Drawing conflicting lessons from Maruti Manesar

Source: The Hindu

The news coverage of the management-labor standoff in Maruti Manesar and the consequent violence is instructive of the ideological blinkers of our news media. Two editorials on the same day in The Hindu and The Indian Express draw competing lessons from the same event.

An editorial in The Hindu traces the violence to increasing contractualization of labor (and its corollary, wage disparity, poor working conditions)

While condemning the violence unleashed by the workers, it is important to find out why they reacted in such an extreme way. Maruti’s Manesar plant workers and management have been in an uneasy relationship for over a year now. The plant witnessed labour protests for more than four months last year, culminating in a 33-day lockout following a dispute over employment of contract labour, wages, the creation of a new union and speed-ups. The truce since then was an uneasy one as borne out by the unfortunate events of last week. Across Indian industry, the traditional management-labour face-off has acquired a new edge in recent times as companies grappling with a complex business environment do their utmost to rein in costs, including wages. Workers have been frustrated and this has to be seen in the context of the consumer culture that has taken hold of the country. The attempt by some companies, especially multinationals, to discourage unionisation has added to the volatility of industrial relations, and their preferred tactic is to employ workers on contract so as to have a hold over them.

Indian Express, the voice of big business, drew a predictably anti-poor lesson from the unfortunate events. The IE editorial on the same day sagely notes,

But violent labour unrest is not just Haryana’s problem. It must be addressed nationally. India has developed a strong trade union movement but it has insufficient legal safeguards against unreasonable and militant trade union activity, which is harming the formal sector and discouraging investment. Within two decades of Independence, agitations had severely damaged Maharashtra’s textiles industry, and wiped out heavy industries and jute mills in West Bengal. This is because labour laws had excessively valorised labour’s right to employment over the entrepreneur’s right to security, both personal and fiscal. Today, almost 200 Central and state laws impinge on labour relations and markets — including the archaic Industrial Disputes Act of 1947.

Read too: Express’ coverage of the Maruti management worker standoff at Manesar

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/brakes-on-at-manesar/851241/ – full page, not a line on the alleged work conditions (see below)

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/No-compromise-on-discipline–Osamu-Suzuki-to-Maruti-union/844397/ – not a line representing the worker’s point of view. Isn’t one of the golden rules of journalism to get both sides of the story?

Read: Shivam Vij on the work conditions at Maruti  

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