General Political Thesis for the Debate

The following thoughts remain on a rather superficial level due to lack of opportunity for first-hand exchange with workers during the struggle. They are at the same time a call to intensify the debate on an international level.

1) The struggle at Maruti Suzuki was the most important workers’ struggle in India since two decades. For the first time on mass scale the new composition of a young industrial work-force came to itself by confronting the factory regime. They undermined the division in temporary and permanent workers, which had been imposed as a main line of division within industrial working class in India – and not only in India – since the early 1990s. The workers hit the core of the Indian regime’s developmental model, which consists of the integration into the global market and production structure at the highest level of technology and ‘productive cooperation’ – combined with the severe suppression of the aspirations of the work-force, which emerge with this integration.

We say ‘most important struggle’ less because of its quantitative scale, or militancy, or result, but because of its structural character. The struggle brought together the subjective anger of a new workforce with its objective position in the core of the current developmental cycle. Since three decades we witnessed the dismantling of old workers’ core centres, the main struggles evolved as defensive struggles. The centres moved from the textile mill strikes in the mid-1980s (which were undermined by new division of labour between automatised spinning and informalised weaving processes). Throughout the 1990s, the centre shifted to the struggles in the major (automobile) manufacturing companies (Escorts, Maruti Suzuki) [1] against capital’s attack in form of ‘privatisation’, outsourcing, casualisation. These were decades of major defeats of the old trade union movement, which was only able to compensate for their decline by co-managing the emerging class division between a mass of casualised workers and a core of permanents.

We currently see a reversal of the historical trend in automobile manufacturing. From Detroit at the beginning of the 20th century to the Midlands in the UK, to FIATs Turin and Toyota’s factories in the 1950/60s to South Korea and Brazil in the 1970s: while the first generation of car workers produced cars for the middle-classes, the workers of the second generation – through struggles and general productivity increases – were able to afford the product they produce themselves. In India, if at all, this trend has reversed itself, the second generation of car workers is worse off. They are also less attached to company spirits and the automobile dream. At Maruti the various carrots and waiting-loops have lost their gripping effects. The ladder from apprentice, trainee, temp worker, “junior workman” “associate workman”, to the Nirvana of a permanent status or even an award as employee of the year has been broken, the level of casualisation is too high in order to mobilise workers’ illusions. Similarly the patriarchal whip of ‘warning letters’ – three times too late, too slow, too ill and you are out – and other threats have become blunt. Maruti wants to copy the paternalistic ‘Fordist model’ of interference in workers ‘private life’ – workers are supposed to abstain from public activities harmful to the reputation of the company, they have to announce once they are in debts – without being able or willing to pay them the ‘Ford wage’.

The current composition of the workforce at companies like Maruti Manesar plant is the outcome of the defeats and restructuring of the 1980s and 1990s and the further integration into the global production system. It took the working class two decades to ‘find itself’ and turn this ‘precarious, but central structure’ into a more radical basis for its struggle. Current struggles at Bosch in Bangalore or wildcats at General Motors in Gujarat are other indicators that the conflict has returned to the centre again. Here we can see parallels to the strike wave in automobile factories in China in summer 2010. [2]

2) During the last years the divisions between permanent and temporary workers in Gurgaon area deepened. In many cases ‘union recognition’ was enforced by joint-struggles of both categories of workers, but once established, the trade unions could not reverse this trend of increasing separation.

In the few cases where trade unions were established in modern manufacturing industries in Gurgaon area during the last decade this lead to an ‘improvement’ of the position of union members, wage levels rose up to 25,000 to 30,000 Rs, management was able to offer these unionised permanent workers some stability, three-years agreements, regular productivity/sales-related wage hikes. But this ‘improvement’ was paralleled by the reduction of the permanent unionised work-force to about 30 per cent of the total staff. In many cases these workers were granted if not supervisory, but ‘privileged’ position in relation to the increasing mass of temporary workers within the production process, whose wage levels dropped in real terms and hover at about 5,000 Rs. For them ‘three years wage agreements’ have little to do with the reality of frequent job changes and mobility. In many cases the ‘enforcement’ of trade union recognition against the company was only achievable by ‘struggling in unity’ by both permanent and temporary workers, but tragically after establishment the (permanent) workers did not find ways to bridge the widening gap between ‘represented minority’ and ‘marginalised majority’ – see development of the union at Honda HMSI in Manesar. [3]

During the last years, the ‘casualised majority’ of workers appeared several times on the stage of workers’ struggle in Gurgaon and Manesar, e.g. during factory occupations at Hero Honda or Delphi by thousands of temporary workers [4], but in these struggles ‘permanent and temporary’ workers had remained being separated. This was not the case during the current Maruti Suzuki struggle. The material division (quantitative ratio on the shop floor, wages, qualification, origin etc.) between permanent and temporary workers have been less pronounced in the first place. Furthermore, Maruti Suzuki does not seem willing or able to ‘offer’ the young permanent workers a similar ‘privileged’ position (managed by a respectable union body) which permanent workers had been offered during the last two decades. They know that the standards at the central assembly set the standards elsewhere. Both, the objective factors (“ability to finance a division”) and subjective response (“acceptance of division” by workers) were not given at Maruti Suzuki. This is why the struggle carried on.

3) The situation of the global automobile industry makes it difficult Maruti Suzuki to ‘finance’ a class division by granting the permanent workers a privileged position through trade union management. It forces the company to casualise the workforce in the new plants. A draconic disciplinary regime is supposed to impose a more intense combination of underdevelopment (‘speed-up without investment’ of manual work, extension of working hours) and development (automatisation in upstream departments etc.) within the factory. All this fuelled the collective anger.

The conditions have changed quite fundamentally since 2000/2001, when Maruti enforced a major split within the geology of the work-force in Gurgaon or even since 2005, when Honda in Manesar did the same. The global pressure on wages and conditions increased fundamentally with the contraction of markets since the crisis 2008. Due to the lock-out Maruti started production at Manesar ‘Plant B’ three month earlier than planned – a more automatised plant, which was presented as the technological fix to workers’ unrest. Here in an direct sense workers’ struggle pushes capital into aggravation of its contradictions, expansion of productive capacities while reducing its living (and consuming) self. Including the two Manesar plants and the Gurgaon plant Maruti Suzuki’s capacity will be around 1.7 million cars a year, this is nearly as much as the current total domestic Indian market. In July Ford and PSA had announced to each open new assembly plants in Sanand, Gujarat – the market pressure is increasing through overcapacity and potentially swindling demand. The cheap cash for consumers crunches. The Reserve Bank of India has raised interest rates 12 times since mid-March 2010 to rein in inflation, driving down demand for cars. In India about 80 percent of purchases are funded by loans.

The crisis has proven that there is no ‘de-coupling’, meaning that there is no national market or sector or company, which could remain unaffected by the general conditions. ‘Suzuki’ is not a ‘Japanese’ company anymore, the Indian subsidiary accounts for 55 per cent of Suzuki’s global operating income. At the same time its not solely an ‘automobile manufacturer’, which would only depend on car sales. Life Insurance Corporation, ICICI Prudential Life and Bajaj Allianz are among the major shareholders of Maruti Suzuki and the pressure on banking and insurance markets will reverberate within the assembly lines.

Behind the surface of ‘market’ pressures the core of ‘wage’ pressure reveals itself more blatantly on a global level. In September 2011 – while the struggle at Maruti was still intense – the United Auto Workers union in the US agreed on the ‘Two-Tier’-wage-system, which means that newly hired workers will earn only half the wage of the older workers, which will cause an enormous downward pressure on the global wage cascade from the North to the South. These wage pressures are not mediated anymore, with the integration of ‘Indian’ car production into global markets it becomes an ‘immediate’ global wage. Manesar is Maruti Suzuki’s sole global manufacturing base for the A-Star, which exports the compact car to various markets in Western and Eastern Europe, South America, Africa and other parts of Asia. In Europe, Suzuki sells this car as ‘Alto’ and Nissan as ‘Pixo’ – around 9 per cent of Maruti Suzuki’s revenue comes from export.

The squeeze is not solely on wages, but on workers’ brains and muscles. Under these conditions ‘capital has to eat itself’, it has to squeeze workers beyond physical capacities, without re-investments. Within the factory the split (and combination) between development (automatisation) and under-development (manual speed-up, double-shifts) aggravated. After 2008 the work pressure in Manesar increased considerably. Instead of investing into separate production lines, different models were produced at the same ‘flexi-line’, increasing work stress. With an official capacity of 250000 cars, Manesar manufactured 350000 in 2010. Certain departments of the plant, particularly in Plant B, became more automatised after 2010, while the manual operations were simply ‘sped-up’. Workers were more frequently forced to work double-shifts and Sundays, the whole ‘disciplinary regime’ has to be seen on this background.

“The paintshop at the Manesar plant is a schizophrenic combination of cutting-edge robotic technology and brute physical labour. One one side are 12 painting robots. On the other, are workers carrying 25 kilo headloads of used screens up two flights of stairs and returning with a 30 kilo load of clean screens. Each worker has to carry 70-80 screens up and down the stairs, working an extra hour without pay if the job is not done by the end of the shift.”
(FMS, July 2011)

4) If Maruti had calculated to ‘save the investment on a separate trade union’, the actual course of the struggle forced them to accept major losses in order to smash the emerging workers’ collective and to re-impose their regime. In a wider sense it was a ‘political price’ to pay, in defence of the ‘developmental model’ of the ruling class.

The dispute inflicted major losses on Maruti Suzuki at a time when according company claims ‘there are 100,000 open orders for the Maruti Suzuki Swift’ and waiting-times of more than four months. If we leave out all extra-costs (resting capital and capacities, payment for extra-security, bribes, legal and propaganda work etc.) and calculate an average price of a Maruti Suzuki Swift at 400,000 Rs [8,000 USD or 5,800 Euro] when sold to the traders, then a loss of 1,200 cars per day in Manesar amounts to 48 crore Rs [9,600,000 USD or 7,000,000 Euro]. A total loss of 75,000 units, as Maruti claims to have lost between June and October 2011, would amount to 3000 crore Rs [600 million USD or 435 million Euro]. Also Maruti Suzuki’s share-values have suffered, between June and mid-October the share price fell by 16 per cent.

A lot of the business media people wonder about the seemingly ‘irrational stubbornness’ of Maruti to rather swallow such kind of losses than accepting ‘the workers’ right’ to a separate trade union – quite a lot of leftist might have shared this view. We think it is less about the ‘violation of workers’ rights’, but about Maruti Suzuki having to confront developments during the course of the struggle, which forced them to ‘fight it out’. It became a question of who rules on the shop-floor. It became a question of whether capital let workers undermine the core of the current developmental regime by joint unlawful direct action.

5) During the last three decades the local industrial ruling class developed a fairly repetitive manual in order to transform workers’ unrest into leaps of re-structuring. This strategy was able to integrate trade union forms of struggle as long as it stuck to the rules of representation, labour law and/or other calculable forms of struggle. The workers’ actions at Maruti broke the master-plan at several points.

The use of ‘good conduct bonds’ or ‘lock-outs’ in order to tire out struggling workers is no new development. [5] We have seen hundred of times how this strategy in combination of ‘company’-focussed trade union struggle ended in hundreds of defeats. If the management is not able to get the general situation on the shop-floor under control – or if the general conditions force them into re-structuring – they prepare themselves for a ‘showdown’. Often they try to focus on the question of representation, either by crushing the workers’ representatives or by promoting and co-opting them, in order not to have to deal with an unruly and inadressable mass. If that proves to be difficult management prepares for a lock-out (impose overtime to fill stocks, arrange alternative sourcing of extra-parts, start to arrange supply of ‘new workers’). Depending on the economic climate they might announce to ‘close the whole factory’.

The management provokes the workers, e.g. by suspending their representatives. In order to circumvent the accusation of an illegal lock-out management issues ‘good conduct bonds’, hoping that the main trade unions stick to the ‘traditional ways’ of struggle, which means: refusal to sign, confining the struggle to the company gate and occasional demonstrations, reducing the conflict to the question of ‘our victimised leaders’ and thereby making it an individual issue which has little danger to explode into the wider proletarian area. At the same time management tries to keep up production, partly in order to avoid losses, but mainly in order to demoralise the workers. In the meantime they attack the workers outside by all means necessary (thugs, cops, boredom).

After some weeks there is an agreement, which normally results in severe re-structuring and re-placement. The trade union leaders can proclaim ‘a victory’ (“We got our representatives back on” or “We prevented the closure of the company”). The formerly combative collective is dismantled, e.g. by taking back only the permanent workers, or by shifting workers around within the plant. In this way most struggles in recent years got lost and re-structuring boosted. The fact that this set-up has repeated itself so many times is not mainly due to the cunning plans of management or the ‘compliancy’ of the main trade unions, but because of a specific configuration between general economic situation, composition of the workforce and blockades in the re-structuring process.

These conditions have changed. Maruti Suzuki was not able to enforce the usual strategy to deal with industrial unrest. This is mainly due to the unlawful collective action of the workers by occupying the plant and by the threat of spreading wildcat strikes. Instead of sticking to ‘legal campaigns’ ‘and well-meaning symbolic protests’ for their union rights, workers went into an offensive, which gave them an advantage position and raised the stakes. The fact that Maruti Suzuki could not undermine the workers collectivity neither by severe repression nor by replacing them during the lock-out is partly due to the specific nature of the industry and partly due to the general social atmosphere.

6) The decision of workers not to sign the ‘good conduct bond’ and to hand over the factory floor as the main ground for collective struggle to management was a tricky one. Maruti Suzuki did not manage to get full production going during the 33 days of lock-out, but they came close enough in order for the lock-out to become effective as a means of demoralisation.

If it had not been a central assembly plant – an integrated production process requiring the cooperation of hundreds, thousands of workers inside the plant and in combination with the suppliers – the struggle would very likely have been lost during the time of the ‘lock-out’. The company would have managed to demoralise the workers by being able to return to ‘normal’ production with some of the supervisors and newly hired staff. The ‘combative’ stance ‘not to sign the bonds’ would have turned into a ‘voluntary defeat’, because workers would have renounced to stay in the heart of the beast, where they have a faceless collective power: within the production process.

We should critically examine how close the Maruti management came to actually being able to get production going again – with the help of supervisors, engineers from the Manesar and Gurgaon plant and hundreds of newly hired ITI workers. Maruti Suzuki limited the attempt to get production going to only one of the three models manufactured in Manesar. On 31st of August, the third day of the lock-out, the company started production with 50 engineers and 290 supervisors, who had partly been shifted from Gurgaon, and 120 newly hired manual workers. They said that these 460 workers managed to produce 60 cars. Concerned about the companies’ share price development, Maruti Suzuki from then on announced new ‘production records’ on a daily level. On the 3rd of September 840 workers are supposed to have produced 200 cars. On 5th of September the MSEU declared in a communiqué that these figures are more or less bad propaganda, and that not more than a couple of cars are produced per day. Maruti claimed that at the end of the lock-out 1,400 workers produced around 400 Swift a day (normal output around 650) and that they had started to produce the A Star.

They surely did not manage to get production going within a month time, but they came close enough. This forces us in future struggles to make sure to a) not leave the terrain of the factory ‘completely’ to the management, even if there is great unity amongst the workers and b) not to think to be able to rely ‘on ones own strength alone’ even if this strength is as quantitatively massive as in the case of central assembly plants. The collective stance “We all stay out”, “We will not give in into their good conduct bullshit” is definitely an expression of ‘collective will’ – but if not combined with a major effort to actively connect with other workers in the area in order to spread the conflict it might be a step into a swampy ground.

7) Manesar could have turned into India’s Mahalla. [6] The Occupation at Maruti Suzuki took place while the populist ‘anti-corruption’-movement was attacked brutally in nearby Delhi. The social atmosphere (disillusion with corrupt political class, food price development, ‘desperate’ expressions of discontent) is shared with the countries of the ‘Spring Uprisings’ in Northern Africa. Previous to these uprisings, repression triggered unrest and explosive fusions rather than quelling them.

If the extreme poles of managements strategy to defeat a workers’ collective is to either replace them as collective producers or to repress them with brute force then both poles have proven fragile during the Maruti dispute. In 2005 we witnessed that neither Honda management nor the Indian state has major problems with crushing heads of hundreds of workers if it seems like a good way to return to ‘harmonious industrial relations’. This did not happen this time. There are various reasons why Maruti did not consider a violent eviction at the time. Obviously there is the danger of damaging machinery (and the cooperative will of hundreds of skilled workers!) and the possibility that an eviction will not go down well with the other workers of more than 500 factories in Industrial Model Town Manesar.

But we think that there are more specific reasons for why the ruling class is very cautious to make use of mass repression in current times, and these seem to be global reasons: in the current social atmosphere repression does not seem to instil mainly fear, but could create incalculable trigger effects of unrest. We have witnessed this during the recent uprisings in Northern Africa, from Tunisia to Egypt. The parallel to the situation in India is not a mere abstraction. The time of occupation coincided with the rather populist ‘anti-corruption movement’ (Ramdev, Harare), there were the violent attacks of the state on the Ramdev followers in Delhi in early June. There have been ‘suicide attempts’ of followers in desperate acts of ‘solidarity’. An attack on the occupation only miles away could have sparked all kinds of fusions and reactions – some of the Maruti workers had referred positively to the anti-corruption movement. This is understandable giving general situation and the concrete ‘corruption’ at Maruti Suzuki, e.g. at the annual remuneration of the CEO has increased by 419 per cent between 2007 and 2011, while workers’ real wages (and general profitability) dropped. Similarly the allegation that high-rank manager in Maruti’s HR department are personally involved in labour contracting business. This ‘corruption’ is obviously ‘unfair’, but just a drop in the sea of crisis. We have to see the ‘corruption’ primarily as an expression of the current instability of the system: future (profitable) prospects are bleak, the ruling class looks for immediate ‘personal gains’, instead of long-term investment.

During the course of the dispute the area around the Maruti factory turned into something like a ‘proletarian protest-camp’, various political groups turned up, students, family members. It expressed a certain need for spaces to come together in support and debate about what is happening in this world, a need which we can see spreading from Tahrir, to the Spanish square occupations to Wall Street. Manesar could have turned into an Indian Mahalla, where the repression of an organically very organised industrial working class could have given a whole different framework and impetus to a general ‘populist anti-government’ sentiment. We don’t advise workers to look for ‘formal alliances’ with these type of movements, but we should be aware of the general fragile social fabric.

In this social atmosphere the ‘means of repression’ had to be more subtle, but they revealed the wide social front-line which workers have to face: from the desks of the state administration to the metal barriers set-up by the company and staffed with private security guards, from the riot cops to the individual sms send by management to workers’ company phones, calling them back to work – these mobile phones had been a company present for 10 million produced Marutis. From the drunken land-lord thugs and local labour contractors attacking them in their ‘villages’ or in front of the factory with guns to the ‘soothing’ spiritual brain-wash of Brahmakumaris, hired by Human resource management to ‘heal’ the workers from their anger after the occupation. From the ‘panchayat’ leaders of the Manesar villages, linking up with the multi-national Haryana regime, to the investment fund advisors asking for ‘de-risking’ of Maruti’s production location. From the media regime, which portrays them as villains or victims to the production manager who orders to shift them away from their old work-mates to other lines and departments. And last but not least all those institutionalised leaders of trade union apparatuses who promise and postpone and mobilise and call off, all rather in the interest of their own organisations than to strengthen the collective power of the workers.

But we think that all these ‘cogs of the system’ can not explain the paradox that although Maruti’s position had been difficult and the losses significant, the workers did not manage to turn the (company) regime’s weaknesses into their own victory.

8. Despite the unity and sacrifice, despite the 100,000 open orders for Swift cars, despite having imposed full(-stop!) control over the factory… in many ways the workers lost, without having been defeated. We cannot ignore the material wage losses and glorify the struggle for ‘dignity’ and union ideals.

To ask about ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ and ‘true demands’ of workers’ struggles is obviously an awkward matter – see contribution to debate on first Maruti occupation in this newsletter. Let’s start with the official demands and the gains and losses of workers as a result of the struggle. The initial official demand – the recognition of a separate union – has not been enforced, the company and administration offered a watered-down version of a welfare-board. If we just look at the ‘black on white’-results in form of wage slips, termination/suspension letters and agreements, then the workers paid a rather high price for this. Several dozen workers have been suspended, more than 100 temporary workers left the job at Maruti out of frustration – particularly after they were not taken back on 3rd of October. All agreements had an element of ‘moral punishment’ for the workers, either in form of penalty wage cuts or in form of the ‘good conduct bond’, which ‘on paper’ prohibits them to gossip or sing on the job or spend too much time on the toilet. The wage losses are considerably: the sole wage loss amounts to more than 50 days wages, if Maruti actually imposes the penalty wage cuts on the permanents then we talk about a total of about 130 daily wages loss. [7] The media likes to emphasise that these young workers a often unmarried and son’s of small peasants with brothers working somewhere in the army, and that therefore they are able to stick it out ‘with family support’, but anyone can imagine that this is a heavy loss to take, which definitely sets a limit to the participation of poorer and/or temporary workers.

This ‘material’ defeat is contrasted by something like a ‘moral victory’, in the sense that workers fought together for a common aim in form of ‘the union’, symbol for of their unity, for their own interest opposed to the interest of the company and for their hope in future betterment through union representation. They stood up for those who got suspended or terminated throughout the struggle (mainly representatives and office bearers of the union) and – and this is one of most significant decisions a collective of workers took in recent history of class struggle – for their ‘excluded’ temporary co-workers. This is their victory. We can go even further and say that although workers’ struggles tend to have ‘demands’ for betterment of their material situation, in many ways the collective struggle in itself is what we want and what in the end will improve the situation – with or without prove on paper in form of an agreement. We want to say “Enough!” together with others, link up, create a moment where everything is put into question, where we learn new things and where ‘their haughty power’ is broken. This is the political content of any struggle. And the Maruti workers did it! If all this happens around the ‘demand for a union’, let it be, but…

9) It was a tragic short-coming on the side of the workers not too put their concrete necessities into the foreground of the struggle: “More Money, Less Work” – because these had been general necessities of the mass of workers in Industrial Model Town Maneser. If combined with concrete steps ‘from group of workers to group of workers’ to actively generalise, this could have given an additional forceful dynamic to the struggle.

It is useless to debate whether the ‘demand for union recognition’ – reduced later on to the sole demand of ‘withdrawal of termination and suspension’ – has actually been the only demand of the workers. It has been the official demand and leaders like AITUC-president Sachdev have made clear a thousand times that this should be the focus. The initial demands of temporary workers for fixed contracts had disappeared early on.

As workers we cannot allow ourselves to postpone concrete demands and hope that they will be solved at future negotiation tables – particularly not if our general status is temporary anyway. Not only for the immediate sake, for ‘bread and butter’, but also in relation to other workers. The demand for ‘a company union and re-instatement of leaders’ creates less common grounds and potentials for generalisation than a concrete demand of, for example, 500 Rs for 8 hours, stop to double-shift and weekend work, … and all the other common problems of workers in Manesar and beyond. The likeliness of contagion will be higher in the latter. It also makes a difference if workers in a ‘privileged position’ like a booming assembly plant say that after weeks of full-on struggle they got something materially out of their enemy’s hands – or if they have to admit that they have lost a lot of money and only been offered a welfare board.

The ‘generalisation’ of a struggle obviously depends less on ‘the right demands’, but on its form: whether it leads to wider participation and active engagement of a mass of workers. Like demands, the decision about this form of struggle should not be delegated. Here, again, the formal constitution of institutionalised trade unions rather hinder ‘mass participation’ and ‘unity’ (beyond one-day shows) than encourage them. We cannot say much about the relation between the MSEU and the wider mass of Maruti workers. Facing the severe repression and general pressure we can understand that workers have the urge to defend those ‘who stick their neck out’. We don’t criticise the ‘representatives’, we question institutionalised representation and delegation. We have to ask whether ‘formal representation’ actually leads to both ‘immediate workers’ power to enforce our needs’ and to a political mass experience of workers deciding and doing themselves. We have to see that Maruti and the state operated very strategically with their arrests, suspensions and terminations (or withdrawals of them) of the representatives – and by doing so they were able to focus and ‘reign in’ the struggle around this question.

The ‘joint action committee’ which was set up first in June and was then revived during the ‘lock-out’ comprised only few Maruti workers, and if so, then the leaders of the MSEU. In June, out of a meeting of 100 in Manesar, there were only five Maruti workers, the rest were either union officials of the main trade unions or leftist supporters. Comrades noted that often there was little engagement of Maruti workers in the decisions of the ‘official steps of the struggle’ (when to demonstrate) or that in most cases the ‘agreements’ were settled without wider debate amongst the workers. Comrades noted that as long as the relation between Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers and Powertrain workers was mediated through the main union bodies, the different interests of AITUC, HMS and other institutions were actually hindering the coming together – e.g. Powertrain workers not taking parts in the early demonstrations of the Maruti workers in Manesar. Only once workers actually made contact, particularly the casual workers of both plants, they were able to push things to ‘common action’, in particular the second occupation.

10) The most ‘offensive’ and ‘potentially generalising’ leaps within the dispute, which actually questioned Marutis strategy to insulate and choke the struggle, were taken without major decrees and without following the pre-described formula of the labour laws. While officially and formally workers wanted legal recognition, their actual practice went way beyond this. Not the ‘betrayal’ of the main trade unions, but the fact that workers did not develop strong enough independent coordination during the struggle can explain its arbitrary outcome.

There were moments were workers – as part of the union or not – were able to put Maruti and the state on the back-foot. For us these leaps were:
* the first occupation in June, stopping or impacting on production of 200 nearby suppliers within weeks (a major potential, but largely missed chance for getting in touch with these workers);
* followed by the unrest ‘back at work’ in July and August, e.g. the wildcat strike on 28th of August;
* during ‘the lock-out’: the wildcat strike of casual workers at Munjal Showa on the 12th of September (which spread to the companies Gurgaon and Haridwar plants), the strike at Suzuki Powertrain and Motorcycles on the 14th of September;
* the decision to occupy again on 7th of October – not at last due to the pressure of 1,000 angry ‘locked-out’ temporary workers.
These were the moments were ‘things could have gone out of hand’ of the (state) management.

It is easy to discard the main trade union leadership for ‘betraying’ the unity, which they claim to symbolise:
* trade union leaders told everyone and the workers that ‘workers are victimised’ and ‘workers are in a bad spot’, while they were on occupation in June and were actually in a rather strong position
* AITUC called off the solidarity strike in June last minute;
* HMS called off the strike at Powertrain in September as soon as it hit the Gurgaon plant;
* regional AITUC president at nearby Honda plant said “We are waiting for the authorities to take initiative to resolve the issue.”, when Maruti workers occupied again in October and were actually threatened by eviction.

We think it is less about ‘betrayal’, but about a general problem with ‘trade union form of struggle’ in times of crisis. If under the general conditions trade unions confine themselves to their set limitations (within legal boundaries, confined to sector or company, based on formal representation and settlements), they will remain largely toothless. If they are toothless, the ‘improvements’ for their members will be counterweighted by the deterioration of conditions of a growing mass of other workers: all those, who remain outside of the formal boundaries which legal trade union struggle can act within. The rapid changes of the social production process (globalisation, new technologies) undermine institutionalised forms of workers organisations further. If unions decide to actually go beyond their limitations, they will face the full brunt of repression and they will have to question their very formal premises. At Maruti Suzuki workers reached this point. So instead of barking about betrayal, let’s focus on the essentials instead: independent organisation of workers. [8]

11) What could be done?

We cannot come up with any master key or all time solutions, but rather some general day-to-day considerations and suggestions. As we wrote in April 2011:

“We will put forward the issue “500 Rs for an 8-hours day – We can’t do it for less’ in Manesar Industrial Model Town. We openly say that such a slogan alone will neither free us from looking at our department or company specific conditions, nor do we have the illusion of a ‘final settlement’. It can help us to debate about concrete steps. Which steps will be specific, which steps can be common? What can we do inside the factory, what in the wider area? We have discussed the issue with some workers employed in different companies. We will put it forward both in form of hand-written posters in the area and inside these companies. We will decide about further steps according to the debate, which hopefully will emerge amongst workers in different factories.” [9]

* Let’s not delegate and postpone our concrete needs! Let’s start formulating with our co-workers what we want and look for commonalities with others. Let’s not go for promises and future settlements, enforce ‘less work, more money’ if we can, here and now.
* Let’s start with collective steps on the level of our day-to-day existence as cooperating workers or neighbours. Let’s share your experiences and debate them with other groups (in other departments, factories, sectors) and find ways to join up in common steps.
* Let’s not give out of our hands the weapon of the collective producer. Don’t let them blind you by all their talk about ‘indiscipline’ and ‘unlawfulness’. Collective ‘indiscipline’ doesn’t cost much, doesn’t need experts, hurts the management and can provide immediate relieve for us.
* Let’s try to find forms of struggle, which do not require individual people sticking their heads out too much, without leaders to be corrupted or squashed.
* Let’s create means of communication and spaces in the wider area to meet and coordinate practical activities on a larger scale, linking up with the experiences on a day-to-day group / factory level.
* Let’s find forms of collective debate and decision making during mass mobilisations or meetings. Don’t wait for calls, plans or decisions from above. Make any effort to spread ‘company struggles’ to other workers, relating to them as co-workers.
* Let’s not give the state or management too much chance to predict our next moves – break their strategy of ‘good conduct bonds’ or other traps. Don’t go for set-up provocations. Don’t stick to their normal procedures.
* Let’s not rely on the spectacle of the middle-class playgrounds (legal proceedings, media, NGO campaigners, political leaders). We should find forms of struggle and communication, which remain independent.
* Let’s make an effort to learn from the current explosion of struggle around the world (occupations of squares, strike waves, riots etc.) – let’s not treat them as ‘glorious’, but examine critically whether new forms of working class organisation and perspectives emerge. Let’s share our experiences with them in a global discussion.
* On the bases of the experiences of the global working class – as producers and as groups in struggle – let’s debate about a social alternative to car production, traffic jams, mega-cities, villages, peak oil, bio-fuels, war machines, the permanent crisis and this failing system.

Friends of Faridabad Majdoor Samachar try to support this process of working class self-organisation by taking part in the discussions amongst striking workers during the Maruti strike, by publishing a monthly workers’ newspaper and by taking part in Faridabad Majdoor Talmel, an effort of workers’ coordination in the industrial belt of Delhi. If you live in Delhi area, please be welcomed to take part. We distribute Faridabad Majdoor Samachar on ten days each month in various industrial areas around Delhi. If you are interested, please get in touch.

For more background on Faridabad Majdoor Talmel:
http://faridabadmajdoorsamachar.blogspot.com/p/fms-talmel.html

Footnotes:

[1]

Extensive material by Faridabad Majdoor Samachar on the re-structuring process at Escorts and the role of the HMS union:
https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/workers-history/#fn131

Overview on the 2000/2001 dispute at Maruti Suzuki Gurgaon plant:
https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no8/

[2]

See comprehensive analysis by Mouvement Communiste:
http://mouvement-communiste.com/documents/MC/Booklets/BR1_China_EN_vF_Complete.pdf

[3]

Documentation of the struggle for union recognition at Honda HMSI in 2005:
https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no7/#fn4

[4]

Documentation of wildcat strikes / factory occupations of temporary workers at Hero Honda and Delphi:
https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no4/#fn2 https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no8/#fn4

[5]

Documentation of ‘management’s strategies’ at Faridabad Gedore Handtools factory:
https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/workers-history/#fn292

[6]

Industrial town in Egypt. Mass strikes in 2005 and 2008 provided impetus and organisational focus for the ‘popular movements’ emerging around Tahrir Square in 2011:
http://www.klassenlos.tk/data/pdf/egypt_interview.pdf

[7]

If we count full days of strike as full working days: 14 days occupation, 33 days of lock-out/protest camp, 14 days of 2nd occupation and strike; plus 28 days penalty wage cut for first occupation, 33 days for lock-out, 14 days for 2nd occupation

[8]

For the historical debate on the question of ‘economic’ and ‘political’ struggle of the working class:
http://libcom.org/library/class-composition-sergio-bologna

[9]

Paper on potential for wage struggles in Manesar, April 2011:
https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no-937/