Police Brutality against striking Honda Workers in Gurgaon, India
When several thousand striking workers of Honda Motorcycles, and workers from nearby factories expressing solidarity with them, gathered at mini secretariat in Gurgaon in the afternoon of 25th July 2005, they were immediately surrounded by police and para-military forces. These forces were assembled by the Gurgaon administration from other districts during the day. What followed was a premeditated attack on unarmed workers captured and broadcast live by the bourgeoisie media. When the brutal attack ended by 8 PM, 800 workers have been seriously wounded, most of them sustaining head injuries. To cap this repression, at least 400 workers were put in the jail. That the intent of the administration was to teach the workers a lesson is clear from the fact that repression did not stop on 25th July itself. When workers and their families went to meet injured workers at civil hospital the next day, they have to face the wrath of the police again.
The Parliament, which was in session in New Delhi at the time, expressed "shock" at this "atrocity". Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh expressed his "deep concern". From Stalinists to Hindu fundamentalists to Sonia Gandhi, leader of the ruling Party, politicians of all colors rushed to Gurgaon to express sham sympathy for injured workers. For the next couple of days, bourgeois media was filled with pretense of shock at this police brutality, as if something unusual for the Indian bourgeois state has happened.
In reality, this latest round of repression is very much in the traditions of violent repression of working class by the Indian state. To the older workers in Delhi region, it immediately brought to mind October 1979. At the time, to cap a rising wave of radical workers strikes, repressive forces of the state all but occupied Faridabad, industrial suburb to the south of New Delhi. Through a series of shootings in different parts of the city and through imposition of curfew at the end of October 1979, the bourgeoisie was able to suppress the workers movement. A couple of years before that, workers of Swadeshi Cotton Mills at Kanpur were rounded up and fired upon by the repressive forces of the state, killing at least 400 workers. The chain of repression goes back uninterrupted through suppression of Railway workers strike of 1974 and many other workers struggles.
Yet is the shock of the bourgeoisie real? No, not at the police brutality. But at finding the working class still alive and kicking, and having the temerity to raise its head after fifteen years of relentless offensive of the bourgeoisie. This clearly came through in the business press of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is seriously worried that the contagion could spread.
The Business Standard of 6th August 2005 feared "The riot that followed the labor management dispute in Gurgaon over the Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI) could be the first major sign of things to come". That the workers "After a decade-and-a-half of market-friendly policy changes", "seem to be sticking their necks out again". And that militant workers being squashed by the state is not exactly news. But India has not had any serious problems on this front since the shackles of the Control Raj were unbound in the early 1990s. As per Financial Express of 6th August 2005, "The Gurgaon worker unrest has sent a chill down the spine of managements". Indian Express of 9th August 2005 feared the Gurgaon incident could have a "domino effect ".This alarm of the bourgeoisie was shared by the state both at provincial level as well as central level. The bourgeoisie was surprised to see a face of the working class that it has not seen in last few years. After initial surprise, it decided to quickly put a lid on this ?dispute?.
Just two days after police brutality of 25th July 2005, Haryana Chief Minister, Mr. Hooda called a meeting of the Honda management and union bosses on 27th July and cobbled together an ?agreement?. To atone for the police repression, Mr. Hooda ordered a ?judicial inquiry? by retired Justice G. C. Garg. The efficacy of this ?inquiry? is underlined by the fact that Mr. G. C. Garg, when he was presiding Judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1999, was known more for using rough tactics and police repression than for fairness.
While making critical noises, Leftists and unions hailed all this as victory for the workers. This despite the fact that nearly one hundred workers are still in jail. Also, unions promised that workers will not ask for pay revision for one year. Management agreed to take back 67 suspended workers but insisted to remove them from all productive work.
Meaning of the Honda Strike
A part of the shock of bourgeoisie is possibly whipped up, it is crying wolf. A part was political theatre as the coalition at New Delhi, supported by Leftists, pretend to be "people friendly".
Honda workers at Gurgaon, an industrial suburb to the west of Delhi,
have been agitating since the beginning of this year. They were on
strike since 27th June 2005 and have refused to sign promises of "good
conduct" demanded by the management. At the same time, their movement
was controlled by the leftists, partners in the ruling coalition in New
Delhi, and was trapped in the political games of different fractions of
the bourgeoisie at the centre and the state level. It is not any extraordinary militancy of Honda workers struggles that
has alarmed the bourgeoisie. It is the fact that despite all obstacles,
workers were able to give expression to their anger and their
resistance. The bourgeoisie is worried, to use words of Business
Standard, as workers "seem to be sticking their necks out again" after a decade and a half.
Indian bourgeoisie has all the reasons to be satisfied with last decade and a half. For one, it has experienced unprecedented enrichment and its ambitions have soared. For another, it has been successful in carrying through relentless offensive against the working class without facing any serious resistance. Entire economy has witnessed massive destruction of permanent jobs, their conversion into contract labor at much lower wages and no social wage. In Gurgaon itself at Hero Honda, another Motorcycle Joint Venture of Honda, while production in last decade has jumped from a couple of hundred thousands to 2.6 Million motorcycles, number of permanent jobs has remained the same. On the other hand, number of temporary workers has grown by many thousands who are compelled to work at 50 euros month, which is standard wage of millions of temporary workers. Similarly while Maruti-Suzuki car plant has grown its production, it sacked nearly 3000 permanent workers a couple of years ago without workers able to fight back. There place was taken by temporary workers. This is the story of every other company throughout India. A depressing part of this story has been the fact that, because of its disarray, working class has been compelled to accept all these attacks with its head bowed down.
Honda Motorcycle workers were confronted by identical onslaught. Honda management wanted to sack above a thousand permanent workers and replace with temporary workers. It is a sign of changing mood of the workers, that Honda workers developed an open, even if limited, resistance. The repression has not really instilled fear among the working class. On the contrary, it has generated a rudimentary level of self-assurance, a feeling that after years a section of the class has been able stand up to the bourgeoisie.
This is what the bourgeoisie is scared of. This is what holds a real promise for the working class and revolutionaries. Like the working class in the rest of the world, working class in India is taking initial steps toward rediscovering the path of class struggle. This path of rediscovery is going to be long and difficult and intervention of revolutionary in this process is going to be indispensable for it fruition.
Communist Internationalist, New Delhi, 27 August 2005