Local Automobile Workers: Electronic Flow-Management - Combining High-Tech Assembly Plants and Slum Production

The Indian car industry is in a ‘sales boom’: all time record figures during the last months. But does the ‘sales growth’ translate into a ‘profit growth’?! The supplying industry complains about ‘squeezed margins’: the pressure on prices is so high that it hardly allows sufficient upgrading of capacities and future productive investments. They have difficulty to keep up with the demand in productive output. With dwindling profits per car the central assembly plants suck the supply chain dry: just-in-time, low inventory, low prices, full quality.

The 1st and 2nd tier suppliers are squeezed from two sides of capitalist contradiction, from both sides of the supply chain: from the down-stream side of capital-intensive manufacturing and from the up-stream side of workshop and slum production. The low wage regime of workshop and slum production hardly makes it profitable to invest in machinery. The workshop and slum production itself is part of a ‘human supply chain’ of cheap labour, reaching into the rural parts of society. The current conflicts about minimum wages for rural employment schemes will re-shape this supply – see ‘the Social Tsunami Impact’ in this newsletter.

Below we document some glimpses at different sections of the supply-chain: an article on ‘electronic flow-management’ at Suzuki Maruti in Gurgaon; articles on the situation of 1st tier suppliers and a worker’s report about conditions at ‘Wing Automobile’; and finally reports from workers employed in the workshop and slum production of the automobile industry in Faridabad.

The Electronic Flow

The ‘electronic flow’-management in central assembly plant symbolises the attempt of capital to get to grips with the flow of value. Their obsessive hope is that the ‘information’ passed on between assembly department and the scattered landscape of supplying industry can become the container of ‘value’ – ‘information’ being similarly immaterial and evasive. The ‘information-flow regime’ is their hope that a perfectly synchronized supply-chain will reconcile ‘technical productivity’ and ‘profitability’, by tuning the rhythms of welding-robots to those of the dexterous hands of child / slum labour.

“At Maruti Suzuki, electronic flow is a religion”
(Economic Times, 19th of November 2010)
At India’s largest carmaker, E. Nagare or ‘electronic flow’ is a religion. Simply put, this electronic flow is actually the sequence of production plans from the vendor [supplier] to Maruti’s shopfloor, which now sits at a two hour cycle from 30 days in the past. As S Maitra, Managing Executive Officer (Supply Chain) of Maruti Suzuki indicates, “E . Nagare has completely transformed the supply chain at Maruti over the last four years.” Across Maruti’s twin sprawling plants in Gurgaon and Manesar, multi-coloured bumpers arrive in mobile trolleys and components line up outside factory sheds directly feeding the ever-hungry , multitasked assembly lines. For the company’s 250-odd Tier I vendors and 20 global suppliers, supply is now a seamless activity. Maruti receives multiple supplies in a day within a slot of two hours based on the information given out to its vendors the previous night. That’s a far cry from the initial 30-day or subsequent 15-day cycles Maruti drove in years ago. And that’s what it takes to crank out 4,600 cars a day.

Along with processes like E. Nagare, new technologies and materials such as plastic instead of a metal fuel tank or light tinting of glass to keep the car cool, are now in the offing. Increased competition in the late 90s gave rise to global suppliers coming to India, like Delphi of GM. “Delphi came with a range of technologies, like wiring harnesses, chassis and powertrain components and AC components and they became our suppliers as well,” says Maitra. At that time, it was the ‘Materials’ division of Maruti that dealt with the supply side. Instead of price increase, which was the order of the day, Maruti called on its existing vendors to focus on cost reduction. Initially, the company could bring down the cost of production by 2-3 per cent and in 2006-07 , it even lowered that by 5%. “We had to induct many global suppliers in our vendor network, like Faurecia for seat mechanism, Bosch and some Japanese suppliers like Dentsu, Sumitomo Metals and Continental, all with a global footprint ,” elaborates Maitra.

The 1st tier squeeze

The profit squeeze of the wider industry appears as ‘unfair price policy’ to the supplying companies.

“Sales of passenger vehicles have set a scorching pace-25-27 per cent in the first half of the financial year-and auto component makers are struggling hard to catch up. Over the next few years, the vendors are expected to pump in at least Rs 2,000 crore to meet the demand. One factor that has enabled companies to make such high investments is the willingness on the part of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to re-negotiate contract prices. In the past ten months, the average contract prices have gone up by 5-10 per cent. As Ramesh Suri, chairman of the country’s largest car air-conditioning company Subros, which supplies air-conditioners to Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and Hyundai Motor, says, “We are going to invest up to Rs 200 crore for capacity enhancement,” adding that the only option left for his company is to constantly ramp up production to meet demand. Suri explains that while passenger vehicle makers constantly put pressure on component makers to cut costs, there is a limit to how much they can manage. He says while the company’s topline has been growing steadily, there is constant pressure on the bottomlines. “The average net profit per sale has certainly declined,” he claims, adding, “Auto firms have realised that they can’t continue to do business till the time they increase contract prices.”Managing director of Gurgaon-based auto component maker Omax Autos Jatender Mehta adds that his contracts with leading carmakers have increased 5 per cent in the past one year. “If we have to invest in our facilities, we cannot do it till we get more for our components,” he says. Mehta explains that high volatility in prices of key components like steel, copper, zinc and aluminum, which have increased 10-12 per cent since last year, has burnt a big hole in the budgets.”

The 1st tier workers’ anger

Wings Automobile Worker
(I-35, DLF Industrial Area Phase 1)
There are 25 permanent workers and 325 workers hired through contractor. They produce ignition coils for two-wheelers of Hero Honda, Bajaj, Yamaha, Honda, Hero Puch and Kinetic. They also produce parts for Maruti Suzuki. Officially workers are employed 8.5 hours per day, but actually they work 200 hours overtime per month, paid at single rate. If workers are made to work 20 hours non-stop, they get 20 Rs extra for food. There is a constant danger of cutting your hands – the production targets at the 12 power presses and the 10 moulding machines is too high. Even when the machines are faulty you have to run them. If one of your pieces is rejected (due to flaws) they cut one hour of your wages, they swear at you, they also push-beat you. Fingers are cut on a regular level. They don’t fill in the accident report. After an accident you are sent for private treatment and then you are dismissed. In an auxiliary of the company (Eden) 5 permanents and 70 workers hired through contractors produce horns for two-wheelers, cars and tractors. Recently, a newly hired worker was made working 26 hours non-stop on a power press, he had an accident and lost two fingers. The toilets are very dirty. There is no drinking water. Wages are paid delayed.


(from: Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar no. 267)

The Automobile Slum-Production Workers

In the ‘industrial villages’ and slums of Faridabad more than 100,000 workers are employed in small workshops, which produce for the bigger industry on contract bases. Nearly all of them are ‘invisible’, they don’t show on any official documents. The workshop economy is an outcome of the 1980s restructuring process – see ‘Workers History’ on the GurgaonWorkersNews site. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed mass lay-offs of permanent workers. Some of them remained in touch with their former department managers and turned into their suppliers: they opened a workshop. The machinery of the workshop stems from a similar cycle of re-structuring: lathes, power presses and other machines replaced by micro-electronic revolution, often imported from Germany and Japan. New workers stream in from the countryside and find a job in the slum economy – in many cases they come from the workshop-owner’s villages. Below some voices from the low-wage labour-intensive regime.

Boxer India Worker
The workshop is situated near Industrial Area, 17 workers are employed. They work on six power presses, three lathes, one grinder and one reamer. They manufacture cycle clamps and other parts for JCB, Maruti Suzuki and RK Industries. The helpers are paid 2,500 to 3,000 Rs and the operators get 4,000 to 4500 Rs per month. The shift-times are from 8:30 am till 8 pm, but people are made to stay till midnight, too. Overtime is paid at single rate. Due to working too long hours, due to lack of maintenance and due to the fact that helpers are made to work on power-presses there are a lot of accidents: fingers get cut. Injured people are supposed to organise bandages through private channels. After being given 100 or 150 Rs by the boss they have to hear: if it does not get better through the bandages, why don’t you urinate on the wound. Even if you are still injured and bandaged you have to come to the workshop and do whatever work.

Aman Enterprises Worker
The workshop is in Saray Mohalla in Mujesar. There are two surface grinders, cylindrical grinders, internal grinders, a lathe machine, MNCR, a tool grinder, a drill, two generators – four workers, the workshop owner and his nephew use them in order to make dies for factories. The wages are between 2,500 Rs and 5,000 Rs. There is no toilet. Due to the surface grinder and the generators there is a lot of dust and exhaust in the air.

Lakshman Singh Mittal Industries Worker
The workshop is in Dabua, near the Sarvoday School. In the workshop 25 workers work on 12 power presses, on a surface grinder and a big drill, manufacturing parts for Whirlpool. Official shift times are from 8:30 am till 9 pm. The workshop owner knows all tasks, he does the setting – his son supervises the outsourced work. He is a senior die fitter, he does not work himself, he gets more than 5,000 Rs. The helpers and operators get 3,000 Rs to 3,500 Rs.

BS Enterprises Worker
The workshop is in Saray Mohalla in Mujesar. Three workers use a lathe, a surface grinder, a drill and a generator in order to do job work for bigger factories. Wages are about 3,500 Rs.
(from: Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar no. 267)


Oct 13 2011 11:12

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