Jeebesh on Sun, 1 Jun 2014 05:01:19 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> FMS:: Towards a conversation with students

The Editorial Group of the newspaper Faribabad Majdoor Samachar (Workers
News) have been engaged in conversations with students from various
universities in Delhi. This is a text that was circulated among the
students (in Hindi) a few months back. 

This text discusses in detail the range of actions that are manifest all
over the industrial belt around Delhi and some of the conceptual
questions around the figure of the worker in 21st century that these

Towards a conversation with students
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
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
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
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
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!?
Sher Singh on behalf of Editorial group at FMS, Faridabad, Haryana.


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