“We fight because of the hunger in our stomachs”

Seven years ago, Vikramjit Singh was in a crowd of about 800 workers from the Honda factory at Manesar in Haryana, when they were surrounded by the police and beaten up. “Our demands were that the management recognise our union and that all those workers suspended or terminated during the agitation be recognised. We were called to the mini-secretariat by the administration and then rounded up and beaten.”

Today, 8,000 workers gathered in the Honda factory to mark the seventh anniversary of the attack in the backdrop of the recent violence at the nearby Maruti Suzuki plant, in which one general manager was killed and several other managers were injured.

Speakers from local and national trade unions expressed their concern over the violence at Maruti, but maintained that workers had legitimate grievances that were often ignored. “We fight because of the hunger in our stomachs,” said Ashok Yadav, president of the Honda Workers Union, “Everyone should remember this.”

The Honda meeting acquired particular significance after a ‘mahapanchayat’ of local villages resolved to support companies such as Maruti and Honda and vowed to fight the unions.

On Monday, panchayat leaders, many of whom have transport and ancillary contracts with companies such as Maruti and Honda, voiced concern that big manufacturing firms might withdraw from Manesar in the wake of last week’s violence and threatened to stop the Honda workers meeting by force if need be.

This morning, the unions, panchayat and local police appeared to have arrived at a compromise in which the union didn’t take out a procession but held a worker’s meeting within the plant premises.

“We, workers, are the children of uprooted farmers,” said Centre of Trade Unions (CITU) representative Satbir, “It is deplorable that vested interests are trying to create schisms between workers and farmers.”

In an interview after the meeting, workers recalled the successes and failures of the union over the last seven years. While they said wage negotiations and settlements were satisfactory, 63 workers are still battling charges of attempted and murder and rioting that were slapped on them after the police attack.

“It has been seven years, not a single manager or policeman has been charged for attacking us,” said Vikramjit Singh. “Instead we are facing charges of murder and appearing in court every month.”

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