MEL - Please let us know about your union.
Kannan - We have over 4000 workers in the Chennai factory of Ashok Leyland. We are the 2nd largest commercial vehicle manufacturer in India with a turnover of US $ 2.5 billion in 2010-11. I am an active member of the trade unions for the last 30 years. I am one of the leaders of the workers union under veteran trade union leader Thiru R.Kuchelar at Ashok Leyland.
MEL - Who has benefitted most by the program of Privatization and liberalization program of the government?
Kannan - It is our experience that workers and other working people have not benefited by this program. It is only the big capitalists who have benefited by this program. Besides big capitalists, those who manipulate and play in the stock market and online trading have also benefited.
MEL - Can you please state how the big capitalists such as Hindujas have enriched themselves in these years?
Kannan - Attacks on workers were intensified in the late 80s. In 1989, an agreement was forced on the workers to do 6 days work in 5 days thereby increasing the productivity by 20%. Besides management has made the 6th day as an optional additional work day on management's discretion. For the 5 days there is one salary and the 6th day there was a different pay. But that was not at over time rate, but at 1.5 times the normal rate. Consequent of this agreement, if there is no work on Sunday, then we were getting the same old salary as we got prior to the agreement. This was the first attack on us.
Next management said that government is going to introduce a pension scheme soon and as if to protect the workers, management itself has come up with its own PF scheme. It forced workers to give-up various facilities and aggregated an amount out of that and called it as management's contribution and also demanded an equal amount further from workers to form the fund. They wanted to invest this fund in stock markets and various finance companies that were prevalent at that time. We opposed this scheme of the management. Some traitors in the Union at that time supported this program and wanted to push it through. Twice a referendum was held on this subject with workers and it was defeated both times. However when signing a new agreement in 1991, then trade union leaders collaborated with the management and signed this agreement behind the back of the workers. This agreement also paved way for workforce reduction and VRS.
Management also introduced the contract workers into the company. By super exploiting the contract workers, management could get the work done what was previously done by permanent workers. These contract workers did not get the benefits and facilities that were given to us. We regular workers tried to defend the rights of contract workers. But the treachery of the union leaders and the collusion of the government with the management ensured our defeat at that time. In place of 7300 workers producing 60 vehicles, we have today 4000 workers producing 135 vehicles. Production has increased over 125% whereas workers were reduced by 45%!
All the increase in wages achieved in earlier two agreements were then converted into wages for working on Sundays. IF there was no production on Sundays we suffered wage loss. To prevent wage loss on account of lay off on Sunday, we demanded and got 50 % payment in case of no work on Sundays. Then there was recession. In 2002 management announced VRS. We tried to protect the workers interest by fighting against the VRS and outsourcing programs. All these attacks were carried out with the full support of the government.
Using the workers own ideas, management increased productivity and work simplification. In various companies such as Greaves Cotton and Enfield India, where the unions are controlled by CITU, workers have been forced to work for 430 minutes per 8 hour shift. It is a norm based on efforts equivalent to walking 5 Miles in one hour. In Enfield India, this program was implemented in the name of "Norm less production". From the time worker enters the shop floor, he has to work continuously on the machine at the speed set by the management. Applying the concepts, management wanted the workers to put in 430 Minutes of work in all new areas of work and wanted to expand this all other areas. We did not accept this. Finally we settled for 410 minutes of work per shift.
We are also trying to focus on the rights of contract workers who are getting meager wages. We are demanding that they should be paid a minimum of 10,000 Rs per month and demanding that they be made permanent. We are building the unity of all workers within the factory against the management. Opposing the anti worker policies of the government and the management, we are fighting for the rights of the workers.
Using the profits extracted out of our workers, Ashok Leyland has bought various companies around the world. They already had companies in Sri Lanka and UAE. Besides they have bought companies in US, Czech Republic and United Kingdom. The company makes the products in India using contract labour and exports them to these companies abroad. There they assemble these products and make huge profit. They claim to be giving job opportunity for many people here. But they actually exploit the cheap labour of Indian workers and then export them to make huge profits. This is a consequence of liberalization.
MEL - Do you think this will help India to advance?
Kannan - No. They are doing this not to develop India. India's development should mean how the ordinary workers and peasants prosper. If we see that way, exploitation by the capitalists has increased and so has the number of poor people in India. The land, water and labour of our people are being super exploited. Our experience in Ashok Leyland over these years show that people have not benefited by the policy of privatization and liberalization. Only big capitalists have become richer.