allegedly made casteist remark against a Dalith worker. Two conflicting versions of the event is being circulating around the net on who was responsible for the violence.

The management version of events (being circulated in the mainstream media) squarely blames the workers for the violence and claims that “Workers at the plant today turned violent, attacking and injuring executives and managers in the office premises. At least 40 managers and executives are injured, and have been rushed to hospital. The attackers also set fire to property and damaged facilities,”. More than 100 workers have been arrested so far and over 1200 police force have been deployed in the area.

But according to the press statement released by the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union (MSWU) on the event itself, “When the workers along with Union representatives went to meet the HR to demand against the supervisor and revoke the unjust suspension of the worker, the HR officials flatly refused to hear our arguments, and it was in no mood to resolve the issue amicably.

“When the negotiation was going on with the leaders of the Union inside the office, the management called in the entry of hundreds of bouncers on its payroll to attack the workers.” And further on, “The bouncers, who are anti-social elements on hire, also destroyed company property and set fire to a portion of the factory. The gates were later opened to oust the workers and enforce a lockout by the company.”

Background to the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Struggle

Before blaming anyone for the violence, a background into the historic struggle of the Maruti Suzuki workers last year and its aftermath, is necessary to understand the causes for the recent outbreak of violence. After striking for nearly 3 times between June to October that lasted 33 days in all, which was marred by compromises by the union leadership (under the tutelage of the Central TU’s), attacks by company goons (with the backing of the Haryana government, labour department and the police) and relentless pressure on all sides, the workers were forced into an agreement with the management that only promised them a Grievance redressal committee and a Welfare Committee, instead of a union recognition which was the central demand of the workers all along.

However, after the compromises made by the leadership of the then unrecognised Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU), that broke ranks with its fellow workers and resigned from their jobs after brokering an undisclosed financial package deal with management, a new union Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union (MSWU) was formed. The union was finally registered in February of this year after facing many hurdles and a charter of demands relating to wages and others demands was submitted to the management in April.

What the mainstream media has completely been silent about is the devious machinations that the management has been using to break the strong unity of the workers at the Maruti plant. None of the so called redressal or the welfare committee have been formed (which is enough to prove that the company has violated the agreement). The exploitation of the workers continue as before and none of their demands have been met so far. As part of this process, has been the vindictive and a hostile environment that has been created by the management against the workers. It is with this background that one must understand the 18th July incident and its aftermath.

So Who is Responsible?

With many conflicting reports, some reports from the media claiming that about 100 management staff have been injured with one confirmed death and counter claims from worker’s sources stating injuries to the workers as a result of attack by company sponsored goons and the police. Only emerging facts will be able to give us a clear picture of what really happened. The SIT probe that has been ordered will be another whitewash that will only end up blaming the workers for the whole incident, without ever going into the details as to why the incident took place in the first place. This will in turn end up as a default victory for the company management (despite its losses) that can either hire an entirely fresh batch of workers, de-recognize the union or relocate to another facility, which otherwise would have been impossible under the given circumstances.

Whatever facts (real or doctored) that either the company or the police or the state government use against the workers, one thing they can never explain is how come the whole thing ended up so violently. If we go by the history of the whole affair beginning from last June, all the 3 strikes by the workers were largely peaceful despite the provocation and instigation by both company sponsored goons and the police. One thing that the strike last year demonstrated was the rock solid unity of the Maruti workers (both permanent and contraction) that even got solidarity support from workers of other factories in Gurgaon. Given the increased levels of consciousness of the workers’ from the previous strikes, it is hard to imagine how this small incident could not have generated so much violence, without either an outside provocation by the management or an extremely hostile internal environment against the workers.

The fact that the workers stood up for a Dalith worker is enough to demonstrate at the levels of consciousness and unity of the workers at the Manesar plant, given the caste ridden society that is Haryana. Company sponsored goons have been used time and again to settle scores with the workers and trade unionist. Only emerging facts can really tell us what really provoked such a violent upsurge. But one thing is for certain, it is the company that should be held primarily responsible for the entire incident as it completely failed in meeting any of the primary demands of the workers and in turn creating an hostile environment

All the same, top echelons of the Maruti Suzuki management should definitely be pleased (despite loss of their own personnel and infrastructure) as all the media reports seems to favour the management version of events and completely overlooking the real cause. This could only end up criminalizing the workers unless this is not challenged. It is an dirty open secret on the type of exploitation that workers in Gurgaon (estimated at 2 million) are subjected to especially in the automotive industries (reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times). Only a determined solidarity support for the Maruti Suzuki workers among the workers in Gurgaon (and beyond) and a campaign for unionisation of all workers in the automotive industry will it be possible to challenge the criminal charges that is sure to be hurled against the workers.

The New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India) is in complete solidarity and supports all the demands of the Maruti Suzuki workers. In addition, we demand that all the workers be released immediately without conditions and all false charges against the workers be withdrawn. Lockout must be lifted and all the workers be taken back immediately. An independent probe involving workers representatives from the area, trade unionist and others (with no conflict of interests with any big company) must be constituted immediately and due legal action must be taken against the management if found guilty.