Saturday, November 22, 2014


The following is an account and reflection on a recent episode in working class history that has created something of a stir, not least within the working class itself. It has spawned diverse interpretations in the form of reports by left-wing political parties and other civil society organisations,and coverage by the electronic and print media, including detailed accounts and analyses in a workers’ broadsheet called Faridabad Majdoor Samachar (FMS). This account draws primarily on FMS and conversations with persons associated with it.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay’s dream project of making small cars in India did not take off, and after his death, the company he set up was statised in 1983. A collaboration agreement was signed with the Suzuki Motor Corporation and the first car rolled out of the company’s factory in Gurgaon, Haryana, the same year. A second factory of the company was established in the Industrial Model Town, Manesar, in 2007.

In 2011, in the factory in Manesar, there were 950 permanent workers, 500 trainees, 200 apprentices, 1200 workers hired through contractors for work in direct production process and around 1500 workers hired through contractors for various auxiliary functions. The pace of work was such that a car was being assembled in 45 seconds. Some permanent workers attempted to organise another union against the existing union. Strong arm tactics of the management to make permanent workers (most of whom were not even aware of the attempt at another union formation) accept the existing union gave rise to a surcharged atmosphere. All around discontent coalesced into a sudden stoppage of work. On 4 June 2011 when A and B shift workers were together in the factory, they took over the entry and exit points. Most workers in factories today in the subcontinent are temporary workers — the percentage of permanent workers varies from 0 to 5 to 25% of the work force. On 4 June permanent workers, trainees, apprentices, and workers hired through contractors came together, and in this way a workers’ organisation appropriate in the current conditions took shape, transcending the legal framework wherein only permanent workers can be members of the factory trade union. What started on 4 June and continued for 13 days should be termed a ‘deoccupation’ of the factory. Around 3000 workers stayed in an atmosphere of freedom inside the factory premises during those days.

The company and the government were taken aback. During the deoccupation many more bonds developed between the various categories of workers. The company was forced to take a step backwards and revoke the termination of 11 workers, for production to restart.

There was a dramatic change in the atmosphere in the factory. The bonds between workers continued to grow and management officials were increasingly on the defensive. The company was forced to plan and prepare to re-establish its control. It went to far away industrial training institutes and secretly recruited hundreds of young boys. On 28 August, a weekly day off, 400 police men came at night to the factory. Company staff had arrived earlier. With metal sheets, the factory was secured in military fashion. On the 29th morning when workers arrived for their 7 am shift, there were notices announcing dismissals and suspensions, and entry premised on signing of good conduct bonds for permanent workers.

All the workers, both permanent and temporary, stayed out of the factory. Inside the factory were the new hires and workers brought from the company’s Gurgaon factory, with a few permanent workers from Manesar plant itself. Arrangements for their stay inside the factory had been made. Managerial and supervisory staff members also had to work in the production process with the workers in 12 hour shifts. This was a well rehearsed chess game of managements to soften workers and impose major conditions.
Repeated attempts were made to instigate workers to violence. The workers refused to be instigated, even when some of them were called by the state government for negotiations and were arrested there.

3000 plus workers self-organised themselves in two 12 hour shifts outside the factory. At any time, there were more than 1500 workers spread out near the workers’ entry gate. This continued for the whole of September 2011. Many kinds of discussions took place. Bonding between different categories of workers acquired new dimensions. Many kinds of political tendencies flocked to the factory gates: parliamentary left, non-parliamentary left, radicals, activists of democratic and civil rights organisations, students from universities, and central trade unions. Significantly, in the place of peasants, factory workers made a dramatic appearance on the socio-political stage in the subcontinent. The workers who were in their twenties, were not demoralised or softened even after being made to sit outside the factory for a month. The managements’ well rehearsed chess game came to a dead end. However, the workers had not reached out to workers in other factories to increase their strength. A stalemate-like situation emerged. In this scenario, a tripartite agreement between the existing union, company, and the labour department of the state government was signed on 30 September. It was accepted by the workers. When workers went to the factory on 3 October 2011 as per the agreement, permanent workers, trainees and apprentices were taken on duty, but 1500 workers hired through contractors were kept out. This was another master stroke by the company.

The company had also suspended 44 permanent workers. A scuffle with one suspended permanent worker on the morning of 7 October created an entirely new situation. When workers of A and B shifts were together inside the factory, once again they took over the exit and entry points. The factory was deoccupied for the second time. This time it was not just the deoccupation of this factory; simultaneously, 11 other factories in the area were deoccupied by workers.

Once again, the company and government were taken aback. Despite the presence of 400 policemen and hundreds of other guards, the Maruti Suzuki factory was deoccupied by workers. The simultaneous deoccupation of 11 other factories opened up new possibilities, with thousands of factories in the neighbourhood. All round pressure was applied and deoccupation of seven factories was called off, but it continued in four factories of the Suzuki group. The hand of the government was also restrained by an election for a parliamentary seat. After the casting of votes on 13 October, 4000 additional policemen were sent to the Manesar factory on 13 night itself.
Leaders of various outfits had been loudly proclaiming that if the government uses the police to force workers out of the factory, they would close down the whole industrial area; the entire state. On 14 October, Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers’ repeated attempts to contact these leaders were in vain. The high court orders to get the factory vacated, and the administration’s efforts to cajole the workers to obey court orders, had not led anywhere. After withstanding the pressure of 4000 additional policemen the whole day, on 14 October, around 8 pm, the workers decided to leave the factory and join their 1500 temporary worker comrades outside the factory to deal with the new situation.

What is striking is that the company and the government were not able to understand the activities of the workers. Its ripples were widespread and the dangers were very visible to the government. A third agreement was forced by the government. The 1500 workers hired through contractors were taken back. The company secretly gave a significant amount of money to 30 permanent workers it considered trouble makers and the state government provided them jobs for their resignations. These workers had acquired credibility among their co-workers through their active role in six months of struggles. By getting rid of these workers from the factory, the company and the government in fact threw away what could have been a potential leverage for them among the workers. Production recommenced in the 4 factories on 22 October.

‘What do the workers want?’ was incomprehensible to the government and the company. The company proceeded to give concession after concession. Now instead of 45 seconds, the scheduled time for making a car was increased to one minute. Wages for trainees, apprentices, and workers hired through contractors were increased. Permanent workers were promised a significant wage increment. Parents were included in the health insurance scheme. The number of annual holidays was increased. Massive wage cuts on absence for 1 or 2 days were stopped. The management sent its officials to help registration of a second union of permanent workers. Promptly, the company recognised the new union and commenced negotiations for a long term agreement. The new leaders had neither credibility nor opposition among workers, and were considered as an ad-hoc body for the negotiations. In the mean time, the second assembly plant had commenced production in the factory, increasing the number of workers to more than 4000.

It has been observed that important questions dealing with life, time, relations, representation, articulation and factory life were brought to the fore by the deoccupations of June and October 2011. In the words of a worker:

‘Inside the Maruti Suzuki factory, 7-14 October was the best time. No tension of work. No agonizing about the hours of entry and exit. No stress over catching a ride in a bus. No fretting about what to cook. No sweating over whether dinner has to be eaten at 7 or at 9 pm today. No anguishing over what day or date it is. We talked a lot with each other about things that were personal. All of us drew closer to each other than we have ever been before, during these seven days.’

In the same vein, when the issue of 30 workers being bought made the rounds in end October, a worker said:

‘Earlier we used to pass on the issues to the president, general secretary, department coordinator — that they will tell. But now every worker himself answers. On every issue, every one gives his opinion. The atmosphere has changed.’

From February-March 2012 itself, despite the numerous and very significant concessions made by the company, the workers were beginning to feel and express that in fact nothing had changed. Any talk of the importance of concessions was regarded as pro-management talk. Despite having struggled so much, wage workers remained wage workers. What had changed? This was the backdrop for the events on 18 July 2012.

An everyday occurrence, a confrontation between a supervisor and a worker took place in the morning. The worker was suspended and negotiations between the management and the union commenced. The labour department of the state government reached the factory to facilitate a resolution. It was time for the B shift. Workers of A shift refused to leave the factory. A and B workers were together. All that was simmering gathered momentum and by evening, had turned into a hurricane. The leaders negotiating with the management were helpless. In their own words, ‘if we try to stop workers, we will be the first to be beaten up.’

Concession after concession had been given from October-November 2011 onwards — concessions which were very significant by any yardstick in the wages system. Wage workers revolted against being wage workers. The two symbols of the wages system: managers and factory buildings were the targets of the workers’ attack. Large numbers of guards and 60-70 policemen remained silent spectators. No guard or policeman was injured. This was not some action by a group of 20 or 50 workers but rather thousands of new and old, permanent and temporary workers participated in the revolt. It so happens that this occurred on 18 July — it could as well have happened on 15 May or 25 August. As a matter of fact, the managers and the buildings were symbols, the reality being the social relations they expressed...but in practice, embodied and tangible forms become targets first, and it is through this that the social relations make an appearance. After attacking for half an hour to forty five minutes, the workers disappeared from the factory...the bosses were in a state of trepidation, not just in the national capital region, but elsewhere as well.

600 hundreds commandos have been permanently placed by the state in IMT Manesar, 147 workers were arrested, and arrest warrants issued for 65 others. 546 permanent workers were discharged and 2500 workers hired through contractors were simply removed. Till mid October 2014 none of the workers locked in jail had been given bail. Arrest warrants of 65 other workers are still pending. According to the chairman of Maruti Suzuki: “This is class war.” According to a Maruti Suzuki Manesar worker: ‘If the 18 of July had been a thing of the whole of IMT Manesar, it would really have been something.’

To recap: what would be considered very significant concessions in the wages-system had been given to all the workers before 18 July 2012. There was assurance and negotiations were on that would put the permanent workers of the factory amongst the best paid workers in the region. The factory had commenced production in 2007 and all the workers were in their twenties. The workers were not led or controlled by this or that group/organisation/tendency. The workers’ action was not a sudden outburst of rage. It was not a reaction to some instigation of the company. Permanent workers, trainees, apprentices, workers hired through contractor companies, new workers who had been hired to run the second assembly plant — all these workers, around 4000 workers, in a meticulous operation on the evening of 18 July 2012 attacked two symbols of the wages system : managers and factory buildings. It was not this or that bad manager who became the target but rather any and every manager; hundreds of managers, MANAGERS AS SUCH WERE A TARGET. It is this that makes happenings in the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory one of global importance. Suppression triggering explosion is well known but concessions being rejected en masse is a new phenomenon. It is a radical point of departure. Maruti Suzuki Manesar is a good example but what is more important is that amongst factory workers in the national capital region in India, similar things at different stages and levels are gaining currency.

In the following days, the two thousand factories in IMT Manesar offered a significant ground for workers to meet other workers and to bond with them. In place of that...central trade unions acted fast and shifted the venue 25 km away to Gurgaon by constituting a committee of 16 trade union leaders who would decide what steps are to be taken. Of the discharged permanent workers numbering 546, those remaining outside the jail were pushed into becoming an audience for this committee. Other workers’ representatives/supporters, critical of central trade unions, but who also see workers as victims and as lacking consciousness, erased the active role of the workers on 18th July. They made out the company to be the active force that had conspired and hired bouncers to attack workers to instigate them. Poor workers only reacted to the bouncers’ attack and so were caught in the management’s trap. 60-70 thousand leaflets with these falsehoods were distributed amongst workers in IMT Manesar, Gurgaon, Delhi and Faridabad. Knowingly or unknowingly these do-gooders encouraged the workers to set out on paths that were tiresome and exhausting. Petitions, demonstrations, protests by the family members of the jailed and sacked workers; hunger strikes, bicycle protest tours...steps which gave some support to the workers’ cause, but which, if relied upon solely, only made workers tired and exhausted. Because of the ineffectiveness of the committee of 16, those more to the left gained ground. And the venue was shifted 200 km away to a peasant dominated area.

By July 2013 the complete bankruptcy of all those who considered workers as poor, exploited victims, had reached a stage where these ‘struggles’ came to an ignominious end — on 18 July 2013 in a candlelight protest in daylight in a park provided by the government, a portrait of the manager who died in 2012 was carried...

It is very significant that while reflecting on the activities of workers at the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory, a worker with long experience commented that to call these activities an ‘occupation’ is to see what the workers were doing through a reduced lens. ‘Occupation’ is a misnomer, it is misleading. Occupation is how existing social hierarchies are held in place. Companies and governments today are on an overdrive to gain possession of everything. What we want is to create a commons. Given this context, to call what the workers of IMT Manesar did an ‘occupation’ is to refute the essence of their actions; it is akin to trampling over the possibilities they created.

Workers of Maruti Suzuki abundantly expressed that between 7 and 14 October, when they unshackled the factory from the control of the management and government, they felt a joyousness of life that is usually unimaginable. The significance of what the workers did therefore lies in it being a point of departure from where a series of deoccupations followed. Refracted through this lens, the significance of the ‘occupy’ movement that started in the US becomes clear – as actually being a movement calling for deoccupation, a taking away of the control that companies and governments have.

The outline and analysis put forward above draws together the critical elements constituting the 18 July events and also extrapolates from them the possibilities of and potentiality for more widespread radical working class actions that go beyond trade union centred demands for concessions and reforms within the existing system, challenging the very foundations of capitalist society, namely, the system of wage labour. Further, this is not seen to be the mechanical outcome of a particular historical conjuncture, but an event that foregrounds the imperative of conscious activities and self-organisation on the part of the working class. Moreover, what it describes is not in the least a product of wishful thinking, as can be gleaned from recognizing a potentiality which inheres more generally in particular features of the contemporary phase of capitalist development globally.

About 200 years ago, the use of coal and steam power in place of human and animal energy had been such a big leap in productive forces that it severed the producers from their tools and established wage labour. Subsequently oil and electricity run machines brought about other significant increases in productive forces, but the leap affected by electronics is incomparable. Globally, electronics has changed social life to such an extent, that things that were current some years ago, now appear to be ancient.

Electronics entered production in 1970 in America, Europe, and Japan. It entered China ten years later. Ten years after China, electronics entered production in India. In 1992 there were discussions among managements in Japan about temporary and permanent workers. Permanent workers were expensive, but had some loyalty to the company. Temporary workers were cheaper, but had no loyalty at all towards the company. These were among the matters being discussed. It was the growing weakness of companies and governments that was manifest in their inability to keep permanent workers. The world over, within these 10 years, the number of temporary workers increased tremendously. Moreover, the entry of electronics in production rapidly increased the speed of new inventions. The growing possibility of the coming of new machines narrowed down the space for the hiring of permanent workers further. Factories which for more than a hundred years had been becoming larger and larger were now easily broken up into hundreds of spatially dispersed units. Auto hubs, in India, as in Gurgaon, Pune, Chennai, and elsewhere globally, are manifestations of this trend. Significantly, as has been pointed out, the growing numbers of temporary workers does not indicate the strength of companies and governments, but rather their weakness. The total absence of loyalty towards the company, the experiences of 20 to 25 years olds of working in 10 to 20 work places, destroys many an illusion, and makes temporary workers dangerous for companies and governments. In other words, this scenario, together with the bonds forged between the temporary and permanent workers in Maruti Suzuki over previous years, strengthened by the shared experiences of their ‘deoccupation’ of the factory, provided the tinder for the events of July 18th, and forms a potential basis for radical working class activity in the future, here, and elsewhere as well. Innumerable examples of such activities taking place in and around Delhi are increasingly visible.

FMS November 2014

Fms November 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014


(January 2013, FMS)
What is this that I am doing? Why am I doing this? What is this, or this, or this that we are doing? Why are we doing this, or this, or this? Why am I not doing only that in which my heart is? Why should I not do that, and only that, which I like? Why should we do anything other than what we think is right? What are the compulsions? How can we overcome these compulsions? For everyone, for very many groups, in every part of the world, these simple questions of what, why, and how, have revolved around the meaning of our very being, and they still do. Life is what befits body and being; which is liked by body and being. Life is joy! What is contrary to being and body, what is not liked by being and body, is a curse, a fall. The five thousand year old riddle of whether to be born a human being is a blessing or a curse is being solved by workers in practice, by human beings in practice.
Over the last three years, things have changed very rapidly. All around, in this spring season, the speed of change is faster still. The significance of each individual, of every group, affirmed by social churning, is expressing, rejecting, and illuminating so much; is creating something new. Among seven billion people in the world, with the interplay of a multitude of practices and ideas, through an engagement with the experiences and thoughts of hundreds of generations...within these three years alone, 2013-2014-2015, many aspects of domination have been rejected, and several forms of hostility are being corroded. Changes have always occurred in “I-We-Ours” and “They-Enemy-Others” but of late these changes have been very extensive and extremely rapid. “I-We-Ours” now includes the entire human species, and goes, beyond it, via all life on earth, to embrace the entire universe. And “They-Enemy-Others” is shrinking-contracting, moving towards zero.

*It is difficult to be precise since so much has happened so fast and seemingly all at once, but it probably began with the workers stopping work in a factory manufacturing atom bombs in Texas, USA. In this factory in the year 2005, a bomb nearly exploded during production. The bomb was a hundred times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima in Japan sixty years ago. “What is this that I am doing? Why are we doing this? How can we stop all this?” Questions resounding the world over. Stockpiles of atom bombs on earth, in the sea, in outer space – as many as can destroy all life on earth several times over. Security above all.
Workers stopped work in an atom bomb factory in Texas. In Russia. In China. In France. In England. In India. In Pakistan. In North Korea. In Israel. In Iran.

Workers stopped work in factories manufacturing atom bombs. Everywhere, supervisors and managers were silent and happy. Soldiers and guards were peaceful and merry. Directors and generals were quiet and pleased. Scientists-engineers-sociologists began to feel ashamed of being scientists-engineers-scholars. Is it meaningful at all to work for slaughter and war? Among deliberate wrong-doers, the managers-generals-scholars, being quite knowledgeable about things, were waiting for workers to do something, so that they could be free of the heavy burden on their hearts and minds.

The laboratory workshop of biological weapons. Five hundred years ago, the genocide of people living a communal life in a gift culture, by the “gift” of plague-infested blankets, from people engaged in expanding buying-selling, market-money, had been agitating the very being all along. In 1975, in preparation of biological warfare, the creation of the retro-virus in laboratories in the course of research into biological weapons that attack on the basis of the pupil of the eye and the composition of hair, became the carrier of the AIDS disease.

”What is this that i am doing? Why are we doing this? How can we stop this?” In laboratories and workshops of biological warfare, scientific workers stopped working, in universities and research institutes, laboratory assistants and researchers stopped investigations. Professors-directors-vice-chancellors were silent and were breathing easy. There was a plenitude of factories for the production of a multitude of armaments and weapons in the world. Amidst the world-wide waves of “what and why are we doing what we are doing? How to stop it?” the workers in the factories of chemical weapons stopped production. In missile manufacturing factories, workers stopped work. In factories manufacturing fighter and bomber planes, workers stopped production. In shipyards, workers stopped producing ships and submarines for the navies. In factories for guns-cannons-tanks-armored vehicles workers halted the lines. In bullet-gun shell-gunpowder factories workers stopped work. The preparations and practice of cyber-wars by radar-computer-internet-telephones-satellites were stopped by workers. In NASA-ISRO-DRDO etc.etc. everywhere, supervisors-managers-directors-generals were silent and were pleased.

Let’s breathe awhile. You too stand at ease. It is no longer a situation of “No time to die, who has the time to live.” There is no poverty of time now, no need to be miserly about time. We all have enough time for all that pleases our being.

*It is amazing that laments which were quite commonly heard till three years ago, such as “Life is nothing beyond a struggle for our daily bread”, seem almost antiquated now. With the disappearance of market-money, of currencies, it has become easy for all to have meals.

This was the Goodyear Tyre Factory in Faridabad. The barbed wires surrounding it are no longer here. Now there are no guards, no workers, no managers here. Babies are shrieking joyfully on the sand, on the grass. Boys and girls are jumping and skipping, climbing on neem trees. Young men and women, in couples, in groups, are joking, singing and dancing, are making merry. The middle-aged are happy, are looking on at the babies – the children – the youth. In the intoxicating spring season, the old are enjoying life...

In the material sphere, for life, after security, air, and water – food is indispensable. Food available in nature, food bestowed by nature. The domestication of animals was the starting point for humans to go beyond and against nature to obtain food. This advanced further with the tilling of the earth. The domestication of animals and the ploughing of the earth increased rapidly with the extension of the market, and over the last hundred and fifty years, milk production, meat production, and grain production was being done on a large scale along factory lines. To produce as much as possible with minimum expenditure is in the nature of the market, and alongside the factory mode of production came chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hybrid seeds, genetically modified (GM) seeds, new diets and medicines for chickens, cows and pigs for faster and greater production of meat, new diets, medicines, and injections for more milk, 20-25 thousand acre farms, thousands of cows in enclosures, tens of thousands of chicken in closed spaces, the creation of animal clones, etc. The human species has started producing billions of tons of food grain, millions of tons of meat – milk – butter. Godowns full of grain, problems of storage, perishing grain – in the entanglements of market prices thousands of cows killed, food grain destroyed, fields left fallow and millions in the world remained hungry. To prevent bird flu from spreading, thousands of chicken were culled and buried, to stop diseases from spreading among cows and pigs, thousands were slaughtered, buried, exterminated...

Food was produced in the factory mode in Australia, America, Canada and Europe, with workers employed to produce for the market. In India, Egypt, Brazil, etc. production for the market in farms of 2-4-10-20-50 acres, by ones’ own and ones’ family’s labour was noteworthy. But everywhere in the world, there was more and more use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. in food production. Pesticides etc. had entered vegetables, fruits, food grains, meat, milk- even mothers’ milk. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, mixed in and seeping into, ground water. Cancer- cancer- cancer...the production of food became the production of poison. Consuming food, eating bread, drinking water, became the production of disease.

“What is this that we are doing? Why are we doing this? How can we stop this? - these questions which were echoing all around began to get answers in quick succession from several places three years ago. Workers stopped work in meat factories - the assembly line system originated in meat factories in America... Workers let out into the open the cows, pigs, and chicken that were being reared for meat in large farms where they worked... pesticide factories were brought to a standstill by workers. Workers stopped work in factories making chemical fertilizers. Farmers in Bhatinda, in Palwal, farm workers in Australia, America and Canada, stopped using pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hybrid seeds, GM seeds. In agricultural universities, workers on seed farms began to relax and scientists engaged in research stopped working and heaved a sigh of relief.

Stopping all this is fine but where will food come from? This question was expected to arise, but one had not estimated the extent to which a churning regarding food had already taken place, and how much more, and faster it would be now.

To eat when one is hungry. Very well, but there is hunger of the body and hunger of the mind. People were eating more than the body required which was harmful. The reason for overeating was social, for the being was hungry.

How much food is needed to feed the body? But before the question of how much is the question of what kind. Junk-food was much talked about earlier as well but now it was discarded at an amazing speed. In these three years, the consumption of food grains, meat, and milk, has come down a lot. The production of grains without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides has been such that taking out grain from old stocks has been minimal.
Food, whether cooked, or raw, germinated. There were many more discussions about the relationship between the three whites: salt-sugar-milk and the human body. While granting that mother’s milk is sufficient for a human child, discussions about cow-buffalo-goat milk not being suitable for the human body have continued into 2016.
That the domestication and milking of animals is not good and not necessary had been a thought provoking idea for quite some time. But of late, talks such as whether food production can be imagined without ploughing, without cleaving the earth, without working, have been very interesting.

The wheel of time cannot be turned back but methods of food production compatible with nature are an essential requirement. There were many such ancient methods and in many places several persons have been conducting tests and experiments, but they have remained few and far between. In these three years, methods of food production with an affinity to nature, have become central in experiments and in practice.

*In Gurgaon, such tall buildings, and exploitation of ground water on such a large scale, seemed, to young architects, to be an invitation to upheavals in the earth’s womb. They were afraid that these high buildings, strengthened by science-engineering-technology, can at any moment come down like a house of cards. Before natural upheavals could occur, social upheavals began to resolve the problem of housing in practice. Workers came out of the rented rooms in Kapashera, Dundahera, and Mullahera, and began to live in the ten-twenty story buildings which were lying vacant. Because of market-money, commercial considerations, a large number of houses used to remain vacant in towns. For people to collectively occupy and settle down in houses lying vacant in towns- metropolises was an instant solution to the housing problem in towns. The wave of workers making houses that were lying vacant here and there into homes began three years ago. The instant relief this gave encouraged worldwide exchanges about proper and appropriate housing. Here, in the spring of 2016, discussions regarding housing have become even more extensive.

Houses breathe. In London, 60% of the population suffers from breathing problems. The use of cement, steel, and paint in construction and decor was a major cause of this. What materials for construction of houses. Concrete houses harmful for babies. Exploitation of an area of a hundred miles around Delhi for the provision of daily needs of the metropolis. The whole sea bay polluted by a breakdown of the garbage purifying plant in Los Angeles city. And then, not only did the fear and greed linked to towns and cities push each and everyone into loneliness, into a lack of community; it also carried, alongside, a tough-ruthless-vast apparatus of security- administration–control. Villages, meanwhile, were strongholds of the suffering and frustrations of a distorted-spoilt-deformed community. There used to be numerous experiments to create new collectivities-communities in towns, in villages. In these three years, various new communities have emerged which reject both villages and towns as units for living on this earth.

Although forcibly joined, the entire human species had been joined together. Several attempts to join up on the basis of ones’ own wishes rather than by force had been made earlier. In these three years, attempts to come together on the basis of ones’ desires have increased a lot the world over. In the spring of 2016, there is a virtual flood of mutual exchanges, of links made as per ones’ own wishes. Many experiments are on. The size of social units. The relation between an individual and a social unit. The universal form of human habitation formed by social units.

*In Chicago, America, energetic children came out of schools along with enthusiastic teachers. In Delhi, parents refused to send their 2 ½ -3 year old children to nurseries and pre-nurseries. In Beijing, China, students put locks on universities, the factories for the production of knowledge. All these came like a hurricane three years ago. This was the starting point for taking the discussions- practices about childhood- the relation between generations- the role of schools –the meaning of knowledge – to a new plane. By the time spring 2016 arrived, schools-colleges- universities were shut down the world over, old age homes were closed.

The relations between generations are pleasurable and a prime necessity for the survival of every living species. Each stage of life in the passage from birth to death has a happiness of its own. Amongst human beings, all this had gone topsy turvy and the terrible destruction wrought by the expansion of market-money had completely crushed the entire earth. The expansions of market–money brought with it the extension of literacy, and schools in large numbers. Schools, teaching lessons of discipline for wage labour in the factory mode, were important locations for preparing workers for factories. To teach children how to sit as soon as they entered school was to destroy childhood. The teachers’ cruelty towards themselves and towards their students in order to remain teachers. And student-teacher relations making grandfathers and grandmothers redundant. The elderly awaiting death; and at a certain age, the old age home.

This was an industrial model town in Manesar. There was a Honda motorcycle and scooter factory here. In spring 2016, there are birds chirping here and fun filled conversations about science are taking place among children- youth- and elders. The scriptures and knowledge had played a significant role in controlling and domesticating human beings. To increase control-oppression – exploitation was the essence of knowledge but people had also used scriptures against oppression- exploitation. Like skill, knowledge too is just an accumulated form of our activities. What kind of knowledge – that is significant. For loving relations between human beings and between humans and nature it is essential to bury most of our inherited knowledge. To decide what all to not do the inherited knowledge can be useful. New relationships demand new knowledge.

*What is this that we are doing? Why are we doing this? Come let’s stop this. In Paris, drivers stopped working – trains stopped, the metro stopped, buses stopped, trucks stopped, taxies stopped. In New York, pilots refused to fly aeroplanes. On Bombay harbor, dock workers stopped all coming and going. In factories in China workers stopped the production of all types of vehicles. Three years ago in many places in the world the system of work stoppages began and the din on earth started coming to a stand still. After the stopping of wheels the spring season kept becoming more and more pleasant. In spring 2016, there is peace all around and peoples’ hearts and minds are in full bloom.

This was the Maruti Suzuki factory in Gurgaon. Today, at leisure, many people are looking back at it, and discussing the production of speed, the consumption of speed, transport. Speed, faster and faster speed – in this mad rush, where were we going? What were we fleeing from? We were running to avoid meeting our own gaze.

The effort to increase speed beyond what is naturally granted to human beings, besides stretching the body and exhausting the mind, was accompanied by a tinkering with nature. Since the last two hundred years, speed was being produced by the factory mode. And, a hundred or a hundred and twenty five years ago, caught in the grip of faster speed, people had started becoming small or big cogs of machines, of systems, of institutions.

Increasing the production of speed, and making speed faster and faster through coal, electricity, nuclear power, and electronics, meant a devastation of the earth’s womb, along with its surface. For transporting people from here to there in increasing numbers and at growing speed, and to carry increasing quantities of goods to and fro at faster and faster speeds, the ever lengthening rows of vehicles of all kinds made accidents a matter of routine. The production and consumption of speed brought with it the pollution of air-water -soil, global warming, and a hole in the ozone layer which naturally carried in itself the destruction of life on earth.
By halting the wheels, workers opened the pathways to save life on earth.

*In China, women workers came out of factories and male workers were with them. In Bangladesh, women workers came out of factories and male workers were with them. In India, girl and boy students came out together from schools- colleges- universities. Three years ago waves of natural easy relations between men and women began to rise all over the world. The growing relations of mutual respect and love between men and women made the world extremely fragrant. Together with the blossoming of nature in the intoxicating spring season of 2016, there is also a worldwide blossoming of the human species.

This was the Shahi Export Factory in Faridabad. Today there are many kinds of conversations here about the multifaceted male and female relations, between boys and girls, men and women. Interesting discussions.
In scriptures, in words of god, why have women been called sin personified? What is the meaning of the saying that not even gods can understand the character of a woman? Nature has given greater sexual capacity to women as compared to men, one man cannot satisfy the sexuality of even one woman, then what is the meaning of man attempting to keep several women under his control for sexual gratification? There are genders other than male and female in nature.

When did a family- like institution emerge amongst human beings? Why were men at the centre of the family? Blood originates in the mother’s womb, so what is the meaning of men proclaiming ‘my blood’? How can we understand the changing forms of the family? What does women becoming wage workers show? How was the transformation of women into wage workers, women’s empowerment?

It was a matter of chance that during the breakdown of communities the “I” that was engendered had men as its vehicle. Death, a certainty after birth- the unbearable pain born of this for the “I” made men go mad. And, the crazy antics of males, who were afraid of females, made the relations between men and women problematic.

In the factory mode, in the wages system, it was the worsening situation of wage workers (men) which brought about many transformations in the family, and women began to become wage workers in increasing members.
The women who had become wage workers became the new vehicles of “I”. To be a woman and a wage worker was more problematic than being a male wage worker. The long experiences of imagination-construction – creativity to overcome complex situations made women wage workers fit to inflict a mortal blow on the system of wage labour. It was the interaction of male workers and women wage workers with myriad experiences of wage work that initiated the end of the wage system three years ago. In contrast to the increasing insignificance of each individual in the wages system, we are now proceeding along the path of good relations between men and women on the basis of each person’s importance.

*For the continued survival of any living species, an indispensable requirement is that murder within that species be an exception. The human species, which calls itself the best in all living species, had become an exception.

“What is this that we are doing? Why are we doing this?" The soldiers in America took off their uniforms and proceeded to make arms and ammunition dysfunctional, Colonels and Generals also took off their uniforms and joined the soldiers in making armaments dysfunctional. In Russia. In China. In France. In England. In Iran. In India, soldiers took off their uniforms and proceeded to make arms and ammunitions dysfunctional. Three years ago throughout the world, soldiers began to disband armies speedily. All this happened so rapidly that it is difficult to say whether the initiative came from China’s army personnel or from U.S.A.’s air force personnel. The paramilitary forces and police personnel all over the world had behaved as did soldiers and officers of the armed forces. Such a wind blew all over the world that the doors of jails were opened up and locks were put on courts.

Within three years the production of a lot of things was totally stopped. Whatever production of things of the past is taking place now is a twentieth to a thirtieth part of the earlier amount. Quite some people are still engaged in doing away with stocks of fatal- harmful things. And, a significant number of people are enthusiastically engaged in activities for establishing harmony with nature.

In spring 2016, on the entire earth, people have themselves formed communities, and are themselves directing life.

This was an air force station in Faridabad. Today, here, on the sand, on the grass, children are shrieking joyfully. Girls and boys are jumping around. In couples, in groups, youth are laughing and talking, dancing and singing. In many such groups, discussions are also on.

This was not a miracle that had occurred. In Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, China, India, Greece, Rome, for four to five thousand years, generation after generation, many generations, were engaged in recognizing and breaking the shackles that bound human beings. Our ancestors had given birth to many divergent and diverse views based on their own experiences and thoughts. The expansion of money – market had forcibly joined together the entire human species, in order to yoke and exploit it. In the factories established on the basis of steam and coal, two hundred years ago, in the wages system, the shackles that bound human species were recognized as social relations, and wage workers had the capacity to break these shackles. Then in 1871, by establishing the Paris Commune, abolishing the army and police, breaking the jails, wage workers showed a glimpse of that capacity. During periods when governments were indulging in massacres and killings on an increasing scale, in Russia in 1905 and again in 1917, wage workers displayed their potential by forming Soviets. In Germany in 1918-1919, workers gave a glimpse of their capability by forming worker’s councils. Together with steam and coal, factories based on oil engines and on electrical motors had been increasing the number of wage workers in the world. But it is electronics that has led to an extremely rapid rise in the numbers of wage workers in the world. Electronics made the factory mode dominant, not just in the field of material production, but in every sphere of social life; trade-transport-education-health-entertainment. In China, in India, the social death and social murder of peasants–artisans happened at a very rapid pace, and the flood of wage-workers began. Wage workers became a majority in the world’s population. The entry of electronics in the production process increased greatly the number of non permanent, temporary workers, and in many places, 20-22 year old workers became workers with personal experience of several places. Then, T.V.- mobile phones-Internet soon broke through the barriers of numbers and distances, and along side, also made the experiences and thoughts of our ancestors easily accessible. The crises of the factory system, of wage labour, had been wreaking terrible havoc for a hundred and fifty years, but cushions were available, though of a diminishing size. Three years ago, the vast population of wage workers exercised its capability on a world-wide scale and the creation of a new human society began.

By making instant and extensive exchanges between people spread all over the world possible, electronics had played a significant role in creating change which was multidimensional and fast. And now, in view of the fact that together with pure metals, iron, aluminium, etc., electronics, with its heavy elements is harmful for life on earth, large numbers of people are making efforts to get rid of them.

Security, air, water, food, is undoubtedly essential for life, but being happy is life’s primary need. Straight forward, mutually at ease relations.

Now, an auto harness plan in Tihar jail

"Prison wages are much lower than wages paid outside, and once trained, a worker can't leave and join a competitor." There are no unions, no factory inspectors, few strikes, electricity at cost, and commercial space at Rs 10 per sq ft.

Read it here

Sunday, August 31, 2014


FMS, Issue No. 314
(August 2014)

This workers’ paper circulates between 2-3 lakh workers every month. Everybody has her or his own specific relationship with it. The paper is read, remembered, read to others, critiqued, kept with care, photocopied and redistributed, compared with other sources of information, evaluated, weighed, tested, questioned, argued with, used, torn, thrown away, given importance to, respected. Liveliness surrounds it.

This is the daily life of this paper. The lives of each one of us is made up of similar diversities and differences, likings and disinterests, respect, curiosity and fullness. Some people are envious of this expanse. One such person said to us, “Where does the money for such expansiveness come from?” We thought we must consider this with some amount of seriousness.

A journalist wanted to know from a worker in a garment factory in the Okhla Industrial Area, “How much would workers like their minimum wage to be?” The tailor laughed and said politely, “A single worker, on an average, produces goods worth 18-20 lakh rupees a month.” And then he said, “Keep one to two lakh for your costs. The rest should come to us, it hardly needs saying. You can keep debating over 12-15,000 rupees, but that shouldn’t make invisible the lakhs of rupees that are ours.”

Continuing in this vein, we could say that printing 12,000 copies of this paper costs the same as the monthly minimum wage of a skilled worker, as under Delhi government rates. A friend disagreed and said, “No, even lesser!” The voluntary support and contributions of a handful of people makes printing 10-20,000 copies of this paper a very simple thing.

Friends, printing this paper poses no difficulty. Given the excitement, enthusiasm and support around this paper, printing even one hundred thousand copies would be ordinary. Recently, a few students and young teachers requested us for 1000 copies of the paper so that they could take them to a new industrial area and test their thinking in a larger landscape. That’s why this month we’ve printed 13,000 copies.

Like we’ve described in some of our previous issues, the industrial areas surrounding Delhi are among the most buoyant and volatile in the world. Critical and urgent questions about thought and action are being posed here. We can say with utmost confidence that it is from within these spaces that the sharpest and most edgy possibilities are emergent, confronting the contradictions and conundrums of the present. Very soon, a form of living that is in praise of the potential of the seven billion inhabitants of this planet will find its expression.

Wait – Do you think we’re getting carried away?

Every month, 20-25 people distribute this paper in 15 places in Okhla Industrial Area, Udyog Vihar (Gurgaon), IMT Manesar and Faridabad. Every month, during distribution, different kinds of conversations are struck up with thousands of people. You could say that each person who distributes the paper threads some form of conversation with perhaps 10,000 people in a year. A current of joyfulness rises from this conversational space. It stays in collision with the language of complaints, oppression and pain. It is generative. It pushes aside exhaustion, pessimism, anger and helplessness, and makes something else emerge in their stead.

For the last year now, in different issues of the paper, we have been talking about a new category of “political prisoners” that has arisen here in the last few years. We’ve posed this argument, and it has traveled between a few lakh people. No one has thought it wrong, or dismissed it as an overstatement. Rather, it has been taken forward and has entered other platforms and public forums. 500 to 600 workers from factories just from around Delhi are political prisoners of today. They are being kept in jail without bail for years. There’s a general consensus that these are political prisoners. However, what we would like to underline here is a desire that has surfaced in many a conversation, but hasn’t yet gathered the force of general actions. This desire is about how – as individuals, and as collectives – we can all, together, author a tense weave that compels the release of these political prisoners.

Here are suggestions that have come our way: During tea breaks, at lunch hour, while in the bus, when the shift ends, when the shift begins, in the neighborhood, at the teashop, at the paan kiosk, at the dhaaba, in the park, at a feast, in the village, via SMS, through handwritten pamphlets, with posters, in letters, on placards, by printing on t-shirts, at the barber’s, in the college canteen, in classrooms, in discussion groups and meetings, in essays, through stories, in poems, on blogs, on Facebook and on Twitter, in offices, while travelling, when on a pilgrimage, between friends, via letters to editors, through translating – everywhere, with everyone, whenever time permits – amplify, accelerate the ongoing disquiet of murmurs about these political prisoners. This in itself will dishevel power’s fragile but arrogant attire.

Visit these political prisoners. These conversations, you’d agree, must happen with them as well.


FMS, Issue No. 313
(July 2014)

Everyone knows around 7 billion people inhabit the world today. All of us also sense, in one way or another, the enmeshed presence of 7 billion in our lives. We evoke the capacities of these 7 billion in our conversations, time and again. The restlessness and trembling, praise and pride, curiosity and creation of 7 billion affect each of us. The quality of this sensing, surfacing and affecting is decisive for the future of life on this planet.

It is our understanding that the self-activities, thoughts, conversations and relationships that are being enacted, formed and created here – in the industrial areas in and around Delhi – can provide for a qualitative shift in the possibilities and aspirations of the 7 billion. So, let’s talk again about some of the qualities and characteristics of ‘here’.

1. Who acts? Who reacts?

The collective action of the workers of Maruti-Suzuki (Manesar) startled everyone. They de-occupied the factory of the management’s control, over and over again. We looked attentively, and found workers de-occupying factories all around here – after, and before, the events at Maruti Manesar. And we realized that companies react to de-occupation by giving concessions. We saw how these concessions continually, and in large part, fail. Faced with this constant failure of control and concessions, companies and the government have reacted with repression. Given this, during this period, one dominant trend has been of workers attacking factories. In reaction, the government has taken many workers as political prisoners. Courts have refused bail. Hundreds of commandos have been deployed in industrial areas, and police has been stationed inside workplaces. The acceleration of action by workers makes transparent the weakness and failing power of companies and the government.

2. Actions that make control loosen its hold.

There is no pause, no stoppage. There’s a stirring of creation everywhere, at all times, in every interval, in gatherings, as individuals, groups and collectives. This brings on the visage of each person a sense of joy and fullness. Managerial frowns deepen. On some days, a few thousand women workers reach the gates, but don’t enter the factory. On another day, handwritten pamphlets in motion inside the factory frighten the management. Another day, workers from two shifts gather in one place and neither leave the factory nor commence work. Sometimes conversations in the canteen are so engrossing that the meal is forgotten. And what mobile conversations might unleash, trouble managements no end. No step is big or small, grand or miniscule. The tiniest and simplest of steps gather momentum and change scale in a matter of moments.

3. Away from representation

“What is it that workers want?” has become a mysterious, unsolvable, incorrigible, enigmatic riddle. Conventionally, the operation of speaking for, on behalf of and in the interest of workers has provided the condition for representatives to emerge. They alone would be the ones who’d know workers, enter into negotiations and settle disagreements. This has been a form of control. Contrary to this, what we find here is that no one is waiting to be spoken for, and every person and every collective is gauging his, her, their actions and the potency of these actions. This disposition has displaced the weight of long-term agreements, be they of three or of five years. Even short-term representational games no longer hold sway. This is the gift, the insight that is emergent from here: The soundness, agility, longevity and robustness of workers’ abilities and capacities lies in the riddle, “What is it that workers want?” remaining a riddle.

4. De-occupying

A companion who works in Maruti Manesar said, “After we de-occupied the factory of the management, it was as if all of us who’d been working side by side for three to four years were seeing each other for the first time.” This thought, this feeling, these words have been resounding everywhere. Whether it’s the workplace, a park, a maidan, or a college, this is the affect that gives velocity to, and inspires to, de-occupy. New thresholds of life and relationships begin to take form when control loosens during de-occupation. And even if the de-occupation is short-lived, countless words become necessary to define and give expression to the excitement and the mood that it brings in its wake. Some words find a new life, a new force, a new context. Like: thoughtful, knowledgeable, the one who keeps his/her word, the one who suggests solutions, the one who understands the world and its ways, the experienced, the one who keeps herself abreast of what’s going on in the world, the informed, the mystic, the renouncer, the one who has a story for every occasion, the one who brings news from afar, the one who advises, the one who can be trusted and depended on, the one who knows about things, the one who understands, the contrarian, the listener, the voracious reader, the one who gives you courage, the capable, the alert, the magician, the responsible, the heretical.

5. Changing the order of time

To sleep when you want, to wake up when you feel like it, to sing when the heart desires, to eat when you like, to speak when you have the urge to speak, to listen when you feel drawn to something, to rest when you choose, to dream whenever. No shift, no lunch time, no tea break, no tension to catch the bus, no worry about cooking, no separation between night and day, no anxiety about which day of the week it is, no fretting over the date of the month. Thousands of workers have de-occupied workplaces and created this collective time. This non-serial, undivided time gestures towards the time to come. It is an intimation of the joyful, vibrant life that is knocking at the door of the present.

What we can see here, from here, is a glimpse of that which is immanent in the seven billion who inhabit this planet.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Towards a Conversation with Students: Re-thinking the Figure of the Worker

Over the last 30-35 years, we have witnessed and been connected with innumerable self-activities of workers. Even within these, there has been much that has stayed beyond our grasp, much has remained illegible to us. The
electric self-activity of workers of Maruti Suzuki (Manesar) between 4 June 2011 and 18 July 2012 not only produced fresh energy and excitement, it also brought forth new questions. We want to share some of these with you today. The intensifying social churning that is apace in industrial areas surrounding Delhi demands reflection in practice; it calls upon us to breathe more creativity into our ways of thinking. We believe the workers of Maruti Suzuki have raised questions that are planetary in their significance.

A comrade who was engaged inside and outside a factory for 15 years, and then outside factories for another 15 years, said this in reference to the self-activity of the workers of Maruti Manesar:
‘Calling the self-activity of workers “the act of occupying” is a gross misunderstanding. What workers were doing was taking away the occupation of factories by companies and the government, weakening the control they have over factories.’
What the workers of Maruti Suzuki (Manesar) did between 4 and 16 June 2011 is extremely significant. What the workers of Maruti Suzuki, Maruti Engine, Suzuki Casting, Suzuki Motorcyle, Satyam Auto, Bajaj Motors, Endurance, Hailax, Lumax, Lumax DK, Dighania Factories did on 7 October is even more significant. These actions were not about civil or constitutional rights. Neither were they a strike. In Mazdoor Samachar, we called it “workers’ occupation of factories”. To call what the workers did in June and October 2011 in IMT Manesar “occupation of factories by workers” is to see what the workers were doing through a reduced lens. “Occupation” is a misnomer; it is misleading. Occupation is how existing social hierarchies – based as they are on wealth and power – are held in place. Companies and governments today are on an overdrive to gain possession of everything not only on this planet, but also of all that exists in the entire universe. What we want is to wrest out of the clutches of companies and governments that which they have come to see as having a free reign over, and to create a commons. They want to occupy everything – cows, humans, land, houses, water, air. They are eager to occupy even the human heart. It is this greed to occupy that has brought us to the brink of disaster. Given this context, to call what workers of IMT Manesar did “occupation” is to refute the essence of their actions; it is akin to trampling over the possibilities they created. In conversations we have had with workers of Maruti Suzuki, they have abundantly expressed that between 7 and 14 October, when they unshackled the factory from the control of the management and government, they felt a joyousness of life that is usually unimaginable. The significance of what the workers of IMT Manesar did lies in it being a departure point from where on a series of de-occupations followed. Refracted through this lens, the significance of the “Occupy” movement that started in the US becomes clear – as actually being a movement calling for de-occupation, a taking away of the control that companies and governments have.

We shared this insight from our worker-friend in the February 2012 issue of Mazdoor Samachar. It is commonplace to find some older methods insufficient in practice, to reject some of them, and to realise some methods are harmful. Practice makes it expedient to change and mould some methods, and to discard or turn away from some methods. An insight such as this comes from long years of practice and thinking. What is to be done, what avoided; how it can be done, and what should be steered clear of; constantly searching and inventing new methods; relentlessly testing diverse ways through practice – this is a continuous process, and the workers of Marusti Suzuki (Manesar) have given it a new velocity.

During the thirteen days – from 4 June 2011 to 16 June 2011 – when factories were de-occupied of the company and the government, it was as if people who had worked with each other for three, and perhaps four years, were seeing each other for the first time. In the words of a worker from Maruti Suzuki (Manesar):
“Inside the Maruti Suzuki factory, 7-14 October was the best time. No tension of work. No agonizing about the hours of entry and exit. No stress over catching a ride in a bus. No fretting about what to cook. No sweating over whether dinner has to be eaten at 7, or at 9 pm today. No anguishing over what day or date it is. We talked a lot with each other about things that were personal. All of us drew closer to each other than we have ever been before, during these seven days.”
Occupations are always wobbly. Steps are constantly underway for countering occupations. Time and again, the control that a company has over a factory is weakened in ways that can be called ‘de-occupation’. The temporary workers of Ametip Machine Tools in Faridabad, workers hired through contractors in Hero Honda Spare Parts factory in Gurgaon, permanent and contracted workers, together, in Napino Auto & Electronics factory in IMT Manesar, have de-occupied factories of companies and the government. There are innumerable examples everywhere in the world of students having de-occupied schools, colleges and universities of governments. All over the world, weakening and removing occupation is on its way to becoming a widely practiced and common act. It’s so commonplace in fact, that factories of knowledge-production don’t even deliberate on whether it should be called “occupation” or “de-occupation”. Perhaps it isn’t considered worthy of deliberation, or maybe it just isn’t a point that can be debated academically. From occupy to de-occupy, from occupation to de-occupation is a conceptual leap. We feel that the idea of de-occupation is one of the results of our years of deliberation on unity vs. unison (ektaa banaam taalmel). Unique and together becomes conceivable. All and everyone’s comes into view.

Point number two

The time during which occupation is diminished or removed is an active, alive time for those participating in its happening. It’s a time when many people exchange ideas with each other – without fear, without hesitation, and with leisure. Different angles are shared and mulled over. Many kinds of bonds are forged; new alliances are formed and deepened. And that which may have been considered beyond questioning, and stable stereotypes that may have otherwise been overlooked, begin to be brought up for questioning. Lively discussions about life stoke the fire of desires that seek simple alterations in the present and the near, foreseeable future. Thinking with that which can be brought into practice, people are freed from the vicious encirclement of demands.

With the de-occupation of Maruti Suzuki (Manesar), the sahibs found themselves confronted with an unsolvable riddle: What do workers want? What in the world is it that workers want?

Concessions hold meaning only when they can be mobilised, and they can be mobilised only in order to respond to demands. They are meaningless in the face of desires for life and joyous living. This is what 18 July brought. In brief:

Thirty workers were cajoled into submitting resignations. After that, with no further need to be egged on, the company offered what are called “concessions”. Reduction in speed – brought down from one minute to 45 seconds per car. Remuneration for trainees, apprentices and workers hired through contractors was increased. Permanent workers were assured of substantial wage increments over-term, three-year contracts. The number of buses was increased. Parents were included in health policies. Number of vacation days was increased. Heavy cuts in payments for absence of merely one or two days was ended. Workers would now no longer be arbitrarily asked to continue working after their duty hours. Workers hired through contractors would no longer be made to put in an hour and a half extra at the end of every night shift. A second union was registered, and it was given the status of a recognised union. Workers were assured residential quarters would be constructed for them, enough for all. A requisition was accepted from the union for long-term contracts, and follow-up discussions were promised.

If one were to consider the above-mentioned concessions within the framework of concessions, they would seem remarkable. However soon, and as early as February-March 2012, workers started feeling that despite everything that had happened, nothing had changed. Among the workers of Maruti Suzuki (Manesar), any kind of talk of concessions began to be called “the management’s language”. After everything they had brought about, if workers remained workers, then could anything be said to have changed at all? On 18 July, workers rebelled against being workers. Two things that symbolised that workers would be kept as, and in their place as, workers were attacked – managers and the factory building. It wasn’t a small group of 20-25 workers who were doing this. Old workers and new, permanent workers and those who were temporary, all participated in this together. It just happened to happen on 18 July – it could just as well have happened on 15th May or 25th August.

On 18 July 2012, workers challenged the customs that keep a worker labouring. The question, ‘what next?’, has become a live and vital question today. It is vigorously discussed among workers. A worker from Maruti Suzuki (Manesar) said, “It would have been quite something if what happened on 18 July had happened all across IMT.”

Today, when the ease with which a worker can be kept labouring is under duress, the questions of what comes next, of what can come after this, are questions that carry a force and a challenge for everyone, everywhere. Everyone, everywhere can participate in searching answers.

Point number 3

How are factory workers reading the current circumstances and situation, what new kinds of interpretations are they bringing to bear on them, and how is this getting reflected in their practice and ways? This is very significant for understanding the challenges they have posed to power and the everyday changes that have resulted. Here are two examples, in brief:

1. On 14 October 2012, approximately 1600 permanent workers, trainees and apprentices gathered inside the Maruti Suzuki (Manesar) factory. Following an inspection of the factory by a constable, the DC, accompanied by gunmen and 20-25 officials, arrived. Here is how a worker described the scene:

The DC walked around a little bit, then took his position in one place and started speaking. He said, you are good workers, you are educated, you have worked well the last five years, you have produced this much, you have contributed this much by bringing in tax, your salaries are better than those of others, your management is decent, you have been misled by some people, your occupation of the factory is unconstitutional, you must pay heed to the order that has been passed by the High Court, you will have to follow the order and vacate the factory, there is no other way, we won’t let you disregard law like this, Rico Auto lost a lot of orders when its workers got waylaid, if Maruti Suzuki were to shut down you would lose your jobs, but, moreover why should the government have to suffer losses?

The workers gave the DC their full attention for the half hour he spoke. But then the DC started telling a story, one that the workers had heard umpteen times from the management: The story of the tortoise and hare, only a little extended. The second time around, this version goes, the hare didn’t sleep, and he reached the finish line first. The third time around, even though the tortoise stopped for a drink of water on the way, he reached the finish line before the hare. The fourth time around, the route was sometimes even, sometimes treacherous, and water was needed as well, and sometimes the hare rode on the back of the tortoise, sometimes the tortoise rode on the hare’s back. Teamwork! The management and workers should walk together. The moment the DC started narrating this tale, workers started lying down, dozing off, chatting among themselves. At the end of his narration, the DC said that very soon he would arrange for a compromise with the management, but that for now the workers should follow orders. Then another official started waxing forth on law – that this is an illegal occupation, that we must vacate the factory. When the DC started to leave, a worker stepped up to where the mic was and said, ‘We heard you out, now you should listen to what we have to say.’ The DC stopped, but when workers started asking questions one after the other, he decided to leave. Workers now started shouting slogans, and when their shouting became a roar, the DC and his team pretty much scampered out of the factory.”

2. A worker hired through a contractor in Maruti Suzuki (Manesar) was on duty in shift-B on 13 January 2012, when he received a phone call from a worker in Allied Nippon that a worker had sustained burns in a fire in the factory. The company had got him admitted in Sapna Nursing home, and the doctors had said that he would be released from the hospital by evening. Both his legs, from the thigh down, had been severely burned. The worker at Maruti Suzuki advised that the injured worker should be kept at the nursing home. The next day, on 14 January, a Saturday, 10-15 workers hired through contractors in the Maruti Suzuki factory went to the nursing home to visit the injured worker. When the doctor said that he was ready to release the injured worker, they asked him instead to continue treating him, and that they would cover the expenses if the company didn’t. No one from the management visited the nursing home on Saturday or Sunday, though, of course, workers did. When they called the production manager of Allied Nippon, he lied that he had no idea a worker had sustained burns at the factory. When workers went to the nursing home on Monday morning, the doctor said that if they didn’t pay the nursing home’s fee, the worker would be transferred to ISI. The visiting workers called their colleagues, and within half and hour 70-80 workers from the press shop, assembly, paint shop and weld shop of Maruti Suzuki, and workers of Suzuki Powertrain hired through contractors gathered at the nursing home, from where they went together to Allied Nippon factory. They demanded to meet the manager. He refused to come out to discuss anything in connection with the injured worker. The workers assured him that he needn’t be scared, that he could talk to them from the safety of the other side of the gate, but he refused to meet them. The workers kept waiting, and when they had waited for half an hour, the supervisor of the contractor company, through whom the worker with burn injuries had been hired, arrived. A discussion ensued and it was decided that the expenditure of the nursing home till now would be borne by the company, that the injured worker would receive his wages for the duration of his recovery, and that his family would be informed by phone and brought here. He was shifted to ISI hospital in IMT, Sector 3. For gaining admission into Emergency, the hospital demanded the worker’s ISI card, but one didn’t exist. The supervisor requested the doctor to give him two hours, and that is how an ISI card for a worker who had been working in a factory since 12.12.2010 got made on 16.1.2012. An accident report was filed. The injured worker’s father arrived from the village. It’s 24 January today; the worker continues to be treated at the hospital.

Durgesh, the worker of Allied Nippon Factory who sustained injuries while at work, stays on rent in Baas village. The workers of Maruti Suzuki and Maruti Powertrain, who took steps after he sustained burns, live on rent in Aliyar and Dhana. None of them knew Durgesh before this incident. Unshackling the factory from the control of the company and the government twice in six months has kindled in the workers of Maruti Suzuki ways of thinking and feeling that exceed known and familiar bonds. Permanent workers and trainees de-occupied the factory of the company and the government between 7 and 14 October to insist that workers hired through contractors be retained. Workers of eleven factories in IMT stood alongside them through de-occupation. This has transformed the environment; all those who are strangers have become ones own.

Point number 4

Lets look at another aspect. The speaking order that was passed by the Managing Director of Maruti Suzuki in August 2012 reflects the management’s terror of 18 July. But perhaps even more telling is what the speaking order
betrays via the management’s views on ‘incitement to violence’ and ‘participation in violence’. Here goes: The Managing Director sent letters individually to 546 workers. Each letter states, for every worker it addresses, that he both incited and participated in violence. This means the management sees every worker as an instigator as well as a participant. And what this means is that the company recognises that each and every worker is a potential de-occupier. Even in the eyes of the management, every worker has today become the fountainhead of a destabilising force. The language of the leader and the led has lost its valence; it has become obsolete.

The self-activity of workers has blurred the partitions that separate intellectual labour from physical labour. It is time, therefore, that in order to participate in the creation of a new world, all of us take the cue and let go of long-held assumptions and settled theories.

Point number 5

Instead of wrapping up with a conclusion, lets broaden the scope of our discussion some more. The young, 20-22 year-old workers of today often have work experience from 10-12 places under their belt. They exchange the wealth of experience and understanding and thinking that comes with this with each other, freely and rapidly. This is a global trend. Here is one worker’s trajectory – he started by working in Essar Steel in Hajira (Gujarat), then he worked in Gail, Bharuch (Gujarat), Jindal Steel & Power in Raigarh (Chhatisgarh), JSW Plant in Bellary (Karnataka), Jindal Stainless Steel Plant in Jajpur (Orissa) and Reliance Refinery in Jamnagar (Gujarat). Today he works in NOIDA.

We have already discussed the self-activity of workers in Maruti Suzuki (Manesar). And though little detail is known about the activity of workers in NOIDA on 20 February, everyone is aware that something quite extraordinary happened. It caused such alarm in Napino, Honda, Maruti-Suzuki and other factories in NOIDA, that all the factories were closed down the very next day. We have discussed the activities of the workers in Okhla on 21 February 2013 in one of the issues of Mazdoor Samachar. Here’s what a propagandist-thinker who would rather have existing and old ways continue ad infinitum said about 21 February: “It is understandable that when workers get angry, they can get violent. This anger can be reigned in through offering concessions. But what we saw in NOIDA and Okhla was different – the workers weren’t angry; they were enjoying being violent. This is an extremely problematic situation.”

Friends, it is time to let go of the image of tired, defeated and despondent workers. Our experience of factories in Faridabad, Okhla, Gurgaon and IMT Manesar urges us that we unfetter ourselves from these chains. And what we have seen in these factories is only a small glimpse of a transformation that is much more vast. In the course of six months, the workers of Maruti Suzuki (Manesar) were compelled to sign three agreements, but in their practice the workers saw them and treated them as meaningless scraps of paper. The image that is emergent today is that of workers who are filled with restlessness and are harbingers of a deep churning. This image challenges settled ways of seeing and thinking. Accept this challenge. This is an opportunity to shape the world anew, to think the world anew. This opportunity is for everyone. The events of 18 July have a place of immense significance in the chronology of events that have shaken the world recently. It emits a sense of the deep transformation the world is going through in our times. We are living in a time in which we can all stand up against prevalent ways and make them obsolete, more and more obsolete. It is for times like this that it has been said, “audacity, more audacity and still more audacity!”

Some urgent questions have come to shore

(New Series No. 311, May 2014)

While distributing the paper, we were stopped twice and advised: “Don’t distribute the paper here. Workers here are very happy. Are you trying to get the factories closed?” That reading, writing, thinking and exchange can lead to factory closures – where does this thought come from?

Perhaps this fear is a result of the messages that are circulating between the mobile phones of tailors:

Uthe sabke kadam
Ajee aise geet gaya karo
Hanso aur hansaya karo.

Or perhaps this fear emerges because workers on the assembly line are humming:

Tu zinda hai
Tu zindagi ke
Geet par yakeen kar

The industrial belt that surrounds Delhi has been going through a deep churning over the last few years. Gathering enormous experience and thoughts at an early age, hundreds of thousands of young men and women have been giving force to waves of self-activity through innovative steps, fresh languages, novel creations and new relationships. In this gathering milieu, many long-held assumptions have been done away with, and unfamiliar possibilities have been inaugurated. We have indicated two from among many of these tendencies in our previous issues. Here we are presenting some of the questions that have been posed in the course of conversations that have passed through us and gone on around us.

Why should anyone be a worker at all?

This question has gained such currency in these industrial areas, that some readers may find it strange that it should be mentioned here at all. But still, we find it pertinent to underscore the rising perplexity at the demand that one should surrender ones life to that which has no future. And again, why should one surrender ones life to something that offers little dignity?

If we put aside the fear, resentment, rage and disappointment in the statement, “What is to be gained through wage work after all,” we begin to see outlines of a different imagination of life. This different imagination of life knocks at us today, and we have between us the capacity, capability and intelligence to experiment with ways that can shape a diversity of ways of living.

Do the constantly emerging desires and multiple steps of self-activity bring into question every existing partition and boundary?

In this sprawling industrial zone, at every work station, in each work break – whether it’s a tea break or a lunch break – conversations gather storm. Intervals are generative. They bring desires into the open, and become occasions to invent steps and actions. No one is, any longer, invested in agreements that might bring a better future in three years, or maybe five. Assessing constantly, negotiating continually; examining the self, and examining the strength of the collective, ceaselessly. And with it, a wink and a smile: Let’s see how a manager manages this! The borders drawn up by agreements are breached, the game of concession wobbles, middlemen disaggregate.

When we do – and can do – everything on our own, why then do we need the mediation of leaders?

“Whether or not to return to work after a break, and across how many factories should we act together – we decide these things on our own, between ourselves,” said a seamster. Others concurred: “When we act like this, on our own, results are rapid, and our self-confidence grows”, and elaborated, “On the other hand, when a leader steps in, things fall apart; it’s disheartening. When we are capable of doing everything on our own, why should we go about seeking disappointment?”

Another conversation threw up a fascinating image: “During our regular night shifts, the general manager used to be abrasive with any worker he saw dozing. He used to take punitive action against them. One night, one hundred and eight of us went to sleep, all together, in the shop floor. Managers, one after the other, who came to check on us, saw us all sleeping in one place, and returned quietly. We carried on like this for three nights. They didn’t misbehave with us, didn’t take any action against us. Workers in other sections of the factory followed suit. It became a tradition of sorts.”

Are these acts that are relentlessly breaching inherited hierarchies an announcement of the invention of new kinds of relationships?

In previous issues, we have discussed at length how the men and women workers of Baxter and Napino Auto & Electronics factories displaced the management’s occupation of the shop floor. During that entire time, workers did not leave the factory. Men and women stayed inside the factory day and night, side by side; this signals their confidence in their relationship. There are several instances too of temporary and permanent workers acting together to demand equal increments in wages and other facilities. People are acting against inherited divisions, forging uncharted bonds.

Are these various actions that are being taken today breaking the stronghold of demand-based thinking?

The remarkable and influential tendency that has emerged in this extensive industrial belt cannot be wrapped up, contained in or explained via the language of conditions, demands and concessions. Why? Over the years, the dominant trend has been to portray workers as ‘poor thing’, which effectively traps them in a language that makes them seem victims of their condition and dependent on concessions. And then they are declared as being in bondage to condition, demand and concessions. This is a vicious encirclement. In the last few years, the workers of Maruti Suzuki (Manesar) have ripped through this encirclement. What is it that workers want? What in the world do workers want? The company, the local government, the central government were clueless in 2011, they stayed clueless through 2012, and they are still clueless. This makes them nervous. That is why, when workers exploded despite the substantial concessions being offered by the management, it resulted in six hundred paramilitary commandos being deputed to produce normalcy. A hundred and forty seven workers are political prisoners even today.

Do all these questions hold for everyone, everywhere in the world?

Sunday, May 11, 2014


(New Series No. 310, April 2014)

Ebullitions all around, unshackling factories. Taking away the occupation of factories by the management. Making factories unfettered spaces for collective gathering. Creating environments that invite the self, others, the entire world to be seen anew. Ceaseless conversation, deep sleep, thinking, exchange of ideas. Sudden immersion of many in relays of songs. Inventing new relationships and whirling in the currents of possibilities that get opened up in collective living.

This is the general condition of today.

May 2010: Plot 7, Sec 3, IMT Manesar, Napino Auto & Electronics Factory. Eight hundred workers (100 women and 700 men) stopped work and sat on the shop floor. As night approached, the men stayed and the women returned home, returning the next morning to join in again with the men. This continued for four days.

Mar-Apr 2014: Plot 7, Sec 3, IMT Manesar, Napino Auto & Electronics Factory. On 24 March, workers of A, B and general shift stopped work and stayed on the shop floor. The same day, in the factory in Plot 31, Sec 8 of the same company, workers from three shifts also stopped work and stayed on the shop floor. And workers in the factory of this same company at 753-754 Udyog Vihar, Phase 5, Gurgaon, also stopped work and stayed on the shop floor. In all three factories, the women workers didn’t leave the shop floor at night. This is an expression of a radical transformation of the relations between women and men. In February 2014, in Baxter Pharma’s factory, 110 women and 140 men stopped work and stayed on the shop floor, refusing to buckle under the pressure of the management, labour department and police.

Starting from 24 March, 2014, in all the three Napino Auto and Electronics factories, men and women workers stopped work and stayed on the shop floor round the clock, and continued to do so on 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 March and 1 and 2 April. The misanthropic company stopped the canteens of all three factories. Workers of the C shift of all three factories, who were outside the factories, brought food. Workers of many other factories remained in constant touch with the workers inside these three factories, carrying on discussions with them, circulating word in other factories about what was going on, and helping out with food.

Similar happenings have occurred in the recent past in Maruti Suzuki Manesar, Suzuki Powertrain, Suzuki Motrocycle, Satyam Auto, Bajaj Motor, Endurance, Hailax, Lumex, Dighania, Hero Honda, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter, Harsurya Healthcare, Ametip Machine Tools.

Today we can say with full confidence that an unsettling courses through seven billion people. It is inspired by the desire for an assertion of the overflow of the surplus of life. It is an expression of creative, boundless astonishment.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Emergence of factory rebels. Attack on factories by congregations of workers. Frightened management. Industrial areas turn into war zones. Rising numbers of workers as political prisoners. Courts that keep refusing bail. A mounting rebuttal in shop floors of the unsavoury behaviour of managers and supervisors. The dismantling of the managerial game of concessions. Irrelevance of middlemen. An acceleration of linkages and exchanges between workers.

This is the general condition of today.

Friday, 28 March, 2014, 10.30 AM. Orient Craft Factory, Sec 18, Gurgaon. A tailor dies of electric shock from a machine in the factory. The company calls the police and declares heart attack as the cause of death. 1200 women and men workers of the factory rebel – first inside the factory, then out on the streets. Workers from other factories join them. 2:30 PM onwards, 3 ACPs, 1 DCP and police from half a dozen police stations from Sector 18 and from Gurgaon West Zone, Udyog Vihar, set up a barricade against the assembling workers. By 4 PM, stone pelting, lathi-charge, tear gas, firing starts. 1 ASP and and 10 policemen are injured, and 40 vehicles damaged. Many workers and hawkers injured. Police registers case against thousands of workers. By now, many workers have been arrested, and countless others are being chased. According to the workers, a woman worker had similarly died of a sudden burst of current in a machine, on 26 March.

Two years ago, workers of the same company from the factory located in Sec 37, Gurgaon, had pitched battle with the management and police. Recently, workers in Ghaziabad (Gragiano), in Faridabad (Lakhani Shoes), in IMT Manesar (Maruti Suzuki), in Noida, in Okhla Industrial Area, in the Prithla-Baghola area of Palwal (Shivani Locks, Bio Medical, Haryana Wire, Mahindra, Vamani Overseas, SKH, Auto Ignition) have clashed with and battled managers, factory buildings and police. These clashes are against and bring into view the dominant social relations that govern life today, and which managers, buildings and police are expressions of.

Today we can say with full confidence that an unsettling courses through seven billion people. And relatedly, a crisis-laden astonishment: What happens to the colossal wealth that is being produced? Where does it go? How is it that such a tiny sliver from it reaches daily life?