There was a time when people were not equal before the law. For the same crime an untouchable could be sentenced to death whereas a Brahmin could be let go with merely being fined, the general consensus among the ruling classes being that the social station occupied by an individual ought to determine how much punishment he/she deserves. Such manner of administering ‘justice’ has since been abolished. Modern bourgeois/capitalist state declared feudal jurisprudence, which it replaced, inhuman and barbaric; instead the principle of equality before the law has been enshrined in all the modern states. ‘Equality before the law’; same laws apply to all the citizens of India irrespective of what station they occupy, whether a Brahmin or a Dalit, Anil Ambani or a rickshaw puller, all are same in the eyes of law, all would be granted the same quantum of punishment for committing the same offence. This is the final word on jurisprudence in civilized societies, or is it? Equality before the law means that both Anil Ambani and a migrant rickshaw puller would be fined the same amount if they try to spend their night on the footpath, both Sonia Gandhi and a daily wage labourer would be given the same punishment if they steal to feed their children and both Narendra Modi and a factory worker would face the same quantum of punishment if they are found to be guilty of inciting riots leading to the death of people. It does not matter whether violence was a result of dark ambition to acquire political mileage or whether it was caused by fear and desperation. Law is blind; or is it?
The account fabricated by Corporate Media
18th of July, this year marks the completion of one year since 147 workers of the Maruti factory were incarcerated at Gurgaon Jail. They have not been granted bail till date, an additional 66 workers have outstanding non-bailable arrest warrants and 2300 workers lost their jobs. The reporting by mainstream media about the incident that caused this was very simple; the unruly union had been on strike demanding sky high wage hikes which the management was trying to negotiate; after some rounds of negotiations the workers suddenly went mad and began to rampage through the factory, destroying expensive equipment, beating up every management person they came across and finally they murdered a manager in the cold blood by setting him on fire. All of us lapped up this account without suspecting in the least that there might be something amiss in this simple plot in which the patriotic Maruti management, dedicated to national economic growth clash with the swinish, unruly and self-serving workers who cannot see beyond the narrow confines of their self interest. In this story of the battle between reason and selfishness, the heroic Maruti management at last prevailed by teaching the villainous workers union a just lesson.
Unbiased are in fact accomplices in oppression of the poor
Yours truly does not pretend to be an unbiased observer, objectively seeking the truth through the careful appraisal of the facts. In fact I write in a partisan spirit dedicated to the cause of the working class. To be objective and unbiased is the business of the law and the state which treat the weak and the strong, the oppressors and the oppressed in the same light. In my humble opinion, which I am willing to back and defend with all the conviction and dedication at my disposal, I feel that those institutions and individuals, which choose to remain unbiased in an oppressive set up, irrespective of their self perception, in fact stand on the side of oppressors. In the battle between oppressors and the oppressed, fence sitting is not allowed, for fence sitters, by not intervening in the struggle on the side of the oppressed, allow oppression to continue unabated and hence for very justifiable reasons may be deemed to be on the side of the oppressors.
Legal oppression at the Maruti factory floor
Work is done at the factory floor with the efficiency that could put a robot to shame. The assembly line runs the workers who repeat the same motions day in and day out. The pace of work is controlled through a push button at the office of the manager who can hasten up and slow down the workers by a simple flick of his finger. Anybody who has watched and laughed as a child at the depiction of a factory in Charlie Chaplin’s world famous movie, ‘the modern times’, need only visit a modern assembly line to realize that the movie was not meant to be funny at all. At an assembly line, humans become mere appendages of the giant automaton that produces goods at a break neck speed. Rain or shine, work must go on, for one missing appendage (read worker) could bring the entire automaton to halt. So there is a strict cap over how much time can be spent in the washroom, any worker who stays inside for too long is hounded out through bangs on the door and choicest abuses. ‘The assembly line must go on’, is the motto that rules half of the lives of the workers (they spend 12 out of 24 hours of their day at the assembly line). They are granted 7 minute breaks for the afternoon tea and half an hour for lunch, the rest of the time of the total 12 hours they repeat the same bodily motions, over and over, for years, without any hope of upward mobility and raise in pay. Leaves are not allowed; at any time of the year, for no reason whatsoever and out of their meagre salaries they lose Rs. 1500 per day for going on leave. No exception is allowed even in case of disease, death of near ones or wedding, the assembly line must go on…
How to break resistance
Maruti workers did have a union, but it was run by the management. The worst traitors of the workers cause were chosen by the management to represent the workers’ demands. The strife began when the workers began to demand a union of their own; capable of representing their own genuine grouses, predictably the management refused to comply and declared that the workers had turned rebellious. Contrary to the reporting by the mainstream media, the strike was not initiated by the workers. The truth is that the management declared a lock out, conveniently during a lean season, when the demand for cars was low. The workers were slapped with what was called by the management a ‘bond of good conduct’, the condition being that workers would be allowed to begin work only if they sign this bond. An illegal document, contrary to all labor laws and the ‘right to organize’ enshrined in the constitution, this bond required the workers to above all give up their demand to form a union of their own. The police, the labor commissioner and the ministers, all called upon the workers to be ‘good boys’ and sign this bond. The workers however refused, so the lock out continued, for days, for months, both the sides refusing to budge. The management, faced with the unexpected resilience and solidarity on part of the workers tried out other extralegal tactics. The entire leadership of the workers was bought off with extremely hefty bribes. The workers responded by electing a new set of leaders. Then the management resorted to bribing the landlords of the basti where the workers live, their electricity and water-supply were cut off, but the workers remained unfazed. Then the management used the police to remove the tents, outside the factory compounds, within which the locked out workers had set up community kitchen, the workers still held their nerves. Faced with this unexpectedly dogged determination, the management now played its final and fateful card, ‘get them to commit a violent act’ and use the excuse to shut them behind the bars. So hired goons began to be sent to the site where the workers had set up their sit-in, to provoke a fight, but the workers sensing what was being attempted remained calm. Yours truly himself participated in a rally organized by the Maruti workers, in which I-cards of all the participants were being checked to ensure that no agent provocateur sent by the management was able to enter the ranks of the workers and start a fight. But finally, on 18th July last year, the management got the violent incident that it was hoping for. On the said date, the union leaders had gone inside the factory to negotiate with the management. The workers waiting outside got the news that instead of the management they had found a bunch of hardened criminals hired by the management who pounced upon them, beating them up with rods. This proved to be the final straw for the workers, sitting outside the factory compounds for months under the blazing sun, gone without payment for the same duration, disillusioned by the biased attitude of the politicians of all hues, the police and the labor commission. They charged in, to rescue their comrades trapped inside, the leaders sensing the trap they were running into, tried to stop but the workers charged in, a melee combat thus ensued. By the time the smoke cleared several goons hired by the management, some management persons and several workers themselves had become injured and one management person had died.
Management had finally succeeded in provoking the workers into violence. The police, as if it was lying in wait for something of this sort to happen immediately began to round up the fleeing workers. Within hours 147 workers had been arrested and slapped with dreaded charges. 147 workers arrested on 18th of July 2012 and refused bail till date over the charge of one person’s murder and minor damages to the factory property. That the damage was not very serious is proved by the fact that the factory could resume production almost immediately. But before that 2300 workers who had refused to sign the bond of good conduct had been sacked. The resistance had been broken and the management had won. Discipline and order has been restored at the Maruti factory, those in jails face a bleak future, and the sacked workers are trying to start anew elsewhere, though a small number among them continue their battle till date.
The coming storm
This isn’t just the account of what happened at Maruti factory Manesar, this could be the story of any factory in the Delhi NCR region and beyond. In the market there are no good firms or bad firms; in the there are just firms seeking to mint money, engaged in a cutthroat competition with each other and seeking to increase their profits, almost invariably at the cost of the workers. This write up is not meant to serve as an obituary for the Maruti workers’ struggle, far from it, it is an early warning signal of the storm to come. The working class will bury its dead, wipe its tears and survive, to fight another day, for injustice and oppression cannot prevail forever. So make up your mind and choose your side. No fence sitting allowed in the war against oppression.
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge
Woh din ke jis ka waada hai
Jo loh-e-azl pe likha hai
(poetry by Faiz)
Image Source: IANS