Amaresh Misra


While right wing sections inside the media, fanatically anti-working class bloggers, vested interest in the Haryana establishment, and other sundry forces are baying for Trade Union/Communist blood in the unfortunate incidents that took place inside the Maruti-Suzuki plant at Manesar, sober assessment reveals a different picture.


The year 1991 that inaugurated new economic policies and the liberalization drive, marked also the emergence of new ideas regarding the management of productive forces. Large Public Sector sections were dismantled. Enormous human and domestic/foreign capital resources were placed in the hands of private corporate players. In the name of fiscal management, State expenditure was sought to be restricted. But perhaps, most importantly, production relations between labour and capital, workers and management, were altered.


Foreign Direct Investment in the manufacturing sector brought in foreigners in management as well. The new management structures—that included Indians and foreigners—were inculcated with a new work ethic that placed growth above workers welfare: but the crucial change rested in the way the new management culture downplayed the cultural sensitivities of the Indian worker.


In a famous case that took place last year in the Honda factory of Haryana’s industrial belt, foreign trained Indian managers refused to allow workers to celebrate Vishvakarma Pooja. In the Hindu pantheon, Vishvakarma is the lord of tools and workers—his birthday is normally a holiday, no less relevant than Ram Naumi, Buddha Jayanti or the birthday of Prophet Muhammad.


Workers worship their tools on Vishvakarma Diwas. In Honda, a worker was assaulted by the supervisor when, the latter tried applying a teeka on the former’s head. Indian workers have their own definition of what constitutes `hard work’. It includes whiling away time, bonding with fellow workers, and then putting in extra work at the right time. Also, the sense of impersonal hierarchy is alien to Indian workers. They can respect an angrez who mingles with them; but they will boycott Indian managers trying to put up foreign airs and indulging in unfamiliar hierarchical behaviour.


Foreign—especially American, German and Japanese personals—were often found dumbfounded by these cultural practices. Because of historic factors—the traditional resistance of the Hindi-Urdu belt to British Imperialism, the rugged-peasant masculinity and sense of honour—dubbed mistakenly, `pre-modern’ by social analysts—the management Vs worker clash was more severe in post-liberalization, North Indian factories.


In the 1990s and 2000s, India saw substantial creation of wealth. The culture of malls and new units in service sector and manufacturing, inducted a new working force emerging from Bihar, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. The management culture in force looked more towards casual, contract labour.


Affiliated either to Communists, Congress, and BJP-Shiv Sena—or practicing Dutta Samant type syndicalism—the old Unions were unable to read the modern times. After failing miserably in creating space for casual/contract labour, they started losing their grip over old working class centres as well.


Interestingly, the Gurgaon-NCR based factories flirted at first with CITU and AITUC, the Trade Unions respectively of the CPM and the CPI. The workers—most of them in their twenties—young, restless and ambitious—however, soon grew tired of old negotiating skills of traditional Unions. It is symptomatic that last year, the Manesar Maruti-Suzuki plant, saw the emergence of a new Union with a new, younger leadership. Sonu Gujjar, the erstwhile chief of the Union, typified the novel, 21st century worker. By presenting the viewpoints of workers through con-calls and other modern techniques, Sonu Gujjar grabbed national headlines. His colleagues wanted their own voice, independent of the management, to be heard.


Indeed this contemporary worker, especially in North India/Hindi-Urdu heartland, was both more rooted and cosmopolitan. Unlike his counterpart of 1970s and 1980s, who hailed mainly from a landless labour, poor peasant or a pauperized proletariat background, the contemporary worker came from middle to upper-middle peasant backdrop. In Indian terms, he belonged to a khaata-peeta milieu—he was much more capable of acting on his own. He was part of the North Indian pattidari village community system that ensured both bonding and individuality. He had learned how to fight while growing up, without getting inflicted with the scars of the lumpen proletariat. Averse to slow paced, constitutional ways, he found the quick action recommended by radical Left activists—or `on their own’ marka angry young men—far more attractive.


This contemporary worker disliked both the detached persona of the foreign manager as well as the philistine, pseudo-personalized approach of Indian mangers. He was as impatient with the taalu-chaalu andaaz of the foreigners as with the baniagiri of Indian executives.


In March 2012, while the Manesar plant was facing wage negotiations between the new Union and the management, two workers shocked the managers with their statistical knowledge. The workers knew exactly that between 2007 and 2011 while the Maruti Suzuki workers’ yearly earnings increased by 5.5 percent, the consumer price index (for the Faridabad centre, Haryana), went up by over 50 per cent. Since 2001, profits for the Maruti Suzuki company increased by 2200 percent!


So in any case, the Maruti Suzuki management was throwing crumbs at the workers. The workers’ salary was in no way, by any yardstick, commensurate with the rise in Company’s profit. Yet the Manesar plant management was not ready to grant even a miniscule wage increase. Here, while contract labor got Rs. 7000 a month, regular workers survived on a mere Rs. 17000. Manesar workers were demanding wage increase of Rs. 15-18000, which the management was resisting, even when Honda workers were getting similar pay scales.


In this period of global crisis, the Maruti section(Swift and Dzire cars) was contributing more to Maruti Suzuki’s super profits. There seems to be immense pressure on the management to reduce wages in the name of increasing productivity. But why should Indian workers always suffer during a downward spiral cycle of global capitalism?


The problem is that post-liberalization India has no idea of 1857, India’s first war of Independence. The Bengal Army of the East India Company, which remained at the forefront of the war’s long and torturous course, comprised of soldiers from the Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar belt. They rebelled against what was seen as the insensitivity of a multinational company—the world’s largest that managed a huge country like India plus other colonial stations—towards the sense of dignity, pride and religion of both Hindus and Muslims.


It is imperative to note that the Manesar incident arose following an anti-Dalit, caste slur issued by a supervisor to Jiya Lal, a worker. Then Jat-Gujar-Tyagi-Dalit workers—belonging to the Haryana region—and UP-Bihar Poorabias—united to give a fitting reply to the miscreants belonging to the management. The management brought in hundreds of bouncers to beat workers to submission. In fact, the official statement of the Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union, states that the bouncers started the fire that killed a senior manager.


So class solidarity overcame caste divisions—a similar phenomenon occurred during 1857.


Both 1857 and Manesar incidents arose out of cultural slights inflicted by an insensitive foreign/part-foreign management. At the other end of the spectrum, it can be seen that like the Manesar incident, the cultural aspect of 1857 carried a slew of wage related issues, and other socio-economic grievances, nursed by soldiers against the British East India Company.


It can be seen clearly that though India runs on the workforce of UP, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana, the people of these regions have historically resisted the homogeneity, uniformity and conformity demanded by global corporate culture. These workers demand their own indigenous-capitalist ethic, different from the west. They are in no mood to comply. Be it Gujarat or whatever take, Maruti Suzuki anywhere—Gujarat is not India. But UP, Bihar, Delhi and Haryana do constitute India. The country is finished without these states. As the author signs off this article, news about certain Jat sections of the Haryana establishment dividing Jats and Gujars and undermining workers’ solidarity is pouring in—massive police repression has been unleashed on workers. Without a proper enquiry, workers are being blamed for the Manesar violence. Such tactics however are not going to work—after twenty years of enormous liberalization, India is on the threshold of a gigantic working class unrest. Indian people regard economic reform and the English speaking managerial elite with disdain. They have tasted wealth—but they also know that, foreigners and their lackeys have amassed riches a thousand times over. With people of North Indian origin—their culture of constructive violence and non-submission to power intact—leading this battle, the stage is set for new class struggles of the 21st century. Like the Anna Hazare movement of August 2011, the Manesar incident has taken all political parties by surprise. Their political response system is simply, not attuned to the new, 21st century Indian reality.


[In Dalits Media Watch:]

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