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India: Why are Suzuki automobile workers in jail?

 
 

By Kavita Krishnan

March 28, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal  reposted from Liberation, central organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation — In a recent trial court judgement on 10 March 2017, 117 workers of the automobile company Maruti Suzuki’s factory in Manesar, Gurgaon, India were acquitted of a murder charge. 18 workers were convicted of minor offences while 13 – all leaders of the Maruti union – have been convicted of murder and await the quantum of punishment, to be declared on March 17, 2017.

The Maruti workers plan to challenge the convictions of their comrades in higher courts. Why are automobile workers being jailed for murder? The story at Maruti is a familiar one in India’s industrial scene.

Where Unionisation Is A Crime

In 2011, workers at Maruti Suzuki ‘s Manesar plant had formed an independent union and demanded recognition for it. Gurgaon-Manesar, not far from Delhi, is an industrial belt, where managements fear that an independent union in even a single factory would be contagious, emboldening workers in other factories to unionise. Labour law violations are rampant in the entire belt – but labour departments and governments turn a blind eye to these. Indian labour laws do recognise the right to form unions – on paper. In reality, every attempt to form a Union is met with immediate victimisation – those who are seen as leaders and organisers are either transferred to some other factory or sacked on some pretext.

On July 18 2012, Maruti workers agitating outside the factiry gate heard that their comrades who had been invited for talks inside the factory, were being subjected to a beating by the management’s ‘bouncers’ – a common practice in the industrial belt. They stormed into the factory to rescue their comrades. Soon after, a fire broke out in the factory, in which a human resources manager lost his life. Immediately after, workers and union leaders were accused of conspiring to murder the HR manager, and indiscriminate arrests followed. The fact that there is no evidence that any murder took place has not mattered.

Laughably, prosecution witnesses in the Maruti case named 89 of the accused workers in an orderly, alphabetical manner. That is, police arrested workers indiscriminately, listed and grouped them alphabetically, and then assigned each group an ‘eyewitness’ who claimed to have seen them ‘rioting’! Not only that, they arrested 91 of the workers before any witness gave any statement against them; in court defence lawyers could establish that the workers had been arrested on the basis of a list provided by the Maruti management, and witnesses were then fabricated to fit the list.

The defence lawyers also established in court how the police initially claimed that ‘Belcha, Saria, Rod and Lathi’ had been used by workers as weapons. Later the witnesses changed their statements to claim that “door beams and shockers” had been used as weapons. There were no independent witnesses for the supposed ‘recovery’ of weapons from workers, nor any forensic tests linking weapons to a violent crime or to the workers. The police claimed that the workers absconded from the factory carrying the heavy door beams used as weapons, which were then found on their persons far away when they were arrested (on a highway, in the rented accommodation where they had taken shelter etc.) Why and how would the workers carry such heavy, incriminating ‘weapons’ such a distance is a mystery the prosecution saw no need to solve. They could not establish what was used to commit arson either: all they had to show to back their claim that workers used matches to light the fire was a match-box cover that had miraculously been said to survive the carnage without any burn marks on it!

The Court, in the face of the evidence presented, had to acquit 117 workers. The 13 Union leaders were convicted on the testimony of prosecution witnesses – I,e Maruti company’s witnesses who were deemed to be truthful while workers’ testimonies were deemed to false, not because they were proven false but because of ideological assumptions about workers and Unions. The judgement observes for instance, “it is clear that the workers who have not been arrayed as accused or who had witnessed the incident could not be joined as witnesses because they would never tell the truth nor they would speak against the assailants or Union Members because of fear of their expulsion from the Union and they would always fear that the Union leaders or the Union members would boycott them or they would be excommunicated of their brotherhood.” The learned judge did not say that Maruti company’s witnesses could likewise be suspected of lying to protect their own jobs.

We can then understand why Maruti workers see the trial court verdict as a partial vindication of the truth: the very fact that 117 workers have been acquitted exposes the hollow and vindictive nature of the entire prosecution cases. The fact that most of the workers have been proved innocent is a triumph of the Maruti workers’ struggle in a very unequal battle against the nexus of the management, the entire capitalist class, the State and the corporate media that had painted them all as a murderous mob.

The 13 workers convicted for ‘murder’ are all – unsurprisingly – leaders of the Union. The Maruti workers recognise what this verdict means. Leaders of the Union are being punished for sticking their necks out and daring to lead the struggle of workers to form a Union. The legal defence of the Maruti workers was led by Rebecca Mammen John and Vrinda Grover. Grover says of the verdict, “The judgment of the Gurgaon trial court in the Maruti workers case acquitting 117 workers of all charges has unequivocally demolished the foundation of the prosecution case. 18 workers have been convicted only for grievous hurt and trespass. 13 workers have been convicted for murder. What is important to understand is that these 13 are the office bearers of the Union and the main leaders. They have been implicated in the case and management witnesses have deposed against them because they stand for rights of workers. They are paying the price of championing the cause of workers. One man very regrettably lost his life in the fire at the Manesar plant. But there is less than tenuous evidence to link any of these 13 workers to the fire. The legal defence team for the Maruti workers is confident of mounting a very strong challenge to their conviction in appeal before the High Court. The judgment vindicates our stand that a very large number of workers were falsely implicated to prejudice the public opinion and project an exaggerated and alarming version of the incident.

The question to ask today is who will be held accountable for the incarceration that these 117 suffered for over 2 years in jail. Will the police officers who arrested them on the dictates of Maruti Suzuki company be held answerable by the law?

For the 13 convicted for murder we shall fight we shall win.”

Bizarre Political Arguments of the Public Prosecutor

Anurag Hooda, Public Prosecutor in the Maruti case, argued in court for the death penalty for the 13 Maruti workers convicted for murder. The judge rejected this argument and sentenced the 13 to life imprisonment.

In a video interview (https://www.facebook.com/sethi.aman/videos/vb.532696490/10154538795701491/?type=2&theater) with writer and journalist Aman Sethi, he explained why. The death penalty in Indian law is reserved for ‘rarest of the rare’ violent crimes. Hooda said the workers’ crime deserves the death penalty – but he offered political, not legally sound arguments for this. He said they deserved death because theirs was a crime against capital, against “industrial growth”, against “Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)” and against “Make in India jo Modi ji keh rahe hain” (Make in India that Mr Modi speaks of).

The Public Prosecutor representing the State said, by implication, that those who create hurdles for what the State calls ‘growth’ by unionizing and demanding the implementation of labour laws, deserve death. He argued quite explicitly in this interview that death penalty to Maruti workers is needed for “deterrent effect” against workers’ protests. He had no answer to Aman Sethi’s question about the failure of the police to “bring enough evidence on the table as to what inflammable substance was used, what was used to light the fire, alphabetical witnesses.”

Asked by Aman Sethi whether he feels any regret for the fact that 117 innocent workers, acquitted in the trial court, spent years in jail, Hooda replied, “What was the atmosphere outside the Court? They (workers) are not taking lunch (this in a tone of outrage – ed). What kind of societal fear they are creating? It shows that there is no remorse, no repentance. Why there is all around police here (sic)? It means still there is a societal fear, so these kind of offences must be dealt with deterrence punishment (sic).” Hooda here is referring to lunch-boycott protests by workers – not only of Maruti’s Manesar plant but workers all over the country – in solidarity with the convicted Maruti workers. His expression and tone convey moral outrage as he argues that workers missing a meal causes ‘societal fear.’ What can possibly be scary or threatening or outrageous about workers volunteering to miss a meal?

His words reveal that he is outraged because the workers – the ones acquitted as well as their colleagues and comrades – have not allowed their will to be broken, they are still organizing, unionizing and holding protests. So, he argued, hanging the 13 workers convicted of murder is necessary to break their will and deter protests like lunch-boycott! The PP, in his interview, also gave his own bizarre gloss on Marxism. According to Marxism, his maid, he said, is “a bourgeois”, while he is “a proletariat”; likewise his subordinates or employees in a law firm are “bourgeois” while the boss is “proletariat.” They are all equal in the eyes of law, he said, and that’s why such talk of “class divide” is “total nonsense.” It is left to the reader’s judgement whether it is Marx’s understanding of class that is “total nonsense” or Mr Hooda’s understanding of Marx.

Growing Solidarity

What is remarkable is that the witch-hunt of workers and trade union leaders has not broken the back of the working class movements – in fact, it has had the opposite effect. As Pricol workers celebrate 10 years of their struggle, welcome back 6 of their own and struggle for the release of the remaining two comrades, they savour the fact that their Union – the Kovai Mavatta Pricol Thozhilalar Sangam – not only survived, but forced the management to recognise it in 2012. They recall how the arrested workers’ families were not allowed to fend for themselves – the entire Union collectively took responsibility for their care.

The Maruti struggle has generated waves of solidarity across the Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt and beyond. Journalist Aman Sethi http://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi/verdict-has-united-us-say-maruti-workers/story-jJgyddh6fg3DZqdgLcfJpN.html quotes a worker from Bellsonica, a Suzuki subsidiary in the same area: “Today it is Maruti, tomorrow it could be us in jail…We want our comrades to be released, but Maruti has already united workers more than any trade union could.”

Another worker, speaking to Sethi, recalled how when he was on the run from the police, “I’d sneak into Manesar in the dead of night, starving, penniless…I’d knock on a Maruti worker’s door — even if I didn’t know him personally, and without a word, he’d push money, clothes and food into my hands…. They would say, ‘You are fighting for all of us.”

Maruti and Pricol are reminders that India is seeking to criminalise unions, even as its Government is seeking to erode and destroy existing labour laws. The Indian Prime Minister welcomes multinational corporations to ‘Make In India’, promising them a docile labour environment and ‘cheap and good quality labour.’ Suppressing unions is a priority for governments in such a climate. But the attempted suppression and criminalisation are not finding it easy to succeed. India’s workers are unionising, uniting and fighting back!

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India: Free the Maruti Workers!

India: Free the Maruti Workers! – An Appeal to Observe 4th/5th April as All-India & International Day of Protest

Wednesday 29 March 2017, by Maruti Suzuki Workers Union

Comrades,

You are aware of the repression on us by the nexus of Company management-Police-Government, as 13 MSWU members have been sentenced to Life Imprisonment and 4 more workers handed 5 years by the Gurgaon Sessions Court on 18 March 2017 – without a shred of evidence, and solely on the false witness accounts by the management.

The MSWU body members have been targeted because they have been the leadership of the struggle since 2011 against illegal contract worker system and for Trade Union rights and dignity of labour [1]. It is a ‘class attack’ as in the words of Maruti CEO RC Bhargava. All workers know that this manifestly unjust verdict is to ‘teach a lesson’ to us by those in power that we should not fight for our rights and dignity on the shop-floor and beyond.

But against this repression, thousands of workers in this industrial belt and across India and world are protesting. On the evening of the Verdict on 18th May, 30000 workers in Gurgaon-Manesar did tool down strike against the injustice. The Maruti Suzuki Mazdoor Sangh (MSMS)–the joint platform of Maruti Suzuki factories–had given a call for Protest on the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh-Rajguru-Sukhdev on 23rd March in Manesar. Despite prohibitory orders of Section 144, thousands of workers from the industrial belts in Haryana and Rajasthan rallied in protest from factory after factory in Manesar. A letter from the Jailed workers was read out [2], and a call given to intensify the struggle for the release of the Jailed workers. It was also decided to give economic assistance to families of the Jailed workers.

On this 23rd March Protest program, we already appealed to all to observe 4th April as an all-India Day and International of Protest. Preparations for the same have already begun in various places. Meanwhile, recognized Central Trade Unions later issued a call to organize all-India Protest in solidarity with the Maruti Suzuki workers on 5th April. So, We appeal to all workers and pro-worker forces to observe 4th/5th April 2017 as all-India and International Days of Protest and show solidarity in whatever ways possible.

The struggling workers in the Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal-Neemrana industrial belt in the states of Haryana-Rajasthan are showing that they will not relent on their legitimate rights and strengthen their class unity against the capitalist onslaught. We have also received great courage and thank the amazing show of solidarity of workers with the struggle for Justice of Maruti workers. Since the last few days, there have been protests by lakhs of workers in this and other industrial belts and by various workers, student-youth, human rights and other democratic organizations in over 30 cities-towns in the country. We also greatly encouraged and thank the amazing show of international working class solidarity with protests, deputations and solidarity positions and actions in over 21 countries. This is a long battle, and only the growing force of the movement and wider solidarity can take the struggle forward.

MARCH 29, 2017

Provisional Working Committee,
Maruti Suzuki Workers Union

Contact: 7011865350 (Ramniwas), 9911258717 (Khusiram) on behalf of the PWC, MSWU.

email: marutiworkerstruggle@gmail.com;

blog: marutisuzukiworkersunion.wordpress.com
Free the Maruti Workers! 13 Maruti Union members given ‘Life Sentence’ for Struggling for Union Formation & Abolition of the Contract Worker System

MARCH 19, 2017

13 of our brothers have been given ‘life sentences’ – including 12 Maruti Suzuki Workers Union body members – on the baseless charge of ‘murder’ on 18 March afternoon by the Gurgaon Additional Sessions Court. 4 workers given 5 year sentences. 14 workers given 3 years, but have already spent 4 years in prison, so released. Of the earlier acquitted 117 workers who spent over 4 years in Jail, we do not yet know as to who will return the lost years. 148 already spent 4 years in Jail without bail since 2012 without bail and 2500 workers were earlier illegally terminated and then faced continual State repression.

We reject the falsehood that this is an ‘objective judgement’. The Prosecution Case and Judicial Sentence is based on no evidences, false-witnesses and pure class hatred. See here for details of the arguments. Workers had no involvement in the unfortunate death of the pro-worker manager who helped in registering the Union, Mr Avanish Kumar Dev – this is conclusively proved in the legal case from the Defence. The conflict on the day of 18 July 2012 started with a supervisor attacking a Dalit worker Jiyalal – who was later made into ‘prime accused’ in the case – with caste-based abuse, and the worker’s suspension. The entire case is part of management conspiracy to finish off the Union, an attack on the Right to Union Formation itself, and the demands–particularly of abolition of Contract Worker System–it was raising and symbol it became for workers struggle.

The nature of the legal case was informed from the outset by the vitriolic repressive manner in which thousands of workers were continually hounded after 18 July 2012 by the nexus of the management and government, including the Police, administration and labour departments. This Judgement – made in between turning Gurgaon and Manesar into Police camps – is directly anti-worker and heavily influenced by the interests of the Company management, to ‘set an example’, to sow fear and terror among all industrial workers in the country, particularly the belt of Gurgaon to Neemrana in Haryana and Rajasthan. The Prosecution in its final arguments – much similar to the Chandigarh HC order of May 2013 rejecting bail for workers – arguing for ‘death penalty’ for workers, talked of the need of restoring ‘confidence’ of capital, and the Prime Minister’s initiative of inviting global investors for ‘Make in India’. The confidence of these foreign and national capitalists depend on one thing: a cheap and compliant labour force, so no Unions or any raising of demands.

By specifically targeting the entire Union body, this Company Raj wants to tell us that the workers movement, the Right to Union Formation and other Trade Union rights as well as Human Rights of workers in the country will be simply (with illegal and legal means) crushed by capitalists and the State. The attack on our Union body members is been simply because they have been the leadership of the struggle against the management practices of exploitation of labour in the factory and waged a legitimate long struggle for trade union rights and dignity since 2011 with the unity of permanent and contract workers, demanding the abolition of the contract worker system, dignity in the workplace, and an end to exploitative practices by the management. And finally registered our Union on 1 March 2012. This workers assertion was not acceptable to the management and they wanted to crush our Union, especially after submission of the Charter of Demands in April 2012 which argued for abolition of contract worker system. So they conspired and escalated the conflict on 18 July 2012.

The struggle full of vitality and hope gave positive energies for other workers to fight similar exploitation in the industrial region and beyond from Honda to Rico to Asti to Shriram Pistons to Daikin AC to Bellsonica name a few. This collective workers assertion needed to be crushed and ‘taught a lesson’ in the interests of the company managements. Similar conflicts and cases of repression on workers movements have happened from Graziano Transmissions Noida, Regent Ceramics Puducherry, Pricol in Chennai and so on. This Judgement comes in the trail of these repression, increasing its tempo. And so, the industrial areas are being turned into Police Camps.

Maruti Suzuki CEO RC Bhargava has said this is a ‘class war’. And what the government dutifully is doing is to turn workers disputes with management into a ‘Law & Order problem’, to criminalize workers fighting for their Rights of Union formation and against the Contract System. We condemn this criminalization of workers.

We are not afraid, nor tired with so much continuous repression. IT is only by increasing the tempo of the unity of workers beyond the divisions of permanent and contract, and independent class assertion against the continuous attacks of the current Company-State regime of exploitation-repression, that we can take the struggle forward. Lakhs of workers in industrial areas are already doing solidarity actions since 9 March, and on 16 March, over a lakh workers in Haryana, Rajasthan, UP, Tamil Nadu did hunger strikes. On 18th immediately after the Judgement, 30000 workers in 5 Maruti Suzuki factories did an hour of ‘tool down’ solidarity strike even though the management tried to crush it as always by pressure to work and notice of 8 days pay cut. Since 16th March, there have been protests by various workers, students, human rights and other democratic organizations in over 20 cities, and deputations and solidarity positions and actions in 21 countries.

On 23rd March – the day of martyrdom of Shaheed Bhagat Singh – the Maruti Suzuki Mazdoor Sangh (MSMS), the joint platform of all 6 Maruti Suzuki factories have given the call of ‘Chalo Manesar’, for thousands of workers to gather and do a Protest rally in Manesar. We call upon all pro-worker forces to participate in this Protest. We also feel the need for a National Day of Protest, tentatively on 4th April. In this decisive and crucial hour, we appeal to all workers and pro-worker forces to stand with the demand to free the convicted workers, and wage a protracted struggle to ensure justice and workers rights, and show solidarity in whatever ways possible.

23 March ko Chalo Manesar!

Free the Maruti Workers!

End the Regime of Exploitation-Repression in the Industrial belts.

Provisional Working Committee,
Maruti Suzuki Workers Union

18 March 2017

Contact: 7011865350 (Ramniwas), 9911258717 (Khusiram) on behalf of the PWC, MSWU.

Email: marutiworkerstruggle@gmail.com

See: marutisuzukiworkersunion.wordpress.com for updates
Over 1 lakh workers express class solidarity with Maruti Workers

MARCH 17, 2017

On 17 March, the Gurgaon Sessions Court declares the sentences for the 31 workers convicted on 10 March by the Court with an anti-worker pro-corporate order. Expressing working class solidarity against satisfying the collective conscience of the capitalist class, on 16th March, more than 1 lakh workers boycotted lunch and dinner in nearly 50 plants in Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal-Neemrana industrial belt and beyond.

On 16th the same day, Protest Demonstrations also took place in solidarity with Maruti Suzuki workers by various mass democratic, students, human rights, and workers organisations, and Trade Unions in front of Haryana Bhawan/Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, in Rudrapur and Kashipur in Uttarakhand, in Ludhiana in Punjab, in Chennai and Coimbatore in Tamilnadu, in Kaithal in Haryana, in Bengaluru in Karnataka, in Bhilai in Chattishgarh.

The partial list of the factories plants taking part in solidarity action on 16th March in support of Maruti workers are:

1. Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, Manesar

2. Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union, Gurgaon

3. Maruti Suzuki Powertrain India Employees Union, Manesar

4. Suzuki Motorcycles India Employees Union, Khedki Daula

5. Honda Motorcycle and Scooters Employees Union, Manesar

6. Hero MotoCorp Employees Union, Gurgaon

7. Hero MotoCorp Employees Union, Dharuhera

8. Daikin air-conditioning Employees Union, Neemrana

9. Bellsonica Auto Components Employees Union, Manesar

10. Kansai Nerolac Paints Karmchari Union, Bawal

11. Rico Auto Workers Union, Dharuhera

12. Omax Auto Employees Union, Dharuhera

13. Bajaj Motors Employees Union, Narsinghpur

14. Sunbeam Workers Union, Gurgaon

15. Munjal Kiriu Employees Union, Manesar

16. Sona Koyo Steering Workers Union, Manesar

17. Microtech Union, Bawal

18. Ahresty Union, Bawal,

19. Pricol Union, Manesar

20. Hema Union, Gurgaon

21. Napino Union, Manesar

22. Satyam Auto Union, Manesar

23. GKN Union, Dharuhera

24. Metro Ortem Union, Gurgaon

25. FCC Union, Manesar

26. Munjal Showa Union, Gurgaon

27. Munjal Showa Union, Manesar

28. Talbros Union, Manesar

29. Perfetti Union, Manesar

30. Frigoglass Union, Manesar

31. Organica Medical, Manesar

32. ENKY Union, Manesar

33. Uniproduct Union, Bawal

34. Autofit Union, Dharuhera

35. Endurance Union, Manesar

36. Asti Union, Manesar

37. MK Auto Union, Gurgaon

38. Harsoriya Union, Bawal

39. Amul Union, Manesar

40. Moser Bear Union, Noida

41. LG Union, Noida

42. Shanthi Gear Union, Coimbatore

43. Onload Gear, Coimbatore

and others.

Free the falsely implicated Maruti Workers!

Down with the company-state nexus of exploitation-repression.

Down with State repression on workers movement.

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