A decade has passed since we, the workers led the Maruti Movement. The movement became a source of immense learning and has rewarded us with several gains but there were also enormous losses, that we incurred on its account. The ripples from our movement reached not only the Maruti workers but also others from the working-class communities and capitalist classes.
Since then the movement has been evaluated from different vantage points by both these classes and presented in myriad ways. The movement became a learning experience for the workers throughout the country as well as globally.
A Holistic Evaluation of the Maruti Workers’ Struggle
Whenever workers decide to take up a struggle, the guiding principle is not to set an unprecedented example but rather founded on their understanding of the demands of the time and immediate material realities at that juncture.
Later on, their struggle is analysed and subsequently theorized by the intellectual classes. Many of them go on to make a name for themselves by publishing these analyses. But the workers, when they are undertaking a struggle, do not know the larger importance of their actions.
Similarly, we undertook the Maruti struggle because it had become a necessity but we never reflected upon the effects that the gains that we made might have on other working-class groups.
Our struggle was not merely fought in the organized section (within factories). The real battle was fought under the leadership of the Provisional Committee when after the incident on July 18, the union leaders along with 150 workers were thrown into prisons.
There was a time when workers were on the run fearing the state’s violent repression with police brutality at its peak and when nobody was being allowed to collectivise. During the same time, the corporate media was portraying the Maruti workers as goons. It was then that to change that perspective towards the protesting workers and to campaign for the movement, cycle journeys, padayatra, street plays, protest gatherings, and fasting were organised in every district of Haryana.
After a long period of numerous struggles and sacrifices, the movement began to receive public support.
When a Workers’ Committee was formed within the plant and the workers were getting transferred to different states on the pretext of contacting the suspended workers, the comrades associated with the committee leading the movement were imprisoned, suspended workers and their supporters were baton-charged and 117 people were sent to jail, then it was the Provisional Committee that had put in efforts to organize the workers together to form a union within the plant.
Today, a holistic evaluation of the Maruti movement is necessary to inspire the workers and to learn from the limitations of the movement.
The next section will discuss a few important points from which the workers’ movement should learn.
Movement’s Strategy Against Exploitation
In the initial period of making a union even getting 7 members to formulate an Executive body is an extremely difficult task. This task of forming a union became even more difficult in the case of Suzuki given that it a multinational company.
The rising anguish and turmoil among the workers was recognized by the company management and before the movement could start, on April 23, 2011, a request for a stay order was put up at the company gate. On June 2, our union leaders had applied for the registration of the union, within 2 days, the management started getting signatures of workers on blank papers. To protest against it, on the same day the workers went on a strike inside the plant premises.
Normally factory strikes happen outside the factories, but protests and meetings within the entire industrial area started to happen after the Maruti Workers struggle.
The entire process of union registration was carried out without the knowledge of the Maruti administration and the plan to conduct a strike with 3500 workers successfully materialised.
Normally in factory struggles, workers were divided into permanent and temporary workers, but on June 4 2011 sanitation workers to Human Resources department employees of Maruti Manesar stood together and exemplified workers’ unity.
The strike was only for the demands of contract workers but it invoked a broader sense of solidarity among the workers. That was extraordinary. It is important to point out that among all the demands raised by the movement, the demand to end contractual labour remains the prominent one.
The Maruti management never succeeded in dismantling the leadership. After the illegal lockout, 30 frontline workers were removed after giving them 16 lakh.
Contrary to the company belief’s that after that move the workers will not be able to do anything substantial, a new executive committee came forward and re-established the union immediately. After the incident on July 18, union leaders along with 150 workers were sent to jail.
To renew the movement in the time of oppression, a 7-member Provisional Committee and a new Executive committee was formed inside the plant.
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13 union leaders were charged with life imprisonment and 546 workers were suspended. The union set an example by continuing to inspire the workers’ struggle. The union also fulfilled the responsibility of immediate requirements of the families of the 13 incarcerated workers, all of which were the earning members of their families, by helping them with 20 lakh rupees each.
The Way Forward
In the absence of a national level union to organize the workers together, a state and district level coordination committee was formed to reach out to every single worker.
In its early days, the movement did not get much support from the unions and trade unions in Gurgaon area. There was no unity among the workers in the three Maruti plants. It was impossible to continue the movement without regional unity and support.
The struggle was on various levels. Organising workers on one platform to making rounds of jails, courts, labour courts, protest strikes kept us so occupied that we did not had time to do a poltical study of the political consciousness of the workers and union leaders.
Through the understanding that we got from the movement, we tried to participate in every movement that erupted in the area from Gurgaon to Bawal. We tried to bring together all the unions in the industrial sector to form a common national level front; the efforts for that still continue.
The author is a one the frontline leaders of the Maruti Workers Movement and one of the members of the provisional committee.
The article was first published in workersunity.com. It was translated in English by Aparna Sanjay.
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