Let all who will
Eat quietly the bread of shame.
Without complaining loud and long.
Tasting its bitterness in my throat,
And feeling to my very soul
For honest work
You proffer me poor pay,
for honest dreams
Your spit is in my face,
And so my fist is clenched Today-
To strike your face.
A storm has been brewing for over two years now in the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki in Gurgaon. A struggle that had started with a sit-in strike or occupation on 4th June 2011 for the most fundamental constitutionally guaranteed right to unionize has by today traversed through many a terminations, suspensions, intimidations by company goons, brutal assaults by the police, lathicharges, indiscriminate arrests and custodial tortures. But today, as the Maruti workers approach Delhi towards the culmination of their 15 days padyatra from Kaithal, what stands out most strikingly through these darkest of times is their extraordinary tenacity, determination and zeal to carry on the fight. With this determination they not only won their right to unionize but also carried forward the struggle for regularization of contract workers and against the most inhuman working conditions. It is the same determination that today has inspired an unprecedented solidarity amongst the workers that reverberates through the industrial belt of Gurgaon and the entire NCR region. And again, it is the same determination that is increasingly sounding ominous to the state-corporate nexus and the ruling classes that in the context of the deepening imperialist crisis are ever more desperate to preserve and spread its exploitative tentacles upon the oppressed.
To traverse through the years, from 2011 till date, with the Maruti workers, is to experience the sheer brutality and robotic regime with which labour is being extracted by the big corporates adding to their super-profits flouting all labour laws in complete connivance and backing of the state. Even as profits of the company were soaring and the consumer price index rose by 50%, the real wages of Maruti workers rose by just 5.5% between 2007 and 2011. While the annual remuneration of Maruti’s CEOs increased by 419% the share of the worker’s wages in the net sales of the company dropped from 2.24% in 2007 to 1.94% in 2011. Forced to work for more than eight hours a day with minimal lunch/tea breaks and sometimes even without toilet breaks, the workers are forced to meet the target of 1 car every 42 seconds. Amidst rampant contractualization and insecure working agreements, these are a few glimpses of the illegal and inhuman working conditions of the plant that the workers sought to struggle against. And for this ‘crime’ they of course invited the ire of not just the management that imposed ‘good conduct bonds’ and termination of union leaders, but also the ire of the feudal institutions like the khaap and the might of the Indian state’s police, paramilitary and judiciary. The workers’ protests and strikes faced severe crackdown, internal sabotage, indiscriminate arrests, imposition of 144 to disallow gatherings in the entire industrial belt, as the state aligned itself blatantly in favour of the management.
The struggle of the workers and the wrath of the state-management nexus reached new heights after the 18th July 2012 incident. The suspension of a worker for protesting against casteist abuse by his supervisor once again triggered the anger of the workers. As police and company’s bouncers clamped down heavily upon the workers the ensuing violence led to the death of a HR manager. Union leaders along with about 55 named and 600 unnamed workers were immediately booked, 546 workers were arbitrarily terminated, and indiscriminate witch-hunt, arrest and harassment of workers and their families began. Facing brutal custodial torture 148 of them still remain behind bars as the struggle spread to the hinterlands gathering immense support with Kaithal becoming its nerve centre. Braving the lathicharges, water canons and tear gases the workers under the banner of their hard-earned Maruti Suzuki Workers Union continued their protests and dharnas demanding the unconditional release of the 148 workers and the reinstatement of a total of 2300 terminated workers over the various phases of the struggle.
It is not a surprise that despite the scale, proportion and significance of these struggles in such close proximity to the country’s capital, they have been virtually been under a media blackout. Even the ongoing Padyatra of the Maruti workers is largely kept out of the public gaze by the corporate media. But then, the same is true for all those struggles aimed against the same state-corporate nexus whether in factories, the forests or in the fields. From the workers in the production lines of Gurgaon to the adivasis in Bastar, the most oppressed of this country today are locked in battle against the same feudal-imperialist stranglehold of a system that is tottering under crisis. The fight for a society free of exploitation is gaining ground everyday to announce the end of this oppressive system. In this context, it our responsibility to extend our unflinching solidarity to the struggling workers of Maruti and elsewhere. Because ultimately, even through the darkest of times, their hands shall make history.