Maruti Mayhem: ‘‘We received reports that bouncers and police were around’’

DL Sachdev, Secretary, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), speaks to Hardnews 

The incident at Maruti in Manesar which led to the death of a manager was unfortunate. We condemn it as we don’t support any violence. Violence does not lead to any resolution. Only a democratic path of agitation should be followed. The workers in Manesar should have used the same method of peaceful agitation as they had done from June to October 2011. At the same time, we hold the management equally responsible for the sudden outburst from the workers.

 

We too received reports that bouncers and police were around inside the plant while the negotiations were going on. The possibility of the bouncers’ involvement in setting fire cannot be ruled out, as the same workers had done a sit-in for a long time inside the compound without even as much as a scratch to the factory.

 

Currently, all the Maruti workers are underground, fearing police action. There is no contact with them. Only when there is normalcy can the workers get together to plan their future course of action. The solution is a tripartite level discussion involving the labour department, Maruti management and workers. Restoration of normalcy is the only solution.

 

Since December 2011, with the new leadership of Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, no central trade union was in touch with them. Even on July 18, we were not informed before or during the negotiations. The labour department officials were there throughout the day, but they did not inform us. If they had informed, the situation might not have been so bad— so out of control.

 

The incident of July 18 shows that the relationship between the management and the new union/workers were not smooth. The anger that had accumulated over one year burst out. On July 19, the day after the incident, there was a meeting of the Gurgaon level unions with the Additional Labour Commissioner. We demanded restoration of normalcy. Without investigations, workers should not be arrested. Workers should be brought to the negotiating table. We can’t ask that all workers should be released, as there was a case of death. We can only demand the release of innocent workers.

 

The entire agitation by Maruti workers last year was to express their right to form a union of their choice, which the management and labour department repeatedly rejected. The management victimized activists, suspended them, the government didn’t register the union. The first agitation from June to October was to undo this victimization and to get recognition of their union. In October, they were able to buy out the main leaders. In this payment of huge sums of money, the labour department had a big role to play, unfortunately.

 

In Gurgaon-Manesar, AITUC has the largest following. HMS too has a large following. AITUC has nearly 30,000 members. But membership alone does not show the amount of influence. There are many independent unions which are under our influence.

 

High handedness of the management-corporate clique is rampant; they are hell-bent on suppressing the democratic trade unions. As long as the management has no respect for labour and labour laws, this unrest in the industrial belt will continue.

 

Without investigations, it is not right of the administration to talk of Maoist presence. However, the possibility of involvement of these elements cannot be ruled out. If there is proof of their presence, the government should take appropriate measures. We believe that democratic functioning of trade unions should be allowed in order to root out Maoist influence. Otherwise, the anger among workers will express itself in other forms.

 

The Gurgaon-Manesar belt is largely composed of the automobile industry along with ancillary industries. There are some garment export industries. More than 50 per cent are contract workers. Even the management admits this. They are low-paid. The recent incidents of labour agitation in Meditech, Senior India Manesar, Harsoria health care and FCC Rico is a pointer. There is a work force of approximately 3-4 lakh workers in the area.” 

 

As told to Sumati Panikkar in Delhi

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2012