Maruti-Suzuki: The Realpolitik of Managerial Intransigence

Ankit Mandal

Can the Maruti management’s stubbornness be explained only by its unwillingness to allow workers to have their union? This seems doubtful. Unions in India in themselves do not pose such a grave threat for managements. There must be something more to it.

Rather, it reflects a bourgeois resoluteness to bring the long pending demand for institutionalisation of the changes in the labour regime to the centre-stage of policymaking. Changes in the labour regime – casualisation and contractualisation that neoliberalism intensified have not yet been codified completely, which frequently puts managements in legal predicaments, allowing unions to pose ‘legitimate’ demands. A recent Supreme Court judgement which ordered regularisation of contract labourers employed in airports demonstrates the lag between the industrial reality and the legal framework.

In the past decade, the agenda of labour reforms could not be pushed ahead partly because of political compulsions (UPA I was supported by the left parties) and partly due to economic conundrum (the global crisis) in which the UPA regimes found themselves in.

The Maruti management’s determination is not coming from its own competitive need; rather it is representing the general will of the bourgeoisie in India. Not anyone could have acted in this manner. The central role of the automobile sector in the present phase of capitalist development and Maruti’s overwhelming leadership in this particular sector puts it at the helm of the bourgeois class.

At least, it is hard to deny that this sector has been in the forefront of demanding labour reforms. The recent statements from the Automobile Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMAI) and the Society of Indian Automobiles Manufacturers (SIAM) testify this. These associations have been emphasising that labour reforms are crucial for the growth in the automotive industry.

Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) Ex-President Pawan Goenka : “Labour reforms is high on agenda of SIAM for quite some years. We don’t have any policy on laying-off during slowdown. …We have made several presentations to the Ministry of Heavy Industries, but no serious discussion has happened yet on what could be done… One thing is certain that something has to happen. Otherwise, it will have serious impact on the sector.”

“The rigidity in labour laws has led companies to increasingly resort to outsourcing and contracting of labour. To be very precise, the need of the hour is flexible labour reforms,” General Motors India vice president P Balendran had said.

SIAM Director General Vishnu Mathur said the law should give “flexibility” on taking disciplinary actions even against a single person.

“We believe that employment will get a boost by labour reforms which is the need at the moment,” Srivats Ram, president, Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA) told.

The Haryana government is clearly backing the Maruti management and is not at all showing any sympathy to the workers. Haryana Labour Minister Shiv Charan Lal Sharma says, “How can it be possible for the management to take back workers against whom an FIR has been lodged and (criminal) cases have been filed”. Haryana Labour Commissioner Satwanti Ahlawat says, “During the talks, it came to notice that there is a clear intention of few persons, backed by some political support, who want to mislead workers,”.

However, even if tomorrow the Maruti management agrees to workers’ demands in toto (which is doubtful), it has achieved what it had to – it has already succeeded in bringing the state in for labour reforms. The central government has (Sep 21) agreed to set up a National Automotive Board as a nodal agency for the issues relating to this industry within 2-3 months, and that “Labour laws or in fact any law is not sacrosanct or permanent. Labour laws will have to change with time. If the industry feels so, the Labour Ministry will look into it.”

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