Mahagun Moderne

Workers Rebel in Noida


50 kilometres off Delhi. Posh multi-storey apartments spread over 25 acres. 2700 residential units. Gate-guard-CCTV cameras. Mahagun Moderne society. Early in the morning on 12 July 2017, a mob, led by hundreds of women doing domestic work, collected from illegal slums surrounding the apartment complex and stormed into Mahagun Moderne. Stones, sticks, iron rods. Riots. Armed police personnel arrived in four trucks.

Zohra, a worker, had been demanding outstanding dues of Rs 3500 for the past 2 months. On the evening of 11 July, her employer accused her of stealing and shut her up in a room. When Zohra's husband went to Mahagun Moderne society at night to search for her, he was told that she was not there. He came back with policemen, and they were again told that Zohra was not in the society. Discussions during night time among the women doing sweeping, laundering, cooking-serving-dish washing work in the society and men doing construction work, etc. living in the slums. At 4 in the morning, women from the slums started collecting outside the gates of Mahagun Moderne. The crowd swelled, Commotion. Guards brought a semi-conscious Zohra from inside the society.

The agitating workers did not physically attack any resident of Mahagun Moderne society. Only some glass was shattered. However, the 2700 resident families of the posh colony were terrorized:

l    one resident said she alongwith her husband and son hid in the bathroom for an hour and a half to save her life.

l    on 13 July, the residents decided to bar all domestic workers from entering the society. Many families ordered food from outside.

l    "The point is that they must be taught a lesson ...If they can unite, why can't we?"—a resident of the society.

l    Another said she woke up an hour early. Planning to buy "a wiper which is made with new-age technology" for cleaning.

l    "They are like a bone stuck in our throats—can't be swallowed, can't be spat out"—another resident. It is necessary to be vigilant.

l    "They tried to show that they did not have rights. I feel that we do not have any human rights. We are the poor ones," said another from the housing complex.

l    "We worship them, because they are such an important part of our lives ... We first feed them and then eat. I would give her tea before making her do her chores."

l    "I think they hate us. There is a definite class divide. They hate us for our money."

The head of security at Mahagun Moderne—"Right now, the residents are very angry and shocked. But before long, they will have to find new maids. How will life go on otherwise?"

Noida's superintendent of police: "it was striking how quickly the homeowners had turned on their employees, accusing them falsely.."

The police arrested 78 workers on the night of 12 July. None of the residents of the society had suffered as much as a scratch, yet, 13 of the workers were charged with attempt to murder.

And, a union minister came to Mahagun Moderne for a meeting with the residents of the societies of that area. Assuring the residents of their safety, the minister said that the 13 arrested workers "will not get bail for years to come".

l    Instead of sitting on the floor, domestic workers now sit on sofas. They sit on chairs even while their employers are around. They answer back. Riddle: Why is it that the poor don't kill the rich?

l    These invisible workers, lakhs of domestic workers are time-bombs.....

l    Unions to rein them in : At the district court, a lawyer said that the police officials had to be given Rs 600 in bribe to procure copies of the FIRs against the 13 arrested workers. A Delhi based union interverned and collected Rs 1000 from the workers on the pretext of bribing the police...

(Information obtained from reports by Ms Suhasini and Ms Ellen in the New York Times, Ms Anumeha in the Caravan Magazine, Ms Kalpana in Scroll, Mr Manu in Mint)

l    Mobile phone company, Vivo India whidi was the official sponsor for this year's IPL (cricket tournament business), has a manufacturing unit at the World Trade Center in Greater Noida. Vivo India has bought the title-sponsorship of IPL for the next five years for Rs 22 billion. Vivo is the sponsor for the Pro Kabaddi (a sport) league as well.

Demand for Vivo phones fell after the IPL season. A majority of the fifteen thousand workers assembling the mobile handsets are temporary workers. Production line workers are paid a monthly salary of Rs 7000 ($109). As per policy, the company started sacking workers. 500-1000 workers had been fired and there were talks to fire 2000 more workers. On 25 July, at 8 in the morning, 20 workers who had come to the factory for duty were made to sit in the tea area for settling their dues. During lunch break, another 100 temporary workers reached the spot. All of a sudden, the workers rebelled. Windows were broken. Cell phone assembly units were demolished. The terrorized management called the police. Additional guards were rushed in from security companies. Six workers were arrested and the company put up a notice suspending operations on 26 July.

The frenzied Vivo management spoke in two voices:
l    the violence happened because of a misunderstanding. The workers were not being sacked, they were only being sent to another section for training. "The workers confused 'move' with 'remove'".

l    it is the company's policy to sack workers to maintain and improve productivity.

Shaken by the workers' revolt, the Vivo management, along with representatives of the embassy of the People's Republic of China, met police officials in the district. The police assured them of safety and asked the company to inform the police in advance about its retrenchment plans, so that the police can be vigilant in preventing a repeat of 25 July.

l    On 26 July, workers of Majestic Auto's factory in Greater Noida stopped production protesting the sacking of 8 workers by the management.

l    2500 workers of Priyagold biscuit factory at Surajpur rebelled on 29 June at 8pm. Police personnel came to the factory in over 20 vehicles to control the workers. On the following day. 30 June, the workers did not go to the factory.

l    Workers upsurge was seen in March 2017 in the Oppo mobile factory in Noida.

l    Three thousand workers of Orient Craft garment factory at Noida, Sector-63 revolted on 1 October 2016. Forces from many police stations had to be called to control the workers.

l    Open defiance of workers at LG India's factory at Greater Noida in July 2016...

180 million mobile handsets are manufactured annually in the Noida-Greater Noida area in nearly 25 factories such as Samsung, Lava, Intex, Oppo, Vivo, etc. Companies are extremely worried over the increasing revolts of workers in the region. The India head of a mobile company said that a meeting of prominent mobile handset manufacturers in Noida-Greater Noida is being planned to draw up strategies to deal with the rebellions.

[Information obtained from reports by Mr Vinit in the Hindustan Times, Mr Arnab in Business Standard and Mr Shafaque in the Times of India. Translated from the Hindi, originally published in August 2017 issue of Faridabad Majdoor Samachar]

Vol. 50, No.16, Oct 22 - 28, 2017