Sunday, January 27, 2013

workers struggle in India

>GurgaonWorkersNews no.54 - January 2013
>For the January 2013 issue of GurgaonWorkersNews we translated reports of
workers employed at two Kelvinator/Whirlpool fridge factories in Faridabad,
which in the early 1990s accounted for 40 per cent of India's total fridge
production. The reports were published and circulated between 1989 and 2000 by
the still existing workers' newspaper Faridabad Majdoor Samachar. They describe
the struggle against the re-structuring process in a multi-national white wares
manufacturer, the difficult relation between workers' initiatives and trade
union representation. The reports reflect the political consciousness of
workers concerning the main contradiction in capitalist society: the increase
in productivity causing greater relative immiseration of the producers. The
reports could therefore stand by themselves as workers' collective memories and
be passed on to workers engaged in current struggles.
>The re-structuring process at Kelvinator/Whirlpool in Faridabad took place in
a wider context. Under the pressure of the 1990 global slump and subsequent
'neo-liberal offensive' the production of fridges, washing machines and other
long durable consumption goods experienced a massive concentration process and
attack on the work-force in terms of speed-ups and on their wage levels. We
stumbled across material written by Franco Barchiesi and Andries Bezuidenhout
on the re-structuring and final closure / re-location of Kelvinator fridge
factory in South Africa in the late 1990s. We also dug out older reports about
the struggle against re-structuring at Bosch Siemens washing machine factory in
Berlin, written by comrades of wildcat in the mid-2000s, telling the story of
re-structuring and struggle since the 1980s. 
>If we relate these global experiences to each other a picture emerges which
questions the quite wide-spread leftist assumption that 'neo-liberalism' post-
1990 was an 'evil policy', a greedy scrapping of former welfare or charity or
an expression of wrong political decisions on the (inter-)national level: the
leftist critique of the ANC's 'broken promises' in South Africa, or of the neo-
liberal BJP model of 'Shining India' or the 'New Labour' 'German Model'. We can
see that it was a contradictory structural response to the 'global profit
crisis', which had it's main reason in the undermined, but still substantial
collective power of the working class on shop-floor level in the 1980s. In the
workers' reports we find traces of this power.
>At Kelvinator fridge factory in Faridabad workers organised weekly visits at
management offices in rotating groups of 20 to 30 workers of different
departments in order to enforce safety measures. This collectivity survived
into the early 1990s: "In July 1992 a three years agreement was forged between
union and management. For the workers in the lamination division the agreement
meant that for a 170 Rs monthly wage increase for the first year their fixed
daily target increased from 1,400 to 1,800 rotor stators. The agreement also
meant that for the lamination workers the 250 to 500 Rs monthly incentive bonus
was also done away with - consequently the 170 Rs wage 'increase' of the
agreement results in 80 Rs to 330 Rs monthly wage loss. Workers have started to
fight back. They say that they don't want the new agreement, they want wages
according to the old rate. Both management and union insist on the new
agreement. In reaction, in January 1993, workers in
> the skewing, die casting, welding departments undertook some steps. In
January 1993 all workers started to curb their production output to the fixed
target defined by the management's time study. Management was very troubled by
this fact and started to dish out charge-sheets (for future suspensions) and
issued warnings. This tug of war continued for five months when finally on 28th
of May management gave in. Management started to pay the old incentive scheme
of 250 to 500 Rs per months again. "
>We find a similar situation in Berlin in the 1980s: "In the beginning of 1987
young second-generation Turkish workers organised a slowdown strike against the
steady rise in unit-quotas at the assembly line. They did this so well that
that the employer couldn’t enforce the new quotas, not even with foremen, spare
men, snitches and forced transfers of workers around the factory. After a while
the workers even reduced the quota. Finally they agreed on more spare men at
the line. The workers learned a great deal during their struggle, they could
flip the cooperation at the line at their will. When they had idle time during
reorganisation they could force their ideas about how many machines they wanted
to produce. Since fall 1987 they didn’t need to protest against legally
obligatory overtime: they just subtracted the machines they had produced in
overtime the days after from the “normal units”. “If we wanted to, we just
reduced the units
> anytime”."
>(Bosch Siemens Hausgeraetewerk - Washing Machine Factory in Berlin)
>The attack in the 1990s on this workers' collectivity had various forms. The
re-structuring on the shop-floor level by changes in work-organisation and
automation was only enforceable through the 'credit financed' redundancy
programs (severence payments, early retirement schemes), which let to a general
increase in unemployment and subsequent casualisation. The old work-force was
then surrounded by a growing mass of temporary employment. The threat of 're-
location of production' to low wage regions was in the air - to Eastern Europe
in the case of Germany, Swaziland in the case of Kelvinator in South Africa - ,
financed by neo-liberal 'cheap money' politics. Most of the features of neo-
liberalism in the 1990s (share-holder options, company consultancy,
marketisation of inner-company relations, trade liberalisation) have to be seen
in this regard of 'softening' workers' strongholds.
>Between 1994 and 1999 Kelvinator/Whirlpool in Faridabad reduced the 
workforce by 40 per cent, the company paid 50 crore Rs (1 crore = 10 million)
as 'voluntary retirement money' to 2,075 workers. This was possible after a
lost struggle in 1991 and nearly six months of lock-out of workers. We find a
very similar situation in South Africa and Germany. In all cases the re-
structuring was co-managed by the trade union institutions. In Faridabad the
unions negotiated first the increase of production targets through incentive
schemes, then subsequently the lay-off money for superfluous work-force. The
NUMSA at Kelvinator in South Africa agreed to two-tier wage systems on the shop-
floor in the mid-1990s in order to 'save the company'. In Berlin, in 1992
management decreased production. In the three years which followed more than
1000 workers left the factory, mostly with seemingly 'handsome' compensation
payment. The IG Metall union actively tried to isolate
> the attempt of workers at Berlin washing-machine factory to extend their
protests against further layoffs in the mid-2000s. As legal and
sectorial/national institutions the trade unions had no means to stop the
attack of the 1990s, which lead first to their own erosion and then to their
>As a system of social (re-)production the 'victory of capital' in terms of
undermining workers' power and increasing productivity aggravated it's inner
contradictions. The mountains of cheap washing machines and fridges grew as
fast as structural unemployment and the masses of working poor. While promising
proletarian women that their entry in the wage labour market will be
compensated with 'appliances' reducing time for housework, the 'deluge' of
cheap washing machines in the global north was accompanied with a demise of
'the family' as a re-productive unit. At Bosch Siemens in Berlin 2,100 workers
produced 450,000 machines a year in the mid 70's. In the mid 90’s 2,500 workers
produced more than one million washing machines and more than 200,000 tumble-
dryers. During the same period structural unemployment increased by 10 per cent
and temporary work proliferated rapidly. In South Africa the amount of
households owning fridges increased only slightly
> between the end of 1970s (670,000) to 2001 (770,000), despite 'cheap
production and cheap imports'. In India the demise of the peasantry throughout
the 1980s and 1990s produced such large amounts of urban poor that given the
wage levels of house servants it seems uneconomic for most middle-class
families to consider buying a washing machine. Even with a 'double income', at
a monthly wage level of around 5,000 Rs for industrial workers, a new Whirlpool
fridge for 20,000 Rs is out of reach. 
>The crisis continues. Whirlpool, announced in October 2011 to cut 5,000 jobs,
about 10 percent of its workforce in North America and Europe. The crisis hits
a production system which has become globalised throughout the 1990s, fridges
are produced by young workers in SEZ's in Poland under similar conditions as
their are produced in other parts of the globe. Compared to the crisis in
1990/91 the crisis in 2008 has deeper structural characteristics: further
discovery of 'low wage regions a la Pearl River Delta or markets a la former
Eastern Bloc seem unlikely and the Toyotist (holistic team-work with company
anthem in the background) or robotic alternative has lost its sheen during the
1990s - it is back to old-school Taylorised drudgery. The following reports
demonstrate that the working class was beaten during the 1990s mainly because
their struggle was not able to overcome the legalistic and company-limited /
national framework. This poses challenges
> for the future and reiterates the importance of continuous organisational
and internationalist efforts like Faridabad Majdoor Samachar.
>Continue reading on website...
>1) Kelvinator, India
>2) Kelvinator, South Africa
>3) Bosch Siemens, Germany
>News from India's Special Exploitation Zone -

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