By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:
With sporadic coverage from national newspapers – absent from their front pages at least – and hardly featuring in the prime-time debates, the struggle of 3000 workers of HMSI’s (Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India) Tapukara plant in Alwar is facing 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 forms.
A report prepared by Workers’ Solidarity Center (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.
As also reported in The Hindu’s business pages, police were called in by the management of HMSI Tapukara plant on February 16 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 was the immediate result of the physical assault, the WSC report claims, on an ill worker who refused to work ‘overtime’, by a Supervisor. 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, which has reportedly forced many workers to go underground. Thirty-nine of the 44 workers who were jailed got bail from the Jaipur High Court on the 1st of March but were required to produce “two jamanati (guarantors) each, and a minimum bond of Rs. 1 lakh each,” the WSC report says. Suspension letters have also been served to 100 of the 466 permanent workers between 2nd to 5th March, according to the report.
Speaking to Youth Ki Awaaz, Amit, Organising Secretary of the WSC who went to assist the workers in Alwar on 17th February, said, “We went to the Tijara Court (after the arrests were made), the Additional District Magistrate in Alwar, we met them. But we felt that the administration, whether they be the ADM or the police…this was all done with the understanding of those in power. This is what decidedly happened because 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.”
A committee comprising of representatives of various unions, Amit told Youth Ki Awaaz, met the District Magistrate Alwar on the 8th of March to seek permission for a protest but the DM denied permission for any protests or demonstration. The workers have now sought the intervention of the Jaipur High Court to provide them with a space for the same. The Court is to hear arguments on 11th March. Meanwhile, the workers of various trade unions of Gurgaon-Bawal region met to discuss the further course of action yesterday (9th March) in Gurgaon in a hall. The 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 workers taking place by “workforce contractualisation and use of internal divisions,” whereby they have to work for lesser pay under immense work pressure; arbitrary cuts in payments; failure to aid injured workers and a disregard for their safety on the part of the company.
When 227 workers of the plant sought to unionise themselves in August 2015, the management opposed this, allegedly, 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 atrocities and violations of basic human dignity, it is surprising that the Haryana government seeks to further dilute labour laws in the 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 and 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.