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.

Maruti Suzuki Workers Union: Dharna (December 19 2012), Delhi

Friends and Comrades,

We from Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, appeal to you to strengthen our struggle, by joining us in our day-long protest demonstration in Jantar Mantar from 10am on 19th December 2012. While the management of the Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. and the government of Haryana, continues in its joint offensive against us, we reaffirm our commitment to carry forward our legitimate struggle.

As you know, 149 of our fellow workers continue to languish in Gurgaon Central Jail. The bail plea of 15 contract workers among them was rejected by the Sessions Court, Gurgaon on 4th December even when no substantial proof of indictment could be provided by the state counsel, which points to the sham in the name of legal process that is being inflicted on us. 546 regular workers and more than 1800 contract workers have been terminated from service since 18th July, and five months on, we only face the arrogant attitude of the management and the government adamant to crush our struggle and the questions that it has raised- against the exploitative working and living conditions, for the right to Unionize and demands of justice. We have organized number of protest rallies and deputations to ministers of ruling and opposition electoral parties but have been only been faced by a management and government which leaves nothing undone in their attempts to weaken and divide us further into jailed, terminated, those working inside the factory, as also between contract and permanent workers.

We have shown our resolve to forge unity among us workers across these divides put up by the company and the government. We successfully organized the Automobile Workers Convention on 9th December 2012, where we raised the common issues of workers across the auto sector in Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal-Faridabad-Noida-Ghaziabad industrial belts, recognizing that we workers face the same conditions of exploitation in the entire NCR industrial belt. We are organizing a protest demonstration in Jantar Mantar on 19th December which is also the martyrdom day of our beloved Asfaqulla Khan and Ramprasad Bismil, who gave their lives in 1927 in the anti-colonial struggle for freedom. When today we again struggle against present conditions of unfreedom, we appeal to all to join us on the day of the dharna.

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

Provisional Working Committee

MARUTI SUZUKI WORKERS UNION

MSWU: DILLI CHALO!!! Against Police Repression on Auto Workers Convention

As you know, we from Maruti Suzuki Workers Union (MSWU) have called for an Auto Workers CONVENTION on 9th December 2012 in Ambedkar Bhavan, Jhandewalan, New Delhi with common demands of auto workers in NCR industrial belt.

This program with our legitimate demands has been declared one week back, for which we have given due information for permission to the PMO and the Paharganj police station and have received copies of the same. But Haryana and Delhi government administration through the use of Police of both the states, along with CID Haryana has come down heavily on us for raising our legal and legitimate demands. They have denied us permission to hold the Convention in the evening today with the imagined reason that this will disrupt peace in the area. And since last two days, Haryana Police and CID has been calling on us and our parents and relatives to strongly threaten against holding this program and any such program in the future, or force will be used against us.

We condemn this direct attack on our democratic right guaranteed under the Indian Constitution by the joint forces of Haryana and Delhi government administration through the naked use of force in the service of the Maruti Suzuki management. And with what we have seen in the last four months, this is nothing new to us now, as the police and government administration have nakedly sided with the company management in their attempt to crush our voice of truth.

We appeal to all concerned with democratic rights and our just struggle to stand by us as we will go ahead with the declared program tomorrow and similar programs in the near future.Our fellow workers from across Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal-Noida-Faridabad-Ghaziabad industrial belt will join us and strengthen our struggle.

Condemning the police and administrative action against us, we reiterate our demands:

1. In the permanent nature of work in the auto sector in Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal-Faridabad-Noida-Ghaziabad industrial region, completely abolish the illegal contract worker system by the year 2013. Till they are not made permanent, all workers in the auto sector in this region should be given minimum wage of Rs.15,000.

2. All permanent workers in the auto sector must be given minimum wage of Rs.25000.

3. Unions must be formed in the auto belt industrial region. Within 45 days of application for registration of Trade Union, the concerned labour department must ensure the registration of the Trade Union with due process.

4. The High Court order in favour of workers of Eastern Medikit must be immediately implemented and the illegal lockout be ended. Take back all the workers of Eastern Medkit and ensure payment of due wages.

5. Along with all the 546 illegally terminated workers of Maruti Suzuki Manesar, all the contract workers must be immediately taken back to work.

6. All the arrested workers of Maruti Suzuki Manesar must be immediately released, the false cases withdrawn and stop the repression and torture of workers.

Sincere Regards,

Provisional Working Committee
MARUTI SUZUKI WORKERS UNION

 Program details:

Date: 9 December 2012; 11am to 6pm.
Place: Ambedkar Bhavan, Panchkuiyan Road, near Jhandewalan Metro Station, New Delhi

Contact: Imaan Khan-             09467704883      , Ramnivas- 08901127876, Omprakash-08607154232, Mahavir-09560564754,Yogesh-             08510043143      , Katar Singh-09728778870, Rajpal-             09555425175

Maruti Suzuki Workers Union: On the Automobile Workers Convention (December 9)

This convention is being organized to express the legitimacy of the struggle waged by the workers of Maruti Suzuki, Manesar in the last one and a half years under the leadership of Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, for which we have come under constant attack, conspiracy and misinformation campaign by the management aided by the government and administration of Haryana.

As you all know, our struggle in Maruti Suzuki Manesar started with our demands for our legitimate trade union and constitutional rights. But just when we raised our voice in demanding our right to Union formation, and also raised the question mark on the illegal practice of contract worker system in the factory, the management started a full-fledged attack on us workers, and as we learnt during our struggle, the company management will go to any lengths to crush our legitimate voices.

In the space of these one and a half years, we have closely seen the real anti-worker face of those in power. We have seen how the government of Haryana and its administration has openly colluded with the management of Maruti Suzuki to safeguard the interests of Maruti Suzuki company-like big capitalists, to wage a battle, nay a war, against the workers. We have no doubt now, after having seen all this, that the incident of 18th July has been orchestrated to serve this war against the workers.

Not satisfied with this, the government machinery has for the last 4 months after 18th July 2012, ensured full cooperation with the management of Maruti Suzuki and made sure that we are given no space at all to raise our voice any further, first with police torture and even shrinking all legal avenues open to us. The 149 workers languishing in Gurgaon Central Jail for more than 4 months now have all the legal right to getting bail, but the state has put all its weight to ensure that they are denied bail and continue to be treated as criminals. On 4th December 2012, all 15 workers (mostly contract workers, who do not even have their names in the original FIR) were denied bail, when all evidence suggested otherwise. But this kind of arrogant and corrupt attitude of the management and the government has only made our resolve to wage our legitimate struggle even stronger.

During the entire phase of our struggle, we have learnt that this kind of corrupt antidemocratic worker attitude and open flouting of all labour laws is not only limited to our Maruti Suzuki but this is the general condition of all workers in the entire auto sector of industry. So to raise the demand of Union formation and to point out the illegal practice of contract workers system under which contract workers in the entire industrial belt in the NCR region are exploited, all of us workers must be united and highlight the legitimacy of our struggle in society. We know that this is a difficult road, full of challenges, but having seen and suffered the inhuman and illegal attack and suppression of our voices and demands, we are accepting this challenge and take a vow to take our ideas and to all the workers of the entire NCR industrial belt.

We once again reiterate our demand to immediately take back all terminated workers and release all 149 arrested workers of Maruti Suzuki Manesar. We want to return a healthy working atmosphere to the company through negotiation and dialogue, but on respectable and dignified terms and not on the conditions of slavery that is being imposed on us. Along with this, we are also raising our voice against the open loot by capitalists in Haryana and flouting of labour laws, and resolve to wage our legitimate struggle by uniting all auto workers of the region. As part of this, we are organizing a
Convention to make manifest our resolve, and call upon all members of the press to this Convention.

We demand that:

1. In the permanent nature of work in the auto sector in Gurgaon-Manesar- Dharuhera-Bawal-Faridabad-Noida-Ghaziabad industrial region, completely abolish the illegal contract worker system by the year 2013. Till they are not
made permanent, all workers in the auto sector in this region should be given minimum wage of Rs.15,000.

2. All permanent workers in the auto sector must be given minimum wage of Rs.25000.

3. Unions must be formed in the auto belt industrial region. Within 45 days of application for registration of Trade Union, the concerned labour department must ensure the registration of the Trade Union with due process.

4. The High Court order in favour of workers of Eastern Medikit must be immediately implemented and the illegal lockout be ended. Take back all the workers of Eastern Medkit and ensure payment of due wages.

5. Along with all the 546 illegally terminated workers of Maruti Suzuki Manesar, all the contract workers must be immediately taken back to work.

6. All the arrested workers of Maruti Suzuki Manesar must be immediately released, the false cases withdrawn and stop the repression and torture of workers.

Provisional Working Committee
MARUTI SUZUKI WORKERS UNION

Program details

Date: 9 December 2012; 11am to 6pm.
Place: Ambedkar Bhavan, Panchkuiyan Road,
near Jhandewalan Metro Station,
New Delhi

Contact: Imaan Khan- 09467704883, Ramnivas- 08901127876, Omprakash-
08607154232, Mahavir-09560564754, Yogesh- 08510043143, Katar Singh-
09728778870, Rajpal- 0955542517

Automobile Workers’ Convention (December 9, New Delhi)

Maruti Suzuki Workers Union has called a convention of automobile workers in the Gurgaon-Manesar-Dharuhera-Bawal-Faridabad-Noida-Ghaziabad industrial belt to demand organising rights,  respectable wages and working conditions, to oppose repression of workers and the contract labour system.

December 9, 2012
11 am-6 pm

Ambedkar Bhawan (Near Jhandewalan Metro Station),
New Delhi

maruti-suzuki-trade-union3

Blind Workers rally against labour rights violation by “welfare NGOs”

On the occasion of the World Disabled Day Blind Workers took out a huge rally at the Parliament Street against violation of labour rights by NGOs and Government connivance.

Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment warned of intensified agitation and struggle if it does not provides employment at the earliest.

On the occasion of World Disability Day, blind workers under the banner of the Blind Workers’ Union took out a huge rally of blind workers regarding the entrenched problems faced by the disabled in the labour market, and towards the unfulfilled promises of the Social Justice Ministry to provide alternative employment to the disabled (in particular, the retrenched workers of National Federation of the Blind) in government undertakings. It is to be noted that since November of 2011, the blind workers have been protesting the retrenchment of several blind workers by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). This NGO retrenched the workers because they were speaking out against denial of minimum wages and other basic labour rights in the Training and Rehabilitation Centres (TRCs) run by the NGO. The blind workers have highlighted again and again how the Federation has been violating all statutory labour laws at its different production units. In fact, rather than minimum wages, the workers employed across NFB production units were being forced to work on the basis of a production-wage structure, which provides them barely Rs. 2600/- per month. This was way below the rate of minimum wages. The protest also raised the need for the Government to provide alternative employment for the disabled. A delegation of blind workers also submitted a memorandum of demands to the Ministry of Social Justice.

In the memorandum we raised the concerns of the blind workers and how they have been forced to become beggars in the absence of any employment. Also it is deeply disturbing that despite making several representations to the ministry these blind workers still await justice. For example, the Ministry has yet to take stern action against the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), which has entrenched large number of blind workers from its various Training and Rehabilitation Centres (TRCs) in October 2011. Neither has the concerned Ministry fulfilled its assurances of providing alternative employment to all the blind workers retrenched by the National Federation of the Blind at the government sponsored NGO, Arunim. Furthermore, discussion on and clauses in the pending Bill on the Rights of Persons with Disability (2011) continues to lack any serious engagement on the question of protecting the labour and economic rights of disabled persons employed in the private sector (i.e. by NGOs and private businesses). For us, such failure of intervention by the Government amounts to reducing World Disability Day to a day of pomp and show with no actual commitment towards upliftment of disabled workers through protection of their basic labour and economic rights like the right to gainful employment, right to equal remuneration, right to daily minimum wage, right to the eight hour work day, etc.

We also pointed out during the rally that our struggle is not just against the NFB, but against the overall exploitation of blind workers across the country by private companies and NGOs. It is an undeniable fact that in the interest of availing of certain benefits like tax exemption for employing persons with disability, the private sector is known to employ yet brutally exploit disabled persons. The arbitrary hiring and firing practices, unregulated working hours, etc. prevalent in the private sector, amount to a serious breach of social justice, which is why the blind workers have been approaching the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. More importantly, the workers realize that the failure of successive governments to provide adequate employment to the blind community is the main reason why blind workers are dependent on the highly exploitative private sector.Hence, our struggle is based on the fundamental right to a livelihood—a right the Government is to protect and uphold. The specific demands that the blind workers put forth in the memorandum include the following:

(i)                 Inclusion of a special section in the long pending Bill on the Rights of Persons With Disability (2011), which would safeguard the economic rights of blind workers employed in the private sector. For example, the Bill should include provisions to the effect that bodies violating basic labour rights will be penalized to the effect that NGOs indulging in such violation will face the cancellation of their registration;

(ii)               That the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment tables a concrete plan of greater job creation for blind persons in the public sector. It is only with the provision of more government jobs that the dependence of blind workers on exploitative private companies and corrupt NGOs can be overcome;

(iii)              That the central government stops funding NGOs who fail to comply with the country’s statutory labour laws while employing people;

(iv)             That the central government ensures that blind workers are given parity at workplaces and are paid minimum wages;

(v)                That the central government ensures all statutory labour laws are implemented in production units run by “social service” organizations like the NFB, as well as in workplaces run by other employers;

(vi)              That the central government takes over the production units run by NGOs like NFB, in consequence of such NGOs repetitively failing to provide proper employment and conducive work conditions for physically handicapped workers;

(vii)           That the retrenched workers of NFB be provided immediate employment either in Arunim or any other government-funded institution/workshop.

The blind workers have warned that the ministry must take immediate steps to provide employment. The inaction of the ministry will compel us to intensify our agitation and movement to expose the Government’s lack of commitment towards protecting disabled workers’ statutory rights.

Thanking you,

Alok Kumar                                                                                                         Ramnath

(On Behalf of Blind Workers Union)                                                       (On Behalf of Blind Workers Union)

On the Organisational Question of the Working Class

Arvind Ghosh

“I have tried to dispel the misunderstanding arising out of the impression that by ‘party’, I meant a ‘League’ that expired eight years ago, or an editorial board that was disbanded twelve years ago. By ‘party’, I mean party in the broad historical sense.” (Karl Marx, Letter to Ferdinand Freiligrath, February 29, 1860)

“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.” (Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848)

(1)          Within certain parameters, Marx was practical and impartial on the question of the form of organisation. Marx emphasised the concept of working class as an active, conscious SUBJECT, along with the forms, concepts and activities created by it. According to Marx, the organisational form is not pre-determined, but is created from within the real movement of the conscious and creative working class.

(2)          The most important historical process, for Marx, is the one through which the working class establishes itself as an independent, conscious revolutionary subject. It is this viewpoint of self-emancipation of the proletariat, which forms the content of the socialist revolution, and it is from this viewpoint that we ought to consider the question of organisational forms.

(3)          The positive aspect of this viewpoint is that it avoids fetishism of organisational forms as well as the tendency of these organisational forms to get ossified. It is open and flexible in accordance with the needs of the ever changing special conditions of the transforming agencies. Historically, it has been noted that the working class achieved maximum success when it succeeded in developing new forms of collective activity that challenged the established relations. Similarly, the working class experienced disastrous failures when in spite of the existing forms of collective activity getting degenerated and ossified, the working class continued to defend them instead of building new ones. In order to protect the forms of collective activity from degeneration, it is necessary that these organisations are developed continuously through a process of regeneration and reorganisation, and preserved in their changing forms.

(4)          Marx recognises the working class as the revolutionary agency. The basis for this recognition is that the working class is capable of independently determining its political-organisational forms. Although Marx’s theory of proletarian revolution is intimately connected with the organisational activity of the working class, Marx never attempted to theorise a proletarian organisation. In fact, any attempt to develop a theory of organisation from the point of view of the self-emancipation of the working class is contradictory, since such attempt would amount to declaring independence from the conscious activities of the working class and thus reject the creative powers of the working class.

(5)          For Marx, Subject plays the most important role in the process of revolution. Subject is the one responsible for both theory as well as practice, and also for uniting the two. Therefore, it is dialectically incorrect to say that the subject must unite with its theory, or there has to be a fusion of socialist theory with the advanced workers (for the birth of a communist organisation), as if socialist theory exists independently, outside the class struggle of the proletariat with which its advanced section must unite. “The long-prevalent conception of revolutionary theory – the science of society and revolution, as elaborated by specialists and introduced into the proletariat by the party is in direct contradiction to the very idea of a socialist revolution being the autonomous activity of the masses” (Cornelius Castoriadis, ‘The Proletariat and Organisation’, 1959). In fact, the working class while assimilating and developing socialist theory through its praxis moves towards its goal of destroying capitalist mode of production (CMP) and establishing  a new mode of production which Marx calls associated mode of production (AMP). This process is what constitutes working class self-emancipation.

(6)          From the dialectical viewpoint of Marx, means and aims are inextricably interconnected. From this viewpoint, means are the socialist end in the process of becoming. Means advancing towards communist revolution prefigures the communist society. Since organisation is the most important means to achieve a communist society, it is essential that its form is in complete accord with this objective and in no way does it contradict this objective. In other words, the journey of self-emancipation of the proletariat begins with self-activity and self-organisation capable of achieving the goal of a socialist society.

(7)          A socialist revolution can become a reality, according to Marx, only through conscious, active participation of the working class. A proletarian organisational form is a pre-condition for this revolution, which the working class itself creates through class struggle. This task cannot be done by representing class interests of the proletariat in an abstract manner. An organisational form established independently of this process of self-development of the working class forestalls this process midway, as a result of which the working class comes under the control of an agency outside or above it. Thus through a separation of the organisational form from the class, the division between leaders and the led existing within the bourgeois society is reinforced. Here the organisational form becomes an abstraction with an inherent possibility of incomplete development of the proletariat and its political alienation.

(8)          Marx had advocated a range of organisational forms suited to different politico-economic situations – from workers councils, workers clubs and committees to unions, general assemblies and even parties. But Marx’s argument that the working class needs to organise itself into a party did not amount to working-class party-building. For Marx, organising itself into a party meant getting organised as a revolutionary subject. By ‘party’ Marx had meant a party in an ‘eminently historical sense.’

In ‘The Fourth Annual Report of the General Council‘ (1868) of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA), Marx had written: “That Association has not been hatched by a sect or a theory. It is the spontaneous growth of the proletarian movement, which itself is the offspring of the natural and irrepressible tendencies of modern society.”

(9)          To declare any specific form of organisation as the only appropriate form means that the working class is not the revolutionary subject, but rather this specific form of organisation is the subject. It means that the proletarian revolution can be determined beforehand and that the development of the working class is not a creative process but a pre-determined process. To come out of this illusion, it would be necessary to establish the creative aspects of socialist revolution and to clarify how the free and conscious activities of the working class (expressed in whatever form) can create new communist social relations.

(10)      The existing communist movement defines power as a thing which might be captured (seized), monopolised and made more powerful (knowingly or unknowingly), whereas, from Marx’s standpoint, power should be defined on the basis of social relations. Instead of concentrating our entire energy on the seizure of power as a thing, the communist movement ought to be directed towards the transformation of social relations. Thus we conceive revolution not as an event but as a process.

(11)      The most important reason for the crisis in which socialism finds itself today (which is also the real tragedy of established Marxism) is that it has abandoned the concept of proletarian self-emancipation, whereas this concept is the essence and specificity of Marx’s Marxism. As a result, the existing communist movement has been alienated from its class as well as social roots. The established communist movement considers socialism to be a product of organisational activities. From this standpoint, it is the Party and not the class which acts. From this perspective, organisational form has been considered to be of crucial importance, while the conscious role of the class is neglected and even negated.

(12)      From his early critique of Hegel’s political philosophy Marx had initiated a new type of political discourse which goes beyond the division between economy and politics existing in the bourgeois society towards transition to a non-ruling class and stateless society. According to Marx, political activities should be subordinated towards the goal of social revolution. This principle is clearly stated in the provisional rules of the International Working Men’s Association thus: “The economic emancipation of the working class is the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means.”

(13)      As has been pointed out by Anton Pannekoek in his essay ‘Party and the Working-class’, “in relation to the proletarian revolution, a ‘revolutionary party’ is a contradiction in terms. This could also be expressed by saying that the term ‘revolutionary’ in the expression ‘revolutionary party’ necessarily designates a bourgeois revolution. On every occasion, indeed, that the masses have intervened to overthrow a government and have then handed power to a new party, it was a bourgeois revolution that took place — a substitution of a new dominant category for an old one. So it was in Paris when, in 1830, the commercial bourgeoisie took over from the big landed proprietors; and again, in 1848, when the industrial bourgeoisie succeeded the financial bourgeoisie; and again in 1871 when the whole body of the bourgeoisie came to power.” For Pannekoek, the Russian revolution of 1917 was no exception to this rule when party-bureaucracy monopolised over state power, and as we all know, what was established in Russia through this party-state was not socialism but state-capitalism.

Thus, we find that the party-form of organisation, although appropriate for a bourgeois revolution, is hardly adequate to the needs of a proletarian revolution. In a proletarian revolution, the working class has to seize power as a class. In this revolution, the proletarian class power is established through the destruction of the bourgeois state. But the workers’ state thus formed is not a ‘state’ in the conventional sense of the term since it is not an institution separated from the masses. Workers’ power is direct power of workers organised in the spheres of production. The specificity of the working class regime lies in the fact that in this regime the spheres of politics is not separated from the sphere of economics (i.e., production) but is integrated into one entity. In a workers’ regime, the working class takes control of the means of production, makes plans and executes them collectively. Thus a new mode of production is born designated by Marx as the ‘associated mode of production’ (AMP). In this new socialist society, time spent on ‘necessary labour’ (‘socially necessary labour time’) would be progressively reduced and humanity will have more ‘free time’ at its disposal geared to the development of creative powers of human beings.

However, the abstract representation of the working class through ‘Party Power’ contradicts the very concept of working class power. In spite of all the good intentions of the theoreticians in suggesting the new ‘revolutionary working class party’, party power can only be an elitist power, since this party will be an organisation of the so-called advanced sections of the working class frequented by the ‘socialist theoreticians’ from the bourgeois as well as middle class intelligentsia, presenting themselves as the ‘teachers’ of the working class. Marx’s philosophical dictum that ‘the educator must himself be educated’ is perfectly applicable in the context of these ‘teachers’. These elements from outside the working class naturally occupy the upper echelons – the “superincumbent strata” – of this hierarchical organisation. In its due course of development, this organisation begins to rule over the masses by bringing them under its control and trying to regulate their lives through the directives of their highest committees. Thus, the so-called ‘revolutionary party’, instead of helping the struggles of the working class, becomes an obstacle in the creative activities of the class. But, as we know through our experience of the failed revolutions of the 20th century, Socialism cannot be built through directives from above but is possible only through creative participation of the productive classes.

(14)      In order to grasp which form of organisation is most suitable for the working class, it is necessary to correctly define the aims and objectives of the working class movement, since organisation is only a means to achieve these aims and objectives.

The working class not only needs to destroy capitalism but simultaneously needs to create a new communist society which would be qualitatively different from capitalism. The task before this revolution is to go beyond capitalism by completely transforming this mode of production and establishing a new society based on this transformation.

The working class in accordance with its class objectives must create an organisational form and provide a political content adequate to these revolutionary socialist objectives. Historically, the Soviets and the Workers’ Councils – i.e., the organisations created and directed by the workers themselves during their attempts to act as a conscious, creative class – have proved themselves to be the most appropriate organisational forms to accomplish the socialist revolution and for the purpose of functioning of the socialist society. It is through these Workers’ Councils/Soviets that workers directly establish their political-economic power and organise a new socialist system of production. These organisations are inherently democratic, composed of delegates, not representatives, mandated by those who elect them and subject to recall at any time.

The basis of representation in Workers’ Councils is not abstract, since they represent workers engaged in revolutionary struggles. Based in the spheres of production and distribution, there is no place in them for either bourgeois interests or bourgeois representation. Thus, they represent exclusively the working class interests. During the revolution when the working class is faced with the responsibility of reorganising society economically, politically and socially, it becomes possible only through workers’ councils/ soviets and factory councils. In other words, these organisations are the instruments of proletarian dictatorship – the most complete democracy of the working class.

(15)      Socialism is not possible without the management of production, economy and the society by workers themselves. The experience of the Russian Revolution teaches us that the destruction of economic domination as well as of the state power of the bourgeoisie is not enough. The proletariat can achieve the objectives of its revolution only if it builds up its own power in every sphere. This implies that the power in post-revolutionary society has to be solely and directly in the hands of the organisations created by them, like the soviets, factory committees and councils. For a special organisation like the party to take on the function of governance or exercise power means perpetuating the existing separation between producers and the controllers of the conditions of production, the division between the rulers and the ruled.  However, this proposition necessitates a reconsideration of all the theoretical and practical problems facing the revolutionary movement today.

(16)      The question of organisation is not merely a technical question or a question of its form; rather, it is a philosophical question. Marx’s philosophy of revolution is not only about working class emancipation, but is primarily a philosophy of human liberation. According to Marx, working class cannot emancipate itself without simultaneously emancipating the entire oppressed humanity. The final goal of the proletarian revolution is to create a new human society free from all forms of exploitation and oppression. Thus the proletarian revolution is integrated with the women’s liberation movement (WLM), the movement of the oppressed castes, races and nationalities for Freedom. The proletarian revolution is also about redefining humanity’s relationship with Nature, the degradation of which has reached its limit today (to the point of a total extinction of the human as well as other species on the planet) due to the very existence of the capitalist mode of production.

Hence, while forming any proletarian organisation today it should be our endeavour to construct them in accordance with Marx’s vision of a new human society which takes care of all these concerns. This means first of all posing a direct challenge to the existing alienation between Organisation and Philosophy (which is also an expression of the separation between physical and mental labour existing in today’s bourgeois society), through the very functioning of the Organisation.

In other words, any proletarian organisation we build today ought to be free from Vanguardism, Hierarchy and separation of mental and physical labour. The organisation should operate on the principle of democracy from below. We may call it centralised democracy where the emphasis is more on democracy than on centralism to distinguish it from democratic centralism which amounts to control from above in practice.

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.

The Practical and Impractical

Faridabad Majdoor Samachar, September 2012
(Translated from Hindi)


Practicality in these Times:

* Waking up a three/four/five-year-old at 5/6/7’o clock in the morning. Forcing the child to clear its bowels when neither body nor soul is willing. Forcing the child eat even if s/he is unwilling. Washing the sleepy child’s face. Forcing the unwilling child into a uniform. To be practical, parents suppress their own desires and their child’s childhood. In order to keep them practical, schools teach children how to sit still – they destroy childhood.

* To be practical in our times one has to accept a habitation made of cement, steel and paint. Practicality demands roads outside and electricity within. Children long for mud and sand. They long to run and jump around.  To bring up a child properly, 50 people of varying ages are required but only one or two or three or four are available. So practicality requires a child be checked at each step, at all times. Practicality is transforming each child into a bomb.

* For a bright future practicality requires the child be sent to school. A good school is one whose students fetch a good price on the market. A good school is an expensive school. Practicality compels us to choose between a good and a not-so-good school. Whether it be a better or a worse school, post-school tuitions are an accepted practice. The child is able to spend little time with grandparents. It is in the nature of schools to break down relations between generations. Practicality requires the mushrooming of old-age homes, and the elderly waiting to meet their death.

* A society characterised by hierarchy, market and money, and wage-slavery requires everybody to be both cunning and intelligent. Especially when one is young, practicality requires the ability to sell oneself –to hide anger behind an ever smiling face. The intense and turbulent reality of market and money shapes the practicality of everyday relations. To live up to our images, constantly trying to hide our reality produces shallow, superficial, temporary relationships.

Can there be a practice of life different from such a practical life of hierarchical, commericalised, monetised, wage-labour-based society?

# Straight-forward, simple, truthful behaviour is impractical in our times. Deep, long-term relationships are today impractical. What one does to become a wage-worker, to remain a wage-worker is practical; but not to have any wage-worker, i.e. end of wage-slavery is impractical. To challenge hierarchy, market-and-money, and wage-slavery is definitely impractical; however, it is an expression of the force, of life itself. The growing impracticalities throughout the world today are increasingly challenging the practicalities. As an example, let us take a look at a beautiful expression of impracticality in the activities of the Maruti Suzuki workers from June 2011 to July 18, 2012:

* On June 4, 2011, the workers of the A & B shifts got together to remove the company’s and the state’s control over the factory. Forming networks and chains the workers established their own control. Production stopped, and permanent workers, trainees, apprentices, contract workers associated among themselves with a new intensity. The company got cold feet and the government stood aghast at the workers’ impracticality. The practical people in support of the company and the state were joined by the pro-workers’ practical people to call for normalising the situation. The normal situation meant resuming production, making cars. To be practical means exchange, measurement and bargaining. The workers continued to remain impractical; they remained so for 13 days. The workers were treading an unfamiliar path. The practical side became dominant because this unfamiliar path could not acquire a definite form and production restarted in the factory after the negotiations.

* The management is very practical, while among workers the presence of impracticality is always felt. Standing up for contract workers, the permanent workers gave another proof of their impracticality in the month of July. The company made preparations and wove a net to force practicality down the workers’ throats. They surreptitiously brought new recruits. On the night of August 28, which was a Sunday, 400 policemen and management staff were sent in to fire the brahmastra of expulsion, suspension and signing of a good-conduct bond on the workers who would turn up the next morning. Workers were outside the factory. The police, management staff and new workers were inside. If, on the one hand, there were attempts to restart production in the factory, on the other, the association between permanent workers, contract workers, trainees and apprentices was strengthened. Three thousand workers organised themselves. Whenever the impracticality of workers manifests itself, pro-worker, yet practical, people and organisations become hyperactive, trying to teach workers practicality. The Company was overconfident because it was playing a tactic that has been tested many times in Mumbai, Faridabad, Gurgaon, etc. Remaining limited to the Maruti Suzuki factory in Manesar was weakening them, yet the young workers seemed capable of prolonging the conflict for quite some time – this once again brought in the practical people from both sides to exert their pressure. In order to make workers relearn the lessons of practicality, a new agreement was signed on September 30.

* The new workers recruited in the month of September continued to remain in the factory. After the agreement, all workers (permanent, trainee and apprentice), save the 44 expelled, re-entered the factory, but 1,200-1,500 contract workers were not allowed inside by the company. The management was ready to break the networks that had formed among workers and to replicate a strategy that had worked successfully in 2005 in the Honda Motorcycle and Scooters Company – the permanent, trainee and contract workers had waged a united struggle in Honda, yet the management took back the permanent workers, but retrenched all the existing contract workers, employing new ones in their place, and stopped keeping trainees altogether.

* The impracticality of the workers reasserted itself on October 7. Including the Maruti Suzuki plants, workers liberated 11 factories in the Industrial Model Town of Manesar from the control of the management and the state. The forces of practicality pushed themselves in through all kinds of measures and on October 8, workers loosened their control over seven factories, which the companies recaptured. October 8 onwards, with the struggle limited now to four factories of the Suzuki group, the workers’ control started acceding to practicality. Yet in the words of a worker: “The time we spent in the Maruti Suzuki factory between October 7 and 14 was very good. No stress regarding work or commuting to work. No anxiety to catch a bus. No worries about cooking. No more trouble about when to eat our meals. No need to count days in the week or to keep track of the date. There were many intimate conversations. We had never been as close to each other as we came in those seven days.”

* The practicality of the state and management took a step back and made concessions to the impracticality of the workers. A third agreement was signed on October 19. Contract workers returned to the factory. And also, the time for assembling a car was increased from 45 seconds to a minute.

* Practicality started designing a new ploy. Three workers of Suzuki Powertrain had played a key role in forming links with the workers of Maruti Suzuki Manesar in the month of October. Because these three workers had taken a strong stand against the state and the company, and the October 19 Maruti Suzuki agreements, they had to be sidelined to clinch the agreement in Powertrain on October 21. The three protesting workers were suspended, and in order to establish the ones who had put down their signatures, a three-year agreement was reached between the Powertrain management and the union. Regaining confidence in their control, the management finally fired these three workers on April 17, 2012, while those who were involved in the agreements maintained order among the workers. Then the bosses decided to merge Suzuki Powertrain and the Maruti Suzuki companies – this was done in order to weaken the rebellious workers. By keeping those who were brought into the factory in September 2011 and by starting a B-plant, the bosses had by now weakened the strength of these workers. By registering and recognising the union, the management had already made a solid arrangement to create a rift between the permanent and other workers. The bosses were on the way to re-establish practicality among workers by provoking and fomenting managed explosions.

* Of course, the concessions gave some reliefs too, but nothing much really changed in their lives; however, Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers had the determination to change their lives, make them better.   Despite concessions on the company’s part, lives of Maruti Suzuki Manesar workers remained lives of workers, unbearable as ever. And so on July 18, 2012, the workers targeted two symbols of the status quo – the factory and its management.

* The impracticality of past generations brought many significant junctures in the social process. If one were to speak of workers, then in 1871, in France, workers established the Paris Commune – the army, police and judiciary were dissolved, the jails were torn down, and the workers were up in arms. The supporters of hierarchy, market-and-money, and wage-slavery did destroy the Paris Commune by massacring thousands of workers, yet the Paris Commune continues to show the way today. In 1905, in Russia, impractical workers did step forward on the path shown by the Paris Commune by constituting the Soviets, and suffered much violence. The Soviets emerged once again in 1917. In October 1917, dissolving the army, the police, the courts and the jails, general workers took up arms and the Soviets became the harbingers of a new society. But due to adverse conditions, practicality reared its head once again and a standing army by the name of the “Red Army” was re-established in 1918. The establishment of an army and an increase in its strength implied a decline in the power of the workers’ soviets. Instead of being destroyed altogether, the Soviets were made powerless; they existed as a smokescreen that contributed to the maintenance of hierarchy, market-and-money and the system of wages.

We find ourselves increasingly being surrounded by circumstances similar to those of July 18 at Maruti Suzuki Manesar. Such a situation is increasingly being obtained to the world over. Can there be anything more satisfying for us in our struggle against hierarchy, market-and-money and wage-slavery, and for a new social order? We are face to face with destruction, the end, and a new beginning – can there be a better present, a better near future for humanity?

Maruti: A moment in workers’ self-organisation in India

Pratyush Chandra

The Chairman of Maruti Suzuki, R.C. Bhargava, himself described the July 18 incident as a “class attack”. The management, which learnt from the Japanese how to instrumentalise unions as tools to educate and regulate workers in work discipline, are now learning a new lesson from their own Manesar workers – they want their own voice, which is in their control not in the control of the masters, whosoever they may be. They will tear away every interface if that obstructs their organic collectivity to emerge – then they will speak in their own voice, which will definitely be harsh and brutal, as it will be organic to the very core. They will speak in their own language, without any creative translation into a language that has systemic legitimacy.

The lesson that the Indian corporate sector learnt from the Japanese is graphically retold by Bhargava himself in his recent book, The Maruti Story. It is not just revolutionaries who called trade unions a school, even the Maruti management found them to be so – a necessary means for “continuous training of workers…if their attitude towards work, the company and its management was to be changed…. We understood the logic of their [the Japanese] system and so wanted to completely reverse the traditional culture and bring about a mutually beneficial relationship between workers, the union and the management.”(302) So the management “promoted a trade union at Maruti, before political parties and outsiders could establish”. The founder-Chairman of Maruti Udyog, V Krishnamurthy, “brought” even a union leader from BHEL. “The importance of the union was highlighted by ensuring that the president and general secretary of the union were seated on the dais at every Maruti function. They would, along with the top management of Maruti, receive all VVIP guests and garland them.”

Time and again, the Maruti workers have tried to build their unity beyond promoted, brought, bought unionism and its ritualism. Each time such unity has been institutionalised into a legal form, the management has either destroyed or bought it over, and promoted enterprise unionism. Since the last year, however, things have drastically changed. Maruti workers have understood the meaning of legitimacy, its functions and limits. This remarkable understanding is evident in what a Maruti worker expressed just after the worker-leaders were ‘bought’ and sidelined in 2011:

“Sahibs don’t understand the situation…. In these past few months, a handful of workers had risen to the position where they could control the workers…. By dismissing exactly those men, the management has thrown away a valuable tool.” (Aman Sethi, “Down and out on India’s shop floor”, The Hindu, July 29, 2012)

And again after the July 18 incident, in an interview recorded by a mainline news channel, a worker said:

“Our workers did not have faith in the union body. They were apprehensive about the union cheating them again…. [Yet they wanted that] the management should at least value and listen to the union body.” (NDTV, August 11, 2012)

They understood the limits and dangers of legality and representation, and the need to have extra-legal vigilance of their institutionalised body. Something the workers ensured by evolving shop-floor networks of line and departmental coordinators, and by frequent assertion of the general body. While the representative trade union, in accordance with the legal regulations and norms, included only the permanent workers, this organisational form was organic to the daily shop-floor coexistence of all segments of workers.

Defying every attempt to fragment and subalternise their collective consciousness, the Maruti workers forged a youthful (in a literal sense) unity among themselves beyond all kinds of regulatory and identitarian divides (including the caste and regional), demonstrating their uselessness, except for the purpose of regulating workers in favour of capital. This unity was remarkably visible during the 2011 strikes. They defied every agreement and manipulation from above that tried to break that unity, and they struck three times against them, and surprised the unions and their legitimate sense. Hence, even the need to form a sectionalist union (of permanent workers) – which the legalese and the prevailing industrial political culture compelled them to adopt for negotiations with the management – was continuously overwhelmed by the unity below that questioned the very basis for such unionist sectarianism and economism.

It was this collectivity that could not be destroyed by the management’s union busting, and it did form another union. But its easy registration and semi-recognition by the management made the workers evermore apprehensive, and they enforced constant vigilance on the representatives. However, the management misconstrued this collective apprehension as a distance between the general workers and the union, not understanding that its collective nature in fact tightens the workers’ grip over the union leadership. It is unlike the generalised yet fragmented weariness that leads to helplessness. The management miscalculated and thought its intransigence in dealing with the union will increase the distance and delegitimise the union in the eyes of the general workers. It could not anticipate that such an act was thinning the legal shield that protected it. And, so, what could have passed for the time being as another “class action” got transformed into a “class attack”, as Bhargava calls it. The management should not complain that it didn’t get the warning – workers themselves gave out sufficient signals.

However, one must grant that not just the Maruti management, the suddenness of the July 18 incident at Maruti astounded everybody – where was this anger among workers residing for the past one year? Nothing similar happened during the remarkable “non-violent” strikes in 2011. And prior to the incident nothing happened that could give a hint towards it. Therefore, a plethora of explanations and conspiracy theories has come up.

Interestingly, we can easily identify a basic logic behind the catalogue of ex-, post-facto explanations that various institutional and non-institutional bodies – the state, management, media, unions and radicals – are putting forward. A central thesis runs through all of them, which is that workers as a mass cannot have any coherent plan. Hence, those who see incoherence in the incident, either blame it on reactive spontaneity in the absence of (correct) leaders (radicals), or mob-like nature of the workers action (media elites). For many of these responses, there is some kind of pre-planning that must have come from outside (from Maoists/political unions, as the state and management maintain, or provocation from the side of management through their intransigence or by employing ‘bouncers’, as all the pro-workers institutions or groups opine). However, in the end no one is willing to concede general workers a coherent critical subjectivity that reasons them into taking things (read law) into their own hands, because for all the groups mentioned above, a rational subjectivity can emerge only through the repression of the inner nature (in the present case that of the mass).

All that even the pro-worker forces are willing to grant, and at most, is if the workers were accomplices in the July 18 incident, they were merely reacting to something the management wrongfully did that day (by calling the bouncers or by not resolving the issue of the suspension of a fellow worker) or have been doing lately (by not going for a speedy wage settlement or union recognition). All these self-actions by the workers are arrogantly clubbed together as spontaneity or spontaneous actions, which are generally considered to be reactive, and can have a political meaning only if harnessed by the organised political forces. It is interesting to note how these competitive forces, doing organisational shopkeeping, or at least advertising, among workers, have found workers’ direct actions erratic and even anarchic. They find the workers sensible and tractable only in those moments when they are led or when the consciousness of defeat and victimhood dawns over the workers – when “victim” workers are looking for respite and rights, and for experts who can represent them in the courts of law and negotiations.

These so-called political forces have a notion of politics that comes directly from the civics classes of the (post)modern schools that define politics in terms of institutions (or tangible forms of organisation) and their activities. Even the movements must be located among these activities, or else they are apolitical and even mere riots. Class struggle is reduced to the interplay of these institutions, ideologies and activities. They are unable to locate this representative interplay and their own activity as (re)originating in a continuous class struggle between capital and labour – in the daily imposition and subversion of the process by which capital acquires and incorporates living labour as merely an agency for its self-valorization. They are unable to see that recent unrests on the labour front in India have been largely political – i.e., they are related to a constant recomposition of class collectivity that short-circuits the re-segmentation of labour – the ever real-ising subsumption of labour by capital. In other words, this collective urge is not simply a wont to vocalise the aggregate demands of individual or sectional workers, as in a demand charter. Rather, it relates to their concern to transcend the segmentation on which the capitalist industrial polity thrives – the division between permanent, contractual, casual and interns. It is a marvelous experience to hear from general workers about these real divisions made on false premises. It is this open vocalisation that constitutes workers politics today. The Maruti workers’ struggle clearly is a finest example in this regard.

In one of the discussions that we had with workers in other industrial regions about the Maruti ‘violence’, a worker expressed how they work for the fear of the daily hunger and for feeding their family. Otherwise who would like to work under iron discipline and invisible eyes constantly watching over you, reprimanding you for every small mistake? Workers continuously look for every small opportunity that would enable them to dodge and abuse this system of surveillance.

The (more-or-less) open violence of primitive accumulation that joins the fate of labour to capital readies it for the inherent violence in the active imposition of work that capital as social power with its various apparatuses seeks to ensure. There is nothing reactive about workers’ actions to break out of this panoptic circuit which is now expanded throughout the society. The diverse immediate forms that these actions take are meant to surprise capital.

It is not the question of defeat or success of these forms or agitations that should concern us. In fact, our every success makes our actions predictable, increasing the reproductive resilience of the hegemonic system. Who knew this fact better than Karl Marx? He stressed on the need to watch out for opportunities to stage sudden radical leaps away from the guerrilla forms of daily resistance against the encroachments of capital, or else workers will be evermore entrenched within the system of wage slavery despite – and because of – frequent achievements in their everyday negotiations with capital. Those radicals suffer from the same Second International reformism and co-option politics, of which they accuse everybody, when they visualise class maturation as a linear succession of successes and achievements, not in the increased activity of the working class to catch capital off-guard by its volatile, yet collective thrust.

Today, the dynamism of this workers politics poses a crisis not just for capitalist strategies but also for itself as it constantly outmodes its own forms. The significance of the Maruti struggle and the July 18th incident lies in this process – they demonstrate the increasing inability of the legal regulatory mechanisms and existing political forms to ensure “industrial peace”. This means:

1) For capital, every crisis is an opportunity to restructure labour relations for its own advantage. Many times, it carefully shapes an industrial conflict to seek such restructuring. The recent conflicts have shown the limitation of the legal framework to generate industrial consent/peace, which has time and again forced capital to resort to coercion.

2) The automotive sector has been central to capitalist accumulation, so the needs of this sector have time and again restructured the industrial polity and economic regime globally. In India too, this sector has been in the leadership of pushing economic reforms in a pro-capitalist direction. The high-handedness and intransigence of the managements of Maruti and other automotive companies in recent conflicts is representative of the determination of Indian capitalists to force pro-capital labour reforms.

3) Legal unionism and existing organisational practices to compose and regulate working class assertion are becoming increasingly redundant. The labour movement must look out for new incipient forms in this self-assertion, as older forms are unable to lead working class consciousness, which is much more advanced than these forms, to its political end. The direct action of Maruti workers last year and this time cannot be simply explained by the crude notion of unorganised spontaneity, rather it shows their political will to transcend the segmentation perpetuated by the capitalist industrial polity.