Maruti union throws India back into the age of savage and strikes

A day after workers ran riot at the Maruti Suzuki plant at Manesar, in which one executive was killed, there was tight security. Police said they had arrested 88 persons so far.

Arlene July 19, 2012 17:19:34 IST

Gurgaon: Maruti Suzuki's Manesar plant, today resembled a fortress. Its iron gates shut, the inside of its premise was buzzing with hordes of policemen, three fire brigade vehicles and a few workers. Outside Gate no 2, there were only signs of destruction and vandalism. The security office and the fire safety room stood completely destroyed after being set on fire by a mob of factory workers last night.

Over 130 years since the first incident of a strike in India -- which occurred in 1877 in Express Mills in Nagpur -- and 30 years after the 1982 mill workers strike led by trade union leader Dutta Samant, the violence at Maruti Suzuki India's plant in Haryana's Manesar yesterday was a redux to the days of trade union militancy.

Maruti union throws India back into the age of savage and strikes

Policemen milling around the Manesar plant of Maruti Suzuki. Firstpost/ Naresh Sharma

It all began around 11 am on Wednesday with an altercation between Jiyalal, a worker, and his supervisor on the shop floor. Jiyalal allegedly slapped the supervisor, who in turn complained about it to the management -- as a result of which Jiyalal was suspended.

The workers union, Maruti Suzuki Workers' Union, objected to the suspension and demanded that Jiyalal be reinstated. The company's management met with union members to hold talks on the issue. Following the talks between the two parties, union members present in the conference room attacked the company's senior management with chairs and rods, broke cars and burned the HR office, said ASI Harish Kumar of the CID.

A company official on Wednesday told Firstpost, "Some bones were broken, some heads smashed.....people went on rampage".

"The sequence of events began with a worker beating up a supervisor on the shop floor. The workers' union prevented the management from taking disciplinary action against the worker. They blocked the exit gates and held the executives hostage. To resolve the issue amicably, members of the senior management met the union. During the talks, the workers attacked the senior management," the company said in a statement.

According to Kumar, a huge mob gathered outside the company's gates in the evening at around 6 p.m. and torched the security office and the fire safety room at Gate no 2. Security guards of Maruti, who did not want to be named, say that there were at least 500 persons in the mob that set fire to the structures.

Kumar told Firstpost that 47 of the 85 injured in the violence were still in hospitals. Eighty eight persons have been arrested in the incident so far.

"So far 88 workers have been arrested," DCP Maheshwar Dalal told CNN-IBN, adding that a special investigation team (SIT) to be headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police Ravinder Tomar and six inspectors has been formed to probe the incident. The arrested have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, among them, for voluntarily causing hurt (323 IPC), murder (302 IPC), attempt to murder (307 IPC), rioting (147 IPC), rioting armed with a deadly weapon (148 IPC) and unlawful assembly (149 IPC).

Among the injured were 40 of the company's senior managers. Awanish Kumar Dev, General Manager (HR) at Manesar Plant, succumbed to burn injuries.

Two senior Japanese executives of the company,a Mr Saijo who is the plant manager and Mr Torii an advisor at the plant, were among those roughed up during the violence and seriously injured.

Maruti Suzuki India Limited has accused the workers' union of pre-planning the violence, terming it "unprovoked and gruesome".

"By any account, this is not an "industrial relations" problem in the nature of management-worker differences over issues of wages or working conditions. Rather, it is an orchestrated act of mob violence at a time when operations had been normal over the past many months. Such acts of violence - pre-planned, unprovoked and gruesome - have implications beyond one company or region. They are negative trigger for existing companies and regions across the country, as also for prospective investors and job seekers," the company said in a statement issued today.

The Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU), meanwhile, has said that blaming the workers for Wednesday's violence was "unjust" and instead accused Maruti of hiring goons to set the plant on fire. In a statement, Ram Meher, president of MSWU, said that the violence was part of the "vindictive attitude" of the company's management and was "a pre-planned" incident.

"We have the workers and the company's welfare in mind and have worked towards it after the resolution of the dispute last year, and to blame the current violence on us is unjust," the statement said.

All the injured have been admitted to nearby hospitals -- Artemis Hospital, Medanta Medicity and Paras Hospital in Gurgaon.

Maruti's Manesar plant -- which produces the Swift, A-Star and SX4 models --was heavily fortified with over a 1,000 policemen and riot police in helmets and bullet proof vests. The company lost over Rs 2,500 crore in revenue due to prolonged labour strife in June, August and October last year.

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