The Black Hole of Manesar : (Non) News of a Strike at Maruti-Suzuki

It is not yet dawn, and I am wondering what is happening inside the Maruti Suzuki Factories in Manesar. How exactly is the Haryana Police, armed, along with its usual ordnance, with a High Court order, and the Haryana Labour Department’s ‘go ahead’, going about its stated business of ‘escorting’ a few thousand unwilling workers out of their factories under cover of darkness? Apparently, the factory fence has been layered with tent cloth. No light gets in, no light gets out. The Maruti Factories in Manesar have become black holes.They are producing more darkness than cars in Manesar tonight.

There is no way of knowing just what is going on inside. And yet, a few hundred surveillance cameras must be recording what the management, police,  administration and ‘security personnel’  are doing to ‘convince’ the workers to leave. Someday, this archive, every inch of video footage, should be played and rewound repeatedly, in order to arrive at a clearer understanding of the evolution of class relations in the industrial belt around the National Capital Region in the second decade of the twenty first century in India. Unfortunately, I have a strong feeling that tonight’s footage is going to go where all inconvenient truths go – to the limbo of unsolicited erasure.

The rapidly unfolding Industrial dispute in the Maruti Suzuki factories at Manesar, Gurgaon is no longer an unfamiliar situation for Kafila and its readers. A small cluster of posts have been following what has been going on in the black hole of Maruti Suzuki for the past two months. Interested readers can search and find many other useful links in the blogsphere, and across several facebook walls.

Nayanjyoti’s guest post on behalf of Krantikari Naujawan Sabha uploaded recently on Kafila gave a summary of the situation till the workers in three Maruti Suzuki plants went on strike eight days ago and occupied their factories in solidarity with temporary and contract workers who were not taken back into work by the Maruti Suzuki management and against the suspension of 44 workers.

This demonstration of a living unity between permanent and casual workers, and across plants within the Maruti Suzuki operation at Manesar, will remain as an example of what working class solidarity actually means in practice. The strike has been largely peaceful and non-confrontational so far. It was the Management that sent in its hired goons, (security company personnel and their minions) to try and provoke the workers into violence. This strategy met with no success. Despite a security contractor and his associates firing bullet rounds and throwing empty beer bottles  at the workers, the workers chose not to break their discipline, chose not to retaliate in kind. The majority of the reports appearing in the mainstream media, predictably, dished out the PR speak of the Maruti Management, even about this standoff and made loose, unsubstantiated allegations of workers coercing their colleagues or intimidating other personnel. Workers, according to some reports, were ‘violent’, while the management was only ‘allegedly violent’. Here the presence or absence of the word ‘alleged’ as a qualifier across the class divide speaks volumes. None of these reports were backed up by any shred of evidence. They were hearsay, rumors and disinformation, the kind of stuff that should never cross the threshold of any self respecting news-room.

Repeatedly, television anchors on some channels, referred to the ‘pattern’ or ‘habit’ of strikes, neglecting to mention that this strike had come only as a last resort, and that it had come after workers had rejoined work following a management led ‘lockout’. The draconian nature of the ‘lockout’, which entailed the management’s arbitrary intent to not let workers join work became evident only weeks before, but was passed over in complete and total silence, as if it had not occurred. It was indeed incredible to see a ‘lockout’ being (mis)reported as a ‘strike’ – as in “…workers have made a ‘habit’ of going on strike at Maruti Suzuki” – which implied that even the previous stand-off was a strike, not a lock-out. Do the journalists who report these events not know the ABC of industrial disputes, or, are their superiors giving them clear instructions to obfuscate, confuse and misinform the public? Sadly, ignorance and stupidity (the first possible explanation) are the keys to the more generous interpretation of the motives of their actions. The only other explanation suggests a far darker possibility.

When the worker’s representatives were given even a fraction of air time, (compared to what Maruti Suzuki management figures were getting) they were treated with an incomprehensible condescension. Facts were misreported and distorted, and any semblance of journalistic responsibility or ethics thrown to the wind. Some channels chose to dignify themselves with a mantle of stoic silence, breaking it substantially, like flatulent dinner guests, only when the situation could be looked at through an appropriately ‘law and order’ lens. In Yoga, there is a pose known as Pawana Mukta Asana (‘The Wind Release Posture’), which is recommended for people with gastric problems. This pose reminds us of the (painfully? embarrassingly?) restrained conduct of the careful class warriors in the studios of a few distinguished television studios and editorial meeting rooms.

In late August, when the Maruti-Suzuki management had ‘occupied’ its Manesar plant by sending in a battalion of Haryana police that kept out its workers, some of us (who had been contacted by the workers and their allies) had tried to interest the mandarins of the media in the ‘law and order’ dimensions of  what was then a developing story – an evolving industrial dispute, not far from Delhi. It could have made, we reasoned, good ‘breaking news’, especially in the wake of the anti-corruption groundswell. Here, after all, were Industrial Workers talking about corruption and the attrition of unfair and inhuman work conditions in a ‘blue chip’ environment. At that time, the terms of reference were the exact opposite of what they are today. There were workers, eager to work on one side, and an obdurate management on the other, that insisted on not letting them in to work if they did not submit to a humiliating set of conditions, and a police force standing in between them, ensuring, effectively, that production could not begin.

At that time, we were given to understand by those who had the ear of those who are making the executive decisions to run stories on ‘defiant’ workers today, that there was little public interest in stories on industrial relations, even when there was a potential ‘law and order’ angle involved. It is almost magical to see how quickly this view has changed. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there is a groundswell of ‘public interest’ in the management’s effort to end a strike that has been sensed in exactly the same circles were once there was a perception of ‘no public interest’ in workers effort to end a lock-out.

This period has been a sad and shameful time, not just for the history of how the capitalist class and the state treats industrial workers, but also how their lapdogs in the mainstream media, so keen to be seen to be anti-corruption crusaders, crawl and grovel, even when they are perhaps required, perfunctorily, to kneel.

We need to ask the serious question about whether or not the generous contributions in the form of advertising revenue that companies like Maruti-Suzuki offer media companies is, or is not, a form of open bribery. If the acceptance of the necessity to misreport an industrial dispute (because your media baronetcy fattens on the advertisements for cars) is not corruption, I don’t know what is. It this is not ‘paid for news’, I don’t know what is.

As of today, the Maruti-Suzuki Management, in collusion with the Haryana Government and its Labour Department, have been on the offensive. They are armed with a high court order that deems the strike ‘illegal’. Latest reports from within the factory indicate that a force of one thousand and five hundred or so policemen are now inside the compounds. That access to water and mass kitchen have been cut off. That workers are being blocked even from using toilets.

In any war, the invaders begin by laying siege to the target of their attack. The first things they do is to cut off news and information. Then they cut off access to food and water. Then they intimidate and bully, and finally they smash as many heads as they need to. This is class war, and the siege of the factories has begun. The violent intentions of the management and their political-administrative allies in the state of Haryana are as clear as day. The workers, on their part have not indicated that they are prepared to listen to the dictates they are being given. They are standing their ground.

Yesterday afternoon, reports tell us that there was a meeting in support of the striking workers in Manesar. Several trade union leaders had apparently said that they will not let the workers of the Maruti Suzuki plants in Manesar be touched. It is time for them, and for the cadres who listen to them, to redeem their words. Or else be exposed for what they have become well known for – bluster.

Let us hope that once the sun rises, when the accounting for the last eight days and more will begin, those who take on themselves the task of telling us what happened before television cameras and in cold print can be honest, at least to the tenor of their proclamations against corruption, delivered with such aplomb and enthusiasm, not so long ago from Ramlila Ground.  The din of that pious noise is still ringing in my ears.

Meanwhile, this is going to be one long night in Manesar. One hell of a long night.

Update : The workers ended their occupation in compliance with the high court order and are continuing their peaceful protest at a distance of just more than 100 metres from the gates of the factories in Manesar.

Meanwhile, the voices of people allied to the workers are beginning to make themselves heard on certain corners of mainstream news television – here for instance, is a segment on Bloomberg TV which allows air time to Mr. Bhargava, the Maruti-Suzuki boss, and also to Rakhi Sehgal, who represents the New Trade Union Initiative of India (NTUI).

10 thoughts on “The Black Hole of Manesar : (Non) News of a Strike at Maruti-Suzuki”

  1. Piety? Pious noises? Where has it stopped? When?
    Today, a Kejriwal, a Hazare, a Bedi and several others are prostrated before the living god of truth – the kind whose semi-ephemeral presence you see on TimesNow, less often in real life. These pujaris of truth and honesty see fit to condemn a Bhushan for his seditionist views. How dare he!

    Manesar is an example of how crooked the workers are !! Why do you support them?
    A wise old man told me years ago when the whole era of globalization started – “The poor? They are unfit to live anyway. Let them die, who cares?” when I asked him what would happen to the less capable rural people when this Ayn Rand-ian world came into existence.

    Tragi-comically, a lot of youngsters these days blow the trumpet of globalization, youth power, changing the world etc and go home to bed every night oblivious of the little wars fought by the little people – a world removed from their happy existence. But you can see them talking about changing the world in their forums, in their little addas and beer bars, speaking incessantly of the challenges they face everyday – “ration card? What is that? Talk about GenerationNext, not about such useless things!! What has poverty line got to do with me? Rs.32 you say? Well, those poor live in the villages, not like us in the city. They don’t have to pay extra like us city dwellers. To tell you the truth this BPL and reservation nonsense has gone too far. Once the Lopkpal comes, even that will be taken care of” !!!!!

    So why do you persist in supporting the workers in Manesar when according to the television anchors, all is well with the world and all it needs is a Lokpal bill to make it perfect? Let them die. If they disappear tomorrow, there are more bakras waiting to don the company uniform and will not bleat until they are older. Systemic change is what is required, not all these little niggles – my good friend Kejriwal says. Let us wait for it. It is just round the corner. Godot is bringing it at the moment.

    On a side note, which imbecile thought of Bhagat Singh Sena as a name for their pathetic lumpen outfit? A lifelong communist as a symbol of these idiot elements? God save my country from their patriotism. On the other hand, I am slightly hysterical at the thought of having more such senas. Subhash-Bose-(minus Forward Bloc)-Sena. Acharya-Narendra-Dev-(Who???)-Sena (with a question mark for a symbol), Somnath_Chatterjee-(son of Hindu Mahasabah Founder Member)-Sena, Mahatma Gandhi Academy of Armed Struggle Sena. I am not creative enough, possibly. I should have thought of more. But Bhagat Singh Sena takes the cake!! It stunned me into a catatonic laughter – frozen forever in its birth.
    Manesar Kami-kaze Sena. (To point out to the reference in your article – it is Divine Wind, after all. eh? Pawan Mukta. Blink blink, a la Baba!!!).

    Tomorrow it will be time for you and me to die as well, crumbling under the “realistic swaraj” of our new generation as opposed to the older “pseudo-sanity” of our kind. (For those teeny-boppers who would think fit to correct my grammar with “you and I” in my sentence, think again. Just because Obama says “Bush has graciously invited Michelle and I to the White House dinner” it is not going to marked as grammatically correct).
    So let us not waste time and hot air on defending what is already a lost struggle. Wait!! Bring candles the next time you visit this blog. We can hold a virtual India Gate vigil for those poor sods who have been properly buggered. Manesar Candle Virtual March!

  2. I have been following your posts on the Maruti workers strike.Except in Kafila I am unable to find news about this strike in our mainstream newspapers.

    I am a labour lawyer from Hyderabad. We had a similar situation in Hyderabad two years back in the hospitality sector where thousands of workers are being recruited. In one such workplace which was a Club the management sought to introduce supervision through contract supervisors setting aside their own supervisory cadre to introduce a better work culture and discipline among the workforce. The 250 workers refused to work under contract supervisors on the ground that it was a new service condition. The management hired goondas, sought police protection and got injunction orders from the civil court to coerce the workers into agreeing to their conditions. The workers refused and then the management insisted that they sign good conduct bonds. The standoff between the workers and the management went on for about five and a half months. Even as the management prevented the workers from working, it raised the bogey of the workers resorting to an illegal strike. The labour department expressed helplessness. The workers were not paid their salaries and there was an anxiety of lockout of the Club. In these circumstances the workers appealed to the High Court to intervene. With the help of an Order passed by a sensible Judge of the AP High Court the workers were allowed to resume their duties. it was a stroke of luck for the workers to have their case heard by this particular judge.

    There was a sigh of relief. But it was short lived. In a vindictive measure the management refused to pay salaries for the five and a half month period on the ground of No Work No Pay. Charge-sheets were issued against all the workers who protested. One sided domestic enquiries are being conducted and as of now thirty workers have been dismissed.

    The scene of action has now shifted to the Industrial Tribunal where the non payment of salaries, the dismissals and a host of unfair labour practices are subject of adjudication. The cases are pending for the past two years. The verdicts are still not out but one can see that the Judges see the workers as an indisciplined lot, given to violence and lethargy, that it is the prerogative of the management to improve the culture of work in a workplace and the worker has to obey.

    Quoting market pressures and competition, the management cuts down the workforce, moves workers from permanent to contract, pays less than minimum wages, bans union activities and violates all protective measures for workers. In current times the courts rarely lift the veil to see if the actions of the employer are bonafide, if they are indeed making losses. The courts instead expects the worker to lead evidence to show that the employer is making profits. How can a worker procure the balance sheets of the employer? The shifting of the burden of proof to the worker is itself a sign of liberalisation.

    It is crucial that the Maruti workers’ protest gets more attention in the media so that the courts and the labour authorities will intervene more responsibly.

  3. It is these sort of black and white view points that preclude any real analysis of the problem.

    You blame the ‘mainstream media’ of being biased in their reporting. Should you not hold yourself to the same standard? This entire write-up, as well as other posts on this topic on this site, paints a very simplistic good guy vs. bad guy scenario. I find such a thing very hard to believe.

    I have no actual insight into what is happening at Manesar. Never been the place neither have any interactions with the people involved. Possibly what you are saying is right, and Maruti management is being unfair. But the prism with which you are seeing is so colored that there is no way of knowing.

    Your basic premise is that there is a class war and you know who is the villain. Everything else follows from it. Hence you fail to see the role of organized unions for the current state of labor relations in India. I have had the opportunity to look at one sector, banking, closely and know how unreasonable unions have been. They once had a nation wide strike protesting computerization in public sector banks! How ludicrous and dangerous that can be would be know to anybody who knows how banking works in this age. I can site numerous other examples where bank unions have been outright stupid, and still have been able to bulldoze their way through. The only saving grace has been that unions in some of the other state sectors have been far worse.

    This is not to say that labour unions are solely responsible for everything that is wrong. Unfortunately there are enough culprits around that everybody can put the blame on somebody else. But that is no way should absolve some of the labour unions from their actions.

    We have some of the most archaic labour laws in the country. They must be supposedly pro-labour, given the strong resistance by left wing thinkers to changing them. The paradox, though, is that there does not seem to be enough labour around to benefit from them. Organized employment is just 7% of total workforce, according to NSS 2000. I think the majority of this organized labour would be in government related sectors. To me this statistic reeks of the hypocrisy being engendered by the current labour laws. Hiring an ‘official’ employee has been made such a complex task in this country. A lot of the small enterprises just dont show any workers on their books. They would rather payoff the labour department guys. And the big companies use the contract labour route.

    This is not to say owners of businesses are angels who have been shackled down rules and unions. But looking at these issues in such a one-sided manner has done far more injustice to those whom you purport to care than what these ‘bloody capitalists’ have done, atleast so far.

    Since i have anyway ranted so much, let me add a few more on the denizens of this site.

    I have been following kafila for some time now, and i feel that the most of the contributors are intense well meaning thinkers. But you guys suffer from a severe case of group think. Just look at the articles that are written on this site. I can remember just one, by Nivedita on their visit to the Anna Hazare fast, which gave a different point of view from the general tone of articles here. Else it is the same framework that is applied to applied to everything under the sun.

    The world is full of greys and rarely black and white. That you guys can see it like that can only mean you are wearing defective glasses

  4. @ vasudha ,
    you won’t find this news in Mainstream media , but kafila is covering it only now , it was covered by lok raj sangathan in june , way before any media even decided it was news to “cover” up.

  5. Why call it a Black Hole?

    In last 25 years i have not heard one instance where an agile large group of workers occupied factories in such extensive ways and kept cool, did not get trapped into provocations and kept the pressure. This few months will change the way workers (at least in North India) are going to be thought with, talked to and imagined.

    We as a generation grew up after the demise of the big strikes that never occupied the site of production. 90s and the last decade was way laid by constant focus on incarceration and condition discussions.

    This is the time to rejoice and think, invent and sing in a fresh lexicon. Why sadness in front of such immense achievement.?

    1. Thank you, Jeebesh, and everyone for their comments on this thread.
      The term black hole is used here to suggest an analogy to those dense masses of matter in outer space which swallow all light, matter and information. I am not suggesting that what the workers are doing is a black hole, (of course there enthusiasm and totally new language of action must be celebrated, and I agree with you on that. What I was trying to say was that there is, or was, until recently an ‘event shaped hole’ about what is going on in the Maruti Factory at Manesar, insofar as how it was rendered in the mainstream media. Thanks to a lot of pressure that is being exerted by the workers and their friends by their actions, on the ground and in the ‘air’, that situation is slowly, but surely, changing. Perhaps then we can talk about the situation, even if briefly, transforming in the direction of an ‘anti-black hole’ something that doesn’t swallow light and information, but emits it instead.

      Here is a handy note on ‘anti black holes’ or ‘white holes’ on a physics webssite. I think it is quite interesting, so am sharing it here.

      “You’ve heard of black holes: those rips in spacetime that suck up matter into oblivion. Now scientists are proposing that we’ve seen evidence for the opposite of black holes, or white holes, which spew out matter into our universe instead.

      Our universe is a weird weird place, and black holes are some of the weirdest things around. But mathematically, a black hole should be able to be reversed, making something that spews matter out instead of swallowing it. These “white holes” would operate differently than black holes do; they’d spontaneously pop into existence for an infinitely small amount of time and barf out a bunch of crap expel a large amount of matter before collapsing in on themselves to form black holes, never to be seen again.

      This sort of behavior is understandably tricky to observe, but scientists think that they may actually have spotted one. Back in 2005, a gamma ray burst was measured that didn’t come along with the supernova that’s typically associated with gamma ray bursts, and it’s possible that the burst was instead caused by the collapse of a white hole.

      What’s especially interesting about white holes is that their spontaneous creation of matter is analogous to the Big Bang, to the point where they’re also being referred to as “Small Bangs.” They wouldn’t have any fixed spacetime coordinates and wouldn’t be detectable at all, but they could instantly appear literally anywhere, anytime and do their thing before collapsing again. There could even be one behind you right now.

      So far this is all just conjecture, but the same was true about black holes up until just the last few decades. And as physicist Murray Gell-Mann famously said, “everything not forbidden is compulsory,” so at least from a quantum mechanical perspective, white holes must definitely be out there.” ”

      I like the idea that there might be ‘small bangs” (without fixed space time co ordinates, can appear anywhere, anytime) and that ‘everything not forbidden is compulsory’ it seems appropriate some how

  6. Why do we need the “mainstream” media as an polemical other to understand what thousands of workers achieved through their sophisticated thinking, reading of forces, transmissions of thoughts, and actions. They occupied so many production sites. Two shift workers coordinated to be inside for the occupation. They held their cool and kept the situation open and flowing.

    They have brought to the idea of “occupy” a new force and energy. This is their contribution and will re-shape, re-script our landscape in substantial ways. It will displace the word “save” by a more active production of forces.

    This is a wonderful invitation to the creation of a new lexicon.

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