Maruti Mayhem: Change is Always the Last Word

Nothing existing remains intact and the new is being created every moment. In the modern era of economic reforms and globalization, that is the biggest challenge before the working class movement

Krishna Jha Delhi

In the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century, in the 1990s, attacks were unleashed against what was euphemistically termed as “labour inflexibility” in the country, though there was no legislation to justify the onslaught. Thousands of workers were offered the option of voluntary retirement. As job opportunities started fading, the registered factories too started closing down between 1996 and 2002. The number of workers employed by them fell down by 22.9 per cent.

Labour flexibility was introduced without any legal sanction. The process was initiated aggressively with political support from those in power. The managements stood united in their demand for changing the terms and conditions of labour. In the 1990s, no new settlements could be concluded with the existing unions. The corporate houses demanded that the workers must leave their unions, their numbers should be reduced; they insisted on having the freedom to deploy them unconditionally, linking wages to productivity. All these were issues the workers had been fighting against since pre-independence days, and not without success. 

The final blow was the freedom to hire ‘contract labour’. This was historically publicised in the Hindustan Lever lock out incident by the so called‘militant employer’. 

It was just the tip of an iceberg. The tide was awaiting the signal. Series of lock outs started tumbling on an already burdened working class pushed to forcible retirement, accepting next to nothing.  

In addition, a practice that was already there, now gained momentum. No proceedings were initiated against the illegal acts of managements. Offences against workers went on without any retribution. This continues to be the dominant pattern.  

The July 25 attack on Honda workers was mass punishment as a repressive public spectacle meted out to the workers to crush any initiative to organise into a union

The government had no intention of further nationalization of industries. The companies declaring themselves to be sick, tried to formulate a mechanism to evade taxes, gain concessions from the helpless unemployed or underemployed workers. Although such schemes were not always successful, the scenario was changing. The closure application from the industrial units were earlier automatically rejected by the State; according to a submission by a labour official, such applications are now admitted. 

The streak of hope in such a gloomy context is the absence of any legislation directly violating the interests of the working class. However, there have been concerted attempts to create a ‘climate’ to serve the ‘new needs’ of the ‘new financial gods’, with a drive that is political as well as financial, inevitably, at the cost of human labour.
One such incident was a rally, held with prior permission on July 25, 2005, taken out by the Honda workers union, marching peacefully towards the district magistrate’s office in Gurgaon, Haryana, to submit a memorandum. Suddenly, the peaceful workers were attacked by the police, brutally lathicharged in a relentless assault. (Almost 9,000 workers gathered in the Honda factory premises at Manesar on July 25 this year to reaffirm their faith in the workers’ struggle. Trade union leaders from across Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera area joined the meeting, despite ban orders and the imposition of Section 144. The lock out in Maruti and the arrests of workers was a crucial concern in the rally.) 

The July 25 attack was mass punishment as a repressive public spectacle meted out to the workers to crush any initiative to organize into a union. In the current era, there has been strong opposition against any unions entering the units, especially those led by the central trade unions. The leaders of these national unions are categorized as “outsiders”,and denied permission to enter factory premises. If at all sanction is obtained for organizing a union, that particular union has to be totally subservient to the management and administration.

 

The restraint on the attempts to get organized is basically to prevent workers from rebelling against oppressive measures. The managements want that workers should never assert that labour rights are an integral part of democracy, and taking them away is to subvert democracy itself. 

There are glaring examples. On Delhi-Jaipur highway are located Ricoh Auto Ltd and Sunbeam Auto Ltd. Around 500 workers from Ricoh and 500 workers from Sunbeam were denied permission to enter their factory gate, because, according to the employees, they tried to organize a union.    

The corporate houses insist on labour reforms that lead to curtailing of workers’ legal rights. Their intention— that has now blossomed into routine practice— has been to engage casual workers in core sectors so as to hire and fire whenever they want. 

The consumer as a social stratum has to be taken into account for social transformation, as is being done in Latin American countries

Such initiatives by the managements often have drastic and tragic conclusions. One such example was the death of the CEO of Graziano Transmissioni India, Lalit Choudhary. This tragedy happened after attempts by the management to go for massive ‘casualisation’ of employees. No one knows how the CEO died, but the workers’ narrative was decisively absent from all reports. If there is a history that led to the incident, if there was any aftermath, that was never told or discussed. 

The truth is, it is always the workers’ narrative that brings out the climate and forces active in the scene. In the country’s industrial scene today, corporate houses are flourishing in the wake of ‘economic reforms’. MNCs have relocated in a highly competitive global market. Surely, they are not here for offering employment and means of survival to Indian workers; instead, they want them to get deskilled so that they can never get permanent jobs.

The policies under the garb of ‘globalisation’ are a cover for the American strategy to bring the developing and other countries under its influence. To counter them, the developing nations and democratic forces have to advance their own interpretation of globalization. There should be increased access to (and share) in the market which is part of the modern economy that the masses need to buy their essentials and sell their products. What is needed is the democratization of the world and Indian market, and a shift towards Left and democratic policies. It has to be aimed at the protection of India’s economy, particularly its public sector. 

So far as democratic traditions are concerned, they have grown out of our freedom movement, and hence are basically anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, and still, mainly, based upon a powerful public sector, despite certain amount of disinvestment. A vast small and medium scale private industrial and economic sector has grown around it.

Compromises with finance and big foreign capital are also getting legitimised, threatening the country’s economic interests. But they cannot be called surrender; they are compromises which have to be opposed. 

Out society is at a stage of rapid socio-economic and structural transformations, which have a direct bearing on the strategy and tactics of the struggles for social transformation. These changes are not in isolation, they are part of world-wide changes. New sections are emerging and the working class itself is not what it was some decades ago.

Old industrial areas and industries are rapidly disappearing and new ones are emerging— they can hardly be called ‘industrial’. This is one of the major reasons for the loss of political base of the progressive forces. 

The final blow was the freedom to hire 'contract labour.' This was historically published in Hindustan Lever lock out incident by the 'militant employer'

Electronic and service sector workers are operating with computers and therefore with information; this is one of the main features of our modern social and economic scene. The Left and the trade unions have to address them.

Our experience has been that the collapse of the socialist regimes was the result of this shift in the structure of the working class/people. A big gulf developed between the ruling classes, bureaucracies and the parties in the socialist countries and the new and young working sections. 

The information worker is a new entrant in world history, and is yet to be analysed and understood. There is a lack of scientific theory and historical analysis in this context. 

Information and new electronics ‘industries’ (the word should be used with reservation) are rapidly bringing about changes in the socio-economic landscape. Giant urban megacities, big business conglomerates, ultra-massive concentrations of work-places, housing areas, populations, information, service and productive centres and so on are becoming the ‘in thing’ all over the world as well as in India. This is not just a quantitative change; it leads to qualitative changes in the strategy and tactics of the democratic forces. 

New middle ‘classes’ or sections are fast emerging, which do not fit in with classical concepts of working class struggles. Scientific materialist dialectics has to be applied to analyze and comprehend them. 

The ‘middle sections’ increasingly include what has generally been called the working class and continue to be called that way. Hence, the ‘working people’ include the new middle classes. It is a modern (and postmodern) consumer ‘class’ or stratum, which is affecting the present economy and society in unprecedented and unforeseen ways.

Indeed, the Left is ignoring this reality. The new features of socialism and the transition towards it are not being worked out properly. The consumer as a social stratum has to be taken into account for social transformation, as is being done to an extent in the Latin American countries. 

The working masses are in the forefront of social activities and protests. They are not the traditional working classes, though the latter continue to be important. 

Thus, there is a shift from the productive worker to the likes of information and service worker and consumers. Let’s remember: the middle class is the vehicle of both progressive and reactionary ideas and activities. 

At least a decade has gone by since the new century has begun. We have witnessed the emergence of new processes of industrial changes, impacting the relations of production with ownership issues and the new productive forces. Apart from basic changes in the evolution of infrastructure, the new era has its own impact on the world and Indian society. Truly, nothing existing remains intact and the new is being created every moment. To understand and express this new narrative of progressive social transformation in the times of simmering social unrest and ruthless globalization— that is the challenge before the working class and progressive movement.   

The writer is a senior journalist and activist based in Delhi

 

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