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Faridabad and Gurgaon: Workers’ Action, Leftwing Media

 

Analytical Monthly Review, published in Kharagpur, West Bengal, India, is a sister edition of Monthly Review.  Its December 2009 issue features the following editorial. — Ed.

The establishment media is for most the source of our daily information.  Even if we manage to be continually conscious of the embedded commercial and class bias, the picture received is chaotic and fragmented.  To make a credible narrative of events we need the left — or left-influenced — journals, both in print and on the web (though internet access remains quite limited).  Left sources are especially needed for events intentionally underreported by the establishment media, above all the daily acts of resistance to the oppression of capitalist social relations.  We are therefore pleased to recommend the excellent weblogs of the GurgaonWorkersNews (“Workers News from the Special Exploitation Zone”) and Faridabad Majdoor Samaachaar (Faridabad Workers News) to our readers.  The perspective from Gurgaon is of importance; the processes visible there are both more intense and innovative than elsewhere.  In more than one sense one might say that the Gurgaon proletariat is a leading element.

The now well established divide of permanent and contract-casual-temporary — officially termed as ‘informal’ — workers, along with communal, caste-based and regional divisions among the urban workforce, long a fearsome obstacle to resistance, is now increasingly seen as a challenge and opportunity in building workers’ solidarity.  Anger among contract workers is explosive, and trade union organisers at last have begun to adjust to the new reality.  And there should be no question that this is now a decisive arena.  According to the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), November 2007, the net increase in the level of employment in the organised sector from 54.14 million in 1999-2000 to 62.57 million in 2004-05 was also entirely accounted for by an increase in the number of informal workers in the organised sector (from 20.45 million to 29.14 million).

Dr Dibyendu Maiti, who led a research team of the Institute of Economic Growth, says, “India’s Annual Survey of Industries, the official record of industrial statistics, puts the share of contract labour in organised manufacturing at 15-26 per cent. . . .  We found the share to be much higher in our sample States.  This may be because we undertook extensive fieldwork.  Most official estimates of contract labour are based on secondary data, where it is likely that contract labour is under-reported by employers” (“60-70% Industrial Workers in Bengal, Gujarat Are Contract Labour: Research Finds Violation of Minimum Wage, Labour Laws,” Hindu Business Line, July 22, 2009).  In the industrial belt around Delhi permanent workers account for 10 to 30 percent of the total workforce, often assigned with supervisory tasks.  The automobile industry, a supposed showcase of ‘India Shining’, is a good example.

In the 1990s the existing automobile companies (Maruti, Escorts) were reorganised and their workforce casualised.  Escorts in Faridabad used to employ more than 20,000 permanent workers in the 1980s; this came down to less than 6,000, due to outsourcing of departments and increasing employment of temporary workers.  Along with the workforce the structure of the car part supplying industry got reshuffled, combining industrial parks with first-tier suppliers like Delphi or Bosch with workshop production in the surrounding slum areas.  After liberalisation in 1991, nearly all major global automobile manufacturers opened plants in India, attracted by the promising growth rate.  By 2007 the official direct and indirect employment in the Indian automobile industry stood at 13.1 million employees manufacturing around 8 million two-wheelers, 2 million cars, 300,000 tractors and 480,000 commercial vehicles and trucks.  In the Hero Honda Gurgaon plant, about 1,400 permanent workers, 1,500 casual workers and 3,500 workers — hired through four to five different contractors — were employed.  In October 2008 about 1,800 workers of Hero Honda’s Daruhera factory (motorbikes) were sacked.  The reason for the dismissals — apart from the economic downturn — was the attempt to get permanent contracts for temporary workers.  Another example is Boni Polymers, which manufactures rubber parts for Hero Honda, Yamaha, Maruti Suzuki, JBC, Tata Motor, Delphi, Svaraj Mazda, Mundal Showa and for export to Italy.  It employs 4 permanent workers, 100 casual workers, 400 workers hired through contractors and 125 workers who are called ‘staff’.  In the main department, where the moulding work is done, two 12-hour shifts are run.  In the other departments, workers work on a single 12-hour shift which can be extended to 36 hours if necessary.  To work 150 to 200 hours of overtime monthly is normal and it is not unusual to work more.  The overtime payment is even less than single-rate, around 12 to 13 Rs per hour.  The casual workers are continuously employed, but their documents show a break after six months and they are forced to fill in the form for claiming PF — as part of their ‘official end of employment’.  The wage of 50 workers hired through contractors is 2,500 to 3,000 Rs, no ESI, no PF (GurgaonWorkersNews no.9/18, July 17, 2009).

Every sector has shown a similar trend.  The Tecumseh compressor manufacturing factory formerly belonged to the multinational Whirlpool.  Whirlpool took the factory over from Calvinator and, after sacking 2,500 workers in 1997, passed the compressor department on to Tecumseh.  In 2000, after a lockout, and receiving permission from the government to shut down one department, the company sacked 500 permanent workers and shifted the whole production to the current location.  Then in 2004 another Voluntary Retirement Scheme was announced and 280 workers out of 900 were made redundant.  On the 1st of November the company put up a notice of yet another VRS.  After Tecumseh took over the factory the number of permanent workers was reduced to a third and production numbers have increased fourfold (GurgaonWorkersNews no.9/17, May 27, 2009 and no.9/21, November 4, 2009).

The role of government at all levels is openly to take the side of the employer.  In the name of abolishing ‘inspector raj’, Union labour secretary Sudha Pillai, now a member of the Planning Commission, announced that the practice of inspectors going on-site to verify compliance with labour laws is shortly to be replaced by permitting company secretaries to file compliance reports.  The problem it seems is that inspectors have conscientiously reported the “pathetic” compliance levels.  Although the government and courts make no effort to enforce compliance, the inspectors’ reports are published and problems arise internationally.  “Many countries are using labour issues to put up non-tariff barriers against Indian imports. . . ,” said Pillai (The Financial Express, August 5, 2009).

The now thoroughly accomplished destruction by government and judiciary of the labour laws is a two-edged sword.  Spontaneous outbursts leading to violent actions are becoming frequent among workers deprived of minimum legal rights.  The lynching of a company executive in Coimbatore, last year’s lynching of a manager in Noida or the destruction of company property after a fatal accident on the Commonwealth Games construction site in Delhi by the thousands of building workers are all worth noting.  As it becomes clear even to the dullest that workers can expect nothing from labour laws or judiciary, self-help is seen as the only option — as in fact, on a deeper analysis, has always been the case.  The key question then becomes the emergence of leadership able to turn spontaneous action or violent outbursts against individual oppressors into the calculated mass campaigns that build self-confidence and solidarity among workers.  The trade unions have been crippled by the relative privilege of the permanent workers in the organised sector — both private and public — that have been their primary constituency.  Management has repeatedly been able successfully to set the more privileged off against the larger number of non-permanent workers.  But as triumphant post-reform capitalists compete to retire and replace the permanent workers, a barrier useful to the capitalist class as a whole disappears.

Automobile Workers Strike, 20 October 2009The recent mass strike in support of Rico workers in Gurgaon is, in this context, of significance.  Rico Auto Industries workers spontaneously found their own leadership and in August began negotiations with management demanding wage increase and the right to form a union with All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).  A futile application was made to the labour department in Chandigarh for formal recognition.  In September Rico Auto locked out the workers, and the Haryana Labour Court declared the Rico strike illegal.  When Gurudas Dasgupta, the general secretary of AITUC, and the AITUC national secretary DL Sachdeva came to Gurgaon to address Rico workers, they were arrested by the police.  On October 18th, management thugs armed with iron rods and police shooting live ammunition attacked the strikers, killing Rico worker Ajit Yadav.  On October 20th, 60,000 to 100,000 workers of 60 to 80 factories in Gurgaon came out on a one-day strike called by AITUC; the police said the strike was “illegal in all respects” but in the face of such solidarity were helpless.  The outcome of the strike at Rico was mixed, but the lesson for Gurgaon workers invaluable.

The end of illusions about a “neutral” labour law or judiciary is potentially an enormous victory for the Indian working class.  With every strike a confrontation with the state, the possibility increases for the working class to “comprehend the essence of capitalist society, the relations of exploitation between social classes and its own historical task” and therefore to become a “class-for-itself” (Mao, On Practice).  The responsibilities (and possibilities) for young revolutionary organisers in Gurgaon and in SEZs elsewhere are once again clear and urgent.  Keep an eye on GurgaonWorkersNews and Faridabad Majdoor Samaachaar.




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