Autofit (Dharuhera) Workers’ Struggle Against Termination

May 30, 2022 0 By Yatharth

S Raj

Labour Movement

6th May 2022: Autofit Pvt. Ltd. is the largest manufacturer of 2-Wheeler Seats in India. Located in Malpura area of ​​Dharuhera (District Rewari, Haryana), this was the first plant of Autofit, which started as a vendor company of Hero MotoCorp in 1987. Apart from this, today it also has plants in Manesar [since 2006], Haridwar (Uttarakhand) [since 2008] and Halol (Gujarat) [since 2017]. Autofit primarily produces auto seats and wheels, and has an average annual revenue of ₹450 crore.

IFTU(S) comrades in solidarity with struggling Autofit workers; April 2022.

Beginning of the Struggle

Till December 2021, 212 workers were employed in the Dharuhera plant, of which 97 were permanent and 115 were casual. On December 24, the management, citing low production, put a lay-off notice from December 25 to January 5, 2022, under which 154 workers (81 permanent and 73 casual) were laid off. On January 5, the day the lay-off period came to an end, the accounts of all 154 workers were settled (through settlement amount transfer in their bank accounts) by the management-contractor without any prior notice, i.e. (temporary) lay-off was converted into (permanent) termination. Autofit’s parent company Hero MotoCorp had a shutdown period i.e. stoppage of production in between affected the by lockdown, in light of which the Autofit management had decided beforehand itself to permanently shut down the production line of 2-wheeler seats and wheels at its plant and this was why these 154 workers were sacked. Since then, the plant is producing tractor wheels and seats instead of 2-wheeler seats and wheels. At present, only 16 permanent and 42 casual workers are employed in the plant.

It is known that these workers were employed in this plant for 15-25 years and the permanent workers got an average salary of ₹25,000 per month and casual workers got ₹10-11,000. As per this, as settlement, the permanent workers got about 3 to 14 lakh rupees (including gratuity, compensation and miscellaneous items) and casual workers got about 1.5 to 3 lakh rupees (in the form of lump sum amount). However, when the workers got information about this sudden termination after seeing the settlement amount transfer in their bank account, almost all the workers reached the company the very next day to protest against this decision by rejecting the settlement in writing and also taking receiving copy from the management on their written application. However, for a month, the workers remained confined to the legal and administrative proceedings at Rewari Labour Department. Additionally, they ran from pillar to post to all available leaders-ministers to even the Deputy Chief Minister of Haryana, but naturally got nothing but disappointment. Finally, on February 18, the workers started a sit-in demonstration at the company gate. Since then, the company owner has left Dharuhera and sits in the Manesar plant. The management has also filed an application for a stay on the sit-in demonstration near the company in both the Rewari and Manesar labour departments, although the department has refused to grant such stay.

History of Struggles in Autofit

The workers’ struggle in Autofit Dharuhera dates back to 2005 when the plant employed more than 500 workers but among them only 30-35 were permanent. Back then, all the casual workers went on a strike putting forth their economic demands. The strike was semi-successful. Many demands were accepted and 70-80 workers were made permanent, although the attempt to form a union could not be successful. After this, in 2013, when the total number of workers was about 470 and the permanent workers were 118, the struggle to form a union started again and this time the workers were successful. The ‘Autofit Workers Union’ was formed which is affiliated to the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS). However, as soon as the first initiative of wage agreement was taken up by the newly formed union, the management threw out all the workers. Against this, the workers started a sit-in protest just outside the company, which continued day and night. Simultaneously, the workers intensively campaigned in all regions from Gurgaon-Manesar to Dharuhera, as a result of which thousands of workers from across these regions reached the protest site in support of the struggling Autofit workers. This splendid show of workers’ unity and struggle eventually forced the management to bow down and all the workers were reinstated.

Challenges Facing the Current Struggle

The ongoing sit-in demonstration started since February 18, 2022 is carried on mainly by permanent workers who are present at the company gate (protest site) in numbers of about 15-20. All the casual workers are looking for or have found work elsewhere. However, the leading workers present say that only 20-25 workers have left the struggle who were satisfied with the settlement amount, while rest of the workers, who may not be able to be present physically at the protest site all the time, but all are in touch and would arrive at the protest site whenever needed. All the sacked workers reside within 10-15 km radius of the company and most of them live in Malpura and Dharuhera. The struggle is mainly confined to sitting and raising slogans at the protest site. Rallies/demonstration, campaigns etc. have not been held. The Labour Department has completed its procedure and report but to no avail of the workers and now the only other way in the legal process left with them is to approach the Labour Court. Apart from this, there is also talk among the workers of protesting in front of the Manesar plant. It is worth noting that only 5-7 workers-employees are permanent in Manesar plant, and the entire workforce is casual.

6 out of 7 members of the Union body are present in and leading the struggle. One body member, who is the Union President, did not get terminated and is currently employed. The struggling workers claim confidently that workers currently employed in the plant (all members of the Union) are fully in support of the struggle and will go on strike at the Union’s call, but the Union body itself has decided for now to not take the struggle towards a strike. In addition, the union may be affiliated with HMS but the struggling workers are unhappy with the HMS leadership. The main HMS leader of this region has come to the protest site only once, that too after the workers called him. Apart from this, no union affiliated with HMS in Dharuhera or other areas has physically come in their support.

Despite its continuation, the current Autofit struggle does not show the fighting spirit that the Autofit Union has shown in its earlier struggles. One aspect of this is that the Union’s leadership is approaching their retirement years, due to which they have started considering higher amounts as a settlement option apart from the initial demand of getting back their jobs. However, its second major aspect is related to the position and weaknesses of labour movement in the present era. After the sudden termination of more than 150 workers, no union came out in support of the struggle, despite the ongoing protest. One of the reasons for this is that in the last ten years, Malpura area has witnessed closure of numerous factories in times of capitalist economic crisis due to which thousands of workers, including workers with experience of struggle, have migrated from here. However, the other unions currently present in Malpura/Dharuhera area (which are affiliated to CTUs) have also not come out in support even once. It shows how CTUs opportunistically limit the workers to economic issues only and have no interest in their class politicization and developing their class consciousness. And even this relation of CTUs and workers is getting restricted till union formation, where the CTUs are consistently absent from the daily struggles of the workers. For these reasons, the class unity of workers isn’t formed and despite the plant-based struggles erupting here and there, there is no meaningful change in living and work conditions. Even victory in these struggles is not achieved due to which the despair among the workers increases.

What’s the Way Forward?

Only by establishing unity of different struggles in different plants/companies, a broad labour movement can be created in this area and new enthusiasm and energy can be infused among the workers. Surely for this to happen, first of all the leadership of these struggles should be in the hands of the struggling and uncompromising workers themselves. However, for this, along with establishing company-based workers’ unity, rising above it to establish class unity of workers is imperative. For this, the ally forces of the working-class need to carry on an extensive and intense continuous revolutionary campaign and propaganda among the workers whose orientation is focused on class unity, unity of struggles and development of class consciousness.

Due to all the above-mentioned weaknesses of the labour movement under the leadership of CTUs or being leaderless in most areas, Malpura, which has witnessed a great history of workers’ struggles, is witnessing today implementation of the fixed-term employment (FTE, i.e., recruitment of worker for a fixed term usually up to a few months) in almost all the companies. And this situation is everywhere, which will become more serious as soon as the 4 Labour Codes are implemented, under which FTE, Hire-Fire, Ban on Union-Strike, Contract System etc. will be legalized. Today, there is an urgent need to intensify meaningful and concerted efforts of unity between revolutionary and struggling workers’ organization and unions, and to move away from the ritualistic and compromising center of CTUs to establish a revolutionary and militant center of the labour movement which has the courage and strength to lead a continuous and decisive struggle of working class.