A Big Red River: Solidarity Meeting with Maruti-Suzuki Workers

(this video, courtesy, Pratyush, Correspondence Delhi)

A big red river streamed out of the gates of Kamla Nehru Park in Gurgaon last evening (17th October, 2011). Several thousands of workers (according to one estimate – one hundred thousand workers), from many factories in the Gurgaon-Manesar belt had occupied the park from 4:00 pm onwards to stand in solidarity with the struggle of the Maruti-Suzuki, Suzuki Powertrain and Suzuki Motorcycle India Limited workers. In an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity, permanent workers are on strike to demand justice and re-instatement of their contract worker colleagues. The atmosphere at the meeting was of celebration, workers who had been occupying three different factories for more than a week had been evicted by an administration that had brought out all the police and coercive power at its disposal. But yesterday’s gathering was like a reunion, the workers of the three ex-occupied factories, and their comrades in other plants throughout the Gurgaon-Manesar belt were meeting, like old and new friends, to taste the heady experience of peacable solidarity.

One of them said, “when we went home finally after a long stint occupying the factory, we saw how fast the world is changing on television, there are hundreds and thousands of people like us, working people, young people, out on the streets, occupying so many cities, New York, London, Rome…, we realized that we are not alone…that makes us feel very happy…that is why you see so many of us smiling here…we are angry, but we are not beaten, we are out here, and we will not give in now easily…the whole world is watching the whole world.”

In perfectly peaceful, measured steps, thousands of workers walked out of the park and into the city.

A sea of red flags, with or without the alphabets of affiliation to this or that union,this or that desire, this or that demand, a roar of voices, raising many different kinds of slogans, some routine, some improvised, some laughed out loud, some said sing-song, some said with anger, some said with joy, none spoken without passion.

The whole world is watching the whole world change.

From Kafila archives:

10 thoughts on “A Big Red River: Solidarity Meeting with Maruti-Suzuki Workers”

    1. Dear Vijay Gurgaon,

      Thank you for your comment. What is so surprising about peacable solidarity? Can peaceful behaviour, and solidarity, not go hand in hand?



  1. Shuddha, actually the solidarity shown by permanent workers towards semi-permanent or contract workers is quite common in the automobile belt. Workers seem to grasp the danger of the principle behind firing non-permanent staff quite quickly, because they see the writing on the wall – a situation in which all employment is eventually made contractual in the factory. Dismissing workers is also used as a tool to discipline all labour, permanent or not, and for management to send out a signal of force in the ongoing battle between labour and management. Further, the meaning of what it means to be ‘permanent’ in the automobile industry, like many other industries has itself been steadily eroded in the past few years, with the result that the experience of vulnerability is comparable between different sectors of the workforce. Bonds of ‘good conduct’, apology letters (maafinamas), strictures against go-slow, strikes or sit-ins – in practice these impose such impossible conditions against permanent workers as well, that they often have no choice but to be fired.

    1. Dear Sunalini, I agree, that on an everyday level, there are concrete solidarities transcending the ‘permanent/temporary’ divide, and of course, the kind of ‘Certified Standing Order’ that companies like Maruti Suzuki employ in their Manesar plant, can render any permanent, not only temporary, but unemployed, in a moment. The ridiculous nature of these regulations mean that they cannot in fact be adhered to in practice, hence, the sword of ‘dismissal’ is always hanging over every worker’s head, permanent or not.

      When I say the solidarity is unprecedented, i mean, in this case, the formalization of the solidarity in the declared, carefully thought out act of an ‘occupation’ (and a continued strike) in concert. Mainstream, established, Trade Union practice has always been to divide permanent and temporary workers, with the so called ‘fruits’ of union-membership held out as a ‘mirage’ to the permanent, (to the exclusion of the temporary, and temporary workers, typically, on the other hand, get used as scabs by managements). What is interesting in this case is that these practices, which have a well known history, have been elided.

  2. “the whole world is watching the whole world”. Could have been the title. :)

    This comes from joy of life.

    One of the big exasperation and criticism of workers self activity has been it’s inability to transcend the confinement of the site of production, economic interest and hierarchical fractures within.

    Those criticism could now be withdrawn without resentment :) and the “whole world” brought to play in our imagination and action.

    In the deep ocean a mysterious sound was heard in 1995. It was called a bloop. It travelled 3000 kilometers and some 250 decibel. The discussion is still on, as to what this sound was. was it geological or biological. Maybe both :)

  3. Ah yes, Shuddha, I agree, absolutely. About solidarity, I was saying that my sense from studying a similar sort of situation on the Greater Noida side of the NCR automobile belt, is that solidarity is not an option. Yes, the workers show far greater capacity for it than one would expect in ordinary circumstances, but it’s a testimony to their intelligence and capacity for reading the writing on the wall about management, rather than an a priori political stand. Not that you were implying so, of course. In any case, these are certainly interesting if disturbing times. Worker solidarity across all ranks is cause to celebrate in and for itself, I agree.

  4. What I’m saying is that the solidarity seems to be following from extreme duress, from the breakdown of previous, more settled forms of extraction/oppression. A classic Marxist breaking point, in some ways, but with unforeseen outcomes.

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