Political Economy of Labour Repression in the United States: An Interview with Andrew Kolin

Andrew Kolin’s Political Economy of Labor Repression in the United States (Lexington Books, 2016) successfully demonstrates how labour repression is organic to capitalism; something that is central to the very constitution of the capitalist economy and its state. Traversing the history of the United States, the book is a survey of the evolving relationship between capital and labour and how repression has been (re)produced in and through that evolution – something that is structurally manifest in the institutional exclusion of labour. However, by presenting it as an expression of class struggle, the book refuses to deprive labour of its agency. It does not view labour as passive or even merely reactive. It suggests that insofar as the political economy of repression is composed through capital-labour interactions, it is contradictory and provides moments of escape or liberation from repression.

Pratyush Chandra and Pothik Ghosh talk to Andrew Kolin. Professor Kolin teaches Political Science at Hilbert College. His books include The Ethical Foundations of Hume’s Theory of Politics, One Family: Before and During the Holocaust, State Structure and Genocide and State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of G.W. Bush.

Radical Notes: Why is the book called “Political Economy of Labor Repression in the United States”, and not the “History of Labor Repression in the United States”? Considering it is a rather comprehensive survey of labour history in the US, how do you explain your choice of the title?

Andrew Kolin: Although the book provides an historical survey of labour repression in the United States, the underlying theme is to consider the causes of labour repression, which coincides with the rise of American capitalism and its cycles. In considering the political economy of labour repression, the dependent variable over time is labour’s institutional exclusion from the state and the economy. The independent variable is the class struggle between capital and labour during various economic cycles.

Labour Repression

Radical Notes: Reading through the book, one gets a sense that perhaps the logic of capital-labour relations, or rather conflicts, has determined the course of the American history. Is this reading correct? Can it be justifiably claimed that the American state is a product of this logic?

Andrew Kolin: Prior to the Civil War, capital was in conflict with slave labour in the south and wage labour in the north. After the Civil War as industrialisation accelerated capital sought to maximise control over wage labour at the workplace. The great strike wave of the latter part of the 19th century was labour’s response to capital’s efforts to homogenise labour at the workplace. The extent to which capital could increase control over labour was determined by the economic cycles of American capitalism. Crushing strikes did not end class conflict, but only temporarily displaced it. During the Great Depression and with the New Deal, the goal was to have the state mediate class conflict. This worked fine until the 1970s when economic decline set in and the social welfare state was diminished. Starting in the 1980s, the state was no longer concerned with mediating capital and labour, and clearly focused, instead, on supporting finance capital.

Radical Notes: Although the book is mainly about the post-revolutionary institutions, what we find interesting is the way you discover their roots in the very operation of colonialism and waging of the anti-colonial struggle. How would you summarise the role of the politics of labour — its various segments, especially, waged, indentured and slave — in the American Revolution and the building of post-revolutionary institutions, both democratic and repressive?

Andrew Kolin: Property owners understood the need to mobilise labour in order to make the democratic revolution possible. The American Revolution allowed property owners to sever economic ties with Great Britain making it possible for them to put in place policies that supported economic expansion within North America. Most significant was that the well-to-do and labour worked together toward creating a democratic revolution. This in turn created responsive state governments that responded to the needs of the many, that is, until there was a realisation that the system of government should be reframed to better represent the interests of the propertied elites. The constitutional convention established a state structure that severely restricted labour from having a direct role in policymaking. What followed was that states working with property owners made it legally possible for the rise of the corporation. This was enabled by moving away from corporate charters, which were under state control, to the idea of the corporation as an independent legal entity with due-process rights.

Radical Notes: A crucial lesson that seems to come out from your analysis of labour repression in the US is that the tapestry of labour forms and technological changes that we find is actually capital’s mode of coping with the challenges that the working class poses. Do you agree?

Andrew Kolin: Labour repression past and present has been expressed by the organisation and reorganisation of the workplace, for purposes of controlling the labour process. The goal is to increase the production of surplus-value by speeding up the pace of work through technological innovation.

Radical Notes: How do you think segmentation, engineered through the mechanism of institutional inclusion-exclusion, has shaped the officialdom of the labour movement, or what many call, “labour aristocracy”?

Andrew Kolin: Institutional exclusion has divided labour into reform and radical segments. The AFL, under the leadership of Gompers and Green, and even the more progressive ‘CIO’ Lewis accepted capital’s monopoly of control over the workplace. This, in turn, forced labour leaders to function in partnership with capital toward the goal of achieving workplace harmony. Nonetheless, labour’s rank and file has been more progressive than its leadership, engaging in strikes and various forms of labour unrest without the support of labour leaders.

Radical Notes: Do you think the involvement of immigrant, semi-skilled and unskilled segments of workers time and again played a significant role in radicalising the American labour movement whenever it found itself mired in reformism and status quoism? What has been the impact of rank-and-file activism in the US?

Andrew Kolin: Looking back through the mid and latter parts of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was immigrants, semi-skilled and unskilled labour segments that were the force behind many of the great strikes. They were also heavily involved in creating the socialist and communist parties. These labour segments also fought against the greater imposition of technology at the workplace. Many of the major accomplishments of organised labour came from these rank-and-file activists. They supported not only the formation of the CIO, they agitated for many of the eventual New Deal reforms, which did result in better wages and working conditions.

Radical Notes: Throughout the history of labour repression and class struggle in the US that is narrated in the book, we see an interesting cyclicity of offence and defence, conflict and compromise. Can you see significant moments of leap in the history of the labour movement in the US that had the potential to radically break out of this cyclicity?

Andrew Kolin: Although the mainstay of labour repression has been labour’s institutional exclusion, labour has been successful in achieving a number of reformist demands. And even though radical labour segments have been oppressed, one finds within the capitalist economy the existence of non-capitalist enclaves in the form of public and worker ownership. The future challenge for organised labour is to increase the scope and scale of worker-based ownership, the basis for building a more radical form of economic democracy.

Radical Notes: Neoliberalism and the dominance of finance capital seem to have finally liberated capitalism from hurdles like democratisation and the impact of institutionalised/ territorialised working-class politics. What are “the limits of labor repression and possible options for the liberation of labor” today? What forms of organisation and working-class activities do you see emerging today that overcome the “legal boundaries” defined within and by the political economy of repression?

Andrew Kolin: There are two trends to consider in assessing the possible future limits of labour repression, one is the built-in feature of US capitalism—it cannot solve its problems. The persistence of the cyclical nature of American capitalism along with class struggle between capital and labour create the social effects pointing to an overall limit to a capitalist economy. A second trend is the existence on a limited scale of worker-based economic democracy. If it is to continue to grow, one can expect the appearance of an economy without labour repression. For example, key features would be that all goods and services would be produced by worker-managers. Companies would sell products for profit in a competitive market, in the absence of a class-based economic system. Each company would be owned and controlled by labour. Investments for expansion would be created by a tax on the company’s capital. Through a national fund, money would flow into the economy to public banks. The labourers in the banks would decide which projects were viable investments. Companies would be mandated to set aside monies to deal with modernisation and capital improvements. Since labour would monopolise decision-making the workers could reshape the companies or opt to leave but they could not make the companies sell capital in order to generate income. Minimum wages would have to be determined to be living wages. A company that could not pay workers a living wage would have to file for bankruptcy. All workers would be provided with a broad range of social services. This economic model has been put into practice at the Mondragon company in Spain. In the United States, there are no formal legal obstacles against labour forming a worker-based company.

Radical Notes: The ascendancy of Donald Trump and his politics of reactionary spectacle has often been ascribed to the rightward ideological shift of large sections of the White working class. How accurate is this ascription, and how would you explain this in political-economic terms? Also, in that context, how exactly do race relations currently function to segment and regiment social labour in its totality in the US? In your opinion, how has race historically functioned, if at all, in enabling and/or constituting what you call the “political economy of labor repression” in the US?

Andrew Kolin: I argue that this interpretation of a White, reactionary working class is incorrect. An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post on June 5, 2017, ‘It’s time to bust the myth: most Trump voters were not working class’. The authors cited the research findings of the American National Election Survey, which released its 2016 survey data. The conclusion was that over two-thirds of Trump voters came from the better-off half of the economy. Mainstream labour leadership supported the candidacy of Hilary Clinton. Trump did attract more working-class voters from the industrial belt, more out of desperation and a rejection of Clinton’s neoliberalism. As to the issue of race and the labour movement, the AFL had put in place policies that prevented people of colour from becoming union members. Racial tensions were heightened when people of colour were used as strike-breakers. Radical labour segments have been far more accepting of non-White workers. Recently, there have been some hopeful signs of mainstream labour breaking with its more racist past. Since the Sweeney era, the AFL-CIO has been more active in recruiting workers of colour. The AFL-CIO has supported the strikes of minority workers working for minimum wages as well as those seeking to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour. Organised labour is well-aware that its future is dependent on reaching out to and organising non-White workers.

Nanni Balestrini’s “FIAT” (1977)

I never bothered with politics before Fiat. Now I was seeing students handing out leaflets in front of the Fiat gate. And they wanted to talk with the workers. Which seemed kind of strange. I said to myself: What the hell, these guys with all the free time they have for balling and fooling around, they come and stand in front of the factory, which has got to be the most disgusting thing there is. I mean really the most absurd and disgusting thing there is. They come here in front of the factory, for what? I was kind of curious about this, but I finally just figured they were crazies, missionaries, thickheads. So I wasn’t interested in what they were saying.

This was in Spring. In April. I’d never been to any of the meetings the students used to have. Though I did go to the May Day celebration once. A workers’ holiday was something I couldn’t even conceive of. This has got to be some kind of joke, a holiday that celebrates work. The workers’ feast-day, the workers celebrating work. I couldn’t figure out what either meant – a workers’ holiday, or a holiday celebrating work. I could never figure why work had to be celebrated. Anyway, when I wasn’t at work I didn’t know what the fuck to do. Because I was a worker, I mean a man who spends most of the day inside a factory, and so the rest of the time all’s I could do was rest up for the next day. That holiday, though, just for the hell of it, I went to the May Day celebration to hear some assembly, some group or other I wasn’t familiar with.

And I saw all these people wearing red ties. Red flags. They were saying things I already knew about, more or less. It’s not that I’m a Martian or something. What I mean is, I knew what they were talking about even if I didn’t understand them. The boojwa was standing in front of all the spiffy bars around the piazza. The petty boojwa was there too – farmers, small businessmen, priests, people with their little bank-books, students, intellectuals, jobbers, clerks, and other kinds of kissasses. Listening to the union speeches. And there, in between the unions standing in the middle of the piazza and the boojwa in front of the bars all around the piazza, was that mob of workers, a different race. And there between the boojwa and the workers was that big fat display, the car, FIAT.

A holiday, in other words, a fair. I listened to the union leaders. Brothers! We mustn’t just say these things outside here today, we must say them – and do them – tomorrow inside the factories. And I thought, okay, this guy’s right. What good’s a holiday? You make a lot of noise only when they let you stand around holding your red flag in the piazza. We have to do this in the factory, too.

I went about my own business then, and saw another demonstration. People yelling MAO TSE TUNG HO CHI MINH. Who are these guys, I asked myself. More red flags, more protest signs. But all this was still new to me. I was still in the dark. A few weeks later I dropped in on a student meeting in a bar just outside Mirafiori. But by that time I’d already spent a few days stirring up trouble in the factory. I was in Fiat shop number 54, Body Division, on the Model 500 line. I’d been there a month, counting from the day after I passed my physical to get into Fiat.

There were two thousand of us at the physical exam, everybody got a number, and they asked us shit ass questions. Prepared questions, the same questions for everybody. But there were so many of us that those poor bastards asking the questions went pretty fast. They looked you in the face and shot a couple of questions at you. You answered something and they told you to move to the next room. So you went to the next room. In the next room was a guard holding a list, calling us twenty at a time then taking us to another room where they were giving the physicals.

The first exam was an eye check-up. Look here, close your eye, look up, read that – this kind of stuff. Then hearing, to find out if your ears worked. Raise your right leg, raise your left leg. They checked our teeth, nose, eyes, ears, throat. What with all these tests it got to be two o’clock. At two they told us we could go to eat. We had to go to this morning session on an empty stomach. Couldn’t eat anything, couldn’t drink anything. Because they wanted to do a blood analysis. Some managed to get the blood test over with by two o’clock. Others didn’t. The ones who had to come back in the afternoon for the blood test weren’t allowed to eat at two. They starved from the night before.

Outside you could smell the stench coming from where they were doing the blood tests. Inside were thousands of test tubes filled with blood, all over the place. Blood-soaked cotton swabs everywhere. On one side a pile of blood-red cotton three and a half feet high. It hurt when they took your blood because they weren’t watching where they stuck the needle. They just stuck it anywhere, pulled it out, then put the test tube to one side and threw the blood-soaked cotton to the other side on top of the pile.

From there we went to another room where the nurse handed us a glass. There were just two bathrooms where you could go inside and piss. We all formed a circle and started pissing in our glasses. We laughed, said we were making beer. We put the glass up on top and the nurse asked us our name, then wrote it down on a sheet of paper under the number of each person’s glass.

Next day, the general physical. You had to lift a weight. They had some machine with weights attached. To check how strong we were. They spent two hours on this test because there were two thousand of us, and they had to put all two thousand of us through it. Not everybody got to take it that day, so they had to come back the next day. Six, maybe seven hours, just for this test. After you passed it you had to wait your turn for the general hysical. You stripped naked.

You stood there naked in front of the witch doctor. He asked you questions, sitting there in his white smock. What your name was, how old you were, if you’d done military service, if you were engaged. Then he made you march. Go forward, come back, raise your arm, lower your arm, squat down, show me your hands, show me your feet, now the bottoms. Then he checked your balls, to make sure you had them. Say thirty-three, cough, breathe, and all this kind of crap. A whole day to take this exam, because it took a quarter-hour for each person, and there were two thousand of us.

Then the witch doctor said to me: Have you ever had an operation? It was damn obvious I’d never had an operation, since I didn’t have any scars, thank God. Yeah, I say, on my left ball. How did it happen? The guy was scared because he hadn’t noticed it before. I said to myself, now I’ll give this doctor a chance to show his stuff. It’s from playing soccer, I answered. I got kicked in the balls and they had to operate.

Really? Alright then, you’ll have to come for a check-up tomorrow. Another guy said he had broken his arm, so he had to come back the next day, too. What this did, I think, was screw it into the worker’s head that he had to be healthy, whole, etc. etc., whatever fucking good this does. Because the fact is they took all of us, even the ones who couldn’t hear, or who wore glasses, or were lame or had an arm in a cast. Everybody, I mean everybody, down to the last man. A paralytic’s maybe the only one they wouldn’t have taken.

We went for the check-up the next day. They sent me to a room with another witch doctor, though this one wasn’t even wearing a white smock. All he had was a nice blond secretary who waggled her ass back and forth across the room. She brought him my chart and he sat down on a stool. He had me pull down my pants and underwear, then he felt my balls. Where did you have the operation? On this one, here. Pull your pants up. I pulled them back up, he didn’t say anything to me. The nice nurse gave me a card saying I had to report to Fiat two days later.

Two days later all the guys who had passed the physical were there at Fiat. I mean all of them. Some guy from Personnel came over right away. Or maybe he was in public relations, or a psychologist, or a social assistant. Nobody knew who the fuck he was. So he comes over and says: Friends! Welcome to Fiat, both from me and from the management who’s hiring you. Wonderful, terrific. Everybody claps. The Personnel Office, he says, is available to Fiat employees who have children, social problems that need solving, and other such things. If you need money ask us. So a few guys from Naples say: Yeah, I could use about ten thousand lire. No, not like this, not now, you have to ask for the loan when you’re working. If you have real needs. For now you’ll have to take care of such things on your own. Then when you’re working you can ask for a loan.

Then they bumped us downstairs from the offices into Fiat, into the factory itself. Some other whosit, some clerk, took our numbers away and gave us new ones. A dressing-room number, corridor number, locker number, shop number, and line number. They kept us there practically half the day doing all this. Then we went into the big boss’s office, the Body Division engineer. We went in three at a time, he was obviously asking everybody the same questions, the same spiel, using the same words every time for everybody.

I welcome you to Fiat. You already know what Fiat is, in Italy Fiat is everything. Maybe you’ve read some bad things in the Communist press, complaining about our assembly line, but they’re all lies. Because the only workers here who don’t get along are the lazy ones. The ones who don’t want to work. Everybody else works, they’re happy to work, and they feel good working. They all have cars, and Fiat also has nurseries for the children of its employees. Then too, if you’re a Fiat employee, you get discounts at certain stores. All he did was apologize to us.

This guy too, like the others, didn’t ask any specific questions. He didn’t say anything that would apply to us individually, or personally. It’s obvious that they treat their office-workers personally because there are fewer of them. But we were a mob, a flood. Not just two thousand of us, but twenty thousand newly hired workers all told. The monsters were arriving, the dreadful workers. And so for two months they were asking everybody the same questions, doing the same job.

So that even the guys doing this job were being pushed around by Fiat. I mean, this mob of workers entering Fiat had reduced even the clerks, even the doctors, to the level of the working class. What was happening really had nothing to do with selection, it was just a way of passing on a concept of organization, of discipline, a pecking order. Otherwise they wouldn’t have taken on even those who weren’t there, I mean the ones who were really sick, who were really in bad shape. But they took everybody, because they could use everybody. Everybody was okay for that kind of work.

And this guy, the engineer, says: I’m your colonel, and you’re my men; so we have to respect one another. I’ve always stood up for my workers. Fiat workers are the best, they produce more than anyone else . . . and all this kind of bullshit. So I start getting a little pissed at this, and I start thinking: Things are going to get pretty messy with this here colonel. Then he explained to us how it’s stupid to sabotage production because aside from being canned on the spot we’d also be reported to the police. He pulled out an article of the penal code that said we’d be reported to the police. He was starting his terror tactics. I thought to myself: This here colonel needs to be taught a good lesson.

Then the bosses introduced themselves to each of us. They had already split us up. Up till then we had been a mob, now they divided us, four or five on each line. I was going on the 500 line, so they introduced me to my boss. The foreman. Then my foreman introduced me to the floater. These are the workers who know how to do all the jobs on the line. If you have to go take a crap or piss – when they let you go, I mean, because you have to have permission – the floater steps in and takes your place. Or if you’re feeling sick, or make a mistake or something. The floater steps in, the joker, the one who can do everything.

They introduced these guys to me and had me stand near the line. There were still two hours left to go before quitting, so the boss had me do small operations, meaningless stuff. The assembly line looked like easy work to me. The way the line moved, the way all these guys worked. It didn’t look like too much trouble. The next day, they grab me and take me to my position, another place, another line. They introduce another boss to me, the next day, when I’m supposed to start working. This guy calls a floater and tells him: Take him over there. Anyway, I ended up where I was putting large ring-plates on the 500 model. I had to center them on the engine, put two bolts in, then tighten them with some gizmo.

I took the ring-plate, while the body of the 500 was moving down overhead and the engine coming from another direction, and I set the ring-plate in place. It weighed about 22 pounds. I got the plate from some other place where a guy was setting them up, then I put it on top of the engine and put two bolts in it. I drilled in the two bolts with this automatic air-wrench, fast, brrrr brrrr, then the whole thing moved off while another one arrived. I had twenty seconds to do it in, I had to catch the rhythm of it. The first few days I couldn’t get the knack of it, so the floater helped me. For three days, he helped me.

On a Fiat line it’s not a matter of learning anything, but just getting your muscles used to it. Getting your muscles used to the strain, using those movements, that rhythm. Having to put one of those jobbies in every twenty seconds meant you had to develop movements faster than your heartbeat. I mean, like a finger, the eye, anything, you had to move it in tenths of a second. Mandatory operations in a fraction of a second. The operation of selecting the two washers, the operation of selecting the two bolts, then all those movements, were all operations the muscles and eye had to perform on their own, automatically, without my having to decide anything. All I had to do was keep up the rhythm of those movements, repeating them in order, the same ones over and over. Until you’ve spent three or four days getting that rhythm, you just can’t hack it.

Once I started getting used to doing it myself, the guy that was helping me left me alone. I realized that here inside it was in their interest to increase the operations we did. A lot of the new people, some were working half a day, some one day, some three, some worked a week, then they left. Especially the young guys, a lot of them left right away, after seeing the kind of shit slave work that was involved. Who the fuck wants to stay on here? And so they left. Then there was a bunch of others taking sick leave every day. Since there were less workers than were supposed to work on the line, they had to make each of us do a lot more operations. If they didn’t they’d have to keep on a lot of those guys, who weren’t doing them any good because they were never there. So they stuck me with an extra operation. I started getting pissed off at this, and ended up hurting my finger a little.

My fingernail got a little crushed, but not so it hurt all that much. I put some grease on it, though, black grease, on my finger, so that it looked like black, clotted blood. The nail was a little black, and the finger was black. I called the floater over and told him I had to go to the infirmary. The foreman came over and said: You want to go to the infirmary? Yeah, I hurt my finger. But you can’t go to the infirmary for something like this. Well, I’m going anyway. No you’re not. Then another boss came over, the 500 boss. What I mean is, there’s a boss for the Body Division, then a boss for the 500 model, a boss for the 850 and one for the 124. And each of these, the 124, the 500, and the 850, has its own lines. The 850’s got four or five lines, the 500 has six or seven lines, the 124 has two or three.

The 500 boss came over and said to me: Listen, I’ll make you a proposition. You decide whether you want to go see the doctor, go to the infirmary with that finger, or if you want to stay here. If you want to stay here, I’ll put you on an easy job. If you decide to go see the doctor and the doctor refuses to treat you, I’ll put you on the heaviest job around, in fact I’ll get you suspended from work. So I take him up on this and say: I want to go see the doctor. So he writes me a note, because you have to have a note to go up to the infirmary. We’ll see, he threatens me. I went to the infirmary and as I was walking in I saw a worker leaving, with his arm all bandaged where he had cut himself. You going home? I ask him. No, they wouldn’t let me. What, with that cut on your arm, they wouldn’t let you? No.

That really pissed me off, and I said to myself: Okay, even if there’s nothing wrong with this finger, I’m going to get myself ten days. What’s going on, anyway? That guy had really hurt himself and they tell him: No, you have to work. Are we all crazy, or what? We at war? What’s this, Vietnam? All these people bloodied-up and wounded, do they still have to work? I walked into the infirmary, and there were more wounded men arriving then, too.

That infirmary was always packed, really, it looked like an army hospital. What with all these workers constantly coming in with a crushed hand, or a cut somewhere, or with something broken. One guy there had a dropped hernia; he was screaming. They called an ambulance and took him to emergency.

I started bluffing as soon as I got there. I checked and felt my finger, making sure when I was supposed to scream. When they touched my finger I started cursing in dialect, in Neapolitan. The guy who checked me was from Turin, and it had a certain effect on him. Because if I cursed in regular Italian it might look like I was acting, but when I cursed in Neapolitan the guy didn’t know whether I was acting or not. Mannaggia ‘a maronna, me stai cacando ‘o cazzo, statte fermo porco dio! – this is the kind of stuff I said. But I have to examine you, he said, so keep still. What still? I hurt my finger, it’s broken, right here. And he says: I want to see if it’s broken; I don’t know that it’s broken. I do, though, it feels broken; I can’t even move it.

A doctor comes over, the one who had looked at the guy with the hernia. He says: Alright, give him a slip, six days. Six days, he says, then if it’s still hurting you we’ll put you in the hospital. He gives me a slip, and I walk out. I go to the boss and say: He gave me six days. And the guy starts turning black with anger, thinking: This prick fooled me; he’ll have six days sick leave, at Fiat’s expense. Because MALF had to pay me for them. It’s not like the sick-pay they have now, INAM, the Istituto Nazionale. INAM doesn’t pay for the first three sick days; but with MALF you used to get paid from the first day on. Getting that sick-pay was a great way of gypping Fiat, and in fact they later got rid of it.

So I go home. At home I made sure I didn’t wash the finger that was all black and greasy. Never washed it, didn’t move it, either, and I was careful not to lean it against anything. After six days it had swelled up a little. Which is exactly why I never moved it, to make it swell. If you move your fingers, the fingers get limber. But if you smash your finger and then never move it, the finger gets really swollen, it gets bigger than the others. Not all that swollen, but enough so’s you can see it’s a little bigger. And it looks smoother, too, because you haven’t let anything touch it.

After my six days I go back. I say: Look how the finger’s got all swollen; and it feels like it hurts more than before. But can’t you work with it? No, we work with our hands. If I have to pick up a bolt, or have to get my gun – I mean the thing that secures the bolts, we call it a gun – I have to use my hands. Now either I watch what I’m doing, watch the bolts I have to grab, or else I watch that my finger doesn’t touch anything. But the way it is now I’d have to watch what I’m doing and watch my finger. But this is impossible, because if I do, then after three hours of fast banging against one thing and another I’ll end up a nervous wreck, I’ll go crazy, I’ll throw something at somebody’s head … I just can’t do it.

The doctor guesses that I’m bluffing, and makes me a proposition: Which do you prefer? To go back to work, or to be sent to the hospital to recover? I say to myself: I’ll have to tough this out, because I know sending me to the hospital just costs them more money. And he can’t justify putting a worker in the hospital just for a finger, he can’t do it. He was trying to bluff me, thinking: This guy wants another three or four days off, so I’ll threaten him; he’ll rather go back to the factory than into the hospital. Once you’re in the hospital you’re obviously screwed, I mean you can’t have any fun, you just stay inside, that’s all. I say: No, then, I’ll go to the hospital; because as far as I’m concerned my finger still hurts, it’s not healed. So he says to another guy: Give this one here a hospital pass. I turned green, thinking: The prick fooled me. But I kept my mouth shut, though I almost said I’d go back to work. I stretch my neck trying to see the pass, and I saw he was writing me up for another six days. I don’t say anything. I get the pass and leave. Neither of us says anything. I didn’t even have to say, Okay I won’t go to the hospital. We both knew we had each other by the balls.

And so I got myself twelve days paid sick-leave. I felt happy. Because I had managed to beat out the job, beat the system, making it work to my advantage. Except that those days I wasn’t working I didn’t know what the fuck to do with myself all day. I sort of hung out around the Valentino, where all the whores and faggots were. I just walked around, you know, screwed up really, I was bored, I didn’t know what to do with myself even if I’d had money. Fiat was paying me almost 120,000 lire a month. They paid you an advance every fifteen days, and out of my first advance I gave 40,000 lire to my sister, who I was staying with.

So I had 10,000 lire left, 10,000 lire that I just pissed away in a couple of days. Partly because I didn’t know what the fuck to do. Going from one bar to another, buying newspapers, Playmen, comic books….I went to the movies, I didn’t know what else to fucking do. I ate up that money without knowing what the fuck I was doing. Like I was resting up, because I felt so tired out by a shit job. Which is pretty absurd, I mean really absurd. Because during those twelve days of paid sick-leave I realized that I didn’t even know how to rest up from work, and that I didn’t know what to fucking do in Turin.

After those twelve days of sick leave – which anyhow I got at Fiat’s expense, because I didn’t give a shit about them – I got back inside the factory. They started me out tightening mufflers, and I decided to fuck up my new floater. See, when you have to learn a new operation, the floater’s right there to teach it to you. And I wanted to fuck this guy up because all floaters are scabs, people who’ve been working there for three, maybe ten, years. He was showing me what to do: Got that? brrrr brrrr brrrr. Now you do the next one. So I went brrrrrrr and slowed down. I pretended the gun ran down on me, that it was jammed near the bolt. I called the floater: Come here, quick. I can’t do it, see?

Christ Almighty! Christ Almighty! the guy started saying. He was Turinese, the kind they call barott, they come from farmer stock around the outskirts of Turin. They’re still farmers; they own land, which their wives work. They’re commuters, very tough people, thick-headed, with no imagination, dangerous. Not fascists, just thick-headed. Communists is what they are – Bread and Work. I, at least, was a hopeless case, because I didn’t care much about politics. But these guys thought work was the ultimate thing, work was everything to them, I mean everything, and they showed it the way they acted. They stayed and worked for years, for three, maybe ten, years. So that they got old fast and died young. Just for those few lire that never go far enough anyway – only a thickhead, a lackey, could do it. You spend years in this prison of shit, doing a job that totally destroys you.

Anyway, this guy suspects that I’m just fucking him up, so he leaves his place and stops the line. The bosses come over. Whenever a line stops, a red light goes on where the line stopped and all the bosses come over. What’s the trouble? This guy here doesn’t feel like working. No, that’s a lie! I am working, it’s just that I can’t handle this yet because I’m still learning. I’m not half as smart as you; you’ve been here ten years, obviously a guy like you can learn everything right away. I wanted to make him squirm. Look, I said, you’re a smart guy, it’s ten years you’re working here, so you understand everything, but for me it’s a little hard. I just got back from being sick, too, so how can I work with this finger?

Then the boss says to me: Listen, it looks to me like you’re just trying to goof off. You better remember that here at Fiat you have to work. No goofing off. If you want to goof off go see your friends on via Roma. I tell him: Look, I can’t say as I have any friends on via Roma. Anyway, I come here because I need money. I’m working, but I still haven’t learned.When I learn, I’ll work. You want to give me six days to work into the job or not? What do you mean six days? the boss says, You’ve already been here a month. A month, right, but I was working at that other position, not here. So now I need another six trial days, and the floater there is supposed to stay with me all six days. If he doesn’t, I won’t do a fucking thing.

I was supposed to tighten bolts, nine of them, on the mufflers. I had to stand there for eight hours holding the gun; the engine passed in front of me, I tightened the bolts, then it went on its way. Another worker put the muffler in and set up the bolts, all I had to do was tighten them. It was easy enough, but I had to stand there for eight hours holding that gun up over my arm or on my shoulder, an air-gun weighing twenty-eight pounds. See, I don’t like jobs where I have to use just one hand, or one arm, where I can’t use both at once. Because they make one shoulder get thicker than the other. You get deformed, one shoulder one way, the other shoulder another way, one muscle bigger than the other. It deforms you, it really does. But if you do those kinds of gymnastic movements where you’re moving everything at the same time, now that doesn’t bother me. But the acrobatics I had to go through on this job really pissed me off. Putting that motor on my shoulder, the noises ratatatataratatara tat tat tat – I couldn’t stand it any more.

I had already decided to break with Fiat anyway, to make trouble for them. At this last confrontation with my floater the bosses from all the other lines all came over at the same time. The workers had stopped because my floater had already stopped the line. So they were all standing there looking at me, while I was looking at the bosses. So I threaten the boss, the floater, even the big boss, that other guy, the colonel, because he came over too. Look, I say, Fiat doesn’t belong to me, get that in your heads. I didn’t want it, I’m not the one who made it, I’m here to make money, that’s all. But if you get me all pissed off, if you start breaking my balls, I’ll bust your face in, every one of you. I’m saying this to them in front of all the workers. I had threatened them openly, but they couldn’t take any risks, because they didn’t know what I was up to, whether I was serious or not. So the big boss tried the old paternalism.

You’re right, he tells me in front of the workers, but work is something important, it’s something you have to do. Obviously you’re a little nervous today, but there’s nothing we can do about that. This isn’t a hospital. Go take a rest, he says, moving closer to me. Go on sick leave, he says, standing next to me in front of all the workers, and don’t break balls for people who want to work. He was getting back at me, in other words. He gets back at me then cuts the conversation short: If you want to break balls go on sick leave, go fuck yourself for all I care, just don’t break balls for people who work and want to work. There’s no room here for fuckups, or crazies, or weaklings who don’t want to work. Meanwhile the line was starting up again, and the workers weren’t watching me any more. 

Courtesy: Libcom

MARUTI SUZUKI WORKERS UNION: Condemn state repression on Justice Rally

Friends,

We from the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) and our families continue to face not only an exploitative company management but also continous state repression since we started our agitation demanding justice and legitimate rights of workers.

This morning, Imaan Khan, one of the members of the Provisional Working Committee, MSWU, was picked up by the Haryana police while a Press Conference was underway, from outside the union office of Sarva Karmachari Sangh in Civil Lines, Gurgaon near Puspanjali Hospital.

This press conference and other such programs are being organized as part of the week-long ‘JUSTICE RALLY’ through the villages and cities across Haryana from 21st January 2012 to culminate in a Dharna in Rohtak on 27th January.

Also today morning, one of the teams of the state-wide jattha which started from Rewari yesterday and were starting from Dharuhera today, was also harassed, intimidated and finally forcibly picked up by the police from Bilaspur- all 20 workers’ cycles were dumped into police vehicles and dropped off to a village in Jhajjhar. When the workers valiantly resisted these repressive tactics by laying on the ground and holding on to each each, the police used force to remove us and gave threat of arrests and torture if we enter Gurgaon.

Before this, on 22nd and 23rd January, police tried raiding our Union Office and threatened workers and their families of further arrests and torture if we dare to continue with our agitation. Besides our 149 fellow workers who continue to languish in jail for the last seven months, non-bailable arrest warrants against 66 more workers have been slapped on whom police repression is continuous. 546 permanent and 1800 contract workers have been terminated from our jobs.

We strongly condemn this continuous use of brute police force on workers and our families and anti-worker stance of our elected representatives, which is showing how nakedly the state is working to maintain the injustice and exploitation by the management of Maruti Suzuki company. It is our democratic right to protest, and we demand the immediate release of Imaan Khan, MSWU Provisional Working Committee member, and stop to further harassment by the police on our justice rally for Rohtak 27th January.

Ramnivas, Omprakash, Mahavir, Yogesh, Katar Singh, Rajpal

on behalf of Provisional Working Committee

MARUTI SUZUKI WORKERS UNION

Video: Union Maids (1976)

Courtesy: LibCom.org

Delhi Gang Rape and the Feminism of Proletarian Militancy

Pothik Ghosh

Demands for harsh and summary punishment for rapists, or for that matter, stringent laws to deal with  rape – fuelled as they are by moral outrage – do little else than reinforce the capitalist structure of patriarchy that thrives on gendered division of labour between waged productive work and unwaged reproductive work. For, any such legal-juridical demand or move is willy-nilly grounded in the assumption that the capitalist-patriarchal structuring of social relations need not be transformed to protect women from sexual violence. In fact, such self-righteous moral outrage underpinned by the lust for inquisitorial-gladiatorial spectacle is, at the systemic-structural level, nothing but an ideology that legitimises the capitalist-patriarchal structure. It tends to reinforce the general consensus – precisely by marshalling the crises of the system it can no longer conceal – that the only matrix capable of protecting women against violence is one that is normatively capable of instituting stringent laws against perpetrators of such sexual and/or gender violence, ensures their strict enforcement and delivers harsh punishment to offenders. The reinforcement of such a consensus does no more or less than preserve and reproduce the structure of gendered division of labour, and sexual inequality.

Moral Outrage and Capitalist Juridicality

The legal-juridical approach to protect women not only denies them autonomous agency, as it serves to interpellate them as unequal subjects of a gendered socio-economic system, but also masks the implication of the agency of all its citizen-subjects in that gender-unequal structure of social power. Meanwhile, those citizen-subjects, who turn agents of such legal-juridical approach to anti-systemic politics, live in the neurotic comfort of condemning rape and baying for the blood of rapists even as they perpetuate the gender-unequal structure of social power through their agency as citizen-subjects of civil society and its constitutive unit: the family. This structure of social power is the very condition of possibility for such gruesome acts of sexual and gendered violence, which are, therefore, its cultural and ideological embodiments or mediations. Hence, such moral outrage of citizen-subjects ties up neatly with the legal-juridical approach that serves to sidestep the fundamental question of socio-economic transformation by sweeping the collective consciousness clean of it, thus enabling the system to manage its structural crisis by transferring it, either fully or partially, from one location to another. As a consequence, the system is not only preserved but it also reproduces itself through the further extension of its panoptic web of biopower and the political-economic logic that inheres in it. Clearly, morally outraged demands for fixing gruesome acts of sexual violence such as rape in their sheer immediacy is the political language constitutive of a subjective agency of opposition that is integral precisely to the extended reproduction of the very system it seeks to oppose in one of its many determinate moments. That, needless to say, reinforces the legal-juridical approach even as it precludes the transformation of the capitalist-patriarchal structuring of socio-economic power through its decimation.

The immediate fight against sexual violence such as rape must grasp such despicable violence not as a problem of sheer lawlessness that, therefore, can be eliminated through the enforcement of the law and the reinforcement of its concomitant system, but as a crisis of the very system and its structure that, therefore, needs to be destroyed in order to abolish such crises integral to it. Rape is not an aberration of the system that the latter can eradicate by asserting – instituting/enforcing – the law that holds the system together as its raison d’ etre. Rather, it is one of the many forms of heinously oppressive violence that is integral to regimes of class domination that is enshrined in and as the systemic rule of law. Hence, the eradication of rape and other such forms of coercive patriarchal oppression, which make for the constitutive exception of the law, is contingent not on extending the remit of the legal. Instead, it lies precisely in the abolition of the law and the capitalist socio-economic structure coeval with the legal and, which to reiterate the earlier point, is the condition of possibility of patriarchy and all its forms of control and coercion.

It is no accident that moral outrage against gruesome acts of rape and sexual violence, which fuel demands for either more stringent anti-rape laws or harsh punishment for rapists, or both, is inseparable from disciplinary control over the vector of women’s bodies and lifeworlds. All for their safety and security. The social, if not the individual, subject that articulates both those discourses is indivisible.

This argument does in no way, however, preclude the question of politically fighting rape in its immediacy. Rather, what it insists on is the inescapable need for such a struggle to figure how the general strategy of fighting capital in order to overcome it should articulate its tactics in their immediacy, and not be conflated with it to be hypostatised. The legal-juridical fight against rape is a tactical position that ought not to be blinded by the affect of moral outrage that animates it to the strategy of decimating the capitalist-patriarchal structure. A strategy that ought to inform, articulate and orientate the social subject waging the immediate, tactical struggle for legal-juridical measures against rape. As for the question about whether or not moral outrage about rape is necessarily inseparable from patriarchy, the need is clearly to deal with it at its two different levels of determination: one of individual subjectivity and the other of social subjecthood. In the first instance, the correlation is not necessary, while in the second case, if the morally outraged social subject is interpellated by the legal-juridical approach and is thus rendered incapable and/or unwilling to pose the fundamental structural (or mediated) question then moral outrage is doubtless coeval with patriarchal power. It is actually no less than the ideology of capital in this, its late conjuncture. Of course, there is no duality between the two subject-positions as they are in a dialectic. And precisely, therefore, there can be no unidirectional determination. That is, an individual subjectivity of moral outrage, even if it is informed by a conception of social subject for structural transformation, cannot, merely by claiming to be informed by such radical subjectivity, stand in as such for the actuality of the radical, system-transforming social subject. That social subject, which is incipiently present in the subjectivity of a radical individual, has to be generalised beyond that incipience for it to be sustained in its actuality. Politics is what politics does. Not what it says it does.

Class Struggle on the Woman Question

Therefore, the woman question should not be reduced to a question of juridical identity and that it should, in its tactical determinateness, articulate the generalised strategy of class antagonism. This is not to say that rape becomes a secondary question from the vantage point of revolutionary working-class politics. And that, therefore, the struggle of the hour is for socialism, whose coming would automatically take care of gender inequality and sexual oppression. Instead, there is an urgent need to stake out a revolutionary working-class position with regard to intervention in gruesome instances of sexual violence where the public consensus is single-mindedly focused on meting out harsh punishments – death by hanging, castration, etc – while remaining incapable of or unwilling to question how gender-insensitive laws and law-enforcement are integral to the capitalist-patriarchal structuring of social relations, or social power.

However, what must at this juncture be openly acknowledged, and admitted – without a shred of ideological sophistry – is that the dominant current of movements, which have based themselves on the conceptual centrality of the class question, have been paradigmatically blind to how, among other things, capital has engendered class. In other words, the working-class movement should recognise that its dominant tendencies have failed to foreground how the structure of capital has divided labour and thus segmented the working class through the political-economic specification, re-inscription and re-articulation of the pre-capitalist gendered power relations. The capitalist structure has specified pre-capitalist patriarchy to effect gendered hierarchisation of the domains of productive and reproductive work to enable transfer of value to preserve and perpetuate a system constitutive of differential rates of exploitation (extraction of surplus value). Not just that. The capitalist-patriarchal ideology of ‘legitimate’ sexual inequality generated by this gendered privileging of productive over reproductive work has been instrumental in the gendered segmentation of labour – through unspoken custom if not enshrined contract – in the productive sphere itself as also the larger sphere of so-called non-work socialisation. The working-class movement would, therefore, do well to realise that the paradigmatic blindness of its dominant tendencies to this dimension of our political-economic reality has yielded a conception of working-class unity that is nothing but the instrumentalisation of the everydayness of working-class women by the politics of the male proletariat. That has rendered the latter the oppressive intermediaries of capital and dominant petty-bourgeois agencies of property-forms vis-à-vis the former. In short, such ‘working-class unity’ has been integral to the restoration of capitalist class power.

The women’s movement would, meanwhile, do well not to repeat such a paradigmatic error. The specification, and rearticulation, of the gendered relations of power by the capitalist structure cuts both ways. Capital does not merely engender class but also, in the same movement, classi-fies gender. It marshals gender inequality to segment the working-class even as the homogeneity of gender is itself subjected to a class-based internal differentiation based on a hierarchically relational gradation of property-form and labour-dimension. In such circumstances, to target only patriarchy as the root of such gender oppression and sexual violence as honour killings, rape and so on is to attack only the ideological form – culture if you will – of gender oppression and violence while leaving the capitalist structure that animates or articulates it intact. A structure that is capable of coopting anti-patriarchal women’s  movements by articulating them in a manner that enables such movements to raise the perfectly just demands for the abolition of various unfreedoms that shackle womankind in its gendered entirety even while bringing emancipation from such gendered unfreedoms to certain locationally select segments and sections of women to the exclusion of the rest, and thereby neutralising the movements by weakening the strength and/or energy of the mass that drives such movements by accentuating the segmentation within it.

Towards the Feminism of Proletarian Militancy

The point here is certainly not to join the chorus of status-quoist cynics, who are seeking to diminish the current anti-rape mass upsurge on the streets of Delhi as a middle-class fad. Such cynicism is insidious to say the least. Sexual violence and gender oppression cannot, by any stretch of imagination, qualify as a middle-class or petty-bourgeois concern. Insofar as gender inequality, which is a form of class domination, is co-constitutive of such violent oppression, sexual violence is a working-class question at its core. Rather, the point of the argument really is that the mass upsurge should recognise its objectively incipient working-class character so that it can be generalised. In short, this movement against sexual violence must not only challenge the dominant culture of patriarchy – which it is doing in large measure, thanks to the participation of various communist-left mass organisations and other radical women’s groups – but must also simultaneously become a struggle against segmentations and divisions within the gendered class of women proletarians if its battle against patriarchy has to really succeed. In other words, an effective struggle against patriarchy can only be a revolutionary working-class struggle. One that doesn’t evade the gender question in the name of some larger, beyond-gender working-class unity, but focuses on the gender question in its specificity in terms of rearticulation of the culture (ideology) of patriarchy within and by the materiality of capital. To do merely the former is the path of radical feminism while an approach that dialectically articulates the former with the latter is the feminism of proletarian militancy.

What would the adoption of such an approach mean in the concrete specificity of the current anti-rape mass movement in Delhi, though? For starters, it would not only mean stoutly resisting calls for capital punishment for or emasculation of the perpetrators of sexual violence but even steering clear of such juridical-legal demands as improving the abysmally low rate of conviction  in rape cases, making rape investigations less patriarchally prejudiced and strengthening our frail and ineffectual anti-rape laws. Such demands – which are currently emanating from the more politically progressive tendencies in the movement – presuppose that the current system is capable of delivering on them and that such delivery is contingent merely on some disembodied, spiritualised will of the system. In other words, the socio-political subject that articulates such demands is a subject of reformist politics interpellated by the juridical-legal ideology and the concomitant hope that the system is structurally capable of reform. It is, therefore, unwittingly or not, complicit in the perpetuation of the capitalist systemic structure that is the necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the generation of cultures of gender oppression and sexual violence. Clearly, the stress of radical politics cannot, for that reason, lie on mobilising the street to berate and condemn the patriarchal mindset of the administrators either. Such an approach to the state of affairs dovetails nicely with the juridical-legal mode of reformist politics because such condemnation implies that it can shake a patriarchally callous and prejudiced administration from its anti-woman mindset by the sheer force of its intensity, and that therefore there is no structural constraint on the latter to transform itself for the better. Nothing, as we have seen, is farther from the truth. Worse, the discourse of such politics, thanks to its reformist modality, is inevitably populist that can (often has) dangerously veer to the right in the course of the mass movement. For, registers and idioms have a way of taking a life of their own, not least because they are inscribed within systemically operational structures.

Radical political intervention should learn to shun the discourse of crime and punishment to relearn its classical language of oppression and resistance. A language that disentangles the question of justice from that of law by freeing the former from the hypostatized prison of the latter. It should pose the very same systemic problems – low conviction rate, weak laws, culturally biased investigation and custom-based, communitarian subjugation of bodies and lives of women – with regard to gender oppression and sexual violence such as rape to expose the structural incapacity of the system to reform itself and remedy the situation. And through such exposure conscientise – orientate if you will – the mass upsurge triggered by perception of such ‘crimes’ to demand the impossible of the system: that its administration, police and, eventually, its private and public corporations, must cede their governmentalised control over and determination of every aspect of the lifeworld of the working masses to the popular subjectivity of the mass movement. A politics based on demanding the impossible is needed in this case not only because the system is structurally incapable of riding itself of gender-inequality and the patriarchal ideology co-constitutive of it but also because the juridical-legal approach legitimizes the politics of demands the system can possibly deliver on and, in the process, articulates a subject that reproduces the logic of duality and determination – which is constitutive of the capitalist law of value and phallocentric patriarchy, both embodied by the state.

Only when the current mass upsurge comes to be animated by this radically (im)possibility will it have begun actualising its revolutionary incipience by struggling to not merely occupy Delhi but seeking to take control of that occupied urban spatio-temporality by re-organising the social relations constitutive of it through the general assembly-driven mode of popular vigilance into a free associational or solidaristic sociality. The actualisation of such a radical subjectivity by the movement in question would enable it to see and envisage its struggle against the system in its dialectical indivisibility with the task of re-organising the given social and production relations. Something the class power constitutive of the system in question tends to render impossible, thus making the deployment of popular force by those who struggle indispensable for their task of generating counter-power through such re-organisation of the given socio-economic relations. That would, inter-alia, put an end to the false and grossly counter-productive binary between violent and peaceful protests that we have seen emanating from within the movement over the past few days. One that threatens to sap the movement of its unity and energy, what with the clear and present danger of the movement being hijacked from within – either by the reformists or the petty-bourgeois right – staring it in the face.

That this is no flight of fancy is more than evident in what the anti-rape mass movement itself has thrown up. Some radical students and youth organisations and individuals of Delhi have imagined into being a campaign, as part of the ongoing protest movement, to “reclaim the nights of the city”. The carnivalesque spontaneity of this reclamation campaign posits – of course, in a rather nascent form – the possibility of an insurrectionary sociality of people’s militias that wrest Delhi and its streets from all oppressors – the rapists, as much as the police and administration that is structurally complicit in such oppression – for popular vigilance and control. That possibility must, however, be recognised if the campaign is not to get caught in its carnivalesque spontaneity and degenerate into another festival of the anarcho-desiring petty-bourgeois youth. Only through such recognition can the politically conscious elements of the revolutionary left that is part of the campaign seriously strive towards building wider solidarity networks with the larger sections of the working people of the city, beyond the student-youth axis of the current campaign. Such wide-ranging solidarity networks are, needless to say, indispensable and integral to the process of occupation of a city and the simultaneous subordination of the socio-economic process constitutive of it to popular vigilance and control. Ironically, it is only by organising the carnivalesque spontaneity of the so-called reclamation campaign into a mode of popular control and vigilance of the sociality that are the nights, as also the days, of Delhi can this carnival preserve itself by obviating its day-after to become, in Ernst Bloch’s words, a “concrete utopia” of uninterrupted insurrection.

Instead, what we have so far  from the radicals in the anti-rape mass movement, the communist left groups included,  is, at best, a version of the juridical-legal approach tinged with the rhetoric of radical feminism. This approach has given their politics, even though they raise precisely the very same set of pertinently concrete questions they ought to have raised in order to radicalize the situation, a disagreeably unradical populist odour. It even risks reversing the good faith of such politics into bad. Such juridical-legal demands, regardless of the nobility of intent of the subject of such politics, can only serve to further securitise and thus governmentalise the political discourse and enable the extension and intensification of repressive state apparatuses and biopolitical instrumentalities such as the police force, and CCTV cameras and global positioning systems in public spaces respectively. And that is because the nobility of its intent does little to change the fact that such politics is wholly geared towards eliciting governmental – executive, legislative and judicial – responses from the system. Those are not merely the only responses the system can possibly come up with but ones it must come up with in order to extend its dominion and thereby reproduce itself.

In a more general sense, the communist left must remember that a revolutionary subjectivity is not one that evades certain immediate questions that history/capital throws at it. Rather, that every such question is a ground for leap against capital and its history, and that such a leap can concretely, as opposed to abstractly, come about only if it is able to understand and plot its interventions with regard to the concreteness of those immediate or determinate questions in terms of two mutually related characteristic features of our responses as subjects situated within and informed by capitalism and its history: one, commonsense is ideological and two, our struggle against any immediate domination must in the same determinate instance also articulate a struggle against the generalised hegemony within whose structure both immediate domination and the struggle against it are situated. A social subject of opposition that is not orientated by such knowledge runs the grave and virtually imminent risk of falling prey to the cunning of capital in precisely the same moment when it puts up its most spirited fight against it.

Workshop on Organisation and the Self-Emancipation of the Working Class (Sewagram, Jan. 13-15, 2013)

A three day workshop is being organised with comrades from Mouvement Communiste, a communist organisation in France and Belgium belonging to the Autonomist Marxist tradition. The workshop will be held on 13th, 14th and 15th January 2013 at Sewagram Gandhi Ashram (Wardha, Maharashtra). Discussions would be held within the framework of the following topics.

1. Role of organisation in the self –emancipation of the working class
2. Necessity of an international working class organisation

The workshop would start on 13th January at 10 am with self- introduction of the participants followed by an introduction of the subject of discussion by any volunteer. On the first day the French comrades would be asked to present their political position followed by an open discussion. 14 January would be a day of paper presentations on the above topics by other participants followed by an open discussion. On 15th January discussions would be held on the second topic: Necessity of an international working class organisation. The workshop would conclude at 4.30 pm on 15th January. The medium of discussion would be Hindi as well as English. Comrades knowing French are requested to facilitate the discussion whenever required.

All participants will have to bear their own travelling expenses in addition to a contribution of Rs 1000 towards expenses for stay, food and other arrangements in the Ashram for three days. Those who wish to present papers on the above mentioned topics are requested to send their papers (or abstracts) by 15th December in order to facilitate translation in Hindi/English if necessary.

All participants are requested to book their tickets for Wardha/Sewagram at their earliest in order to reach either of these stations by 13th morning. Those who wish to travel by flight should book for Nagpur Airport accordingly.

Comrades willing to participate may contact the organisers.

CONTACTS

E-Mails: Arvind Ghosh <arvind_ghosh@ymail.com>, Dharmendra Kumar <monad96@gmail.com>, Radical Notes <radicalnotes@radicalnotes.com>

Telephones: Arvind Ghosh: 09921336289, Dharmendra Kumar: 09827609604, Prakash Raut ( All India Workers Council – AIWC)): 09096089231, Rajendra Singh (AIWC): 09271288269, Rahul Gaurkhede (AIWC): 09423603629, Nainatai Dhaval (AIWC): 09881713382, Chandrapal Singh (Revolutionary Proletarian Platform, RPP): 08928510997,  Ranjeet Singh (RPP): 07875858539

Postal Address:

1. Arvind Ghosh, 314 A, Sonegaon, Nagpur, 440025

2. Revolutionary Proletarian Platform office, 28, Kalmegh Nagar, Nagpur 440016

Maruti Suzuki Workers Union: The First Day of the Hunger Strike

The terminated workers of Maruti Suzuki, Manesar plant launched their mass hunger strike today in front of the District Magistrate Office, Gurgaon demanding an impartial inquiry into the incident of 18th July, immediate release of all arrested workers and the withdrawal of all the false charges put on them, immediate reinstatement of all terminated workers, including the contract workers.

The 149 workers in Bhondsi jail, arrested after the July 18 incident also embarked on a parallel hunger strike despite repeated threats of torture by the jail authorities since yesterday. They were threatened to be beaten up, separated and removed to different jails across the state, but have continued their hunger strike since early morning, even boycotting the early morning tea.

Majority of workers in the Manesar plant were also planning a solidarity action of lunch boycott. But just as they embarked on the solidarity action, immense pressure was put by the management and a heavy deployment of around 1000 police was brought in, in the already fortified company premises, to ‘dissuade’ them. The Union President and workers from Gurgaon plant also joined in solidarity with the workers in front of the DC Office, Gurgaon.

From the very beginning, the police and the administration vehemently displayed their anti-worker attitude. In gross violation of the democratic right to protest, the police dismantled the tent and other amenities (eg. Water tanker and sound system) that the workers had set up for the peaceful sit-in event in front of the mini-secretariat. The workers remained determined and vowed to continue the protest as planned in assertion of their rights. In response, the police continued its attack on the workers and detained about 40-50 workers who were packed off to Bhondsi thana. It is only after continued pressure from the workers and the unions present did the police release the detained workers. However, 2 members of the Provisional Working Committee, O.P.Jat and Ramnivas, have been illegally detained inside the police station for so-called further questioning and enquiry. We fear that, as the Haryana police on orders from the company has done, will again put false cases on the workers.

However, despite all these attempts at disruption and intimidation by the police, the first day of the dharna has proved a success and the hunger strike was continued at the decided venue. Representatives from different trade unions and other organizations across India came in solidarity to the protest and spoke at length about the immense injustice faced by terminated/jailed Maruti workers, the highly exploitative working conditions of workers across the country and committed themselves to taking this struggle forward. The speakers emphasized how the united struggle of the Maruti workers is very crucial and that it has served as an inspiration to workers across the country. The assembly was addressed by leaders of various factory unions in the Gurgaon-Dharuhera-Bawal industrial belt, including Rajkumar of RICO Employees Union (Dharuhera), Jaspal Rana of HMS, Anil of AITUC, Satbir of CITU, Animesh of IFTU and Shivmangal Sidhankar of ICTU. Workers’ Rpresentatives from Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh, Chattisgarh (like Kaladas) and Sangrami Shramik Karmachari Union, Hindustan Motors, West Bengal (Amitava Bhattacharyya), as well workers from Ghaziabad, Noida, Delhi, and Uttarakhand also spoke in solidarity.

The hunger strike will continue throughout the night, and tomorrow. There is a massive rally planned for 4pm tomorrow that will culminate at the local minister’s house, which is expected to be attended in large numbers by students, teachers, other members of the civil society and workers from across the industrial belt.

Maruti Suzuki Workers’ Union: A two-day hunger strike (Nov 7-8)

The Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU: Reg. no. 1923) has decided to hold a protest dharna in the form of a two-day hunger strike on 7th and 8th November 2012. Our family members, relatives and well-wishers and organizations have staged regular protests across Haryana and given memorandum to all the ministers in the state but to no avail. We were not allowed to unite and express our side of the story and our indignation at being falsely implicated in the unfortunate incident of 18th July 2012.

So we are doing a united protest action of the 149 workers languishing in Gurgaon Central Jail for the last three-and-a-half months, and the 546 permanent workers who have been terminated from their jobs. We have all the solidarity of the around 2000 contract and casual workers who have also been unceremoniously thrown out of their jobs. All 149 workers will be on hunger strike inside the jail, and over 500 workers will sit in front of the Gurgaon Court/D.C. Office in Gurgaon from 10am on 7th November till 4pm on 8thNovember 2012, after which we will take out a rally to submit a memorandum to the local minister.

When this protest program was declared the day-before on 4th November, police intimidation, which we have already witnessed these three months, has increased manifold. The jail authorities of Gurgaon Central Jail have threatened to ‘beat up’ and increase the torture on our 149 fellow workers who go on hunger strike. All our elected Union representatives are lodged in jail – Among those in Gurgaon Central Jail include the entire leadership of our MARUTI SUZUKI WORKERS UNION bodywho are portrayed as ‘killers’ even without any due impartial investigation, and having a complete silence on the role played by the company management in the incident of violence on 18 July 2012.

The Maurti Suzuki company, IMT Manesar currently operates under police cover and the condition of the few workers who work there are fear and overwork. The Manesar police summoned each worker inside the company to the police station and has threatened all of them of ‘dire consequences’ and termination if found to be even remotely in touch with any of the terminated workers and having found to be attending any meeting or dharna. This is complete violation of all democratic norms in the country.

We will however go ahead with our scheduled program and call upon all sections of workers, unions and common people to come in our support and join us on 7th and 8th November in front of the D.C. Office, Gurgaon, to bring out our side of the story which has been buried in the heap of company-driven misinformation and pro-company government actions. We have and will stand for our legitimate rights, the unity of all the workers against the exploitation by the Maruti management and its continuous attempts to ‘divide and rule’ over us, by segmenting us into permanent and contract, and now into jailed, terminated and working in intimidation. We appeal to all to join us and strengthen our struggle!

We demand:

  1. Institute an independent impartial probe into the incident of 18th July 2012, and into the role of the management in it.
  2. Immediately release all the arrested workers. Stop all repressive measures by the police on workers-inside the jail, inside the company and outside- and on their family members and relatives.
  3. Immediately reinstate all the 546 terminated workers and also give priority to reinstate temporary workers as permanents.

 

Inquilab Zindabad!

Imaan Khan, Ram Niwas, O. P. Jat, Katar Singh, Yogesh, Raj Pal, Mahabir

Provisional Working Committee,

MARUTI SUZUKI WORKERS UNION (MSWU)

Seminar: Challenges facing the labour movement in India (Oct 20, 2012)

Seminar organised by various workers organisations in New Delhi (Oct 20, 2012) to assess the challenge before the workers movement in India in the context of the Maruti Struggle.

Banaji and Hensman on multinationals and industrial conflicts in Bombay (1956-84)

Courtesy: Economic & Political Weekly