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COMMENTARY

But instead of heeding their sage advice for a dialogue with the disputants and moving towards a negotiated settlement, the State is increasingly depending on the belligerent advice of its military establishment. That the army calls the shots is evident from the centres refusal to withdraw the AFSPA from Kashmir, even after Chief Minister Omar Abdullahs demand for it, following the warning of lt general K T Parnaik (General Officer Commanding-in-Chief for Northern Command) who said that its withdrawal would make it difficult for the army to function (Indian Express, 4 November

2011). Signs of further efforts at militarisation of state policies are evident from the presentations made recently to the highlevel task force on national security by the army, navy and air force chiefs, who have demanded a greater say in policy decisions in security matters and their direct representation in the defence ministry (The Indian Express, 4 November 2011). To pre-empt such militarist incursion on national policies which ominously recalls the Pakistan model of army generals manipulating a parliamentary system the political Left along with liberal humanist

forces and civil society groups should get alert, and oppose the States dependence on the prevailing nexus of incompetent intelligence agencies and brutalised paramilitary forces (the latter mostly led by army officers). They have lost their credibility, what with the exposures about false encounters and the acquittal of innocent citizens held as terrorists. It is time to organise a mass campaign to compel the Indian state to revamp and reform the law enforcing agencies, and purge them of offending personnel who should be prosecuted for violation of human rights.

Workers Discontent and Form of Trade Union Politics


Maya John

An assessment of the Maruti Suzuki Employees Unions struggles against the Suzuki management in Manesar (Gurgaon) reveals that like central trade unions, plant unions also tend to reproduce a form of bureaucratic functioning. This results in a split between leaders and the rank and file a tendency which often leads to the betrayal of the interests of the struggling workers. This propensity of isolation of the rank and file in workers struggles is a product of the complex process whereby the trade union form of politics has been integrated within the legal apparatus of the bourgeoisie-friendly state.

The author acknowledges with much gratitude the consultations she had with some labour activists in Manesar who wish to remain unnamed. Maya John (maya_ john@rediffmail.com) is a political activist pursuing doctoral research at the University of Delhi.
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he strike at Maruti Suzukis Manesar plant has been identified by some trade unionists as a struggle which reflects a new tendency in the trade union movement, i e, the emergence of a leadership that functions independently of central trade union organisations like the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), etc. Increasingly, this tendency has been encouraged due to the general perception that central trade unions restrain workers initiatives and prevent workers struggles from spilling over. By extension, this perception holds that workers are intrinsically militant and prepared for struggle, but are controlled by the central unions functioning in a given industrial area. In reality, however, new unions emerging from spontaneous workers struggles are hardly autonomous from the form of politics which is characteristic of central trade unions. Since June 2011 around 3,000 workers employed in the Maruti Suzuki car plant have been in struggle with the company management and the pro-management Haryana government. The bone of contention between the management and workers was the attempts made by the company to sabotage the formation of an independent union of the workers by dismissing/suspending
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leaders who applied for registration of the Maruti Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU). Between 4 and 17 June the workers (permanent, temporary and casual) occupied the plant, following which an uneasy settlement was reached with the MSEU being provided recognition as a company committee which was to represent permanent workers alone. The settlement did not protect the workers which is why huge wage reductions were easily made by the company for each day of the strike. Between 17 June and 28 August the dispute continued in one form or the other due to continuous intimidation and harassment of workers by the management. On 26 July, the attempts of the MSEU to become a registered and recognised union were foiled with the labour office rejecting its application for registration on grounds of it leading an illegal strike and submitting faulty paper work. Another onslaught followed on 28 August when the company created conditions for a lockout by enforcing a good conduct bond on the workers and moving in some 400 riot policemen into the factory area. The workers refused to sign the bond, whereas the company began recruitment of new temporary workers and started transferring engineers, etc, from its Gurgaon plant. Around the same time that the agitation began in Suzukis car plant, the workers in three other Suzuki plants (Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki Castings and Suzuki Motorcycles) were also trying to get their unions recognised by the company, and had made representations for a wage hike. Interestingly, under the pressure of the workers occupation of the Manesar

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car plant, the Suzuki management came to recognise these HMS-influenced unions, i e, the Suzuki Powertrain India Employees Union (SPIEU) and Suzuki Motorcycles India Employees Union (SMIEU). However, around mid-September strikes broke out in the other Suzuki plants, i e, Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki Castings and Suzuki Motorcycles, as well as in another industrial enterprise, Munjal Showa. The workers involved in these strikes raised their own specific demands in addition to expressing solidarity with the Maruti Suzuki workers. The wildcat strike which broke out in Munjal Showa lasted two days (12 and 13 September) and was withdrawn once a factory-level resolution was reached. With regard to the strikes of the Suzuki workers it was noted that despite their employer being the same, throughout this period the Suzuki workers negotiated separately using their different plant unions, namely, the MSEU, SPIEU and SMIEU. This is why we find that in a matter of three days (14 to 16 September) the strikes at Suzuki Powertrain and Suzuki Castings were withdrawn as soon as the company management gave an assurance of addressing the (plant) specific concerns. By 30 September, certain central trade unions encouraged the workers employed at Maruti Suzukis car plant to sign the good conduct bond and help end the lockout. However, in spite of agreeing to maintain harmonious work relations, the company went back on the settlement. On 3 October it refused entry to about 1,200 temporary workers who had participated in protests outside the factory gate during the lockout. Meanwhile, inside the factory the management cracked down on permanent workers by resorting to massive shop floor reshuffling and suspension of the company bus service. In response to this onslaught, on 7 October the workers inside the car plant occupied the factory for the second time. Their struggle conjoined with the ongoing struggle of temporary workers protesting outside the factory gates. Emboldened by the second factory occupation, the workers employed in Suzukis three other plants also went on strike between 7 October and 19 October against the companys delayed response in enacting the settlement reached earlier on their demand charter. A one-day strike was also

observed on 7 October in factories such as Degania Medical Devices, Hilex, FCC Rico, Satyam Auto, Omax Auto, Lumex, Lumex Dt, Endurance Technologies, etc. On 19 October the strike ended at the Maruti Suzukis car manufacturing plant and three other Suzuki plants with the management agreeing to re-employ some of the workers who were suspended or whose contracts were terminated. The settlement left the fate of the temporary workers in limbo since the management agreed to merely recommend re-employment of the 1,200 temporary workers by their respective contractors. In addition to this, instead of recognising the workers union, i e, the MSEU, the management agreed to set up a grievance redressal committee and a company welfare board with representation from workers and the management. In accordance with certain provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, it also agreed to allow the government labour officer to adjudicate between workers and the management during the proceedings of the grievance redressal committee. Since 21 October, 11 committee members and other leading coordinators of the workers accepted compensations from the company and quit, leaving in the lurch their fellow workers who are most disturbed with the settlement. In return for their resignation, the main leaders of the MSEU, namely, Sonu Gujjar and Shiv Kumar, have reportedly accepted lakhs of rupees from the company. As the situation

stands in Suzuki Powertrain, three committee members, including the SPIEU president, have been suspended. The other committee members of the Powertrain union have come to side with the Suzuki management, thereby, overlooking the workers continued discontent.

Autonomous Yet Bureaucratic


The overview above, of the events that unfolded is important for a critical assessment of how the MSEU acted/led the struggle, of how it missed opportunities, and how it eventually betrayed the workers a betrayal that has led workers to lose, if not to be defeated. Let us begin with why, despite being extremely militant, the striking Maruti Suzuki workers led by MSEU failed after a point to connect with other workers in the area, thereby, dangerously isolating themselves. It is interesting to note that by drawing encouragement from the ongoing protest of Maruti Suzuki workers, a spontaneous strike broke out in September in the neighbouring Munjal Showa factory after a build-up of almost a year of simmering discontent. Similarly, despite HMS, AITUC, etc, stalling prospects of other Suzuki workers uniting with the struggling Maruti Suzuki workers, the influence of the locked out workers did encourage the employees of Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki Castings and Suzuki Motorcycles in Manesar to go on strike in mid-September, a lbeit on their own specific issues.

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However, the opportunities offered by these strikes were missed, with the Maruti Suzuki workers failing to connect with them in any concrete way. All in all, strikes were breaking out around the Maruti Suzuki plant, but the workers and unions involved were expressing individuated, plant-based concerns in more concrete terms than they were expressing solidarity. With general working class demands taking a backseat, the plant-based issues raised, were able to incite calls of sympathy at the most. Increasingly then, workers from other factories were seen coming out only when a doctored solidarity call was made by central trade unions a practice which by its very nature meant that only a fleeting solidarity and token participation would be expressed. And which meant that the Maruti Suzuki workers could not expect concrete support from other workers who, ironically, like them faced similar if not the same quantum of exploitation. By failing to induce widespread collective action on common concerns amongst other workers employed in Manesars five hundred plus industrial enterprises, the Maruti Suzuki workers under the leadership of the MSEU were reduced to playing a dangerous card, i e, relying solely on their own strength and militancy in a battle against one of the chief players in the automobile industry, and might of the pro-management state. Interestingly, the Suzuki company sublets the production of many of its ancillary parts to smaller capitalists in the area. By raising demands such as lowering work hours of all workers, ending contractualisation and casualisation of work across factories in industrial belts, etc, the struggle of Maruti Suzuki workers could have spilled over to other industrial enterprises, completely paralysing the production of Suzuki and other automobile giants from the start itself. This, however, did not happen. Unfortunately, some trade unionists are unwilling to identify such problematic tendencies in spontaneous struggles of workers. As in the case of the strikes at Maruti Suzuki, Suzuki Powertrain, etc, the militancy of the workers was celebrated without much assessment of the bureaucratic functioning of the MSEU, SPIEU and SMIEU, and its subsequent impact on the workers struggle. In reality, the leaders of these plant unions completely controlled
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the delicate negotiations process in order to prevent the rank and file from rocking the boat of negotiations, and from going beyond institutionalised forms of workers struggle. For example, in spite of tremendous militancy shown by Maruti Suzuki workers, the bureaucratic functioning of the MSEU ensured that the multipronged discontent of the workers (often articulated by them in meetings and face to face discussions) was straitjacketed into two demands. These were registration and recognition of MSEU by the company, and the revoking of suspensions. In other words, the MSEU leadership ensured that more general class-based demands of the Maruti Suzuki workers (such as an industry-wide demand for shorter hours of work), lost priority to particular demands surrounding the question of union registration and recognition as well as victimisation of leaders. Of course, for some observers the MSEUs demand for registration and recognition came across as a general demand of the working class. When it came to explaining why this general working class demand could not elicit groundbreaking expressions of solidarity from other workers, such observers pointed to acts of state repression and to divisive tactics of central trade unions. However, these reasons alone are not very convincing, especially when we consider moments when the workers employed in the different Suzuki (Manesar) plants, transcended these fetters. Let us, for example, critically examine the question of state repression.

Trade Unionism: Ossified Politics There is no doubt that the Indian state resorts to outright repression during industrial disputes. Heavy police deployment (including that of riot policemen) is used to intimidate and disperse protesting workers. Workers are also reigned in by clamping down on their leaders either by arresting or slapping cases on them. Furthermore, the states connivance with employers ensures that the workers issues are ignored or downplayed by officials of the labour department. However, more than illegitimate practices of the state and its non-implementation of protective labour laws, it is the active intervention of the state through its regulatory legal machinery which impacts the overall orientation
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and end-results of workers struggles the most. Through its labour department and courts the state has enforced upon workers certain protocols of negotiation such as the 14 days strike notice, prior consultation with the labour office before industrial action, restrictions on picketing, etc. It has also enforced certain protocols of unionisaisation, which must be followed by workers if they wish to access particular rights as well as protection for their trade union officials. Indeed, these protocols prescribe not only legitimate ways of raising a dispute but also the legitimate causes of industrial disputes. By doing so the state often restricts workers to conventional methods of struggle and to narrow economistic demands like plant-based/individual factory-based wage hikes, unfair dismissals, etc. Of course, the struggling workers at Maruti Suzukis Manesar plant did not let the legal protocols bind them completely. For example, they occupied the factory; went on strike without giving adequate strike notice and without resorting to conciliation, etc. Here lies the crux of the matter workers are most militant, and pose a serious threat to employers and the state precisely when they go beyond the charted path of state-regulated industrial action. Indeed, prior to militant struggles of workers the state is least interested in implementing its own laws that prescribe certain rights to workers. However, once the quantum of workers struggle reaches a particular level (as in the case of the Maruti Suzuki strike), the state promptly implements its laws so as to prevent the struggle from spilling over and progressing on a course of industrial action not recognised, and therefore, not legitimised by the state.

Representative Structures
The most potent way of restricting workers to a state-monitored and regulated course of industrial action is to recognise workers grievances only through representative structures (i e, specially appointed officers, registered and recognised trade unions, etc). Clearly, through its corpus of laws pertaining to unionisation and disputes settlement, the state curbs workers more radical initiatives in two principal ways, namely, by making workers heavily dependent on trade union leaders, lawyers, labour philanthropists, etc, who

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can make more sense of the intricate web of legal protocols, and by making trade unions the principal form through which workers address their concerns. For example, the states labour laws consciously provide trade unions a legal subjecthood by providing them a plethora of rights at the negotiating table. In this way trade unions integrate workers struggles with the form of politics provided by the state, i e, a state dominated by the interests of the capitalist class. This is why we find that increasingly unions emerging from recent workers struggles are restricting themselves and the workers to the question of union registration and recognition. Rather than strengthening the internal structure of the union and enforcing rank and file democracy, workers have come to assume that once they have a registered and recognised trade union they can force employers and the state to come to the negotiating table. More importantly, workers take it for granted that the trade union form of organisation and politics is sufficient for eliciting solidarity from other workers. In reality, however, there is need for another form of workers politics, one that can help generalise a factory struggle so as to spread the struggle to other factories in the area. To be sure, these other political forms exist in an embryonic mode, but they are not being developed, which is why the trade union form of workers struggle is predominant. For example, political platforms formed in industrial areas by workers in protest against pro-capitalist and anti-worker state policies; workers direct participation through involvement in decision-making; workers endeavours that compel their leaders to stand by workers initiatives; workers study circles, etc, do carry the germs of a much required alternative form of workers politics. Such initiatives which exist in their embryonic form need to be developed and generalised. Indeed, by sticking close to the trade union form of politics and by not nurturing, at the same time, other forms of workers politics, the existing workers movement is at a loss. Firstly, the trade union form of organisation provides employers ample opportunities to co-opt leaders emerging from workers protests. For example, in return for a union office and certain tangible rights and privileges, employers are

often able to lure trade union leaders into a position of managing the rank and file workers. Another way in which this co-option plays itself it out is in the process whereby employers push trade unions to become representative bodies of permanent workers rather than the entire workforce a measure taken by the Suzuki management way back in June when it recognised MSEU as a company committee representing permanent workers. In return for the exclusive right to represent a section of the workforce which enjoys some stability, three-year agreements, regular productivity/sales related pay hikes, etc, employers ensure that the unions emerging from struggles of both permanent and temporary workers, are reduced to representing the minority segment in the workforce and upholding the two-tier wage system. Secondly, the trade union form of politics also encourages an insular approach within workers towards problems they face. As a result, their ability to connect with fellow workers of another industrial enterprise is weakened. In this context, the desire, and finally, the decision to seek solidarity emerges only when negotiations led by a union fail. Finally, the trade union form of politics creates a tendency in workers to dangerously depend on charismatic leaders, rather than on their collective will/intuition and abilities to mobilise. Ironically, after their union leaders betrayed them, the workers at Maruti Suzuki, albeit distrustful of any existing leadership, are still seeking leaders to represent them instead of developing methods of rank and file democracy which, in turn, controls leaders. For these workers it is now caste, village and regional based identity which is being considered as a trustworthy criterion for choosing leaders. As the situation now stands, the advanced section of workers is in search of better leaders who can form a new committee under whose aegis the MSEU can restart the process of registration and recognition. Thus, the quest for a better leadership continues.

Conclusions
The recent trend in Gurgaon shows that the frequency of workers struggles is on the rise. However, there is no temporal sync between the demands raised in each of these struggles, and unity is short-lived.
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In other words, the workers movement is currently propelled by numerous militant struggles, which are, regrettably, disconnected from each other. The disjuncture is most cruelly exposed when the same mistakes are repeated in struggle after struggle, and when workers are betrayed time and again by their unions. Betrayal of struggling workers and the defeat of their most militant and spontaneous struggles, stem from the existing tendency in the workers movement to be bound by the given legal horizon. The labour law created by the Indian state is in the real sense, Janus-faced. It authorises workers to articulate and adises s vance their interests through self-organisation, i e, through trade unions, yet it carefully regulates and dampens workers collective action. It achieves this by channelling collective action into narrow, institutionalised forms, and by redefining the causes and purposes of industrial conflict. The state constantly seeks to establish economic concerns as the legitimate concerns of the workers movement, i e, concerns relating to individual plant-based wage structures, satisfactory conditions of work in an individual plant, etc. For this, it has created a formidable machine of redressal for workers issues, which bestows legal subjecthood on workers and which compels workers to express grievances through a particular representative structure, i e, the trade union. In the process, the state projects all those initiatives in the workers movement which it perceives as politically motivated, as undesirable and impractical, if not outright illegal. The challenge that now lies before the existing workers movement is to think and act beyond the given legal horizon. Rather than depending solely on the trade union form of organisation and politics, and expending all its energies in radicalising this form of workers politics, the workers movement needs to invest in other forms as well. It also needs to consider making more efforts to create industrial-belt wide platforms of workers which can serve as powerful tools for generalising the workising ng ing class concerns fleetingly expressed in some current factory-based struggles. By doing so the workers movement can go beyond the form of politics informed by law, and can begin the journey of building a united working class movement around general working class demands.
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