To express their solidarity with workers at the Maruti plant in Manesar, Haryana, a group of around 20 people took part in a discussion titled Working in the auto industry, from Gurgaon to Sriperumbudur.
At the discussion, a documentary on the working conditions at the plant was screened. The documentary, told through the eyes of workers, also showed what transpired transpired on July 18, 2012, when a supervisor was attacked by a group of workers and was killed due to suffocation, after a fire broke out in the factory.
Titled Count on Us, the documentary is 20 minutes long and is a scathing indictment of the sub-human working conditions which were prevalent at the factory at that time.
Also at the discussion was A S Soundararajan, President of the Tamil Nadu State Committee of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). Supporting the 158 people who are currently in jail, Soundararajan said that companies in the automotive and electrical segment have made a concerted effort to undermine trade unions and their legitimacy.
Soundararajan spoke of how the right to unionise – a fundamental right in the constitution – was being trampled upon by big industries with the use of ambiguous terms stipulated in the MoUs that privateers sign with the government.
“The judiciary, the police and the government are in the hands of industry,” said Soundararajan.
Raman Mahadevan, a professor and historian from the Institute of alternative development, said that with successive governments attempting to portray Chennai as India’s Detroit, they were acting myopically, without understanding the full import of how a city like Detroit had essentially become a ghost town, after “capital had characteristically moved from high-wage areas (Detroit) to lower wage areas.”
“It should be remembered that Detroit is a rundown city, and has recently filed for bankruptcy,” he added.
Charting the growth of the auto industry in Tamil Nadu, Mahadevan said that a class of “auto-bourgeoisie” had sprung up in the mid-19th century, and had managed to become very rich and successful in a relatively short span of time in Tamil Nadu.
‘Savarna Capital’, when Tamil Iyers and Iyengars became involved with the distribution of auto parts and assembling knocked down automotive kits, said Mahadevan, had resulted in the early accumulation of capital. Mahadevan charted out mainstays in the automotive segment like TVS, Madras Motor Company and also the growth of capital at nodal centres in Coimbatore.