-Our Delhi Correspondent
Bail Application filed on behalf of 63 workers of ‘Graziano Transmissioni’, who were arrested on 22.9.2008, on the charge of murder of Chief Executive Officer of the said company, Lalit Kishore Chaudhary, has been rejected by the Court of Sessions at Noida (Gautam Budhha Nagar), Uttar Pradesh. It is noteworthy that out of these 63 workers only 19 were in fact named in the First Information Report, got lodged by the employers themselves. No arrests however, were made from the spot of incident and the workers were arrested later in the day when they had gone to protest outside the local police station, against collusion of the police with the employers. 137 workers were then arrested by the police, out of which 63 were implicated in murder of CEO and 74 were arrested for apprehension of breach of peace.
In fact a long drawn struggle in the factory between the workers and employers had ultimately resulted in a clash on 22.9.2008, between unarmed workers on one side, and the armed goons and security guards employed by the management, on the other. It was in this clash that the CEO of the Company had sustained injuries, while 34 workers were also badly injured. A furore was created by corporate media and the bosses of industry, after the CEO of Graziano company later succumbed to the fatal injury in his skull. There is no sustainable evidence to support the plea that the said injury was wantonly inflicted by workers. Rather many eye-witnesses have testified to the fact that the CEO had jumped from the rooftop out of fear after clash erupted between the workers and securitymen. The nature of injuries upon the person of CEO fully corroborate this theory.
Newspapers have quoted the wife of the deceased CEO, Smt. Ratna Chaudhary, a lecturer of Physics, in Kirori Mal College at New Delhi, telling media that the real cause behind the fateful incident, is the rivalry between business groups.
Graziano Transmissioni at Noida, a fully export oriented company, is subsidiary of a Multinational company ‘Graziano International’, based in Italy. The company had started its operations in Noida, UP, in 2003 with a capital of less than 20 crore rupees and in 2008 it had an annual turnover of more than 400 crores. Presently it is subsidiary of ‘Oerlikon’ company of Switzerland. It is a ‘Special Economic Zone’ in Noida, where more than 24 MNCs out of which 22 are Italian and Korean.
Industrial activity in the establishment had continued round the clock, initially in two shifts of 12 hrs each, i.e. 6am to 6 pm and then 6 pm to 6 am. Though working hours were limited to 8 hrs and the workers were paid overtime for additional 4 hrs, but the overtime was made compulsory for workers. No weekly off was being given. Those refusing to comply, were thrown out. The pattern of employment is also unique. Not even a single worker was employed from local region, as in the perception of employers, the local workers having roots in local population are difficult to be controlled, while those from outside can be better controlled. All of the workers employed in Graziano were from Uttarakhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana etc.
Initially 350 permanent workers were employed as operators cum settlers on machines, with 80 Trainees/apprentices. About 500 work under the Labour contractors mostly for the job of packaging.
The very first dispute arose as the employers used to make deductions from the wages on false pretexts. First protest of workers started on 2nd Dec 2007, on the issue of demand for rise in wages and against deduction of wages by the employers on the fictitious ground that the entry card was not properly punched. Though it used to happen for technical fault in punching system, while subsequent punchings in the day were duly recorded, yet employers in order to harass the workmen used to deduct the wages, on this false pretext. Workers were constrained to take to protest.
Getting wind of workers being organized, striving to form a Trade Union, 3 workers were barred by the employers from entering the premises and one Manoj Kumar was terminated. Management refused to recognize the Union, while labour authorities at Kanpur, UP, under statutory mandate to register the Union, dismissed the application for registration of the Union, thrice, while keeping the fourth one pending, in collusion with employers.
While protesting against the high handedness of employers, 100 more workers were locked out on 4.12.2007, by the employers, by pasting a notice of lockout outside the gate. A settlement took place between the parties on 7.12.2007, but only to be repudiated by the employers later on. Workers’ had to return back to protest.
On 7.12.2007, AITUC, Trade Union Front of Communist Party of India, with whom workers remained affiliated, agreed with the management, on the back of the workers, to restore normalcy inside the factory first and then negotiate further. Workers refused to honour this agreement. Estranged, the leaders of AITUC, abandoned the workers.
In face of the struggle of workers, employers were forced to enter into a written settlement with them, on 24.1.2008, in presence of Deputy Labour Commissioner, Noida, who is the authority competent to ensure conciliation between the parties to an industrial dispute. On behalf of workers, five of their elected representatives participated in negotiations, among them –Rajender, Kailash Joshi, Pankesh Sharma, Ram Charan and Mohinder. Wage revision, on a homogenous pattern, was agreed with increment of Rs. 1200/- in current year, Rs. 1000/- in second year and Rs.800/- in third year.
However, immediately after this settlement, in February 2008, the employers brought in 400 workers, under a sham contract under local contractors namely Virendra Bhati, Manish and one Bhardwaj. These contractors with a newly raised force of 400 at their disposal, started to bully the old workers. Since the month of June 2008, these 400 workers were given abode inside the factory premises. The said contractors had also gathered iron rods, sticks and other weapons etc. inside the premises, to terrorize the regular workers and obviously to deal with the agitating workers, if need be. Apart from this a whole battalion of armed goons in the name of ‘security’ was also employed under contractor. It became clear thus, that the employers were planning to throw out the permanent workers and want to substitute them with these contract workers. During this time the government authorities and local administration remained mute spectator and not even slightest heed was paid to the complaints and grievances of the workers.
In order to pick up a dispute and provoke the workers, the employers refused to employ 5 worker Trainees/ apprentices and ousted them from the premises, in May 2008, on the pretext that they handled the job of ‘settling’ of machine without instructions. It is pointed out that no such written instructions for ‘settling’ job were ever given to any of the workers. The same was part of ordinary job duty. Workers, thus insisted that then onwards instructions for ‘settling’ jobs be issued in writing. Workers also demanded that the 5 ousted workers be taken on job.
Instead of taking the 5 workers on rolls, the employers suspended 27 more workers, to teach them a lesson. Production Manager Amar Singh Baghel, who requested for a sympathetic approach, was also ousted on the charge of being in collusion with workers.
The employers intentionally put-off the reverse exhaust fans inside the workshop, which resulted in immense increase in indoor temperature. To ensure that no workman even takes a breath during duty hrs, CCTV cameras were installed, and violators were immediately ousted.
Workers protested the aforesaid unfair labour practices and made complaints to concerned authorities but without any result. Authorities acted hand in hand with the employers. Workers also demanded 3 shifts of 8 hrs instead of two of 12 hrs each. But as if everything was falling on deaf ears of employers and competent authorities.
A disturbance started, on 30/31st May, 2008, on instigation by Virender Bhati, the local muscleman of employers, undercover of contractor. A totally false police complaint was made by the employers against the workers for committing affray, and 30 more of them were locked out on this false charge. Workers could be released after depositing personal bonds of Rs.1,00,000/- (One Lakh) each, with the Sub Divisional Magistrate, NOIDA. This amount of surety, is very unusual and extremely excessive amount. This shows the criminal connivance between the employers and the city administration, against the workers.
Instead of paying any heed to the legitimate grievances of workers, and in order to harass and terrorize the workers, 35 more of them were locked out, on 19.6.2008. With this total 97 workers stood ousted, while 192 continued inside out of permanent workers. By this time workers were affiliated with CITU, Trade Union Front of CPI (M) which agreed to the proposal of the employers that first of all normalcy be restored and protest outside the gate be ended, then thereafter a month employers would think to reinstate the workers. Workers refused to agree to this and thus CITU also abandoned the workers. However, protest of workers continued.
In the meanwhile workers affiliated to the HMS, Trade Union front of Rashtriya Lok Dal, with one Virender Sirohi as their leader.
On 1.7.2008, a Meeting between the employers and HMS took place in DLC office, in which Sirohi agreed to normal working on 2,3and 4th of July, 2008. On 2.7.2008, the employers instead of complying with the aforesaid settlement, locked out the remaining 192 workmen also. Workers are constrained to resume protest. Dharna before the office of DLC thus continued for 7 days, 3 days it was before the office of District Magistrate, Noida, a march on-foot from Surajpur Chowk to DM office and finally a dharna on Italian embassy was organized by the workers peacefully, but the entire machine remained totally insensitive towards the cause of the workers.
In the meantime, several times dispute was negotiated at DLC office or the police station, but only to be repudiated by the employers, at thro whims, on one or the other pretext or intrigue.
On 11.7.2008, once again a settlement was arrived at DLC, Office at Noida, in presence of Sub Divisional Magistrate and Circle Officer, Dadri. Pursuant to this settlement and with all bonafide, the workers joined at the factory, on 13.7.2008. Next meeting was then fixed at DLC office, for further conciliation, on 16.7.2008.
Out of the 27 suspended workers, the employers, however reinstated only 12, while simultaneously terminated the services of 15 workers on16.7.2008. This was apparently a device to divide and crush the workers, one by one.
Under pressure of workers, 55 more were notified to be reinstated, but were locked out the very next day on the false pretext of coming late at 9 am instead of 6 am.
Employers then under a pre-plan obtained an injunction in advance, from the Civil Court, Noida, preventing workers from agitating within 300 mtrs of the Factory premises.
When the Labour Commissioner of the State of Uttar Pradesh, came to Ghaziabad from Kanpur. on routine round, workers met him and complained about the partial and callous attitude of DLC, Noida. The Commissioner, entrusted the matter to DLC, Ghaziabad. Another meeting for conciliation between the parties, thus, took place in DLC office, Ghaziabad, on 4.9.2008, but without solution.
Yet another meeting in DLC, Ghaziabad office between employers and HMS, took place. None of the elected representatives of the workmen was present in the meeting. It was agreed by leaders of HMS, that workers would tender apology. DLC, Noida directed the workers to tender apology on or before 22.9.2008.
As workers went to tender apology with employers on 18.9.2008, they were told that they would call the workers on 22.9.2008. DLC refused to take the apology in his office. This all seemed to be part of a pre-plan.
On 22.9.2008, as the workers gathered to tender apology and join their duties, they were told that two workers at a time would be permitted to enter the ‘time office’ to tender apology. Five Italian consultants of the Company were also present inside the premises at that time. Inside the time office, armed security and local goons had already taken their positions. They started to coerce workers to specifically admit in their written apology that they had indulged in sabotage and violence. Some workers, succumbed to immense pressure, and wrote as they were told by the employers, while some refused. Anil Sharma, time officer slapped one of the workmen for refusing to write the apology in the desired format. Scuffle started on this, and the protesting workman was brutally beaten up at the hands of the security personnel and goons.
On hearing commotion, workmen present outside the premises, entered inside. Unable to prevent the workmen, one of the Manager ordered the security and goons present inside the premises, to attack the workmen. They complied, while the securitymen even fired at workmen. Several workmen, about 34, were injured in the scuffle.
Jagmohan Sharma, Station Officer, Bisrakh Police Station remained present with force but did not intervene on the behest of employers who had conspired to beat up the workmen. Station Officer of police, has since been suspended for dereliction of duty.
People from both sides were then rounded up by the local police, but those on the side of employers were let to go while workers were kept in custody. Other workers who had gone to protest the collusion of police with employers, were also arrested. Later, it transpired that the CEO of the company had also got one head injury, allegedly in the scuffle, which had proved fatal to his life. It also transpired that some of the goons engaged by the employers to deal with the workmen, had double crossed and acting on behest of some rival industrialists, have killed the CEO, taking benefit of the chaos perpetuated by the employers themselves.
However, the employers who were desparate to dismiss the regular workmen, got an opportunity to implicate the workmen in the murder and thereby get rid of them. The local Capitalists, corporate media, bureaucracy all avowed enemies of working class, united to defame the workers and implicate them. 63 workers were then implicated for conspiring and participating in the killing of the CEO while 74 other have been implicated for rioting, affray etc.
Workers staged a sit -in protest at Jantar Mantar at New Delhi, against their victimization, on 2.10.2008. Another protest was organized by the ‘Graziano Workers Solidarity Forum’ – comprising of about 15 different organizations of labour, on 16.10.2008, at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi.
Instead of paying any heed to workers, the Government of Uttar Pradesh, headed by Mayawati, who claims to be a leader of dalits, assured the industrialists that the Noida being an Industrial region, special status be given to Industrialists. It has appointed a special Circle Officer, Industries, to provide security to Industrialists and has raised a special force for that. An additional police circle has also been created. The lbour authorities, including the Labour Commissioner of UP, have been put under the CEO of Noida and Greater Noida. All concerned officers, of police and administration have been transferred from the region, and those of the choice of employers have been posted. A special helpline has been started which would solve the problems of employers within two hours. Bulk arms licences will be given to private security at industries in SEZs.
Union Labour Minister, Oscar Fernandes, who initially made a statement advising the employers to be more sensitive towards the grievances of workers and not to push them so hard that they take to rebellion, was forced to forthwith withdraw his statement and apologise. The Minister has also said that the whole policy of ‘hire and fire’ needs a review. Jansatta of 25.9.2008, has quoted the industrialists, reacting to the statement of the Minister saying that ‘the incompetent politicians should also be killed’. Minister was forced to apologise, but he was quoted to have said that he had not justified the killing of CEO. He has only favoured the poor workers. But if he does not have the right to speak even for that, then in future he would not speak at all.
Serious concern has been expressed by the industry bosses and the politicians upon sharp decline in the strength of ‘organised’ labour force to 6% from 8%, due to slackening of labour laws. It shows how these bosses appreciate the role of trade unions to hold back the working class from real struggles.
This is not the first militant action of working class in the area. Before it the workers have Daewoo, Denso India Ltd, Yamaha Motors and Goenka Power have demonstrated such militancy. The issue of Graziano was blown out of proportion by frightened corporate media and the bosses of industry.
* The facts in this report are based upon an interview with two workers of Graziano Transmissioni, namely Kapil Kumar and Ajay Dwivedi. Kapil belongs to Saharanpur, UP and had joined in 2003 as apprentice, after completing his ITI. He worked 8/9 months under contractor, which was a sham and then was given permanent appointment in 2004. Ajay Dwivedi was employed in 2006.