It has been more than a week since a strike broke out at the Manesar factory of Maruti Suzuki. The Haryana government declared the strike illegal on Friday. While compromise between workers and the management is possible in the days ahead, the recurrence of strikes in automobile units in the Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal area of the state—an automobile manufacturing hub—should wake up policymakers.
The key demand of the workers—11 of whom have been sacked—is the recognition of a new union. Maruti already has a union. Ordinarily when workers have adequate representation, there is little reason to create more unions. This, experience has shown, only leads to inter-union rivalries and unrest, something all managements want to avoid. This is especially true when unions have backing of mainstream political parties.
In the present case, this fear is very real: not only do the workers want a new union; they also want the option of allowing one-third of its membership from outside the factory. This is a classic Communist ploy to get a foothold in unions. It only leads to militancy and misery. Lockouts, lost output and worker helplessness are the result.
The point should not be overemphasized. What needs a relook are the conditions that permit such lawlessness. The organized sector accounts for a small fraction of employment in India and a majority of the instances of strikes and labour unrest. It can be argued that workers in unorganized sector are paid much less and yet that sector is much more vibrant. The Leftist argument that that is because workers have no protection in the unorganized sector is a thinly veiled excuse: If the Left had a chance in the unorganized sector, that, too, would be ground to a halt.
The fact is that the law that makes retrenching workers next to impossible is at the root of such militancy and unrest. A flexible labour market gives freedom to workers, too: In case they don’t like working in a firm, they can leave it. If anything, it will create more employment and lead to better work terms.
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