A History of Trade Union Movements at Hindmotors, and the Recent Strike

June 13, 2007

By members of Sanhati – Krishanu, Somnath, and Biswajit. Translated by Kuver

Till 1990, almost 16,000 people worked at Hindustan Motors (HM). Among the unions there, it was CITU (Center of Indian Trade Unions) that was most powerful. As a trade union, CITU was notorious for its internecine fights and factionalism throughout Hooghly district. Towards the beginning of the 90s, the then CITU secretary Maloy Ghosh was murdered by a rival faction near HM station.

Beginning in the mid 1990s, things began to change at the factory. The management decided to fire many workers, and Voluntary Retirement Schemes (VRS) were brought to the table to expediate the process. CITU opposed this move publicly, of course, but inside the factory it was a different story. They started negotiating for VRS. Many workers within their umbrella started expressing their discontent.

It was at this time that a relatively revolutionary section of CITU formed the Karkhana Bachao Committee, led by Gyan Chakraborty. These were the same workers who had formed the Sangram Samity in 1982, a faction that had survived within CITU, even winning a couple of internal elections. Correspondence was established between this force and Dipok Bakshi, Amitava Bhattacharya, and others like them who had been involved in student politics at one time and were now connected with trade union movements at Relaxan, ICI, and other factories in Hooghly district. This correspondence provided the impetus for building a new, independent trade union. In this new phase, major initiative was taken, among others, by Gobindo Chakraborty – a member of workers movement at the factory and a veteran of the Naxalite movement of the 70s.

In this nascent stage, workers did not have the courage to build a new union, and so they contacted various experienced trade union leaders. An understanding was finally reached with Gurudas Dasgupta, the West Bengal secretary of AITUC and CPI member. The understanding was that because the majority of workers wanted a new union irrespective of party affiliations, the new initiative would not be affiliated to AITUC, but Gurudas Dasgupta would be its president.

And thus in 1997, an independent union free of party affiliations was formed – the Sangrami Sramik Kormochari Union (SSKU). Its first president was Gurudas Dasgupta, and its first general secretary was Laxmi Chakroborty.

Towards the beginning, the union couldn’t really begin any major resistance. But when the company started laying off workers, SSKU went to court and was successful in stopping the process, thereby garnering support among workers. After this started the movement against voluntary retirement (VR).

In the immediate background of this new phase of struggle, it had turned out that some leaders had reached personal understandings with the management, compromised, and accepted the VR scheme – in direct conflict with the position of the union as a whole. This was continued, as various unions except SSKU made deals with the management that were against the interest of the workers. Thus, SSKU made a demand for elections to decide who would be the “Trade Union Bargaining Agent”. After a lengthy court case, these elections were finally held in 2001-2002.

The fury of the workers towards CITU, pent up for years, finally exploded. SSKU got 55% of the votes and was elected “Sole Bargaining Agent”. The union started expanding, and its activities increased. Part-time workers union and a union for convoy drivers were formed. Naturally, with this expansion came more forceful attacks from the management. Almost a 1000 workers were transferred to branches of HM in other states – a majority of them SSKU members. The aim was to push workers toward the VR scheme. SSKU took a stance of defensive resistance at this time – workers were told to accept transfer if necessary, but never to accept VR.

Workers responded to this call from the union. And thus, even with mass transfers, the company’s VR scheme failed. The majority of workers accepted the transfers, but didn’t take VR.

After this, SSKU placed a “Charter of Demands”. Among the demands, the most important one was to start DA. There were also a number of innovative suggestions for expanding the company, such as building water vehicles, rural transport vehicles, etc. But the company would not enter into dialogue. On the other hand, some leaders of SSKU showed the tendency to leave the resistance, although there was a constant fight within the union to keep vigilance on corruption and resist compromise with the management. Taking advantage of this situation, Gurudas Dasgupta pressurized the union to come under the affiliation of AITUC. In the meantime, elections had been held after two years and SSKU had been re-elected, getting 62% of the votes. The general secretary was Dipak Bakshi.

After this, factional fights escalated within the union. Apart from compromising with the management, Gurudas Dasgupta increased the pressure to join AITUC. A new polarization was started within the union. Continuing this trend, the general secretary Dipak Bakshi was expelled, and Gurudas Dasgupta attempted to take sole control. But 90% of the executive committee of the union took a stand against this, and ultimately, Gurudas Dasgupta was himself expelled. The union organized a conference without him, and the new president elected was Amitava Bhattachrya. In the wake of this restructuring, the Gurudas faction attempted to spread the word that they represented “the actual SSKU”. Failing in this endeavor, they created a new union called SSU.

After parting ways with Gurudas Dasgupta and his followers, SSKU’s radicalism and resistance increased. And correspondingly, the management unleashed even greater attack. Events came to a crisis when on March 13, 2007, the management suspended 15 activists belonging to SSKU. An indefinite strike started at the factory, and continued for 61 days. During this struggle, SSU first took a position of support, but later joined forces with CITU to disrupt the strike.

To this day, there is polarization on the issue of who actually represents the workers of the factory. SSKU’s tenure of being the “Bargaining Agent” is almost over. All unions, including SSKU, are preparing for the impending elections. And perhaps it is through these next elections that a new phase will begin for the resistance of Hindmotors workers…!

4 Comments »

4 Responses to “A History of Trade Union Movements at Hindmotors, and the Recent Strike”

  1. B.S.Rao Says:
    December 30th, 2007 at 10:57

    Congraulations to SSKU and its members specially leading members for their victorious onward struggle against opportunism and worst type of factonalism of CITU and AITUC and against VRS when Indias organized sector working class has been reeling before the offensive attacks of capitalists.

    I recognige it as one of the remarkable movement of the Indian working class.

    I want to know more throughly about SSKU in order to propogate about SSKU in our Andhra Pradesh state.Hope posiive response from SSKU.

    B.S.Rao

  2. admink Says:
    December 31st, 2007 at 00:48

    Dear B.S. Rao, we will get in touch with you about this. Thanks for your comments.

  3. B.S.Rao Says:
    July 24th, 2008 at 03:37

    Dear Comrades,
    Though you promised to get in touch with me, but not yet done.I’m very interested to know more about SSKU. I hope you are going to contact me soon.

    With greetings,
    B.S.Rao

  4. Ranjan Says:
    May 1st, 2009 at 03:45

    I want to know about different measures taken to strengthen Trade Unions in India.

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