Workers' representatives of Hyundai, Ford, Toyota, Hindustan Motors working in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal and Uttarakhand attended the meeting. It was the first time workers from car manufacturing and vendor companies in automobile zones across the country had organised such a meeting. Satish Kumar, who is the general secretary of the Ford Employees Union in Chennai was among those representing plant-level unions from automobile zones in other states. “A team from Maruti workers' solidarity centre visited Chennai six months back and then, for the first time, we became aware of the details of what the workers had faced. The government and the courts are biased in favour of big industry.”
Their immediate focus was on the dismissed Maruti workers. In 2011-'12, workers at Maruti's Manesar factory stuck work three times to demand that they be allowed to set up an independent union. They asked for improvements in their wages and working conditions. When a fire broke out at the plant during a clash between workers and management on July 18, 2012, a senior manager died and several others were injured. The police charged 147 Maruti workers with murder and rioting.
Of this number, 113 got bail earlier this year, but 34 workers were denied bail. Between August and September, the police arrested two more workers from Haryana and Delhi, bringing the total number of workers in jail to 36.
Ram Niwas, a member of the Workers' Provisional Committee, which has been working on securing legal aid for the jailed workers, said the unfair practices employed by Maruti Suzuki three years ago were now being replicated across the country.
Several of the dismissed workers who attended the meeting said they had not been able to find regular employment since 2012. Many spoke of their job applications being rejected if they mentioned that they had been dismissed from Maruti. “I applied for a job at a Hyundai agency in Fatehabad, they turned me away when they found out I had been employed that year at Maruti,” recounted Bittu Kumar who had worked for six years at the Manesar factory. Since last year, he has been working as a Life Insurance Corporation agent.
Laxman Kumar*, a 27-year old worker, against whom the police issued a non-bailable warrant after the incident at the factory said he had been on the run since 2012. “I do odd jobs in different places and visit home once in six months or so for a few hours to see my family," he said. "The police visited my house and recorded address and details for even my extended family, I feel I am not safe at any place.
Harminder Kaur, whose younger brother Sarabjeet Singh had been the general secretary of the workers unions when the conflict turned violent, was also present at the meeting. "The government and the courts need to at least re-examine the sections they have jailed my brothers and others in under," she said. "How could the police accuse 147 persons of one person's murder? Sometimes, it feels like no one is listening, but I am hopeful that every effort we make is making a dent."
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