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India's Maruti workers to form union despite ouster of leaders

Workers stick with plans for "independent" union, even after original organizers are ousted by company payoff
Maruti strike2Enlarge
This October 13, 2011 file photograph shows employees of Maruti Suzuki make a human chain as they shout slogans against the management at the Maruti Suzuki plant in Manesar on the outskirts of New Delhi. On October 15, 2011 (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Workers at Maruti Suzuki India’s Manesar plant are going ahead with their plans to form an independent union, despite the ouster of its original leadership by the company.

According to the Calcutta Telegraph, workers have applied for registration of the union with the Haryana labor department. They will retain the earlier proposed name of Maruti Suzuki Employees’ Union (MSEU) but have chosen new leaders.

Former MSEU president Sonu Gujjar and general secretary Shiv Kumar along with 28 other suspended workers, including all the former office-bearers of the MSEU, had left the firm after taking a severance package of around $32,000 apiece, the paper said.  However, the Economic Times reported earlier that some Maruti workers accused Gujjar and Kumar of receiving much larger payoffs -- amounting to $200,000 apiece -- to sell out their former comrades.

“Sonu Gujjar, Shiv Kumar and other people have betrayed us. We do not know why they have done this, but we will move ahead. We have again applied for registration of our union with the labour department in Chandigarh last Friday,” a worker at the Manesar plant said on condition of anonymity, according to Tuesday's Telegraph.

In July, MSEU’s application was rejected by the Haryana labour department on technical grounds. According to workers, this time they would be very careful and were taking note of all the regulations. They have already informed the company in writing about their fresh application.

The worker further said the union would be an internal and independent body. The management was opposed to the formation of an externally affiliated union at the plant. A Maruti Suzuki India spokesperson said, “Yes, the company has received it in writing from the workers.”

 

The paper quoted Kumar as saying that the union leaders had taken severance packages from Maruti, but that this money was not a payoff or kickback for ending their agitation.  "We have not accepted any wrong money. This is our due amount that includes our savings such as the remaining days of work, DA and provident fund,” the Telegraph quoted Kumar as saying.

This year, Maruti suffered three consecutive strikes at its Manesar plant, which mainly produces the Swift. The labor action resulted in a production loss of about 83,000 units, and contributed to a 60 percent drop in profits for the company during the second quarter.

As detailed in GlobalPost, the strike raised fears of a new era of trade union activism, just as India's manufacturing sector is beginning to take off.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-rice-bowl/indias-maruti-workers-form-union-despite-ouster-leaders