Militant Class Struggle in India: Workers Strike For Pay, and Respect

In the past week we have come across several articles describing the fight for workers rights in India.  In the interest of enabling our readers and workers all over the world to compare strike tactics and learn what works and what doesn’t, we will always endeavor to present accounts of workers struggles wherever they occur.  We intend to show workers, especially here in the US, that, contrary to the lies spread incessantly by the pro-capitalist trade union leaders of the AFL-CIO unions, it is indeed possible to utilize the “old methods” of building picket lines that scabs can only cross at risk to life and limb – and by doing so, to actually win strikes.

Picket lines that allow scabs to cross them with impunity might as well not be set up in the first place.  The whole idea of setting up a picket line is to prevent the company from continuing to operate its business at all.  The question of who actually “owns” the plant is brought to the fore in every strike action – we say that it is the workers who should take ownership of all the factories and kick the capitalists out forever by overthrowing the capitalist system itself, thus eliminating the exploitation of the working class by the tiny minority of rich capitalists.  All the wealth used to build every factory has been obtained in the final analysis by the capitalists’ expropriation of the fruits of the labor of workers somewhere.  That is how “capital” is produced in a modern capitalist economy like the US.  When workers go on strike, their aim must be to halt production at the struck factories completely.  Anything less than that allows the capitalists to continue to fill orders and make profits.  The most successful picket line is one that shuts down a factory 100%.  This means physically preventing scabs, materials and supervisors – and yes, cops – from seizing the plant so that production can be restarted.   The abandonment of militant strike action, in which the laws that protect private property must be broken repeatedly and wantonly if the strike is to be won, has hamstrung every single class battle in the US for decades.  The workers of the US must return to the militant tactics of the 1930s if they want to win strikes – anything less will lead to defeat, as all recent strikes show – including the current Caterpillar strike in Joliet, IL,  where the refusal of AFL-CIO unions to build picket lines no scabs dare to cross is leading inexorably to the defeat of this important working class struggle.

IWPCHI

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The first incident we came across was described in an article in the New York Times this last week: “Clash at Auto Plant in India Turns Deadly”.

This strike, at the Maruti Suzuki auto plant in Manesar, India, outside of New Delhi, the Indian capital, was triggered by the low wages paid to Indian auto workers at this Japanese carmaker’s factories.  The workers, just like their brothers and sisters in Joliet, IL, have long complained that their wages are not keeping up with inflation, even though the company is making record profits.  The workers also have fought against the company’s practice of hiring them on temporary labor contracts and then laying them off when the work slows down.  Sound familiar?  Over 65% of the workers at this particular plant are “temporary” workers.

On top of these universal worker grievances are added the racist nature of India’s caste system.  At Maruti Suzuki, many workers are “Dalits” – considered by racists in Indian society to be lesser human beings from a a lower caste and once universally considered as “untouchables” – literally these human beings were considered by upper-cast Indians to be so “disgusting” that they would not even touch them.  “Dalits” is the generic name for a large grouping of “lower caste” Indians and are part of the large group of “Scheduled Castes and Tribes” which make up almost a quarter of India’s population.  Major strides have been made in India to abolish the caste system; in 1997 the nation elected Dalit K.R. Narayanan as President. (He served in office until 2002.)

The caste system in India is a combination of repulsive racial and ethnic/religious discrimination handed down to Indian bourgeois society from the old Indian feudal society that existed long before British imperialism colonized India in the 1800s.  There has been a centuries-long struggle to wipe out this hideous caste system – a struggle which goes on to this day.  You can not move from one caste to another: you are born into such-and-such a caste, and you will remain of that caste all your life; it is a hereditary mark either of alleged “superiority” or “inferiority”.

A person deemed to be of a “superior” caste is considered to be “superior” in the same way white planters believed themselves to be superior to black slaves in the US before the Civil War.  Marriage or even socializing between castes is discouraged or in some cases almost unheard of.  This system is so ingrained in Indian society that even some so-called “socialist” and “Communist” leaders of the Indian working class  ignore or downplay this brutal discrimination against their fellow workers.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that workers who have long suffered from such systematic discrimination should become the most self-sacrificing leaders of the workers movement in India.

Supervisors at Maruti Suzuki have repeatedly insulted Dalit workers at this plant.  The workers have long protested this repulsive discrimination.  The strike began, according to the workers, when a supervisor insulted a Dalit; when this worker protested against the discrimination, he was suspended.

“When the union tried to intervene, the company called in ‘hundreds of bouncers on its payroll to attack the workers,’ Ram Meher, the president of the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, said in a statement.”

The workers “then blocked managers from leaving, beat them with iron rods, ransacked offices and set fire to parts of the factory.”  In one account of this strike, the supervisor who made the racist insult was killed during the battle between the factory workers, supervisory personnel and security forces.

The company has denied that they did anything wrong, and the Indian government has backed up the company: the leaders of the workers from the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union were forced to go into hiding as the police searched for the “troublemakers” who “caused” the violence.

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In the second class battle we read of in India (which took place earlier this year) we were struck by the headline:

“Workers lynch factory boss after union leader’s death” which appeared in the Times of India, the nation’s pro-capitalist “newspaper of record”.

Once again, this battle took place when union leader, “M. S. Murali Mohan, a Dalit” was attacked along with a contingent of union workers who had gone to the Regency Ceramics factory to man the picket line at a strike that had been going on there since 1 January 2012.  The bosses called the cops, who immediately came and attacked the trade unionists with rattan canes called “lathis”.  During this police attack, Mohan was beaten severely; he died on his way to the hospital.

Enraged unionists immediately protested their leader’s murder at the police station.  Here is the “Times of India’s” description of what happened next:

“As news of Murali’s death spread, factory workers damaged nearly 50 company cars, buses and trucks and set them on fire. Some private vehicles were also targeted. Residents joined hands with the angry mob of around 600 workers and ransacked the factory. After setting it on fire, they torched an educational institution run by the company, besides burning down a shed.

“Two oil tankers were also gutted, while miscreants looted computers, ceramic tiles and other office material. Some of the workers went to company president K C Chandrashekhar’s house and beat him up with iron rods. He died later in a hospital.”

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Then, last Friday, there was a wildcat strike called by the railroad workers of the Western Railway Motormen Association against “the appointment of two rebel motormen”.  A sickout was called during the afternoon rush hour which resulted in train service being disrupted from 3:30PM until later that evening.  The strike was almost completely successful in shutting down all railway operations.  The union “called off the strike around 8pm after holding talks with WR authorities. But by that time, 50 services had been cancelled and lakhs [thousands] of commuters had suffered.”

Like in the US, there is a law against railroad workers going on strike in India; however, in India it appears that the workers have rendered that particular law as worthless as the paper it’s written on by the simple expedient of… ignoring it!

We recall with great enjoyment how the coal miners of the UMWA did the same thing to the “Taft-Hartley” injunctions that were imposed against the union when they went on strike back during the Carter administration in the 1970s.  Sometimes you just have to break the law in order to build a better society.  You’d think we’d have learned this in the US long ago, with the Civil Rights movement and all.  Yet even today, we are lectured by the phony pro-capitalist union misleaders of the AFL-CIO as to how “you can’t do this” or “you can’t do that” because there’s a law against it.  Of course there’s a law against winning strikes!  It’s a capitalist country, not a workers state!  The corporations write the laws and get their hired flunkies in Washington to pass them and make them the “law of the land”.  It’s our duty to smash those anti-worker laws and by doing so show the bosses who’s really boss; because without the working class, they can own all the factories they want, they factories aren’t worth a bucket of spit without workers to run the machinery.

IWPCHI

[Sources: The New York Times; The “Times of India”; Wikipedia.  We would also like to direct your attention to the talkback page of the Wikipedia article on “Caste System in India” for an interesting discussion on how the caste system plays out in modern India and the distinctions between social relations in more liberal urban cities as opposed to the rural areas, where more backward social practices still predominate in many locales.]

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