More than 1,500 car workers at the Ford Motors assembly plant near Chennai, the capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, have gone on strike against the shutdown of the plant for more than a week. Workers occupy the factory, completely halting car production.
The strike was called by young rank-and-file workers who make up the majority of the workforce. Although around 500 mostly older workers did not join the occupation fearing loss of severance pay due to management reprisals, they supported the strike by refusing to cross the lines of picketing. The work action has disrupted the company’s plans to complete more than 1,400 cars before the factory is due to close at the end of this month. “If we finish making the cars, there’s no connection between management and us anymore, and we can’t demand anything,” an unnamed worker told ThePrint.
Prior to the strike, workers staged protests inside and outside the factory to demand that severance pay be paid before the factory closed. A huge contingent of police was dispatched to the factory to intimidate the protesting workers. However, the workers continued their protest and then launched an indefinite strike, defying police intimidation.
The Chennai Ford strike is part of the global rise of the class struggle in defense of jobs, decent wages and better working and living conditions against government and corporate attempts to impose austerity measures severe. Sri Lankan workers and youth have engaged in mass protests and strikes over the past two months to demand the resignation of President Gotabhaya Rajapakse and his government in the face of soaring prices and shortages of essential goods. .
Last May, as the Delta COVID-19 variant swept through India, workers at the Ford factory in Chennai led sit-down strikes and protests with their brothers and sisters at other Tamil Nadu-owned auto factories. to the Korean company Hyundai Motors and the Franco-Japanese. Renault-Nissan. They demanded health protections against COVID-19, following the death of more than 25 workers and hundreds of infections in factories. This rebellion forced automakers to close their factories for five days. However, they quickly decided to restart production, with the help of the unions.
The following September, Ford announced that it would end its operations in India, closing the plant in Chennai and another in Gujarat. The closure directly threatens 4,000 jobs. However, the closure of the Chennai plant alone will indirectly affect around 40,000 jobs in total as the jobs at the plant are tied to many ancillary units that employ non-union workers. Ford has been producing in India since the mid-1990s, but has racked up more than $2 billion in losses over the past 10 years.
The company’s exit from India is part of a vigorous global restructuring of the auto industry, underway before the pandemic but greatly accelerated since. Automakers are announcing multi-billion dollar investments in electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing. To pay for this, Wall Street is exerting enormous pressure to reduce labor costs. An article in Bloomberg reported that Ford plans to spend an additional $10 billion to $20 billion to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles over the next five to 10 years. The cost of this transition will be paid for with a still ambiguously defined “reorganization” plan.
Compared to the traditional internal combustion vehicle, an electric vehicle requires far fewer moving parts and reduced labor to manufacture. Widespread job destruction is the order of the day, as the company plans to add an even lower level of ultra-low-wage production workers at its new electric vehicle battery plants.
For the moment, the Ford plant in Gujarat has been taken over by Tata Motors without any job cuts. Workers in Chennai have been mobilizing for months to demand the same job security. The factory employed 2,700 permanent workers and 600 contract workers. Many workers even took home loans to move to Chennai, so the news of the factory closing came as a big shock to them.
Management is trying to quell opposition to the closure by offering compensation. A worker told the Indo-Asian News Service: “Ford management has offered 85 days pay for every full year of service. In addition, a fixed sum of Rs 42,500 (US$545) for each completed year of service. Previously, they had offered 75 days salary and a fixed sum of 20,000 rupees (US$258) for each completed year of service.
Prakash, a 32-year-old permanent worker, told the World Socialist Website, “Because of this plant closure, our whole family is in crisis. We had taken out many loans, including mortgages, and now we don’t know how we are going to repay them. My whole family, including my children who are studying in school, now have to move to our village due to lack of financial support. The government in India, both state and federal, acts as tools of big business.
The strike and factory occupation was launched on May 31, but the production line at the Ford car plant in Chennai actually came to a halt the day before when workers claimed they were asked to sign an agreement prohibiting them from organizing any demonstrations. “I will not engage in any activity that disrupts production (including sit-down strike, slow strike, etc.) or participate in any unauthorized gathering on factory premises,” reads the statement. “employee engagement”.
Ford unions in Chennai oppose a broader mobilization of autoworkers in India or abroad against plant closures. They don’t want to do anything to deter multinationals from setting up in India. The unions now claim to support the strike initiative taken by the workers. However, they did not take up the workers’ demands related to job security. Instead, they are focused entirely on improving severance packages for workers. The capitalist press, echoing the unions, reports that the strike is only about severance pay.
The Chennai Ford Employees Union (CFEU) has restricted all industrial action to limited demonstrations, mostly confining workers to toothless appeals to the Tamil Nadu government and the company. The DMK-led state government of Tamil Nadu, like its predecessor the AIDDMK and the right-wing Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is also in power at the federal level, is fully committed to defending the interests of local and foreign investors. , including global auto giants like Ford, against Indian workers.
To fight the shutdowns and also the deadly pandemic, Ford workers in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat must turn to their class brothers and sisters across the auto industry in India, the United States and abroad. ‘foreign. To carry out such a struggle, they need new organizations of struggle, grassroots action committees, controlled by the workers themselves and independent of the pro-capitalist and nationalist unions and capitalist parties with which the unions are aligned.
“Our unions have not put together a democratic discussion so far with the entire workforce,” Ford striker Prakash told the WSWS. “On the contrary, from the start, they were actively involved in convincing young worker activists to withdraw their main demand, namely job security. I can see that the unions are isolating us to accept the employers’ demands.
“I agree with your proposal that this struggle should be broadened, mobilizing workers in nearby industrial areas and elsewhere in India and breaking with the unions. I am ready to discuss further with you the formation of rank-and-file committees.
Ramapandian, 31, from Theni district in Tamil Nadu, said: “The Ford company has made billions of dollars all over the world and built new factories everywhere by exploiting us. Now we are simply dismissed claiming that they have suffered losses in recent years.
“To be frank, this fight was not really called by our union. But it was rather organized by young militant employees who form the majority of the workforce. Young workers are calling for job security as their main demand. But the unions, which act in the interests of the privileged few, as well as some older workers have drowned out our voices from the start, pushing us towards a low-end settlement agreement. I completely agree that our union does not have a clear program and that we need to break with these unions.
Ramesh, a permanent worker, said: “When we started our strike, more than 100 police officers were mobilized immediately at the request of management. As the strike has lasted for more than a week, more and more state forces are mobilized to intimidate us. We are aware that these actions are carried out with the full advice and knowledge of the DMK State Government who act as agents of the companies.
“Our union should have requested proper financial records because Ford management is claiming losses. Minutes of conciliation discussions between union leaders and management at the Labor Department offices have not been made public. unions are trying to cover up and distort the real information, and rank-and-file workers are becoming more angry with the attitude of the union day by day. I understand the need for democratic discussion among workers as an important step in moving forward the struggle and the need to form rank-and-file committees to unite with workers in other industries.