On March 18, the Gurgaon sessions Court in Haryana, India, sentenced 13 Maruti-Suzuki auto workers to life imprisonment. The convicted are all members of the union movement that organising in 2011. The conviction of these workers is a shameful example of how judicial systems around the world are playing to the tunes of corporate interests. The 13 workers convicted for ‘murder’ are all – unsurprisingly – leaders of the union.
In 2011, workers at Maruti Suzuki ‘s Manesar plant formed an independent union and demanded recognition for it. Gurgaon-Manesar is an industrial belt, where employers fear that the organising of an independent trade union, even in one factory, might embolden workers in other factories to follow suit.
On July 18 2012, Maruti workers gathered outside the factory gate heard that their representatives who had been invited for talks inside the factory, were being subjected to physical assaults by thugs employed by the management. Union members entered the factory in a mass action to rescue their comrades. Soon after, a fire broke out in which a human resources manager tragically lost his life. Immediately after, workers and union leaders were accused of conspiring to murder him.
The prosecution witnesses in the Maruti case named 89 of the accused workers in alphabetical order. Defence lawyers established that the workers had been arrested on the basis of a list provided by the Maruti management and witness statements were then fabricated to fit the list.
Labour law violations are an everyday occurrence across the entire belt. Indian labour laws recognise the right of workers to form union, but attempts to do so are met with both intimidation and victimisation. The Indian government welcomes multinational corporations to ‘Make In India’, promising them a docile labour environment and cheap and good quality labour.
The Indian judicial system is seeking to criminalise unions. But the attempted suppression and criminalisation of trade unionists has seen India’s workers uniting to fight for workers rights.