Manesar has been much in the news, with worker violence being blamed for the disruptions in production. Not so, say the workers who claim it’s part of a management plan to scuttle their efforts to form a union.

BY SHIVAM VIJ
PHOTOGRAPHS ISHAN TANKHA

My name is… let that be. Maruti Suzuki is out to get me, not because I did anything but because they want to put virtually every worker in jail, even those who belonged to the third shift and were not even present when violence took place in the Manesar factory on 18 July. I was present there and will tell you what happened, but to understand it you will have to let me begin from the beginning.

“ If a worker’s task is to add a brake and pedal, then that’s what you do all day, with 8-10 bolts in every car, car after car, 40 seconds per car. The result is a bit like a dance move, the same move, non-stop for eight hours. The Manesar plant, I am sure, is the world’s fastest car production facility. The conveyor belt doesn’t really stop, we move with it

I am 26 years old. I come from a village in Panipat. My father is a daily wage labourer. After finishing class 10 in a government school, I enrolled at the Panipat Industrial Training Institute (ITI). After two years of learning to handle machines at the ITI, I joined Maruti’s Gurgaon plant as an apprentice in 2006. The apprenticeship lasts a year. I was anxious before I first entered the plant, because I knew many from Panipat who have done that before, and they all used to say there’s so much work, and it’s such heavy work, you won’t be able to do it. I was determined to prove them wrong. I soon realised what they meant, the work pressure can’t be described, it has to be experienced.

First they took a day or two for the joining procedures after which I found myself getting training for another day or two in their Apprenticeship Wing. This was followed by some training for another day or two on the line, and then they left me to work, on my own. Apprenticeship means training, but there was no training. Apprentices are free labour for Maruti because even though we get a stipend, it is reimbursed to Maruti by the government. The Rs. 2,800 a month was its way of helping the ITI products get a job.

In the factory, we make cars. The parts come from various companies, hundreds of vendors make those parts for Maruti and we fit them to the frame of the car.

I was taken aback by the Maruti way. All of us, from apprentices to permanent workers, had to work eight hours, which did not include a 30-minute lunch break. We got two tea breaks on company time, seven minutes each, to manage tea, snacks and the toilet, all together. It takes a minute and a half just for the tea to arrive. You could either have tea or take a leak, but soon we learnt to do both together. Teacup in one hand, we’d run to the toilet. Before returning to work we also had to wash the tea cup before putting it back into our lockers.

Now, I did the ITI course and landed in Gurgaon to work. But I had no idea it would be such back-breaking non-stop work for eight hours. The salary didn’t justify it either. But here I was, this was life, I began to accept it.
After a year of so-called apprenticeship at Gurgaon they gave me a job at the Manesar plant, started just a few months ago. The rules were the same. I wake up at 4.30 a.m., the bus arrives to pick us up at 5.20 a.m., reach the factory at 6.30 a.m. The factory is about 25-30 km from where most workers live in Gurgaon. The shift begins at 7 a.m.

Some months ago they changed the shift timing to 6.30 a.m., so we have to wake up even earlier. This was because some workers come from Delhi too, and they have to beat the early morning traffic between Delhi and Gurgaon. The transport isn’t free, they deduct Rs. 500 a month from our salary. The lunch and tea are subsidised—around Rs. 350 is deducted from our salaries. Tea breaks are in the rest area next to where we work on the shopfloor, but lunch, which is on our time, is in the canteen. Some workers have to walk quite a distance to the canteen, so 30 minutes isn’t enough to grab lunch or go to the bathroom. One worker being late can stop the entire conveyor belt, so that worker gets a lot of flak from the managers.

So now we wake up at 3.45 a.m. and the shift begins at 6 a.m.. Only technically, though. They start the morning meeting and the warm-up exercises 15 minutes before, from what is our time, not included in their eight hours. The point of the morning meeting is to take names and count who made what mistakes, who left a loose part, who missed a part in the conveyor belt, causing a delay of how many seconds in the production line. The day begins with humiliation. You did this! You did that! I want your explanation in writing. If this happens again we’ll give you a warning letter. And today we want these many cars done, no excuses shall be entertained. Then the exercises begin on the shop-floor, the conveyor belt is soon switched on.

While I had to install parts, some are also in checking and repair. First, the metal sheets are converted into the car body by machines, which is assembled by workers in the weld shop. Then it goes to the paint shop, where the process is semi-mechanised. In the Assembly, the parts are fitted together, beginning with the wiring and meshing, then the brakes and pedals and the steering and so on. The car comes to the worker on the conveyor belt and depending on what your job is to add to it, it stops for 35-40 seconds on an average. So if a worker’s task is to add a brake and pedal, then that’s what you do all day, with 8-10 bolts in every car, car after car, 40 seconds per car. The result is a bit like a dance move, the same move, non-stop for eight hours. The screw gun in one hand, fix it, run back, pick up another bolt, move back to the car. A bit like aerobics.

The Manesar plant, I am sure, is the world’s fastest car production facility. The conveyor belt doesn’t really stop, we move with it and rush back to the original position in time for the next car. We don’t control the machine, the machine controls us. We dance to its tune. The result is that you could miss a car or two if you dared to drink water or scratch your back. Such things must be done by us along with fitting the parts.

If in such a schedule you feel thirsty, it takes 45 minutes to steal time to drink water without missing a car. Workers pass water bottles on the conveyor belt.

The problem may sound comical but it isn’t funny when you miss a car. Imagine being asked by the supervisor at the end of the shift why you missed one car. To give an explanation that I missed it as four seconds were wasted scratching my back… is this what a man deserves? Conversations like these take place after the shift, when we are summoned and scolded, given warning letters and so on.

It is not considered human to err. Why aren’t you able to work? we’re asked. Aren’t others working? Why did you have to go to the bathroom? God forbid if you have an upset stomach! The manager tells supervisors to discourage workers from drinking as they will then want to go take a leak. Supposing they figured out that one is able to steal time to drink water between the work, next day such a worker would find the work suddenly increasing.

They study us through CCTV cameras, constantly trying to squeeze more work out of our hands. How dare you manage to save the time to drink water! Five free seconds! That is not acceptable to them. If a worker says he really has to rush to the bathroom, the supervisor would say I don’t allow it, now do what you can. This would result in peeing in the pants, sometimes defecating too. That is the worker’s answer to what he can do against the system.
Their concept of “overtime” is Rs. 17—whether you are made to work overtime for one hour or two, you get the same fixed princely sum! Maruti does not want us to waste a single millisecond of the eight hours for which it pays us such a miserly sum. This overtime would be divided in two parts—an hour before the shift and an hour after. Even if you were a minute late reaching the factory, even in “overtime”, they would deduct half day’s salary! With such overtime in winters a worker would get six hours of sleep, considering the traffic jams those days at Honda Chowk would delay us returning home on our way back.

Asking for leave is a sin. Supposing a worker’s father dies and he wants to rush home, he is asked, “Why don’t you finish the shift and go? By the time you reach, the cremation would be over anyway.” The maximum you can be away if your loved one has died is three days. After that, you’ll be deluged with phone calls asking if you intend to stay in the village forever.

Other companies are better, but they tend to copy the Maruti way. Such is Maruti’s confidence in their way that they have passed it on to their vendor companies as well. Such are the conditions in which we make four Maruti cars: Swift, Swift Dzire, A Star and SX4. I think we were freer under the British Raj.

Such authoritarian treatment of workers led to the realisation that we need to make a union. We already had one, which we call the “management union” as it is their showpiece union, with their men in it, and never known to have elections. This management union was actually from the Gurgaon plant, and we in the Manesar plant would be forced to sign on paper showing our membership of it. We wanted our own union, a real union, one that would take up our issues. And that is what Maruti did not want. This is the crux of the matter.

I was hauled up many times during my apprenticeship, scolded every other day, given warning letters every now and then. If I was so bad, why did they give me a job at Manesar? That’s because they had given me during the apprenticeship the important training of learning to bend before their authoritarianism (tanashahi). By wanting to form a union, we wanted to change the way they behaved with us for years. We were trying to change the Maruti way.
My starting salary in Manesar was Rs. 3,500 in 2007. In 2008 they gave me Rs. 4,500; in 2009 Rs. 5,500. That is, they gave me a raise of Rs. 1,000 every year. These three years I was a trainee. Have you ever heard of a training period of three years? This is to make sure that they can fire you when they like, especially if you are the kind who raises a voice. Three years is what they think it takes them to break a worker.

What they do is they grade your performance at the end of the financial year. So there are workers who spend as many as three or four years in the same job category as the first traineeship period (called TT1 or Technician Training 1), earning Rs. 3,500 forever, like a student who is failed again and again. After this they were fired. As many as 30 per cent would be fired during the training period, and another 10 per cent would leave on their own.
In 2010 they made me permanent, my salary now is Rs. 15,000. No raise since then. But the Rs. 15,000 is not fixed. My basic salary is only Rs. 5,001. Then there is in incentive of Rs. 8,000. The incentive is based on the number of cars produced in the factory. Not that the worker has any way of knowing how many cars were produced, or how their complicated system of incentives with several clauses and sub-clauses actually works. We get the salary in our bank accounts and are taught not to question.

The thought of quitting never occurred to me. I didn’t know what else I could do, where I could go. I spent two years at an ITI to get this job and I don’t mind it. I just want the mental pressure constantly exerted on us to ease. Quitting and going back to the village was also not an option because around the time I got the job in Manesar in 2007, I got married. I took a week’s break to get married. I left work for home only the day before my marriage. I had been a few months in the job.

The company gives us nine casual leaves and 12 sick leaves. However, the way the incentive scheme has been designed is that for every leave you take, you lose Rs. 1,500! Out of that Rs. 8,000 incentive! So while on paper they have 21 leaves for us, they make sure we lose too much from our salaries to dare to take those leaves. A daily wage job is better, because in that you don’t earn for the day you don’t work. But here, if you take three days a month, you entire “incentive” or more than half your salary is wiped out!

If the electronic punching machine shows you late by a second, you are considered present for only half the working day. By contrast, you could be made to work overtime for three hours after work, and get only `17!

These work conditions were always the same, but by 2011 we felt so broken we made up our minds to rebel. Now, either we’d prevail or the management. On 3 June 2011 we moved a file with the Haryana Government’s labour department to register our own union. The next day, Maruti announced elections, the first ever elections, to their puppet union! Our demands earlier that elections should be held to the union were invariably ignored. Then at 12 noon they changed their minds again. They sent around a piece of paper forcing everyone to sign on it. The paper said that we don’t want an election to the existing union, we’re fine with it as it is. The supervisors threatened and abused and said we’ll have to sign this. They started calling workers into the office one by one and gave them the option to sign that piece of paper or quit.

The body of members we had formed to make our own union and press for our demands, decided that we would go on strike. So 4 June 2011 is when we went on a strike for the first time. We told the management, we don’t want to go on a strike, just take back this piece of paper, don’t force us to sign it, and we’ll return to work.

The strike lasted 13 days. All of us, 3,000 of us, contract to permanent workers, each one struck work. We would go in and sit on our positions in the shop-floor for the period of our shifts. The management stopped the tea and lunch, closed the toilets and the water taps. They agreed to let us take food and water from our friends outside. It was strange and defiant to be sitting on the shop-floor for 13 days. It was important to sit there and not outside because there’s nothing more that the company would like—they would simply get another set of workers and start production.

Our leader was Sonu Gujjar. He is the one who mobilised us all, headed the co-ordination committee and moved the file to register it as a union. The co-ordination committee had eight members including the secretary, Shiv Kumar.
On the 13th day, the management agreed to not come in the way of making our own union, separate from the Gurgaon plant. Our demand met, we went back to work, only to realise they had more cards to play against us.

To understand what has been happening in Maruti with the workers since June 2011, you will have to understand what happened in the Gurgaon factory in 2000. For this let me take you to meet my friend Rajesh Goswami who was fired from Maruti back then.

Rajesh Goswami’s story: I hail from Sonepat in Haryana. Maruti began in Gurgaon in 1983. I joined in 1992. To begin with, Suzuki had a 26 per cent stake and the rest was the Government of India’s. There was no small car in India and for years Maruti 800 had no competition. It successfully established itself in 5-6 years. Global car companies came to India only in the mid-’90s by following the opening up of India’s economy in 1991. By this time Maruti had long had a monopoly. There was a workers’ union by the mid-’80s, which had few complaints as the management had been good.

In 1992, Suzuki increased its stake in the company to 50 per cent and then in 2002 to 54.2 per cent making it, rather than the government, a majority stakeholder. Until this happened, the workers had a voice, we would be listened to. The first time they introduced the incentive scheme in the ’80s, the management sat down with the workers and explained it to us. The scheme was mindful of some standards of labour rights. We had to produce 25 Maruti 800s a year per worker, and above that we’d get financial incentives.

Thereafter, the management kept making changes to the incentive scheme unilaterally. In 1995, there was a token strike of a day or two to protest the reduction of government stake. By now the unions would be in management control and the management would have its way with whatever new policies it wanted to implement. This was the time when they increased the number of plants in Gurgaon from one to three. Until 1993, all workers would become permanent employees. There would only be a probation period of six months.

But when in 1993 the car market began booming, the Maruti workers ironically started to suffer at the hands of the management. They introduced a two-year training period now.
What was the need for a two-year training period for a worker who has trained at an ITI for two years and then as an apprentice with you for a year? The idea was to get cheap labour, to call you a trainee and pay you less than half the salary they would otherwise pay you.

Nobody opposed this: those who were being hired couldn’t have opposed it, and the old permanent employees unfortunately didn’t take it up because they were not suffering personally. From 1995, they started having contract workers to cut costs even more. These were the same people as us, villagers who spent two years at an ITI and a year as an apprentice but were now told they could be hired only as temporary, contractual labour. If the government paid you Rs. 500 a month as an apprentice, Maruti paid you Rs. 1,000 a month as contractual labour.

By 1997, they wanted to get rid of the old permanent labourers so that they could get most of the production done by cheap labour which could be fired at will, and would thus not make a noise about exploitation. Thus came the Voluntary Retirement Scheme, VRS. Some took it and left, but very few. By 2000, the management started making drastic, exploitative changes to the incentive system, which we opposed. Shouting slogans, hunger strike and so on, began, and reached the stage of tools down. But the management wouldn’t take back its incentive system revisions. The management started dismissing workers one by one. The workers’ movement started gathering steam.

I remember the dates vividly, not least because I’m still fighting a case in court. On 12 October 2000, the management produced an undertaking form and kept it at the gate. The entire area outside the factory was covered by police. Traffic on the old Delhi-Gurgaon highway was stopped. A Maruti worker could go past the barricade only if he signed the undertaking form.

The undertaking form asked us to take back the strike and join work, no demands met. We refused, all of us. The strike lasted 89 days. Our independent union had been undermined, its leaders switched over to the management side. The management came out with a new union registration number, which is the one they still prop up. Yet, of nearly 6,000 workers only about 500 went inside the plant during the strike period. That’s all they could break. Maruti spread lies in the media, said that we were being paid Rs. 23,000, were being offered Rs. 33,000, but were demanding Rs. 42,000.

In those days there was not a single political party which did not come to address us. Deve Gowda, VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, the Left parties, everyone. The issue was raised in Parliament 3-4 times. The CPM’s Basudeb Acharya led an all-party delegation to the Lok Sabha Speaker GMC Balyogi where everyone agreed, the government agreed, that the workers should not have to sign such an undertaking form and that the dismissed workers should be taken back. We reached this conclusion in the speaker’s chamber.

We are the world’s largest democracy, its sacred temple is Parliament, whose priest is the Speaker. And there is Suzuki, it’s just one of the world’s many automobile companies. Who prevails? Suzuki took back the undertaking form but did not take back 36 workers.

On 8 January 2001, the management signed an agreement with the workers that neither side would proceed against the other on any issue, legally or otherwise, and no financial demands or changes would be made for the moment. Like a ceasefire. This included workers not being paid for the three months of strike. Yet when workers went in on the 9th, they did so with dhols being played outside.

Who violated that agreement? From the very next day, the management started making hell the lives of the workers.
As you know, working on the cars on a moving conveyor belt makes it impossible for the worker to drink water, go to the toilet, leave alone take rest. That is why we used to have relievers—some workers who would take over so that the main worker could attend to the calls of nature, and so on.

Short leaves, for instance, were taken away. The company even stopped its buses to go fetch the workers. We had to come on our own, after 15 years of being used to the company bus fetching us. The idea was to have workers come late; electronic punching was introduced to record the exact time of entry. Being late by a second would be counted as an unplanned half-day’s leave.

But that didn’t mean losing half-day’s incentive but 3/4th’s! Now you could say if you’re losing 3/4th day’s salary you might as well take the day off and leave but that is not allowed either because then they would deduct 1 and a half day’s incentive. This way, they would deduct Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 2,500, which is far more than a day’s incentive or two. There is no logic to this, only the management’s diktat. This was the normalcy we had signed for!
Even today there is no bus service for workers to Gurgaon, though they had to start one for Manesar because it is really far and workers come from all over the National Capital Region.

Earlier, we had 16 leaves a year and only if we exceeded it would we lose some of our incentive money, but proportionately. One extra leave equalled one day’s incentive deducted. All such deductions would go to a common pool, from where it would be equally divided among all workers at the end of the financial year.

Worst of all, the incentive scheme we had fought was forcibly implemented. The company also violated its promise of not taking action against any worker for the strike period. It framed charge-sheets against 700-800 of us and started enquiries. Workers were called over one by one. Look, here, do you want this enquiry to proceed against you or would you rather take VRS? The tone was: we rule here. Mess with us if you can. They started harassing workers for not doing the warm-up exercises properly or going to the bathroom and started withdrawing medical and hospitalisation benefits. All to make us leave.

I chose not to take the VRS, am fighting them even today in court. But many took VRS, 1200 odd workers took VRS and left, a few lakh rupees each. Most of their lives were ruined as they couldn’t do much thereafter. After years of adding nuts and bolts you don’t have a business-oriented mind.

The management had killed the idea of a union. 26 August 2002 was my last day on the shop-floor.
The unnamed worker resumes: After our 13-day strike in June last year, Maruti said they would recognise our workers’ body and so we went back to work. For a month and a half, we were back to normal, but then we got to know that Maruti had managed to get the labour department to reject our application to be recognised as the union.
We filed another application, as a result of which they suspended 4-5 of the 11-member co-ordination committee of workers. We protested, to which Maruti replied that if we worked well for a month they would be taken back. We worked without a whimper for over two months but they were not taken back. So in August our second strike took place, again sitting on the shop-floor but they didn’t allow in contractual labour.

One Sunday, they covered the entire factory with GI sheeting and kept only one gate open. We had to sign a “good conduct” undertaking. We obviously wouldn’t sign, for that would mean going back to square one, back to hell. Then they started pasting a list there, of workers they were suspended. It had nearly a hundred names. This time our movement lasted 33 days and then they relented and allowed us in.

The labour department made us sign the good conduct form. The labour commissioner herself came and said your file for creating a union is with me anyway, you can do whatever and I wouldn’t allow the union to be made. Sign the good conduct undertaking or be sacked, she said. This is the labour commissioner!

So we went in, but now they didn’t take back the contractual labour. Again they said, work well for 2-3 days and we’ll take back the contractual labour too. We waited for a week. But they still refused, we again struck work. We are all workers doing the same work, why should we not be with the contractual labour who are by far the most exploited? The contractual labour sat outside and we sat inside. This time it lasted 17 days.

They brought in so much police that I think one day there were 7-8 policemen for every worker. They also brought Haryana Roadways buses. Looked like we were going to be taken out and a lockout declared. It was 13 October, 2011. The district commissioner, the labour commissioner and senior police officials all came, ordering us to vacate the plant. They threatened us with lathicharge if we didn’t leave.

Now, our co-ordination body leaders had not been allowed in, and so we had made a new co-ordination committee inside. But the body outside, which was headed by Sonu Gujjar, communicated their decision to us inside to vacate, even though we were willing to vacate. The police had come with court orders to make us vacate.

We came out on 17 October, 18 October was Karva Chauth, and we had a meeting of workers 2-3 days later. In this short time, something happened without our realising. Our co-ordination committee members were bought over. Sonu Gujjar, Shiv Pal and others were told by the Maruti management that they were not going to be taken back anyway, so they might as well take some money and disappear, thus helping break the workers’ movement.
I do not know how much they were given but the others, we heard, got `16.5 lakh each. That is how our strike was broken this time and we went back to work.

Now again, their main concern was to prevent us from exercising our constitutional right of forming a union. To prevent us from co-ordinating with each other they changed our locations and shifts. Assembly workers were sent to the paint shop and paint shop workers to the weld shop. But by 3 November we had managed to make another co-ordination committee and file another application for it to be recognised as our union.

We had to do this secretively because there was immense surveillance on us. Even the vigilance department of the police was tracking us. We would make the workers sign the papers overnight, in between the shifts. It helped that many live close to each other.

They had to form the union but they would keep delaying it. But the Maruti management reduced its authoritarianism on the shop-floor. We would hear the file would be cleared now and then. The stipulated time period of 45 days was not adhered to, but the labour department finally had to recognise the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, registration number 1927, at the end of February 2012. During this time we didn’t raise a single voice, all we did was to pressure the labour department that we want our registration number. That was the only aim of every worker.

During our strikes, the Maruti management would tell us to ask for a salary hike! Why are you after a union? They sent teams of people to every worker’s house to persuade our parents and wives with this idea. And scare them too: your son may face lathicharge, your husband may lose his job. Some 60-70 workers they were able to break this way. They also tried to break us on the lines of caste, religion and region.

Anyway, now that we had a union we gave them a charter of 23 demands. The only one they conceded was that they gave us relievers. They also would now harass and pressure us a little less. They would now not make us work overtime, which they routinely used to, with or without the extra `17.

Our main demand was that contractual labour should be made permanent and the practice of hiring contract labour ended. Then we demanded an increase in our salary. We pointed out that in 1998 when Maruti was making 80,000 cars a year a worker got as much as Rs. 18,000 but today when Maruti makes 15 lakh cars a year, we get Rs. 15,000–in 2012! So we said our basic salary should be Rs. 25,000 and then the incentive. The newspapers typically published exaggerated stories about how the salary hike and benefits we were demanding came to Rs. 1 lakh a worker. But you must understand that in a negotiation you always begin with a high amount. There are workers who left Maruti and joined Honda and are earning as much as Rs. 32,000 today.

We also demanded better medical facilities, bus service for contractual labour until the contract system was ended, relievers, leaves, giving 15 minutes of rest time from the company’s 8 hours.
Our demands were submitted in May 2012, after they didn’t raise salaries at the April appraisal—claiming to increase the salary package but not resulting in any extra cash in our hands. The management would now urge us to strike! Why don’t you go on strike, we would be asked. They wanted to say to the world, look these workers got their union but are still striking.

The management did not mind the temporary losses they would incur with the strike. They think long-term, they think of the long-term costs if they have to pay us a decent salary. Their efforts were now geared at finishing our union and getting rid of us. They started spreading rumours that our union president, Ram Meher, had sold out to the management. But he and the general secretary Sarabjit are not the sort who would get sold out.

After much persuasion, they started having negotiations with us every Monday and Thursday. We had 17-18 meetings with the management, in which they would simply pass time. They would read out the charter of demands one by one and then say we will discuss them in the next meeting. In the next meeting they would be an hour late and then ask, yes, what were the demands? Not a single demand did they agree to. Contractual and trainee labour, they said, are not under any negotiation. The union does not represent them, they said. There would be 15-16 people from the management, headed by the HR head Avanish Kumar. Eight members of our body would go.
Our last meeting was held on 16 July, in which they said all they could give us was a raise of Rs. 10,000 a year, which would include such benefits as shoes and clothes and Diwali gift. The increase in basic salary would be only Rs. 400. Now, they said, do what you can. So we said, why don’t we find a middle path, why not settle for something acceptable to both sides?

On Wednesday 18 July, our union decided that we will not start the day before the official duty time. We will just sit there and stand up only when the duty time begins, and only then have the morning meeting and the warm-up exercises. Never mind that the bus reaches there 30 minutes before our official shift time. During the first tea break at 8.30 a.m., the supervisors were catching hold of workers and saying, “We want to speak to you about the morning meeting issue.” Most of us said we won’t talk about this during tea time.

A supervisor did not like one worker, Jiya Lal, saying this. So he went back to him and started picking a fight with him, hurling expletives and casteist slurs—Jiya Lal is Dalit.

The supervisor complained to the management of Jiya Lal’s indiscipline and before noon, Jiya Lal was suspended. The union executive body members went to the management asking for Jiya Lal’s suspension to be revoked. When we insisted, the management sent the supervisor home on leave for a few days. Then they said they can’t reinstate Jiya Lal without talking to the supervisor, who is not here!

So we decided we are not going to leave until Jiya Lal is reinstated. Talks about this took place until 5:30-6 p.m. They called in a lot of police and in the management office, 40-50 bouncers too. They thought they would scare the union members with the help of bouncers into withdrawing their demand of reinstating Jiya Lal. As soon as the bouncers started beating up union members, they shouted from up there to the workers. Now, we were a lot of people, we outnumbered the bouncers. Many workers beat up the bouncers and the management staff. The police, including senior officials, stood outside, didn’t dare to come in.

Meanwhile, a short-circuit caused a fire. By 7:15 p.m workers had emptied the plant. A man of the management, dressed up some bouncers in workers’ dress and went up to the management area. That is when the fire escalated. We saw Avanish Kumar climb down the stairs before we exited the gates. How he died is a mystery to us. The post-mortem says he died due to asphyxiation but some of the media has been presenting it as though we personally murdered him with a knife.

I feel sorry for Avanish Kumar. He was a good man, merely the management’s puppet who had been trying to resign for some time. His wife has said in the media how he had resigned in June. For a whole week nobody from the management went to meet his family.

The third shift, called C-Shift, arrived for work that evening and the police arrested many of them–even though they were not there during the violence. 146 are in jail so far.

The union body members went to the police station and surrendered but the police showed they had nabbed them from various corners of Haryana and Rajasthan. They have put all kinds of false charges, such as that we take arms inside the plant! They don’t have a list of offenders, they are catching whoever they can get.

I am also in hiding here, because they will be happy to put me in jail too. Meanwhile, our bank accounts suddenly got around Rs. 50,000, followed by termination letters—no notice, no enquiries. They say they have terminated around 500 workers but I suspect it’s more. Some 1,800 contractual labour have been fired, so have at least 500 permanent workers, and 146 are in jail, many in hiding.

That is, most of the labour force of 3,000 is gone. How then did they re-start the plant on 21 August? They could do this because they had started hiring people from the very next day after the violence.
In other words, their purpose of finishing the union and getting rid of this lot of workers has been achieved. The media blames us for the violence but doesn’t ask who was benefited by the violence. Are we not sad at losing our jobs?

Don’t we have families to feed, children to send to school? While Avanish Kumar’s death is being used to show the workers as murderers, when two workers died in the 2000 movement, there was no hullabaloo and there has been no investigation, no justice.

Yes, the workers broke the CCTV cameras at 7 p.m. but its recording is stored elsewhere. Why can’t they show us what happened till 7 p.m.? Because they themselves switched off the CCTV cameras at 11 a.m. so that their calling in of bouncers is not recorded.

This is not the end for us. There will be rallies, there will be dharnas. We will fight in the court The struggle will
continue..

(Shivam Vij is a journalist based in Delhi. He is a fellow with the Pultizer Center for Crisis Reporting, Washington DC.)

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  • Vijayendra Acharya

    This first-person account is an eye-opener on the state of the workers in our automotive industry how the shop floor and the production line was being managed at Maruti’s Mannesar plant. Truly heart-rending . . . wonder for whom are the labour laws in this country were ever framed?

    • Saurabh Jain

      its all cooked up story . reading first part i was about to believe this worker but reading last part which was bunch of lies i feel you can not trust this worker

      • RAJESH CHANDER GUPTA

        What human rights commission is doing???What labour department is doing ??? If this is the condition in organised sector what about unorgainised sector. These MNCS what work at golbal standards and pay as bounded labourers. Sad to work for these MNCS

      • http://beyalora.blogspot.com Raj Das

        Were you there?

        And to everyone who’s asking the workers to quit if they don’t like the job – don’t you all see how important this strike is? If once the demands of the workers are met, then that will set a precedent for other companies too. Every call centre employee, every banking institution, every over exploited copy writer in an ad agency, .. will have a say in how a company gets to treat them. Do not alienate yourselves from this movement – support it. It effects everyone who works for a living.

      • Surabh jain’s Dad

        @Saurabh Jain:- Agreed a few things might have been exaggerated by the worker in the last part of the story but dont you think the Media also exaggerate the story of Maruti Workers being at fault all the time. They dont have the power or the money like Suzuki to pay up the media to show their end of pain and sorrow but these things do happen in the Automobile plants. Specially Maruti Suzuki. Try to open your eyes rather than blindly following Media reports.

      • Kautuk

        This account is true, I have worked there and i know the pain behind this narration of life and work inside. when you start counting every second you spend at work, it means something is terribly wrong….and worth introspection

      • ridhi

        i dont think its an lie, you cant cook that much of agony

  • gaurav kumar

    Suzuki people are big bastards…running MNCs on poor workers blood…why the hell anybody is not listening

  • Priyam Mukherjee

    And to top it all, is not Maruti…the name Maruti gets people to buy it (thinking Indian brand and Japanese technology). Do you know the partnership stakes they are into..Until recently, 18.28% of the company was owned by the Indian government, and 54.2% by Suzuki of Japan. The BJP-led government held an initial public offering of 25% of the company in June 2003. As of 10 May 2007, the government of India sold its complete share to Indian financial institutions and no longer has any stake in Maruti Udyog….so the profits do not remain in India, they go to Japan…and they are indirectly using Indian resources at low cost, selling cars to indians and to people of Nepal and taking the margin out of India…and our rascals (politicians) and bribe taking bureaucrats are busy into scams squandering public money…….

  • mini

    I wish this article is circulated and widely read. I have read all the maintream reports about Maruti and as usual they covered it from the Law and order angle and “bringing culprits (workers) to book”. What a tragic situation.

  • http://www.lawyerjourno.com lawyerjourno

    The entire narration to me seems a propaganda by Union Leaders and workers. If they are not happy with the working conditions they can simply leave the job, there are millions others who are willing to work. Trade unions have for decades abusing the system and doing unacceptable bargaining. The kind of situation this worker is facing is true about every industry. If you are afraid to work hard stay in home. When some company is competing globally it has to maintain the workforce that has less complains and works hard.

    • Old Fart

      Lawyerjourno: You can only say that because you aren’t doing the manual hard work! If you were you would be glad for the union or standing up against such torture.

  • Reader

    If this all is true, Maruti is going against the labour law of India. The company and not only some units shall be shut-down. I however, think, this rampant violation of Indian Labour Law is only a cooked up story.

  • sidvee

    Thanks for telling the story. The first-person narrative gives this a novelistic touch and informs us of the daily struggles these men have to endure.

    I studied mechanical engineering ten years ago. I interned in two such companies in 2001 and 2002. The conditions of the workers were not too different from what is described here. Many of my classmates (who worked in such companies) will no doubt agree.

    In fact many of the workers used to vent their frustrations out by shouting at us junior engineers. It felt like jealousy then but I guess we were too young to understand the real reason for the angst.

    And yes – most of them used to work all day without lunch, without toilet breaks and without coffee or tea. And often in scorching heat in a foundry setting.

    So while this may seem like worker propaganda to some, I completely understand and emphathize with their situation.

    Thanks again.

    • Vistasp Hodiwala

      We ought to shame these bastards from every social media platform, expose their hypocrisy and show them up for what they are – cold, heartless defenders of the bottom-line. It’s time to boycott their cars for good; for that’s the only language they will ever understand. This is supposed to be the No. 1 car manufacturer of the country and this is our state. We haven’t even woken up to its evil in all these years. What does it take for an ordinary man to snap in such circumstances?

  • Dr Kusuma Kumari

    Oh how sad! Never knew the maruthi management was so cold blooded and cruel!!

  • Shashank

    Across the world, the automotive industry works this way. I visited toyota plant in canada and they have the same model. Its the nature of the industry. If you didn’t like it, do something else. And for God’s sake, don’t play the “victim” card. A man died..don’t know if you all killed him or management..but dont politicize his death.

  • sandeep

    I am having hard time to control my rage against this … sounds like Nazi camp right in the middle of our country…

    • ADVOCATE Mahadeva Rao.

      I seriously think there should be balance achieved on both sides. If the narration made is true then it is violation of basic fundamental rights. By tuning work condition both parties can be happy.

  • Ashutosh Upadhyay

    This is exactly like the ‘Holocaust’ only worse and prolonged. The least human thing to do here is to financially punish these japanese bastards.

  • Noname

    The working culture described here is absolutely true but blaming the management for the incidence of Violence is greatly exaggerated. Both are at fault. So everyone has different stories.

  • Bemoan

    All said and done, this does not give any rights to workers like you to kill that HR manager. The story may be eye watering but your actions are pityful and sad.

    Also no one forced you to work. If the conditions are bad just quit and stay at home instead of killing someboey

    • HJain

      Let us believe for a moment that one of the enraged worker set the fire deliberately and it was not a short circuit. Also, let us believe again that in the fight that ensued between the workers, bouncers and any management people present in the office, one of the enraged worker hit on Avanish’s leg and so, he could not escape the fire.

      So, is it a cold-blooded murder?

      Are the workers present in the factory at that moment the real murderers or is the inhumane management practices of Maruti all these years responsible for such an incident?

      Had a worker died in such fire, would Maruti ever make it so visible to public? It’s so sad that in our country life of a rich educated person has exponentially more value than a poor labourer.

      Is there an account of how many workers (or their family member) have died in all these years of protests, directly or indirectly (due to loss of job/ psychological pressure etc.)? Do their life has a lesser value?

      For all those who say “if you don’t like it, quit the job”, how many times have they dared to quit your job when they didn’t like it? Job is a necessity in our country of billion; to physically feed your family; to socially survive in the society; to psychologically maintain one’s self-esteem.

      If you don’t believe it, leave your home with ‘Zero’ money and try to survive for three months. If you could do it, then, just extrapolate your struggle to rest of your life. That’s how insecure poor people are in our society. So, think before you comment. Do not insult and abuse a middle or lower class person’s life.

      You are enraged at Mr. Avanish Kapoor’s death and empathize with his family only because you belong to his psuedo-society / strata /education level. And this makes you insecure because you could connect to his lifestyle. Do you feel the same when a blue-collar/ contractual / unemployed person in our society dies? NO, because he’s not part of your pseudo-society and you can’t connect to the pain that his/her loved-ones might face.

  • aniket

    DO MNC comes to india only to exploit indian labour and sale the products at high price. Cars priced at Rs. Six Seven Lacs Rupee being made by thousands of contract labor and apprentices earning a hundred rupee per day..

  • Anta Bomar

    Such practises are prevelant in other industries as well. Take the case of ICICI Bank

    • Loser Banker

      Why single out ICICI?

  • venkat

    1) I empathize with the worker in this story.
    2) One of the comments says “If they are not happy with the working conditions they can simply leave the job” – this is not always so easy. I have seen this practically.

    While I was reading this story I was reminded of the above mentioned bank, and I was surprised to see the comments on the bank already there.

    One of the commonalities I see is “day starts with humiliation”. This happens in this bank. But it depends on the manager. Not all managers may be like that.
    one manager gives good performance rating to a beautiful girl! Another manager gives good rating to an employee who does
    the chores in his house! The HRs are “managed”. Now whom will the sincere hardworking employee complain?
    All this happening in a private organization. These problems are real in our world.

  • A. J. C. Bose

    This is the truth, a truth the discovery of which started when I started doing fieldwork in Delhi NCR during 1999-2004, and later on by GurgaonWorkersNews during 2005-2012. I request Fountain Ink to venture in to the supply chain and get such first hand worker accounts and eventually bring out a volume not only in English but also in regional languages so that the nation knows the truth.

  • A. J. C. Bose

    As a teacher in DElhi University, I feel that the creative talent of students must be drawn towards social realism. Fountain Ink should figure out a way of attracting young people to write about demystifying accounts and blatant absurdities of modern masala life celbrated by the media in general otherwise.

  • NAR

    This has happened in TVS Suzuki when I was working there, I see this has Suzuki culture. But if you are hard working and competent, you could always switch companies .
    I also think that as some rightly reported in thir reply above, the later part seems like a novel.

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  • SAMBHA

    This first hand account of what goes on in the automotive plants is not entirely new. Anybody who has read the novel “Wheels” by Arthur Hailey would know that.

  • SAMBHA

    The only problem is the novel was about happening in the 1970s. It is quite shocking to see the same practices in this day and age.

    A short circuit burning down the building, a death of one of the management – seems more than a mere coincidence while the labour was at unrest.

    I must say I have deep empathy with the labour force, and at the same time, the above happenings do make me feel very bad for the MSIL management as well.

    For the sake of humanity, I do hope that MSIL and lobour forces come to terms with what has happened, and make peace.
    Neither the company, nor the workers will be benefited with this.

    As far as the point of profits going to Japan is concerned, currently no automotive majors apart from Mahindra and TATA get profits coming in to India.

    Let’s not forget that all the influx of foreign brands into manufacturing in India does create jobs and help the economy of India.

  • Priyanka

    Somewhere in the article you questioned why Maruti gave you a job when you weren’t good enough. Well, why did you accept their offer if its THAT bad????
    I am sorry but this doesn’t sound like an article written by a 10th pass ITI trained person. Just looks like a propaganda to promote Trade Unionism.
    I know a few people in Maruti and never heard even one of them talk so bad about it. Its a free country and you are not bonded labour. QUIT if you don’t like it.

    • Reader

      Something isn’t so right about this article. The details of the what happened between 6:00 to 7:15 (The peak of the violence) is conveniently missing. What was this worker doing then? How did the short circuit happen? Where exactly was he standing when he saw Avanaish Kumar coming out of stairs ? If the workers outnumbered the boucers and beated them, who beat the rest of the managers (100+ broken bones)?

  • suresh

    this is all cookedup storey well narrated story by an expert leaders in labour unions. I ve been with 4 ~ 5 companies in the industry and the scenario is same everywhere due to intense competition in the industry. they are also being paid for the efforts. That is why the company like maruti is able to survive for 30 yrs now. Experts outside wants to influence workers in such big companies and get the advantage out of it. thats it. Otherwise all issues can be resolved between management and wrokers themselves. there is no need of any expertise advice who is sitting outside.

  • Zaphod

    This has all the markings of a cooked up story. I dont believe one bit of it.

  • Shyam

    The second half of the story, the one which deals with the violence in the Manesar plant, is obviously cooked up. Mr Avanish Kumar died because his legs were broken, because of which he could not escape the fire. The writer does not say who broke his leg. And the writer says, “meanwhile a short circuit started a fire”. What a coincidence! Why cant he say that the workers started the fire because they wanted to damage the CCTV recorders?

  • Shivam Vij

    Some comments on my article here say it’s a cooked up story. I agree it’s a one-sided story, it’s a worker’s testimonial. I agree a fair, independent and unbiased criminal investigation must establish the truth and I do not know what the truth is. But my question for these people who are so sure it’s a cooked up story is this: why do you trust whatever Maruti says to be the truth and whatever the workers say to be false? Were you there when the violence took place? Iamnot even talking about your lack of outrage about the workers’ account of work conditions at the Maruti factory.

  • Vistasp Hodiwala

    I have never understood one thing. Why is it so important to be ‘objective’ all the time? Especially when blatant dishonesty and ‘screaming facts’ stare in our face. Objectivity is not a bad virtue to possess, but, when it becomes an excuse to obfuscate a very grim reality and is used as a potent weapon of cowardice to cloud people’s judgments, it ends up doing a grave disservice to the very cause it’s supposed to serve. While every story can have two sides, we must understand that the second side can sometimes be a totally loony one. The Flat-earth believers are still around by the way.

  • delhi

    japanese themselves are very hardworking guys(fact known all over the world)…and we indian s cry when even a 5 minute increase in working timings is made…so the article shows…goondaism of some people who fight to mgmt for increase in timings…..and comparing it with other companies salaries….

  • http://yap-n-crap.blogspot.in/ Aniruddha Khosla

    I won’t say that the article is an eye opener. It merely tells us one side of the story. I do not reject it, but at the same time, I cannot believe it completely. The death of Avanish Kumar is described as mysterious. A short-circuit caused a fire is where the article lost me. There should be more to it. The death of the HR Head is regrettable, as is the suspension of all the factory workers.
    Only a fair enquiry into the matter would reveal whether this actually is The Maruti Way, and if it is, well, a lot of people would have already lost a lot more than what they were fighting for.

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  • Jaideep

    This is the work done by all workers in all car manufacturing units. Having had exposure, and having visited many automotive units, i think this account is over dramatized for the sake of publicity.. Women in the Volkswagen plant at Wulfsberg, Germany are part of the same routine. Europe, being much more stringent with human rights, would have shut the plants down if there was a voilation.

    And they have the same timeframes btw, 20 seconds-40 seconds per car, depending on the job assigned. There is no reason to over dramatize the work atmosphere in a production unit.

    15000 for an ITI is a good salary. And the 8000 incentive is to increase the cash the worker gets in hand. Ignorance is one of our biggest enemies, and dont let that be exploited through an article of this sort.
    @lawyerjourno: you are right, these people arent slave laborers. They can quit whenever they feel like. Now why dont they? jobs are available in plenty for ITIs.

  • Jaideep’s Dad

    I disagree with my dear son, Jaideep. The conditions are inhuman in Maruti plant Gurgaon, and that’s why the management always wanted to suppress the union. For long, they played with puppet union till the day workers understood that united they can win. It’s easy to say, ITIT workers have good job market. But think of the worker who is also a family man. Without a month’s salary, what will happen to his wife and children? They are not rch enough to have a fortune stashed away in bank. And what if, just by sheer bad luck, a guy who has quit is unemployed for months ? Maruti management knows this little truth and exploits the workers.

  • Suraj

    what propaganda bs! heavily made up sob stories!

  • Vinita

    For all those who believe this narrative is made up, I defy you to go work for ONE day in the same conditions. I bet you will come running out from there, weeping and traumatized.

  • Shyam

    Mr Shivam Vij Sir, you should have written at the end of your story that it is one-sided and a worker’s testimonial, instead of waiting for your readers to pick holes in the story. And you have asked the readers who do not agree, why do they believe Maruti’s version instead of your version. The answer is, your version goes against common sense. When the HR manager was assaulted and his leg was broken, your worker says he does not know how he died. We do not believe Maruti’s version, but then we can see there is a hole in your story also.

  • ADVOCATE Mahadeva Rao.

    If the narration is true then it is a serious violation of fundamental rights. By fine tuning the situation both the parties can be happy without union.

  • Vistasp Hodiwala

    It does not take rocket science to back check on the facts here and if the powers that be have the will (and that includes the biased labour commissioner) they should be checking on each of these atrocities. We have good labour laws which possibly need to be implemented in letter and spirit. But if that itself is missing, one does not know how to negotiate this evil. This story has not left my headspace almost a week after I finished reading it. It’s a very powerful piece and one that needs to be circulated very widely. Corporates have gotten away with blue murder far too easily far too many times.

  • Dovin

    WHat a nice cover up of a cold blooded murder!! SHivam Vij should go and defend child rapists next. An uneduated young man gets a permanent job at 22 with 15,000 Rs salary instead of breaking his back in the village paddy field and still ending up committing suicide when rains fail ? How horrible Maruti is!! This is the classic socialist way of killing the golden goose by the lazy and incompetent. Kill off all businesses and Shvam Vij and is ilk will have plenty of labour to clean his toilet and wash his clothes for pittance.

    • http://www.rahulsingh.org Rahul Singh

      It is true that workers are exploited by industries but it can never be justified by Murder of any employee. If people of Honda are getting 32000 salary why not try and move to Honda ? Why Honda Hired ex workers of Maruti ? Because they were better ? Or lucky?

      Secondly, most of the work in Plants is done by the Automated machines, workers presence is merely for supervision of the same and has been descripted as if they were working like anything to produce Cars. Just see the video on Youtube what the worker does and how highly it has been described.

      Third, there has been comparison of salaries by so called socialist/communists. A worker cannot get salary of a manager. This is not Stone age, that work amount is defined by how many times you hammer. It is based on your level of intelligence and skills you have. Ask a villager who will die to get job in Maruti, there are many emails spams circulating regarding fake jobs in Maruti Plants.. Working as labour is prestigious job for those who don’t have it.

      Fourth, all labours can’t be on regular, to maintain a completion and better performance there are contract labours and often rewarded to be a permanent one.

      Fifth, labourers who worked in 90′s have climbed the ladder of success, but only who deserved it not just because it has to be given to everyone.
      Sixth, justifying that Maruti makes lots of profit and we should hence get more salary is wrong. Do they cut your salary when they go in loss (Hypothetical situation), they may fire but will not reduce your salary. There was a similar argument that CEO must get low salary couple of years back. Society will never make progress if this is the case. Efficiency and talent decide your fate. It can be understood only when you keep aside the communist thinking.

      Also, there were news of Naxalites provoking the incident. There is no light on this ? Why ?

  • Chintu

    This is a time where people are more aware of working conditions. Foxconn, one of the biggest manufacturers of the computer industry which makes most of the computers, laptops and smartphones of the world, has had similar struggles. But if you read what are being considered unfair and compare it with what you read here, Foxconn has much more humane conditions. Media reports apart, What is happening here in Maruti Manesar is hte same which happens in every other Company in india. Especially with Training period, Internship period, I ve seen people work 20 hours during their internship just with the hope that at the end of the mandatory period, they would be made permanent. This attitude is what drives management to take advantage of these people who are simple people ready to work hard. But when they are not treated with dignity nor paid better, this is what happens. Think about it. Every where in India this happens. The employees at Maruti Manesar raised their voice. Everybody needs to hear them scream…

  • mkbuddy

    It is true that MNCs and big companies like to exploit indian labour. It is also very true that what happened at maruti should not have happened. Its not MNCs that are at fault, its our government and its faulty policies whichare at fault.

  • http://freebookingnothingelsecooking.wordpress.com Shiny Das

    I am sure there will be other versions of this, especially the part that deals with the death of Mr.Kumar. The working conditions come as no surprise; from banks to other companies, it is perhaps the same story every where and we all know it; have known it for quite a while, as we go to malls, watch movies, lead our daily lives. In fact perhaps when we re caught in a jam due to one of these “strikes” we curse the same workers. Right now our morality has been awakened because this is a first person narration and it has been compellingly written. I was moved and outraged but right now I feel helpless and guilty. Helpless as I wonder what I can do except ‘reading’ such news, and guilty because I know I will move on to reading something else in a few minutes. Humanity is in danger.

  • Shyam

    I have my doubts whether this is a first person narration, although it has been compellingly written. The second part of the story is obviously made up, so the authenticity of the first part also becomes doubtful.

  • UbornTodream

    All most 1000+ channels are there today, if this is true one or the other would have telecast-ed it.
    Some part may be true and some may be cooked but ultimately one should introspect and support the cause.

  • http://www.paprichaat.blogspot.in/ Arnab

    The worker will be the last person to damage his place of work, as it will affect him most! The Maruti fiasco is clearly the managements fault!

    rrrworker will worker will be the last one to inflict damage to the p

  • http://raaz.com raaz

    maruti suzuki ko band karo vaha aadmi ki koi value nhi h… i fuck suzuki plant

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