|On National and
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demanding ‘flexi’ labour laws and the right to lay off even permanent employees during slowdowns! ‘Experts’ on labour relations endorsed this position, ostensibly in the interest of workers themselves: it was argued that employers are compelled to use contract workers because India’s ‘archaic’ labour laws do not allow regular workers to be fired even during slowdowns! Auto firms threatened shifting their operations to Gujarat, quite blatantly stating that they wished to “union-proof” their production (i.e., they hoped Narendra Modi would take care of such troublemakers).
26. Workers on their part staged a prolonged dharna, where university students from Delhi joined them, even as workers of Pricol in Coimbatore and Honda in Gurgaon staged demonstrations in solidarity. Eventually production was restored, but only under the watchful eyes of the police, ex-military persons, and a special action force patrolling the factory round the clock, and security cameras watching every movement of every worker.
27. A similar story turned out differently at the Pricol automobile component factory (Coimbatore). A determined struggle commenced here in March 2007 with a single demand: recognition of the newly formed union enjoying the confidence of overwhelming majority of workers. The permanent workers, the ancillary unit workers and the contract workers fought together. The union, affiliated to the AICCTU,
was branded as Maoist. The management, with full support of the state government, resorted to punishments like denial of wage increase, deductions, stoppage of increment, break-in-service, foisting criminal cases. Unfazed, workers launched the March 2007 strike.
28. The violent death of the human resources vice president in September 2009 was used to the hilt in a bid to isolate and crush the workers. False cases were foisted on the entire union leadership and leading workers including women. Some of them had to spend more than 100 days in prisons. But they were never defensive; they were never apologetic about their struggle. The battle went on in court and out of court.
29. Our party and trade union worked extensively and intensively among workers, encouraging them to mobilise their families and the local people in support of the struggle. Continuous and creative efforts were made to raise their political consciousness through various programmes and discussion sessions. The communist party was expanded in the district, with Pricol workers playing an active role. The combined effect of all this was that the management-government nexus failed to achieve what they often do in similar cases: tiring the workers out of the battle and ultimately forcing them into submission.Workers stood their ground. With the pilloried union winning recognition, they won their basic right.
30. In a situation where the system stubbornly refuses to uphold labour laws and allows open violations to be the norm; where avenues for redressal of grievances are denied and union functioning curbed; and where managements routinely introduce hired muscle, victimization, and corrupt means to deal with workers protesting against undemocratic, undignified, and exploitative work conditions, outbursts and violent clashes are inevitable. Previous incidents at Graziano (NOIDA) and Regency Ceramic (Puducherry) – in which managers lost their lives in industrial clashes – and at Rico factory (Gurgaon) where a worker was thrown into a furnace and burnt to death by company officials and hired musclemen (a case in which the killers are yet to be punished) bear ample proof of this. At the same time, the corporate sector and governments are using such incidents as pretext to demand ‘reform’ of labour laws. In other words, they are seeking the legalization of the ongoing violations – and the freedom to exploit the workers without any legal impediment.
31. In a situation like this, the working class must intensify the struggle for industrial democracy, equal pay for equal work, and workers’ rights and dignity. It faces the challenge of developing a political resistance that can mobilize democratic sections of the people beyond the factories, and establish the working class as a political force to be reckoned with. It goes to the credit of Maruti workers that defying systematic assault and repression by the management and the