Struggle for Right to Form Association Raging across Auto Industries in TN

R Karumalaiyan

ARTICLE 19(1) (C) of the Indian constitution guarantees to all its citizens the right ‘to form associations and unions’. To realise this right, workers of Yamaha Motor and Myoung Shin India (MSI) Automotive Private Ltd went on hunger strike on Gandhi Jayanti in Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. Midnight arrests and intimidation both by police and management goons is still going on in the Oragadam–Sriperumbudur Industrial Belt which has units of some of the world’s leading automobile units. In this region, workers of Yamaha India plant, MSI and Royal Enfield are on strike over their several demands, including the issue of right to form association.

Since the 1990s, the Oragadam-Sriperumbudur Industrial Belt in Kanchipuram district near Chennai has become the hub of automobile, electronics and chemical engineering manufacturing. It has become one of the leading destinations of foreign capital. Even after the demise of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and subsequent political instability in the state, according to data from the Reserve Bank, Tamil Nadu netted USD 3.47 billion of FDI in 2017-18. So, all leading MNCs such as Ford, Hyundai Motor, BMW, Daimler, Renault-Nissan, Mitsubishi Motor, Yamaha Motor and Royal Enfield have got their manufacturing plants in this industrial belt. Now, it has come to be known as the “Detroit of Asia”. This hub has the capacity to produce one car in every 20 seconds. Thanks to the massive expansion of professional engineering education in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, during the past two decades the cream of skilled and educated work force is available at the cheapest wage rate. Taking advantage of all this, along with the pliable governments wedded to neo-liberal trajectory, all MNCs started to pour in their capital and exploiting the worker at their will.

In all the emerging industries, forming of trade unions and raising of legal disputes under the relevant labour laws enacted by parliament is the greatest taboo. But the CITU has formed unions in 48 major industrial units after prolonged struggle and sufferings.

Japanese MNC Yamaha, the giant two-wheeler maker, has got one factory in Oragadam near Chennai. There are about 805 permanent workers and more than 1,500 contract workers. They formed union called India Yamaha Motor Thozhilalar Sangam (IYMTS) in June 2018 and got registered. They legally raised industrial disputes on common demands under Section 2(K) of the Industrial Disputes Act. On this dispute, the conciliation proceedings by the Tamil Nadu labour department were scheduled on September 20, 2018. But the management didn’t turn up. Instead they terminated two office-bearers of the union – Manikandan and Prakash – without any notice. On September 21, when they went to the factory, the security guards refused their entry. Then only they came to know that they had been terminated. Hearing this news, around 700 workers who were in the factory premises started a sit-in protest and the rest of the workers demonstrated in front of the gate demanding their reinstatement.

Since then, four conciliation talks have been called, but the management did not turn up. Instead, they went to the Madras High Court seeking to declare the strike illegal. But the court, in turn, sent notice to the union office-bearers and adjourned the hearing for two weeks. Meanwhile, the management, with the connivance of the police and goons, tried to arrest the workers who are in the sit-in strike on the factory premises. Braving all these odds, workers resisted and climbed to cell phone towers. The district administration instead of pacifying the agitating workers went on terrorising them by using water cannons, fire engines, etc.

This created a situation where all workers from all leading manufacturing units came in solidarity with the striking workers of Yamaha. Workers at MSI unit were already on strike for more than three weeks. Royal Enfield workers started their strike on September 24. The entire industrial corridor was engulfed with the flame of struggles for the right to form unions. The workers from MSI, the South Korean auto component maker, led by CITU district president S Kannan demonstrated in front of the South Korean Embassy at Chennai and got arrested.

On Gandhi Jayanti on October 2, all Yamaha and MSI workers started their hunger strike in Kanchipuram. Solidarity movements led by CPI(M) state secretary K Balakrishnan in Chennai provided a wave of supportive actions by all class and mass organisations throughout Tamil Nadu. CITU state president A Soundararajan, CITU Kanchipuram district president S Kannan and district secretary Muthukumar led the struggle.

Alas! despite the constitutional guarantee, the Indian working class still has to fight for its basic right of organising themselves into unions because, the capital, in its quest for profit, will not respect any national laws and legal moralities. The voice of Yamaha and MSI workers is not an isolated one. Now their voice and their pain will inspire the rest of the working class of our country, as they have already done among the neighbourhood workers to join them shoulder-to-shoulder to take on the rule of capital.

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