More than 130 years from today, in 1886 May 1st, several thousand workers in Chicago city had participated in the massive strike demanding eight-hour working day and several workers sacrificed their life to achieve this demand. From that day onwards, May 1st is celebrated as the International Workers Day, as a symbol of working class unity against the capitalist class. In 1926, British India government brought the Indian Trade Union Act which deals with trade union registration and their rights. Even after 90 years of this act, formation of trade unions and labour rights including the eight-hour working day are hard to imagine for the workers who are in the unorganized sector and private firms (like automobile, IT, finance and education sectors).
In the neoliberal era, as the onslaught of the imperialist forces are increasing on the third world nations, heroic working class struggles are setting examples for oppressed peoplesall over the world. One recent example is the workers’ movement of Maruti-Suzuki plant in Manesar. The tussles between the management and the workers have started since the workers have initiated the independent labour union in Manesar plant. The workers demanded the right to form the labour union as per Indian law. They opposed the cruel exploitation under contract labour system, demanded proper salary and legally entitled rest time. They demanded to be respected as human beings. Above all, they built unity between permanent and contract workers. Ram Niwas, member of Maruti Suzuki labour union narrates the cruel exploitations and working environment in Manesar plant. 7 min for tea break, 20 mins for food and 5 mins for natural calls and two day salary cut for one day leave. The workers were squeezedhard to produce one car in 44 minutes.As the movement against contractualization of workers intensified, the state in nexus with the company management had to use their machinery to stop the movement by brute force and devious tactics.
In order to crush the workers resistance to this capitalistic oppression, Maruti management has orchestrated a planned violence inside the factory in July 2012. They sent in hundreds of rowdie elements into the factory, set fire to a part of the plant, and burnt to death Awinesh Kumar Dev, a HR officer who was sympathetic to workers.Then the Maruti management gave a false complaint on the workers regarding the death of Awanish Kumar Dev and got 148 Maruti workers arrested. In March 17th 2017, a session court in Gurgaon delivered the sentence in the case, convicting 31 workers and acquitting 117. Among the 31 workers, 13 were given life imprisonment, in which 12 areoffice-bearers in thelabour union.
Each step in the court proceedings made it clear that the violence of 2012 was a conspiracy hatched together by Maruti management, the Haryana police andgovernment. According to the lawyer Rebecca John who appeared for the workers, there is no concrete evidence against the 13 workers within the judgement. Meanwhile, the Haryana government’s public prosecutor demands death sentence for the workers, even without solid evidence, saying “Our industrial growth has dipped, FDI has dried up. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is calling for ‘Make in India,’ but such incidents are a stain on our image”. It is to benoted that the then Gujarat CM Modi went toJapan to meet Suzuki chairman asking to havethe factory in Gujarat assuring him that there will not be any workers’ protest. Such open betrayer of working class is now the Prime Minister, with his party in power in both centre and state. While the Supreme Court pointed towards “collective conscience” for hanging Afzal Guru, the sessions court inHaryana has now convicted the workers to satisfy the conscience of the global capital.
The workers inspite of severe repression has carried on with their fight in Manesar which shows the revolutionary spirit and unity of the working class beyond their divisions of “permanent” and “contract”. Thousands of workers and progressive organizations in India and other countries came up in solidarity with the convicted workers. Workers from over 30 unions immediately came and joined in solidarity, which include all the 4 Maruti plants, Bellsonica, FMI, Honda HMSI, Rico, FCC Rico, Munjal Showa, Munjal Kiriu, Daikin AC and many others. Central trade unions and other workers organizations also joined in solidarity. On the date before the punishments were declared on 17 March by the Court, thousands of workers from Gurgaon to Bawal boycotted factory lunch and dinner in solidarity with the struggle for justice for Maruti Suzuki workers.
The onslaught on the workers should be seen in connection with snatching from the people their basic rights and organized loot of cheap labour andnatural resources by the corporates and their Indian lackeys with help of the state machinery in the name of development and globalization.This is the same case for different sections of people as well,farmer suicides and large-scale migrations due to loss of livelihood,lay-offs in IT sector (25k workers from TCS and now 20k workers in CTS),commericlaization of education leading to fee hikes and ‘financial autonomy’ in public institutions, pushing cashless economy in the interest of finance capital and so on. Futher, implementation of automation and artificial intelligence as part of the fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing and service sectors will lead to wiping out 69 percent of the existing jobs. Even the recent Economic Survey 2016-17 reveals that the inequalityinIndia has deepened in the neo-liberal era. It can be easily understood that the neo-liberal policies are the root cause for such problems faced by large sections of people in our country.