Retrenched workers at the Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s Manesar plant in the northern Indian state of Haryana are continuing their fight for freedom of association and democracy at work, despite attempts by the authorities to undermine them.
This Saturday, the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU), with the support of various auto workers unions, trade unions centres, independent unions and students’ federations, plan to organise a sit-in at the Manesar plant to call for an end to workers repression by the company.
It has been more than a year since more than 2,300 workers lost their jobs at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s Manesar plant in the northern Indian state of Haryana.
In addition, 147 workers have been languishing in prison since 18 July, 2012 on trumped-up criminal charges after a bitter labour dispute over the use of contract workers escalated into violence which left one human resources manager dead and over 100 workers seriously injured.
The unions have asked authorities for permission to hold demonstrations 200 metres away from the factory, but their request hasn’t even been acknowledged.
“We are yet to receive a reply from the administration,” says a MSWU leader who goes by his first name of Rajpal.
“They might not grant us permission, since the laws in Manesar are still barbaric. There is no value for the democratic rights of workers,” he said adding that workers were already denied permission for a peaceful rally on 18 July, 2013.
Last month, workers who attempted to march to the Industrial Model Township (IMT) in Manesar where the Maruti plant is based were stopped by hundreds of policemen armed with weapons, water cannons, tear gas and armoured vehicles, creating a threatening atmosphere.
The District Magistrate Shekhar Vidyarthi had enforced part of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) across the entire industrial belt of IMT Manesar, which prohibits the assembly of more than ten people.
“Don’t the workers have any right to take out rallies to air their views or protests?” asks Nayan Jyothi of the youth organisation Krantikari Nowjawan Sabha. “Not even a single rally demonstration is allowed in Manesar. Isn’t it undemocratic? Are we not supposed to protest at this?” he asks.
Of the 147 workers currently in Guragon Central Jail, not one has been granted bail and no independent investigation into the 18 July, 2012 incident has been conducted.
All requests for parole for family emergency have been flatly denied by the authorities.
For example, one jailed worker named Sumit was refused bail during his wife’s pregnancy. She gave birth on 6 December 2012, without a single family member present.
Another worker, Prempal, who lost his mother and a two-year old daughter while in jail, was only allowed one hour parole to light the funeral pyre.
Workers who are still active in the MSWU also face being picked up by the police without reason. Imaan Khan, who is a member of the MSWU Provisional Working Committee, was arrested and jailed in January 2013 for inciting violence against the Maruti management despite a lack of evidence.
“Instances of such arrests are quite common,” says Sunil, a Maruti employee.
There have been various actions in support of the Maruti India workers.
A sit-in of workers and relatives, and activists began on 24 March and continued for 57 days until police brutally ended the sit-in with a lathi-charge (beating protestors with sticks).
On 28 March, 2013, a group of workers began a hunger strike; days later, hundreds of people marched to the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office in the Haryana state city of Kaithal to reiterate their demands.
The DC refused to receive the protestors but the hunger strike was temporarily stopped after the assurance of the Chief Minister of Haryana, Bhupinder Hooda, promised that the government would look into their demands and restart negotiations with Maruti.
On 8May, in Kaithal, more than 2000 people gathered in support of the Maruti workers, and later submitted a memorandum and ultimatum to the Government to heed the demands of the struggle within 10 days.
After failing to meet this deadline, workers once again rallied outside the DC office on 1 June.
Solidarity and support
Under the banner “Justice for Maruti Workers Campaign”, over 400 people from all sections of society – from writers, artists and lawyers to students, trade unionists, social activists – gathered on 13 July in New Delhi, to express their solidarity.
Later in a press conference, the award-winning writer and social activist Arundhati Roy said that the battle for labour rights at Maruti in Manesar is indicative of “a new terrain of struggle emergent in the urban areas.”
Scholar and journalist Praful Bidwai expressed his solidarity too and condemned the criminal alliance between Maruti-Manesar and the police, as well as the frequent use of thugs to crush all legitimate union activities.
Karamat Ali, representing the Pakistani branch of the South Asian Labour Forum (SALF), demanded immediate release of Maruti Suzuki workers in India, as well as withdrawal of all cases filed against them by the administration.
And LabourStart and IndustriALL have amassed nearly 9000 signatures in their global campaign to bring justice to Maruti workers.
“What we demand is a judicial enquiry by a committee appointed by Supreme Court, immediate release of the 147 jailed works, reinstatement of 546 regular workers and 1800 contract workers”, says Rajpal.
“We shall continue with our struggle systematically, until we get justice.”