The struggle of the workers of Honda Motor Cycle and Scooters India (HMSI) for securing justice against the criminal and anti-labour acts of the management in cahoots with the state labour department, police, hired goons, and the government has been brought to the Capital Delhi. The Honda workers are in Delhi on hunger strike, to highlight their just demands and mobilise public support for their struggle.
A correspondent of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar met the striking workers and their leaders at Jantar Mantar, including comrade Satish Nain, comrade Dilip, comrade Alok Kumar Singh and comrade Sanjay Dev Kamble. The workers have been sitting on indefinite hunger strike since 19 September, to protest against the illegal termination of over 3,000 workers for trying to form a union. On October 8, the health of some of the leaders became critical and they had to be rushed to hospital for medical attention. However, the workers are continuing their struggle through relay hunger strike.
The scene at Jantar Mantar is full of enthusiasm and determination, with various workers addressing the gathering and narrating their experience in the struggle over the public address system. While they realize that their struggle can be long and difficult, they have the confidence that they will win. During the hunger strike delegations of various trade unions have joined them to express solidarity and support for their struggle. Apart from the hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, the workers are also using innovating methods to reach out to workers in other industrial areas, directly appealing to the customers who are buyers of the scooters and motorcycles manufactured by the HMSI.
Following the large scale retrenchment in February 2016, the management resorted to hiring contract workers from far-away states to illegally resume production. These workers are being hired at lowest wages and least training which has led to drop in quality of the products. On October 5, the agitating workers organised campaigns at the showrooms of HMSI across 13 states including Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, and West Bengal, highlighting this to the customers. The agitating workers said that the workers at the various showrooms and service centers reported increase in maintenance and repairs problems with the vehicles produced by HMSI. Similar actions have also been organised in Indonesia and Australia. The workers warned the customers that the company is planning to sell poor quality products during the festive season of Diwali by offering discounts, to clear their inventory of lakhs of faulty products.
The agitating workers at the Jantar Mantar said that they are asserting their fundamental right as a worker to form a union and to work with dignity. We cannot keep quiet while our fellow workers are being insulted and physically attacked, irrespective of whether they are permanent, contract or casual workers. The government and police are shamelessly violating all laws meant for protection of our rights, they said.
Narrating the background of their struggle they described how they had forged unity across the different departments and submitted an application for forming a union, on 6 August 2015, to the Registrar of Trade Unions, Labour Department, Jaipur. Initially is
it was signed by 227 permanent workers. All the other workers including casual workers, trainees and contract workers pledged full support. In violation of all laws, the labour department denied them the right to form their union which would fight for their interests The application is still pending for more than a year. On the other hand, the same labour department gave recognition in less than 15 days to a union formed with the support and collaboration of the management, for the express purpose of breaking the unity of the workers. This clearly shows that the government and its labour department are squarely on the side of the monopoly capitalist owners of Honda and completely against the workers.
The management is using every means to suppress the voice of the workers through indirect and direct threats and actions. In one such recent incident Vijender Kumar, a permanent worker at the Tapukara plant who had ‘LIKED’ some photos of the protest posted on Facebook, was indefinitely suspended on September 24 by the management for expressing his support for the hunger strike. The management has also posted notifications at the plant and issued warning letters to take disciplinary action against employees who use social media to seek support for or show solidarity with the nearly 2,500 workers whose employment has been terminated since February.
The workers said that while they have always wanted to negotiate for a just settlement, the management is blatantly violating the law of the land and the dignity of the workers. They are lodging false cases against the agitating workers and harassing them through arrests and detention. One such worker Comrade Krishna had to spend 38 days in jail, on account of a false case.
It may be recalled that in 2005, a protest action by workers of HMSI in Gurgaon, demanding higher wages, re-employment of suspended employees and the right to form their own union, was savagely attacked by the police, causing grievous injuries to several workers. Images of the police brutally beating up the defenceless workers, flashed on TV screens across the capital and the rest of the country, had shaken up the conscience of the entire nation.
The Honda Motorcycles and Scooters India (HMSI) factory at Tapukara (Alwar, Rajasthan), on the Rajasthan-Haryana border has seen intense clashes between the workers of the plant and the management backed by police and hired goons since 16th February this year. On that date, workers of all categories, permanent-casual-trainee-contract, came together to stop work and carry out a sit-in strike inside the factory following a physical assault by an Executive Engineer on one of their fellow workers who had refused to work overtime for the fourth consecutive day since he was unwell. On 19th February, three days later, over 3000 workers of HMSI and other factories got together and marched to the Honda Head Office at Gurgaon. They insisted that their long standing demands for cessation of contract labour, better working conditions and an end to the attacks on their dignity must be addressed. But instead of any negotiation, the workers’ leadership was immediately abducted at the behest of the management, the assembled workers were brutally lathi-charged by Joint Police forces of Rajasthan and Haryana with the help of illegal bouncers. Continuous arresting, hounding, and slapping false cases on workers, on charges ranging from attempt to murder, rioting to looting, are still going on.
Through their hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, the Honda workers have been able to bring their struggle to the notice of the workers of the entire country. They have said that they now plan to move their struggle to the Tapukara Plant whether they will be continuing with relay hunger strike and chart out the next steps, including coordinated actions with workers and unions in other factories and industrial areas. Their main demand at this point it that all the workers who were retrenched in February 2016, must be reinstated and false police cases lodged against them must be immediately withdrawn.
The agitating workers have issued an appeal to the public seeking their support by joining in propaganda, demonstration and programmes, spreading the word via social media through the facebook page “Honda 2F Unity”, organizing propaganda in the company and the locality and through contributions in cash and kind.