Three Communists in Gurgaon – Interviews for an Open Debate

June 8, 2010

Gurgaon Workers News, May 2010

The industrial development and proletarian unrest in Gurgaon did not remain unnoticed. We talked to three communists who decided to focus their political activity on the vast landscape of working class formation. The comrades are part of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist current left of the CPIs, belonging to three different political organisations. We decided to not mention the party names in the individual interviews, based on the experience that way too often the left focuses more on internal ideological quarrels than on the exchange and reflection of practical experience.

All three comrades visited the strike at Rico in autumn 2009 and wrote articles and pamphlets about the conflict. They see themselves outside and critical towards the established unions. We hope that the interviews about their impressions from Gurgaon can be a starting-point for an open debate about how to organise a ‘communist position’ within proletarian reality. There are many open questions which should be discussed ‘politically’ in future, we just mention some:

* How much importance do we attribute to analysis of social production process as a potential for generalisation of struggle (supply chains etc.)
* What kind of role can communist play in day-to-day reality and during specific struggles, such as at Rico?
* What are the potentials of factory groups or ‘hidden forms of day-to-day struggle’ and how can they coordinate with the wider working class area?
* Which roles do the established unions play and is there any use in registering ‘our own’ unions?
* Are there specific segments of workers or proletarian situations which bear specific potentials for proletarian movements to come?
* Where do our own resources come from, how do we organise our own reproduction in order to have time or in order to be rooted in the class terrain?

We want to refer to the practical proposal by comrades from Faridabad to open workers’ meeting places in Gurgaon, which we see as part of this debate: Faridabad Majdoor Talmel

We also want to refer to the importance of experiences of the past by quoting from a letter written after the death of Romano Alquati in April 2010. Alquati was part of Quaderni Rossi in the early 1960s, a group of dissident communists which tried to ‘co-analyse’ the conditions of a emerging new generation of industrial workers in Italy’s north:

Alquati went to Torino not to cry over cardboard suitcases, but in search of an antagonistic power. The conflict in front of him was no longer between below and above, but between workers and capital. Power against power. To the scandal of the leftist intellectuals and party leaders, the mass worker did not sacrifice for universal justice, did not have conscience and ideals, but wanted more money and less work. The working class liberated itself only by extinguishing itself, refusing work and the identity of oppressed. For this reason it was an extraordinary cycle of struggles. Humanism died forever in the wildcats of Mirafiori and among the rivers of Porto Marghera.

There was no sociology of work – it did not even exist in Italy – studying the factory. In fact when Romano and the other young militants of the Quaderni Rossi (Red Notebooks) and then Classe Operaia (Working Class) began to do conricerca (co-research) they were contemptuously labelled anarcho-socialist, both by the Marxists who had no need of bourgeois science and by the academics who were the rentiers of bourgeois science. The co-researchers, instead, studied the global literature of the social sciences in order to understand and anticipate the struggles, for only from a partial viewpoint you can see the whole. And there they found the formation of class composition (On Fiat and Other Writings remains a fundamental text to comprehend it). More than that: they organized themselves within it. For conricerca has never been for Romano a “research from below”: either it was the organization of workers’ autonomy, or it did not exist. He had no populist ideal of horizontalism: the prefix “con” meant to question the borders between the production of knowledge and political subjectivity, science and conflict. It was not simply a matter of knowledge but the organization of a threat. Conricerca was working class science.

In fact Conricerca is above all a political methodology. Here the traditional categories of spontaneity and organization lose their consistency. “Spontaneity was organized.” But nothing was achieved once for all. The operaists had broken with the Marxist and Leninist tradition to reread Marx and Lenin within the new composition of living labor. And in this way they grasped the breach represented by the mass worker, which was also a clash within the class producing something that previously did not exist.

Communists come from Some-where

P. is a student in his 20s, A. a party full-timer in his 30s and M. a welder in his early 40s.

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P.

In the mid-2000s I was studying at Delhi University and got in touch with a communist organisation. Inspired by a lecturer I started to work amongst cart-pusher on Chandni Chowk, we tried to establish a union there in 2006. This attempt failed mainly due to lack of financial resources. My family also depended on my income, my father has passed away, so I had to take a regular job. I started working in a retail shop, which was part of the Big Apple chain. I worked as a cashier in Delhi, our official working hours were from 2:30 pm till 11 pm, but actually we had to work till 4 am in the morning. The shop was 18 km from my home, so I spent a lot of time travelling, as well. There were about 40 people employed in the shop and at some point in January 2007 we decided to do something against the bad conditions. One day, before the counting of the cash money, we all stopped working at 11 pm and left the shop. The management reacted by ripping the work-force apart and sending people to work in various dispersed shops and branches of the chain. There were a lot of problems afterwards, so I needed a different job.

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M.

My father was in the CP, working in the mining industry. He wanted me to become a lawyer, but I saw how lawyers operated in the villages, when it came to land deals, and I thought it was a rather useless job. I finished my 10th class in 1984. I went to college afterwards, were I got in touch with a political party. I did not complete college, I went back and forth, then decided to do an ITI course as a welder. That was an individual, but a political choice, in order to work amongst workers. After the ITI course I thought of doing a BA, at that time I read a lot, but I left the BA and became a party full-timer instead. I lived in various cities and areas, travelled a lot, from Rourkela (steel industrial area) to Jamshedpur. I met workers, went to strikes, wrote pamphlets and articles for the newspaper, organised theory classes. In 1996 we had a party meeting in Nagpur were we decided to focus on building party units in factories. I worked in a garage for a short time, then at Nico, a company manufacturing molded engine parts for the car industry. Workers there found it strange that I refused overtime – after some arguments with the contractor I stopped working there after about three months. In 1997 I became member of the central committee of the party and worked full-time for the organisation again. I moved to Ilahabad for that. I wrote a proposal to the party, mainly saying that the party’s attempt to form factory units was unsuccessful and that more effort is needed to concentrate on the day-to-day problems of workers and to develop a communist position in that. Not as a trade union, but as a communist organisation explaining that the worker’s discontent is not individual, but that there are wider social reasons behind the problems. I thought that the party got involved in these efforts only half-heartedly. We were discussing theoretically, but answers can only be found in practical efforts.

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A.

My family supported the RSS, I come from a business household and I saw how the business got pauperised in the early 1980s. My generation had no prospect to take over the business, therefore ‘education’ became compulsory and obtained a new meaning: the new generation had to diversify. I first went to a government school, then to a public school. I wanted to become a burocrat, an IAS officer. I went to Stephen’s College at Delhi University, but I did not fit in. The other students had a generational tradition of elite education, I felt rather displaced. I started reading and I came across Marxist writing – there was not much political activity going on at the college. I tried to understand the social character of the individual situation I found myself in. I got in touch with a political organisation of the far left, but before joining I read party documents of various tendencies. I was looking for an organisation with a strategy based on the analysis of India as a capitalist society. I joined a smaller splinter group, became active at the campus. Finally I felt that the politics of the group was rather NGO-ised and the campus activities seemed limited. I joined the MA, but left it after one year. The decision to leave at that point was an expression of hatred against the system, not only against education system, also against the way the system plays out in family. I saw how two of my brothers, who lived in the same house but ran two different businesses got divided through the emerging differences in ‘economic success’, still living under one roof. For some reasons I rejoined and completed the MA, in four instead of two years. I joint the research department, but soon I left it. I left academia altogether and became a party full-timer. I continued some of my research on class and caste in 1920s – 1945 on an independent level.

Party full-timer means that ultimately the party decides where to send you. The party also takes care of your reproduction. I first was sent to three different working class localities in Delhi, our aim was to first build a youth organisation and then based on the support of the youth to build up trade union organisations. All three locations were close to industrial areas. We had some contacts in the area, we then started setting up a library, cultural activities, study circles, which were basically lectures. The youth helped us to distribute pamphlets in the area. The attempt to set up registered unions failed, the area was dominated by small scale industries. We managed to set up a struggle committee amongst construction workers. The construction site was close to the university. Our activists heard about non-payment of wages and started to discuss with building workers. We decided to strike, the strike was supported by students and teachers – during the strike we set up a public kitchen with help of the teachers. But construction workers are migrant workers, once they find an opportunity or the site is finished, they normally move on. Some phoned us after having left the site near the campus, but we had to tell them that they had to fight for themselves now. The committee was an attempt to hold people together, but it depends largely on activists’ input.

The party then sent me to Haryana, to the rural area. We wanted to form a youth organisation in the villages and similarly go from there to the organisation of agricultural labourers. One of the differences between village and town is that people seem to have more time in the village. The youth debated till 2 or 3 at night, we talked about all kind of things, problems of adolescence. The urban youth has the colleges for this kind of talks. The village youth did not want to work in the villages, to close to home, to close to everyone knowing who is who. It is also a question of honour. So the village youth migrated on a daily level to work on Haryana’s biggest rural market, where several thousand workers are employed, storing food, loading trucks. There we met youth from various surrounding villages. We set up a workers’ committee for these market workers, we raised issues, such as wage increases. In the end the CPI turned out to be more successful then we were, they had much better connections with the Labour Department in Chandigarh. The village youth does not want to work in the villages and those workers who do are usually from Bihar, they often feel to vulnerable to form an organisation.

I went back focussing the work on Delhi. We set up a front-organisation for workers – basically everyone can join it independently from other union membership. We encourage to form these groups in order to discuss and to have some space independently from the established unions. For example we went to Graziano, after the struggle, which culminated in the killing of a manager. The workers first had joined CITU, then AITUC, they finally approached HMS. The HMS main union guy is also a labour contractor. We can see that workers go to leaders, they expect them to use their links with the political class in the workers’ favour. If CITU cannot deliver this, workers approach different leaders, they calculate. Currently we can see a development which undermines this influence of ‘personal leaders’. The big companies focuses heavily on work discipline and rely less on local middleman. This also means that the union leaders are often by-passed. In the case of Grazianio various ML-organisations set up a Solidarity Network, but workers got closer to HMS after the company started accepting negotiations with HMS. We lost touch with the workers.

Arriving in Gurgaon

P.

After I left the retail shop I attended a meeting of an organisation at Delhi University, an organisation which turned out to be a NGO, which I did not realise at that point. They were looking for full-timers to organise garment workers in Gurgaon. The organisation paid 4,000 Rs per month. I took the job and started to roam Gurgaon in June 2007, at that time I was completely on my own in this. I found it difficult to meet workers directly at the factory gate, so I mainly visited them back at their rooms. We talked about the main problems, such as non-payment of wages, no ESI, no PF – and what we could do about this. I found that the factory is only one area of conflict, many workers face harassment from locals and landlords. The workers said that according to their experience the unions in Gurgaon are not of much help, that they rip you off in the end. They also asked about my own motives and why they should believe me. I said that I am part of your social reality and that is why I want to engage in it. I did this kind of basic activities for about eight months. At one company I had a success: the company had not paid wages for six months, workers complained. I went to the Labour Officer and told him about the issue, asking him to send an inspector. The inspector confirmed the workers’ accusations and told the management to pay the outstanding wages within one week’s time. The management did pay. Through this success I established good relations with active workers in the company.

At that point the organisation decided to launch a convention, which was supposed the founding conference for building a union. The organisation set targets of how many workers should turn up. At that point I started to inquire more about the aims and financial resources of the organisation and basically found out that they were a NGO funded by NGOs in US-America. I got into arguments with the NGO hierarchy, I asked them what their aim was, whether it was just economical or was also aiming at general social change. They answered that they want to set up a union for economic gains. I nevertheless mobilised workers to come to the convention and about 600 to 700 turned up. A union was founded. For the union registration I went to Chandigarh several time. There the Assistant Labour Officer told be frankly that he will oppose the union registration because the NGO wants to target international clients like GAP etc., and that this would result in job losses. I told the NGO about this, but they said that this decision was not of my business, that I was not involved in the decision making. In January 2009 I left the NGO job. I debated with my comrades of the political organisation and we decided to continue the work in Gurgaon for political reasons. The political organisation would support me financially. Some of the active workers – who were ‘on my side’ after the success of getting the outstanding wages – were more or less bought of by the NGO, they were given jobs and financial incentives to stay with the NGO union.

We formed our own union, workers pay 10 Rs per month, which covers the main costs. There are about 200 to 250 members, but they come from different companies. In one single company there are about 60 members, but we kept silent about our efforts. We think that we would at least 50 per cent of the work-force on our side before we can come into the open and apply for union recognition. The danger is that after handing in official applications the Labour Department goes to the company with the membership-list in order to proof whether these workers are actually employed there. This would leave us vulnerable, therefore a certain strength is required. The NGO knew that we want to organise a union in this specific company, so they organised demonstrations in front of it and parallel assemblies – basically putting our comrades in the factory at risk, sabotaging our efforts.

We have a meeting place, but normally we meet in workers’ rooms. We don’t publicise the meeting place, only workers know about it. We have a core committee of 10 workers, they normally come to the weekly meeting and then coordinate with members in various factories. We have an internal newsletter. We think about publishing a newspaper, but we lack funds. We can take practical little steps, e.g. there was a problem in a company where workers of our group are employed. People there were forced to sign their resignation and then to re-join – in order to sabotage their seniority. We knew that we will not get any help from the Labour Department. First they asked workers to come individually to the office, workers managed to postpone this by saying that they will come the next day. The management got angry, we discussed in the meeting about this. The workers then said that they will sign once the management gives a reason in written for why they ask the workers for the signature. This went back and forth and finally the management sacked three workers. Workers told the management that they would have to push them out off the factory and that they would sit in front of the factory in protest against the dismissal. We also called the Labour Department, they told the management to take the workers back. The workers got their jobs back. This was a success.

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M.

We continued debates about how to set up factory units and decided to move to certain industrial centres. I decided to move to Gurgaon – I got aware of the situation there after the lathi-charge and repression against the Honda workers in 2005. Our main problem remains that we have little time for political activities, and that workers in general have little time. The second problem is that it is difficult to speak openly inside the factory. I arrived in Gurgaon in March 2009, I found a job within four days, as a welder in a machine manufacturing factory. There are not so many differences if you compare the proletarian situation in Ilahabad and the one in Gurgaon – it is a newer generation of workers. I don’t think that the migrant status of the workers makes much of a difference. I started to meet people, in order to form a group of workers. In my factory 300 workers are employed, one or two of them I meet on an irregular level after work. We have some kind of circle in the factory, but we are not in a position to raise demands or things alike.

Rico Strike Experience

P.

I went to the Rico strike twice. At that time AITUC people hold speeches. Workers had lathis. Some people shouted: we will smash the factory, we will attack the Labour Commissioner. The AITUC people told workers to stay peaceful. The demonstration took place on the service line of the Highway, not the Highway itself. If you wanted to talk to workers, they told you to talk to the leaders. I wrote a leaflet about the strike, workers told me to show it to the leaders first. We distributed the leaflet in Udyog Vihar, about 1,000 leaflets. There people knew about Rico through the media, but they had no direct information. One worker said: see, what can we 200 people do, if even these 100,000 workers of the Rico dispute cannot do anything.

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M.

I went to the Rico dispute several times. When I was there no demonstration was going on. The management had some link with the panchayat, who asked the workers to remove the dharna, the protest in front of factory. The panchayat also told workers that they get the minimum wage and higher compensations for the family after the murder – the panchayat tried to mediate. At that point I saw no AITUC leaders. The workers just sat in front of the factory. Some said: the strike goes on for so long, it is 48 days now, what should we do?! I could give no proposal, the strike has already gone week after such long time, the unity failed. I would not have told them to block the highway, I would not have stopped them either.

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A.

We had some contacts to garment workers in Gurgaon, but our main activities happened during the Rico struggle. I have never seen a struggle like Rico before, it was a qualitatively different struggle – a transit moment. I saw a group of workers leading the work-force, but the rest of the workers were active themselves. The workers were getting trained through struggle. At the beginning they were sitting and gossiping, later on they started shouting whenever police turned up. Workers normally stop showing up once a strike carries on for long, but at Rico workers continued to come to the protest. AITUC was not used to this kind of long dispute, they normally organise one day strikes. These long disputes are a new trend. It is a new work-force, a young work-force in a new industry without established union structure. In this scenario you can see the failure of old unions. Amongst the young workers a group of workers become leaders. I could notice them as leaders, because all workers told us to talk to them. But the majority of workers think that they are leading the struggle. They said: if the union betrays, we will continue. In the strike local groups played a role, e.g. a bigger group of workers all came from a region in Uttranchal. The AITUC officials were not around 99 per cent of the time. Most of the non-permanent workers were present at the struggle, at least the casual workers. Most of the workers had ITI or diplomas, some MSC or BSC. People see that despite high level of formal education they are not been made permanent. Women played an important part, confronted police with lathis.

Workers were sitting in groups of six or seven and discussed. I listen to discussions about the ‘nature of the state’, the problems of the law. We asked questions: ‘if you focus on registration of unions, this does not mean that once your union is registered, the management will actually negotiate with you. You have to be organised and not solely rely on union leaders’. Workers asked: ‘how can all workers meet together and decide?’ We had some ideas: ‘a kind of referendum with proposals for the next steps of struggle that workers can kind of vote on’. We asked: ‘you formed a committee and got in touch with AITUC, but did you get in touch with other workers? You don’t even have a pamphlet to hand out’. People responded: ‘AITUC is coordinating that’. We then wrote a pamphlet and handed it out. It was the first pamphlet, only after that AITUC published their own pamphlet with the names of the leaders in big print. The workers relation-ship with the AITUC was arbitrary. People said: ‘The state is afraid of our struggle’. ‘They do not let Gurudas (CPI leader) come to meet us, because his words would be engraved in stone for us, they would have major importance’. On the other hand AITUC leaders had to say several times to workers during protests: ‘do what we say, otherwise you will not win’. This created some conflict with the local workers’ leaders. AITUC always asked workers to stay peaceful, while the local leaders had a more violent rhetoric. While AITUC was against hiding stones and lathis under the blankets, they did not oppose.

What has to be done?!

P.

Currently there is only one person, every now and then there are two people of our organisation active in Gurgaon – so the debate with the political organisation is the main support.

One of the biggest problems in Gurgaon is that workers think that someone should come and help them. But we cannot talk openly, it is difficult to meet in parks. Often the locals against such meetings, they have an economic interest in migrant workers as tenants. We see the building of trade unions as one means, currently we focus on one company to register a union, but we have to be organised on the level of industrial area. Registering a union is a strategy, we see some advantages, such as the right to strike. But we look beyond the trade union boundary. We also don’t have the usual ‘leader-types’. When the issue about the sacking of the three workers came up, our members in this company thought about strike. We discussed it, but it was clear that if we are 40 organised workers amongst a work-force of 1,000 we are not in the position to strike. We would not have the strength to deal with the reaction of the management. On a daily level we have to raise consciousness. Use any possibility, whenever or wherever, to speak to workers. Talk about the importance of organisation. How can we be organised and what happens after being organised.

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M.

When the worker enters the factory, the struggle begins. The worker has a feeling of exploitation, but no language to express it. We have to explain, that it is not an individual problem, but a social one. We have to do that also through means of newspapers and leaflets. We have to link up with other workers. This has to be based on daily work and relation-ships, this does not happen spontaneously. We should not rely on the law, there is no need to register trade unions. Normally they become second class management. For the next year: I want to meet 10 – 20 other workers from various sectors and start debating how to overcome the current situation. I don’t see a specific segment of working class in Gurgaon which could play a special role in future movements. Normally workers in the basic industries, such as power plant workers, play a decisive role.

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A.

We suggest to form ‘organisations’ independently from the main unions. After the end of the Rico struggle the local leaders got more and more co-opted by AITUC. We had proposed to publish a newspaper together, about workers’ experiences and struggles around the world. But we lost touch with most of these workers. During a crisis mode a new consciousness emerges, but this consciousness has to be transformed in organisational forms. Organisation can not be enforced from the outside, but it does not emerge from inside alone. At this juncture in Gurgaon, we can spread ourselves horizontally, our organisation itself is not established in Gurgaon. We suggest to form workers’ committees. We are not in position to register unions and we don’t know whether it will be desirable in the future.

1 Comment »

One Response to “Three Communists in Gurgaon – Interviews for an Open Debate”

  1. subhash sareen Says:
    July 1st, 2010 at 10:37

    workers need not to leave unioun unless it betrayes your economic cause because their task is economic the politics by ruling and capilist clasess have negative agenda towards working class therein the political agenda of working class begins subhash

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