FACTORY OCCUPATION! Temporary and permanent Honda workers in Manesar, India

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The global undercurrents of class struggle are not always immediately visible. We see waves of protests erupting in Chile, Honduras, Iraq and Lebanon, which don’t refer to each other in any obvious ways. While there might not be any conscious mass communication between these movements (yet), we can reasonably assume that they are more than just the result of economic downturns, the global ripples of which have impacted negatively on working class consumption. 

These struggles take clues from each other, as past examples have shown us. Do you remember the striking migrant warehouse workers from north Africa who blocked a TNT depot in Italy during the so-called Arab spring, shouting “Down with Mubarak, down with the bosses?” They felt that if the poor can take on a police state ‘at home’ they would surely be able to take on a global logistics company. Do you remember the Maruti Suzuki workers in Manesar, who left their factory after five days of a sit-down strike in 2011 and who, when re-entering the outside world and seeing that Occupy had occupied Wall Street at the same time, said: “It seems our struggle has spread!”.

The current factory occupation of the Honda Manesar plant has its own local history and reference points. The older workers in the plant might remember the brutal police attack in 2005 [1], shortly after the factory was opened. They might remember the wildcat strike of temporary workers in 2010 [2] after the union of permanent workers was established. The temps struck against a management-union agreement which excluded them and based the bonus of the permanent workers on the productivity increases squeezed out of the temps. Many will have taken their clues from the 2011 occupation of both temps and permanents at the neighbouring Maruti Suzuki [3] plant or the wave of wildcat actions in 2014. [4]

And again there are links beyond the immediate local experience. The automobile industry is at the heart of a global crisis, not only in terms of profits or sales, but in terms of the legitimacy of the entire polluting and exploiting system. So it is no coincidence that there was a recent workers’ offensive in the automobile sector on both sides of the US – Mexican wall. The special-economic zones in Mexico were shaken by wildcat strikes in the supply-chain [5]. These struggles on the ‘low-wage’ side of the wall will have encouraged General Motors workers in the US to attack the divisive two-tier system, which their union had agreed to, a few months later. [6] 

While large parts of the left still focus on the ‘representatives of evil’ personified by Trump or Modi or the ‘saviours’ in form of Corbyn or Sanders, workers must, and have, taken steps beyond representation. Over the last few months, their protests have questioned ‘leftist’ governments in Bolivia as much as ‘right-wing’ governments in Hungary. What we lack is a collective reflection of the inner-dynamics and global dimension of the current protests. We lack a vision of how to go beyond the clash with state forces and to imagine a collective take-over of the means to produce a better life. This is why struggles such as the current factory occupation of Honda workers are of essential importance. They are literally occupying the means to produce, and in doing so, finding new ways to develop collective knowledge. 

Our information regarding this struggle are patchy, we rely on comrades who visited the workers at the gate, and who are in touch with them through WhatsApp, and a few press articles and videos. [7]

The struggle

The sales of Honda scooters and motorcycles are down. Management planned to sack workers hired through contractors first. Some of them had worked there for ten years. Management talked about a three month break, after which they would consider re-hiring workers – by avoiding a formal dismissal they get around paying redundancy pay. The first workers were sacked in batches. Some workers hired through contractors reacted with a boycott of the canteen in October, which has significant symbolic weight.

There are in total around 4,000 workers employed, 2,500 of them through contractor. The plant has an annual capacity of 1.5 million units. Output has recently been cut by 50 per cent. The temps are paid around Rs 14,000 per month, while the permanents get four to five times as much. Although this wage gap has proven to be a fairly reliable tool of divide and rule, currently permanent workers are disgruntled due to delayed pay negotiations. They express solidarity with the action of the temps.

5th of November

Management refuses entry to 400 workers hired through contractors. Inside, some workers start a sit-down protest in front of the union office. Negotiations between union, management and government have no results. The company puts a copied court order up at the gate saying that workers have to stay 200 metres away from the gate, but workers don’t pay any attention.

6th of November

The day shift starts with a sit-down strike inside the factory at 11:30am. Police arrive and threaten individual workers. The late shift is let into the factory and joins the sit-down, while the morning shift refuses to leave. Thousands are inside and 300 workers gather outside of the gate. There are in total 2,500 workers hired through contractor employed at Honda. 

7th of November

Management circulates a notice to the permanent workers that the workers hired through contractors are engaged in an illegal sit-down strike and that therefore production is suspended. They tell the permanents to stay at home. Management stops the food supply to the canteens, workers arrive with food at gates. The sit-down continues. 

10th of November

Still around 2,000 workers inside. Management publishes the following statement:

Dear Associate,

Due to prevailing IR situation in the plant operations have been suspended and plant will remain closed till the further intimation to you.

Regards

Naveen Sharma

AGM- General Affairs

Manesar Plant

——-

[1]

https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no7/#fn4

[2]

https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no-935/#fn5

[3]

https://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/gurgaonworkersnews-no-951/

[4]

https://libcom.org/blog/struggles-%E2%80%98make-india%E2%80%99-%E2%80%93-series-factory-riots-occupations-wildcat-strikes-delhi%E2%80%99s-industria

[5]

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/01/26/mata-j26.html

[6]

https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/gm-strike-sends-ripples-across-auto-parts-suppliers

[7]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8KZtwKRNsA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGwhCSPb8go

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUjV4eBoQsw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZG1sFRfBBvE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Avd44XVMhUI

3 thoughts on “FACTORY OCCUPATION! Temporary and permanent Honda workers in Manesar, India

  1. I was happy to translate this report in German. I have added following comment:

    The report from the Angry Workers of the World group contains some points that seem to us to be cause for discussion.

    How does this group see itself? In the report it gives us the impression that it sees itself as part of the “left” of which it regrets large parts “still” concentrate on the juxtaposition of Trump and Modi on the one hand and Sanders and Corbyn on the other hand. Yes, what else can one expect from these proven leftist bourgeois politicians, Trotskyists, Stalinists and anarchists who adhere to pacts with the ruling class to save bourgeois “representation” democracy and “anti-fascism”? Angry Workers of the World historically refers to the group Solidarity, whose only partial break with the leftist bourgeois ideology, whose flight into workersism it took over, and which ultimately led it into the alternative trade union IWW.

    Why ‘workerism’? Here:

    “What we lack is a collective reflection of the inner dynamics and global dimension of the current protests.”
    It seems to us that Angry Workers of the World does not understand that itself as a minority in the working class should participate in this consciousness process of the working masses through public statement. It is not enough to ask the question, it should be answered on the basis of the theoretical positions taken by the communist left, from “Bordigists” to “Council Communists” in their various attempts to learn lessons from the first wave of the proletarian world revolution from 1917 to 1923.

    “We have no idea how we can go beyond clashing with state forces and imagine a collective takeover of the means to create a better life.”
    The question is meant rhetorically. But to ask the question wrong is to answer it wrongly:

    “That’s why struggles like the current occupation of the factory by Honda workers are essential. They literally deal with the means to produce and find new ways to develop collective knowledge.”

    But that seems a little premature to us.

    With Honda, the sit-in, like the boycott of the canteens before it, is a means for the precarious workers to draw the attention of the workers still working in the factory and call them to solidarity in their fight against mass redundancies. It’s typical for the comrades of Angry Workers of the World to think of …. Self-management.

    We are convinced that only when

    “in an industrial country the rule of the working class becomes a fact does the proletariat face the task of converting the economy according to new communist principles.The abolition of private property is easily pronounced, it will be the first measure of the political violence of the working class.But this is only a legal act, which is supposed to create the legal basis for the real economic process.The real transformation and the real revolutionary work begins only then.” (Jan Appel/Gruppe Internationaler Kommunisten, quoted in F.C., The G.I.C. and the economy of the transition period, part 1 https://afreeretriever.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/the-g-i-c-and-the-economy-of-the-transition-period-1/#more-606, part 2 https://afreeretriever.wordpress.com/2018/05/13/the-gic-and-the-economy-of-the-transition-period-2/).

    This means that only when the working class has conquered political power through its councils do the working masses face the question of who should administer the factories, the workers themselves, or a state or party. It’s nice that comrades Angry Workers of the World are already thinking about it, but right now the question is different:

    – should the workers within capitalism, in companies occupied by them, but further isolated, try to shape workers’ self-administration?

    or

    – should they actively try to extend their struggle to workers in other factories, such as the workers council at Haft Tapeh in Irandis? See F.C. Iran: What after the repression of the Haft Tapeh workers and the steelworkers in Ahvaz? https://libcom.org/blog/iran-what-after-repression-haft-tapeh-workers-steelworkers-ahvaz-24122018

    F.C. 12-11-2019

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator from https://arbeiterstimmen.wordpress.com/2019/11/12/indien-fabriksbesetzung-in-der-arbeiterhochburg-manesar/#more-2532

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