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News :: Labor
India: Free Maruti Suzuki Union Leaders!
29 May 2017
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Workers Vanguard No. 1112
19 May 2017

13 Union Militants Sentenced to Life

India: Free Maruti Suzuki Union Leaders!

In an attempt to crush the most militant union in India's fast-growing auto industry, a judge in the north Indian state of Haryana sentenced 13 activists in the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) to life in prison on March 18. Along with more than 100 others, these workers faced transparently bogus charges, including murder and attempted murder, in connection with the death of a company manager five years ago. The public prosecutor argued for the death penalty, railing that they had committed crimes against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make in India" campaign, which aims to attract foreign investment by promising a cheap, submissive labor force. All trade unions and supporters of workers' rights must demand: Freedom for the Maruti Suzuki class-war prisoners!

At the time of the arrests, the MSWU was engaged in a fierce battle for union recognition at a Maruti Suzuki auto plant in the Gurgaon-Manesar industrial belt near Delhi. Twelve of the 13 workers were leaders of the union. In opposition to an existing company union, the workers waged several strikes, including sit-ins, starting in 2011. The frame-up grew out of a series of provocations staged by management in July 2012, shortly after the company had been forced to formally recognize the MSWU. On July 18, a dalit ("untouchable") worker--one of the 13 sentenced to life--was subjected to caste-based slurs by a supervisor and suspended. The union demanded his reinstatement; and in the aftermath of an altercation instigated by management, a suspicious fire broke out in which several people were injured and a manager died. The union had absolutely no involvement in the death of this manager, whom they described as pro-worker.

The Maruti Suzuki bosses had set up the provocation by bringing hundreds of "bouncers" (company thugs) dressed in workers' clothes into the plant. Evidence about the origin of the fire disappeared, the attendance register was supposedly destroyed and closed-circuit TV cameras were switched off. The company then moved to crush the union by shutting the plant for several weeks, bringing in police to occupy it and providing lists of union activists, nearly 150 of whom were arrested. Some 546 permanent and 2,000 contract (temporary) workers were thrown out of their jobs. When the case finally came to court, 117 of the workers were acquitted. Eighteen others received prison terms, but most were released as they had already served more jail time than their sentences while awaiting trial. Reinstate all victimized workers!

The Japanese-controlled automotive company and the Haryana state government have worked together to destroy the MSWU. Importantly, the union has fought to unite permanent and contract workers, demanding permanent jobs for the latter and an end to the whole cheap-labor contract system. As of 2012, more than three-quarters of the plant's workers were contract workers, many of them drawn from impoverished rural areas. Such workers earn much less than permanent workers while having no job security.

Despite relentless state repression, the MSWU has not been crushed. Some 30,000 Maruti Suzuki workers staged a one-hour protest strike immediately after the court verdict, even though they were threatened with the loss of eight days' pay and, in the words of a union statement, "The entire Gurgaon and Manesar areas have been turned into Police camps." Several days later, thousands of workers rallied in protest in Manesar. On April 4-5, workers from various unions protested on behalf of the Maruti Suzuki militants in hundreds of cities, industrial centers and rural areas.

The Gurgaon-Manesar area is known as the "outsourcing capital of the world." General Motors, Ford, Suzuki, Honda and other automotive companies have set up manufacturing plants there and elsewhere in India, where some 7.6 million workers are now employed in auto and components manufacturing. Maruti Suzuki's factories make roughly half the cars sold in the country, underscoring the potential power of its workforce. While numerically small relative to the rural population, it is the Indian proletariat that has the social power to lead the peasant masses and all the oppressed in a fight to break the shackles of capitalist exploitation through socialist revolution.

Continuing the divide-and-rule machinations of the British colonialists, India's capitalist rulers undermine the struggles of the working class by fostering deep divisions along religious, caste and national lines. Hindu upper-caste supremacy is rife, as is the brutal oppression of women and of Muslims. One of the worst communalist massacres of recent times took place in the state of Gujarat while Modi was chief minister in 2002; Hindu-supremacist thugs organized by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) massacred 2,000 people, chiefly Muslims. In the wake of the fight to unionize Maruti Suzuki's Haryana plants in 2011, the company opened a new plant in Gujarat, which Modi had turned into a showcase for low-wage foreign investment.

The government's "Make in India" program aims to extend the "Gujarat model" throughout the country by means of brutal exploitation and ever-deeper attacks on workers' rights and working conditions. The connection was made clear in a 2013 High Court ruling, which, in denying bail to the Maruti Suzuki workers, stated: "Foreign direct investment is likely not to happen due to fear of growing labour unrest." But it is not just Modi's BJP that is a bitter enemy of the working people. The drive to make India a cheap-labor center for the imperialists began under successive governments led by the Congress Party, which pushed a program of cutting tariffs and social spending and privatizing state-owned companies. Indeed, when the frame-up of the Maruti Suzuki workers began, Congress controlled both the Indian and Haryana state governments, and continued to do so until 2014.

Working-class struggles against the manufacturing giants have continued. In February 2016, some 4,000 workers at a Honda motorcycle plant in the nearby state of Rajasthan waged a strike with strong parallels to the Maruti Suzuki fight. Some 500 contract workers and the union president were dismissed for organizing a union. Both permanent and contract workers went on strike together when a supervisor physically attacked a contract worker, and were met with police repression. Struggles have also taken place in other areas, including the southern auto hub around Chennai.

Our perspective is the building of a revolutionary Marxist party in India, forged in the course of struggle. Such a party--section of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International--would fight for proletarian unity and class independence from all wings of the capitalists. It would struggle against all manifestations of caste and national oppression, religious communalism and the subjugation of women, while championing the cause of the hideously impoverished peasant masses.

The French CGT, South Korean KCTU, Indian NTUI and Japanese Zenroren union federations have issued a joint declaration on April 7 demanding, "Release the Maruti Suzuki 13 Now." As proletarian internationalists, we urge other trade unions and working-class organizations in the U.S. and internationally to support the fight of the Maruti Suzuki workers. Messages of support can be sent to the MSWU's Provisional Working Committee at marutiworkersstruggle (at)
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