Wednesday, August 17, 2016

On loosening the control of middlepersons

translation from August 2016 issue of FMS

Bellsonica auto components: On Aug 3, 2016, the management on its own made the following proposals at the Labour department: all the dismissed permanent workers and trainees will be taken back; permanent workers and trainees will be paid for the days that they were kept out of work; 32 trainees shall be made permanent; other matters will be settled with the union in the factory within 2-3 months. The Labour officer also keenly said that he would not sign on the settlement unless the company gave an oral assurance to take back the dismissed workers hired through contractor companies. The union leaders of Bellsonica, who are permanent workers, said that if the dismissed workers hired through contractor companies are not paid by the management for the days that they have been kept out of work, then the leaders will distribute the pay received by permanent and trainee workers among all the workers equally. A tripartite settlement between Bellsonica management, the union and Labour department was signed on Aug 3.

The events at Bellsonica have been described in the June and July 2016 issues of Majdoor Samachar. The union leaders had called for a hunger strike on the Sunday, July 3rd outside government offices which remain closed on Sundays. Following the hunger strike, the permanent workers, trainees and workers hired through contractor companies at the factory started making a dent in the production. The July 12th date at the High Court went by without event. Bellsonica workers turned out in large numbers at the Sunday Struggle on July 18th arranged by the Maruti Suzuki Manesar Union outside government offices at 4 p.m.

In the past 9-10 months, there has been a substantial increase in the bonds, coordination, talmel between the permanent workers, trainees and workers hired through contractor companies at the Bellsonica factory. Although, the union registration was worked out by middlepersons from outside, the actual worker organization arising in factories out of prevalent circumstances has made the factory union leaders distance themselves from these outsider middlepersons. The seven suspended union leaders are active among the 140 dismissed workers and within the factory, the 11 member union executive and 60 coordinators are actively facilitating exchange among nearly 1000 workers. The workers have greatly weakened the control of the Bellsonica management on the factory floor. All the workers – permanent, trainees, workers hired through contractor companies have refused to work overtime on many days. The assembly lines of Maruti Suzuki cars are being affected. Maruti Suzuki has a 30% share in Bellsonica. Hence the proposal put forth on Aug 3, 2016.

The management does not want that the workers in the factory unionize. More accurately, it can be said that managements do not want unions in factories as long as there is not much coordination or solidarity between workers. The reason is that managements steal from companies and pay workers less than what is shown on paper. For instance, at Bellsonica factory itself “trainee 1 and workers hired through contractors are paid only Rs 6573 even while their wages are shown on paper as Rs 8500 – they say that 24% has been deducted towards PF but show only 12% deduction on the pay slip” - this was reported in the April 2013 issue of Majdoor Samachar.

Companies have chairmen, managing directors, CEOs, other directors, presidents, general managers, other managers, supervisors etc. Companies have managements. Companies don't have owners.

It is when bonds, coordination and solidarity between the workers increase that the managements want union formation within the factory. The management makes efforts to form unions going as far as sending Managers to Chandigarh to get the union registered. And then managements make the union and some union leaders appear important – all to keep the workers under control. By recognizing unions, managements exercise extra legal methods also to control workers and maintain and increase production. This used to happen even in the days when most workers at the factory were permanent. This is what happened at the East India Cotton Mill at Faridabad in 1969. Again, it happened in Faridabad at Escorts Tractor and motorcycle factories and Gedore Hand Tools. At present, most workers at the factory are temporary workers. Hence, it only helps the management that the law allows only permanent workers at the factory to become members of the factory union. At Maruti Suzuki Manesar, the management was initially firmly opposed to forming a second union at the factory. But, in 2011, the management played a pro active role in getting the second union registered when the bonds, solidarity and coordination greatly increased amongst the permanent workers, trainees, apprentices and workers hired through contractor companies. Later, on 26th September 2015, in opposition to the 3 year settlement signed on September 24, 2015 between the management and union, when the temporary workers at the Maruti Suzuki Manesar factory stopped work, fought the goons brought over by the company and tried to face the police, the union cooperated with the management to keep production going at the factory. At the Napino Auto and Electronics Factory, 140 workers hired through contractor companies working at the factory for 5-10 years who had played an active role in forming a union at the factory, were dismissed by the management on 28 June 2016 with the support of the union. At the Manesar factory of Honda two-wheelers, after the union was formed in 2005, it signed a three year settlement with the management in 2006 which was opposed by the temporary workers. The temporary workers stopped work for 5 days but the union stood in support with the management. Recently, when a new management-union three year settlement was signed, temporary workers boycotted meals at the canteen for two days while the union sided with the management and the permanent workers continued to have meals at the canteen. And at Asti Electronics factory, within a year of union formation, 380 temporary workers who were very active in forming the union were thrown out of the factory by the management with the help of the union.

Such is the scenario, the state of affairs. The Bellsonica management's encouragement for union formation at the factory has to be examined in this light. According to a source observing the events unfolding at Bellsonica from proximity, the management's agenda is to strengthen its control by using the union to bring down the number of proactive workers from 1,000 to 150. It is necessary to be wary of quick-fix advisors of various hues, especially workers hired through contractor companies and trainees need to be watchful. But being watchful is not enough. It is necessary for all workers to think in a new way and act to form new structures. And the tea workers of Munnar and garment workers of Bengaluru are already progressing in this direction. New structures need to emerge and are emerging with workers approaching workers, workers forming bonds, relations and increasing coordination with other workers within the factory, between factories, within the industrial area, between industrial areas, and at dwelling quarters. We are living in the times of lively pulses of global wage workers.

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