The news of Sonu Gujjar — who led three strikes at Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL) in the last six months — and his 29 comrades striking an agreement with the management has left the region’s trade unions in a state of shock and disbelief.
Union leaders who rallied behind and guided the leadership of workers at MSIL say Gujjar’s exit is a huge “setback” for the trade union movement in the region. However, they hope it would serve as a lesson for the workers.
“It came as a big shock to me. All the workers of the country had their eyes on Maruti. The recent developments are very discouraging,” says Rakhi Sehgal, secretary, New Trade Union Initiative.
More than a setback for the movement at MSIL, union leaders see it as a loss of credibility.
“Such instances result in a loss of faith for well-meaning labour leaders. The workers end up seeing vested interest in every decision a union leader takes,” says Suresh Gaur, president, Honda Motorcycles and Scooter India Workers’ Union.
Agrees D L Sachdeva, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress. “These 30 workers were the most active in the formation of a union. Their loss means a new leadership needs to be developed. But, it will take workers time to put their faith in the new leaders,” he says.
Workers and trade union leaders say the strategy followed by Maruti isn’t ingenious. Labour leaders cite several instances in the last few years, where after a long period of struggle, workers were deserted by their leader. The most commonly cited instance is that of Richo Auto, where, within days of leading a 50-day strike at the company in November 2009, the union leader resigned and left the company.
Trade union leaders, however, hope a setback of this nature would only help make the workers learn the ropes of trade union movement.
“What has happened at Maruti is nothing new. Many companies have tried such measures in the past. The workers would become more mature after this incident,” says Dipankar Mukherjee, secretary, Centre of India Trade Unions.