Written by Joerg Nowak.

The Indian automobile industry saw a series of labour unrest since 2005, culminating in the riot in a factory of market leader Maruti Suzuki in July 2012 that left more than 100 managers and workers and injured, and one HR manager died in the flames of a factory set on fire.

In this talk, Joerg Nowak compares the strikes and occupations at the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki in 2011 and 2012 in the Gurgaon cluster in the larger New Delhi region with the strike at motorcycle producer Bajaj in the Pune industrial region in summer 2013. Both strikes occurred in new factories with a majority of the workforce being contract workers, and both factories had been built in recently developed industrial zones in a spatial distance from earlier industrial centres. Due to different political traditions in both industrial clusters, the forms of organisation that workers developed before, during and after the strikes took a different shape.

The Maruti Suzuki Workers Union did not join any national federation and developed a regional and national network of supporters, ranging from peasants and student organisations, intellectuals to other labour unions. In contrast, the Vishwa Kalyan Kamgar Sangathan, the trade union of the Bajaj Auto factory in Chakan, acted both in the framework of the left national federation New Trade Union Initiative and in the framework of the regional trade union Shramik Ekta, engaging in a more conventional trade union framework. This can be related to the lack of a militant tradition of working class resistance in the Pune cluster since the defeat of the Telco strike in 1989. In Pune, many unions are either aligned with management or under the influence of right-wing party Shiv Sena.

In contrast to this, the militant tradition of factory struggles in the Delhi region since the Honda strike in 2005, enabled the Maruti workers to create links with many organisations outside and inside the industrial cluster. While both trade unions were able to ameliorate or defend the working conditions of permanent workers in the face of harsh state repression, the majority of contract workers remain outside of the legal forms of representation of those trade unions. This limit of the classical trade union framework incentivised the creation of new forms of territorial organisation like the Workers Solidarity Centre (Gurgaon-Bawal) that connects different factory struggles regardless of union affiliation or legal status of the workers.

Joerg Nowak is a  Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow with the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies (IAPS). The following is audio recorded from a February 1st event by Joerg Nowak speaking at an IAPS Seminar. Image credit: CC by Wikipedia Commons.

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