By Abhishek Jha
Workers gather in solidarity in Gurgaon
It hasn't earned front page coverage or prime time focus, but the struggle of 3000 workers of HMSI's (Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India) Tapukara plant in Alwar reveals a tale of brutal repression at the hands of the company's management as well as the joint police forces of Rajasthan and Haryana. The workers who had been planning on forming a union since August 2015 have so far not been able to do so and have instead been attacked by the management in various ways.
A report prepared by the Workers' Solidarity Centre (Gurgaon-Bawal), an independent forum of workers from the region - which includes union representatives from Maruti Suzuki Workers' Union Manesar, Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union Gurgaon, Baxter Workers' Union, Satyam Auto Workers' Union, Autofit Workers' Union among others - shows the massive scale of repression of not only the workers of HMSI Tapukara but a larger design unfolding across the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, especially in Haryana and Rajasthan.
The massive scale of repression [shows] a larger design unfolding across the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, especially in Haryana and Rajasthan.
According to a report in The Hindu's business pages, police were called in by the management of HMSI Tapukara plant on 16 February following a strike by workers. The police proceeded to inflict "grievous bodily injuries" on the striking workers. Hundreds of workers were arrested following this although some were released. The strike, the WSC report claims, was the immediate result of a physical assault by a supervisor on an ill worker who refused to work 'overtime'. Following this attack, 2000 workers stopped production and gathered to demand action against the supervisor as well as the reinstatement of nine permanent workers and of 400 contract workers turned out of their jobs recently. This was met with police brutality.
Moreover, non-bailable warrants have been issued against 42 unnamed persons, reportedly forcing many workers to go underground. Thirty-nine of the 44 workers who were jailed got bail from the Jaipur High Court on 1 March but were required to produce "two jamanati (guarantors) each, and a minimum bond of ₹1 lakh each," the WSC report says. Suspension letters have also been served to 100 of the 466 permanent workers between 2 and March, according to the report.
Speaking to Youth Ki Awaaz, Amit, the organizing secretary of the WSC who went to assist the workers in Alwar on 17 February, said, "We went to Tijara Court (after the arrests were made), the Additional District Magistrate in Alwar, we met them. But we felt that [everything] was done with the understanding of those in power. Everywhere we went the language (of the administration) was the same. The language was 'the workers did all this and we will not allow them to do any dharna or pradarshan."
The police [inflicted] "grievous bodily injuries" on the striking workers. Hundreds of workers were arrested following this...
According to Amit, a committee comprising representatives of various unions met the District Magistrate of Alwar on 8 March to seek permission for a protest but the DM turned them down. The workers have now sought the intervention of the Jaipur High Court to provide them with a space for a demonstration/protest. The court is to hear arguments on 11 March. Meanwhile, the workers of various trade unions of the Gurgaon-Bawal region met in a Gurgaon hall on 9 March to discuss a further course of action. Permission for assembly in an open space has been denied in Gurgaon too.
The workers' demands and struggle stem from what the report calls a structural exploitation of employees taking place by "workforce contractualization and use of internal divisions," whereby they have to work for less pay under immense work pressure; have arbitrary cuts in payments imposed; and be forced to work in situation where safety is disregarded by the company and injured workers are left unaided.
When 227 workers of the plant sought to unionize themselves in August 2015, the management demonstrated its ire by first filing fake affidavits. Later, the company "responded by retrenching 800 contract workers from September 2015 to early February 2016 - particularly those who were outspoken in the union formation process." The report also claims that although workers need to be Industrial Training Institute graduates, the company has hired strongmen as contract workers - despite them not being ITI graduates - simply to "terrorize workers speaking for their rights."
In the face of these violations of basic human dignity, it is surprising that the Haryana government seeks to further dilute labour laws in favour of investors.
In the face of these atrocities and violations of basic human dignity, it is surprising that the Haryana government seeks to further dilute labour laws in favour of investors. This, reports claim, is to be done by increasing the threshold limit for firms to retrench employees and close units without government permission, restricting inspections to once in five or ten years, and setting up police stations within industrial parks along with an industrial intelligence unit. That the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Haryana has managed to ignore even its own trade union, which is backing the Tapukara protests, is a sign of the extent to which it is ready to go to in order to favour big business.
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