STRIKE AT MARUTI : A CASE STUDYWorkers at Marutis Manesar plant went on a sit-in strike in the afternoon on Friday (7thOctober). On Sunday, the automaker dismissed 10 workers, terminated five trainees andsuspended 10 employees in connection "with the strike and violence at the Manesar factorypremises".Around 2,000 workers in all categories-including regular and contractual employees,apprentices and trainees-have been taking part in the "sit-in" strike inside the Manesar plant.To understand this, one has to look beyond issues at the workplace-of which there alwayshave been and will continue to be differences.However, if one digs deeper, it does appear as though the Maruti Suzuki strife is more asymbol of all that is going wrong in this part of the country. And less of industrial unrest aswell as labour action. And then some.Here are a few facts to consider:1) The cost of living in and around Gurgaon has gone through the roof. At the simplest,anybody who is living in ancestral properties could probably make as much as he or she isearning by renting out the rooms they occupy. Which leads to the question-where else do theygo and live, then? Rentals are extremely high too-so unless workers are willing to live inshanty-town type bedroom accommodation (Rs1,000-Rs1,500 per bed per month with adozen people or more to a room), they will end up spending, easily, Rs3,000-Rs4,000 perperson for "shared" accommodation. Food is not cheap, either, and the workload is so heavyat some of these units, that after an 8-hour/6-day per week shift, there is simply no time orenergy to cook.The demand, therefore, is that the industry should provide free or subsidised housing as wellas food. This is partly also because some of the factories that have relocated to remotelocations in other parts of the country-Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh andChhattisgarh are examples-are providing in-campus housing with full meals and facilitiesincluding washing of clothes.2) The heavily skewed male-female ratio in this part of India brings its own share ofsociological problems. Add to that a huge number of migrant labour, again predominantlymale, and you have a tinderbox which has been described as close to what one would expectin an all-male environment. In addition, this is a part of the country where society does nothave a tolerant view on prostitution-whether it exists or not.This is not something that people usually speak about, but it is a simple fact of life-industrialtownship areas always provide for what can be called some form of recreation. Where sexualrelease is not available, it shows up in other forms-excess alcohol consumption, narcotics andeven aggression. Can strikes be one offshoot? An interesting theory-but this is one that isbeing suggested.3) Take the syndrome of the landowner, who became an employee, and often a pauper inone or two generations. Land sold for thousands of rupees an acre is now valued at lakhs persquare metre, and a lot of the landowners-real, imaginary, tenants, squatters, multiple-claimants or otherwise, bear a grudge towards anybody and everybody who is on that landnow. In fact this is the most commonly-heard issue behind disciplinary episodes-of people
shouting back in sheer frustration that this land belonged to their parents and grandparents,who frittered the money away, and now they dont have to work for a salary.To this boiling-pot, add the issue of a new generation of land sharks who are seizing andusurping property of those who really have the title to existing remaining land parcels. And tothat add the way litigation is taking its toll on this issue too. Expecting somebody to stand for8 hours a day on an assembly line when these sorts of problems are chewing his mind isanother reality which brings out behaviour of the "strike" sort.4) There is a saying in the areas that surround Delhi that this ancient capital is burnt to theground every 200-odd years, and it is those who live around and encircling Delhi who willbenefit from this-it is almost like a truism here. The cycle time is expected to shorten, though.For a part of the country where higher or even basic education is not anywhere near what it isin other parts of the country, it is also a fact that better-educated "outsiders" come and pick upthe higher-valued jobs, and that adds to the logic, if any, behind this aspiration-destroy andget your "rights" back.The result is that there is often a destructive streak in interactions, which is based on theseaspects, wherein the recycled nature of the multiple cities beneath Delhi as well as the historyof bloodshed by and against "outsiders" while those who lived around Delhi continued withtheir agrarian existences, is considered to be inevitable. It is not unusual to find agriculturalmethods that have not changed for a thousand years not more than 30-40 kilometres fromDelhis borders-especially in some Haryana districts which lie beyond Gurgaon. Sayinganything more will be considered communal.5) Corruption across-the-board in Haryana is reported to have gone past all previousrecords and levels. This has been repeated to me so often and by so many, that even if it werenot true, it has become folklore. The tolls collected on the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, whereyou now take the same amount of time to go from Delhi to Gurgaon as you used to in thepast-mainly because of bad design and faulty implementation, are quoted as a live example.Behind the walls and office doors, of course, it is another matter. The cost of this corruptionextends all the way down- and that is another truth. You want to work in Gurgaon, or if youneed a mobile phone or anything else-just pay up.And then there are the palaces that have come up, the open display of extreme wealth by allsorts of people who should have been in clean governance, but are actually in the dirtymoney-making business, and the arrogance of it all-is appalling even for the middle class,which can withdraw into comfort zones every evening. But what about those who toil, aretrying to pretend that they have arrived with that sought-after job in an MNC or largecompany, and are still nowhere?6) There is of course the final truth-that the bottom has fallen out of the Indian car industry,and once it resurfaces, there will be a new range of leaders whose products will be judged(and bought) on more than the inferior price and simpler functionality curve that Maruti hadcarefully cultivated all these decades. Higher technology and lower price will be the newparadigms, and in that, Maruti-Suzuki may well be already lagging behind with all products.The new kid on the block, with cars that are giving everybody else a race for their money, isHyundai. Their new small car, the Eon, whose brochures have already been "leaked", islikely to bring a change in the market of a sort not seen in a while. Think about it this way-if
you were a manufacturer who had already made as much as you wanted to in a protectedenvironment, would you want to fight bigger rivals in an open contest, or would you ratherpack up and move on? Suzuki versus Hyundai, is that even the semblance of a fair contest?To some extent, that appears to be what the grapevine has already picked up, and in purebusiness terms, it does seem to make perfect business sense, if you look only at numbers.Book your profits, exit before they become losses, and leave somebody else to clean upbehind you.And at the end of the day, whether striking employee or management director, it is thenumber at the bottom which influences the decision.Sad about what it may do to the Gurgaon belt, though. And as one sends this to the editor,news just filters in that some local people who tried to deliver food and water were turnedback, and that it appears that a bigger group will try to do the same soonMaruti strikes back after 13 daysThe strike by 2,000 workers of Maruti’s Manesar factory, which came to an end recently after13 days, is a new age labor law case of reference for modern India. On June 4, the workerswent on a strike demanding recognition of a new union, Maruti Suzuki Employees Union(MSEU), formed by those working at the Manesar plant. Since no intimation or notice wasgiven to the management about the strike, the strike was called illegal according to IndustrialDisputes Act, 1947. R.C. Bhargava, Chairman, Maruti Suzuki India said, “Our stand is clear.The strike is illegal. Even the Haryana government and labor commission have said the same.Still, we will continue to talk”.The Haryana government toughened its stand on the workers of Maruti Suzuki’s Manesarplant by declaring the strike illegal and imposed a ban on the strike by passing prohibitoryorders. In a press statement, Haryana MoS for Labor and Employment, Shiv Charan LalSharma, pointed out that the state government had also referred the matter to the local laborcourt under the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. This move of the state cameeven as the Maruti management offered the striking workers a peace proposal. Seven daysinto the strike, the management expressed their readiness to “review” two of the workers’demands if they in return agree to call off the strike and make up for the losses in productiondue to the strike.The management suggested a modification in the structure of the existing union and thecompany agreed to the establishment of individual bodies at the Manesar and Gurgaonfacilities to deal with plant-level issues. Maruti has also proposed the formation of agoverning council comprising of workers’ representatives from both the plants to deal withcorporate level issues like wage negotiations. However, the management made it clear thatthey would not accept any union which had members from outside or with politicalaffiliation.The strike made headlines partly because strikes have become increasingly rare. The numberof strikes instigated as a result of labor unrest, has witnessed a declining trend from 227 in2005 to a 79 in 2010. The 13 days Maruti strike has become yet another case of reference ofthe workers, the management, and the state working together to reach a cordial settlement.The management even agreed to treat sympathetically the 11 workers who were sacked forinstigating the strike at the facility. S.Y. Siddiqui, Managing Executive Officer,Administration - HR, Finance, IT & COSL, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd said, “We have said thatwe would look at the issue of reinstatement of the eleven workers who were terminatedsympathetically. But they have to face some disciplinary action. Also, we were ready toreduce the penalty in the no work no pay policy from eight days to four days. After all we
have lost more than Rs. 400 crore, so some disciplinary action has to be taken. But our firstdemand is that they should come back to work immediately.”Though the 13 days strike led to loss of approximately Rs. 420 crore or 12,600 units, MarutiSuzuki’s structured and composed approach to resolve the scenario is reflective of thematurity of the leading Indian organization that is home to such a large workforce.