ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Setting an Example

Maruti Suzuki workers have bravely faced a repressive management and a complicit state.

The court case over the confrontation between the workers of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL) and a supervisor over the employment of contract labour, in which the human resources general manager died in 2012, has deflected attention from the pathetic working conditions the workers were protesting against and their fight for the very basic right of forming a union of their choice. On 10 March, the Gurugram district court acquitted 117 workers of India’s largest car maker, the MSIL and convicted 31 others on different charges, including that of murder, attempt to murder, rioting and causing damage to private property. The quantum of sentence is expected to be handed down on 18 March at the time of writing. The convicted group includes the entire committee of the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union (MSWU) which led the workers through a turbulent period during which they were pitted against a powerful multinational ably aided by a state that made no bones about its complicity.

The conflict between the two sides goes back to 2011 when the workers attempted to form a union and met with relentless repression and dismissals. They were treated not as workersexercising an inalienable right but as enemies out to wreck the company. The workers went on three strikes that year itself in protest against the horrific working conditions. The management demanded that the union first form welfare and grievances committees (seen by the workers as trying to dilute the role of the union proper) before any discussion or negotiation could be held. The leaders also found themselves involved in false cases filed by the management at the local police station. The factory rolled out a new car every 50 seconds; contractlabour was badly paid for the same work as permanent workers (one of the MSWU’s demands was regularisation of such labour); and all the workers were at the end of their physical and mental tether meeting production targets. The state of course abandoned even the pretence of impartiality as a third party, especially the local police, which was on the side of the management.

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Updated On : 28th Aug, 2017
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