A Labor Time Bomb? Workers' Unrest in the Automobile Industry in India

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 5:45 PM
Room: Booth 41
Oral Presentation
Manjusha NAIR , National University of Singapore, Singapore
In the Suzuki-owned Maruti-Manesar automobile plant in Gurgaon near New Delhi, in 2011, striking workers immolated a human resource manager. These  migrant workers, who were employed informally in the formal industrial sector, demanded the right to represent themselves through independent unions. The insurgency has been one among a series of protests in the automobile sector in India, starting with the contract workers strike at the Honda plant in 2009. In Pricol, an auto part plant of the Toyota in Coimbatore, and in the Graziano Transmissioni unit at Greater Noida, the vice-president and CEO were killed by agitated workers. Bloomberg news termed these protests as evidence to a ticking labor time bomb. In this paper, I examine how far these protests signify the resurgence of labor movements in India. These strikes were remarkable due to the show of collectivism, use of disruption and violence, and demands that pertained to the workers as a whole. They implied a move from conventional union- based articulation by formally employed workers, to new demands for independent unions by migrant laborers. These protests were organically linked to production and socialization process in the factories, and hence stood apart from other workers’ campaigns inspired by transnational imperatives. However, these protests, especially the disruption and violence involved, were indicative of a shrinking of the democratic space for struggle in India, which were equally evident in the rising number of disputes in the industrial environment. They occurred in companies owned by foreign owners,  who have less supportive networks to sabotage and suppress them, compared to local owners. Finally, these protests were cellular in nature, rarely extending beyond the factories to become industry wide associations and coalitions.