Delhi, 17 June 2011: The New Trade Union Initiative wholeheartedly congratulates the united workers of the Maruti-Suzuki Manesar plant for their victory early this morning in striking a 4-points Settlement with the management of Maruti-Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL). Through their unbreakable stand, the striking workers have asserted that the Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise are inalienable rights of all workers.
The Marutis-Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU) member and have bravely and consistently resisted the pressure to withdraw the registration application for their union, while facing intimidation and coercion not only from the MSIL management, but also from different avatars of the Government of Haryana itself.
The settlement’s terms that the terminations on the eleven terminated workers would be withdrawn and the workers will be taken back with no immediate punitive wage cut beyond 13 days of no-work is a leap forward for the workers struggle in the region. In the history of industrial disputes in MSIL no workers were ever taken back when terminated. This marks a new trend in the belt, and the MSEU will be remembered for making history.
The determination shown by the united workers in ensuring a final outcome where the no victimization clause is applicable to all workers in the plant, beyond permanent workers including contract, temporary, trainee and apprentice workers, is key to the success of this battle and of the battles to come.
And the struggle continues
The management is already declared that it would not allow workers to choose their representatives freely, by stating that it will not accept outsiders. In line with its shameless backing of MSIL’ management the Haryana Labour Department has declared that it will not accept the application for the registration of MSEU. The Government of Haryana will continue to act in collusion with the MSIL management to violate the Constitutional right of the Maruti-Suzuki workers, but workers in the belt will be ready to again stand united for the next round of this struggle for the recognition of their rights.
Building a new leadership of young workers
The young leadership that has emerged from the Maruti-Suzuki strike will be central to ensure that the trade union movement in Gurgaon will deepen further, taking the queue from the unconditional support provided by the Maruti-Suzuki Solidarity Committee. The battle to come will require a militant struggle in the entire auto belt and further into the region combined with a legal battle for the recognition of the legitimate MSEU.
Socialism and the future
|[From International Viewpoint. This is the text of a speech delivered to the third meeting of the Sao Paulo Forum of left parties, held in Nicaragua in July 1992.]|
New Delhi: In yet another shocking incidence of groundwater depletion as a result of Coca-Cola's bottling operations in India, government data has confirmed a sharp drop in groundwater levels in Mehdiganj near the city of Varanasi since Coca-Cola began operations in the area in 1999.
The latest groundwater data, obtained from the Central Groundwater Board, validate community concerns that Coca-Cola's operations have resulted in the community being deprived of water, and strengthen their resolve that the Coca-Cola bottling plant must be shut down.
Groundwater levels in Mehdiganj have dropped 7.9 meters (26 feet) in the 11 years since Coca-Cola started its bottling operations in Mehdiganj, from 2.05 meters below ground level (mbgl) in 1999 to 9.95 mbgl in 2010.
In the 11 years prior to Coca-Cola beginning operations in Mehdiganj, groundwater levels had actually risen 7.95 meters, from 1988 (10.00 mbgl)) to 1999 (2.05 mbgl).
The groundwater conditions in and immediately around the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj - surrounded by farms - is even more critical.
The company claims that it does not measure groundwater levels at the point of extraction - an irresponsible move by a water guzzling company - if indeed it were true. Official Coca-Cola documents filed with the government, and obtained by us, however, confirm that groundwater levels at the bottling plant is one of the most critical in the entire area - 23.75 mbgl in 2008 according to Coca-Cola itself.
Mehdiganj is suffering from acute water shortages which have been particularly severe in the last two years - 2009 was officially declared as drought affected, and 2010 witnessed significantly lower than normal rainfall.
Water shortages for the community are most acute in the summer months - exactly when Coca-Cola reaches peak production, and as a result, exponentially worsening the water crisis.
"Coca-Cola must shut down its bottling plant in Mehdiganj as the summer season has started in India," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, the primary community group spearheading the campaign against Coca-Cola. "It is abundantly clear that Coca-Cola and water scarcity go hand in hand, and we will increase our efforts to close the plant in order to ensure that the villagers have water for drinking and farming."
Mehdiganj is the latest in a series of community led campaigns across India that have accused the company of exacerbating water shortages and pollution.
In Kala Dera in the state of Rajasthan, groundwater levels fell just 3 meters in the nine years prior to Coca-Cola's bottling operations. However, groundwater levels have dropped 22.36 meters in the nine years since Coca-Cola began operations. A Coca-Cola funded study has recommended the closure of the Kala Dera facility.
One of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India, in the village of Plachimada in Kerala, has been shut down since 2004 as a result of community opposition. The community led campaign has succeeded in passing state legislation holding Coca-Cola accountable for $48 million in damages caused as a result of its operations.
In response to the continuing campaigns against Coca-Cola in India, the company has announced ambitious water conservation measures, the vast majority of which have been outsourced to foreign NGOs in India.
Critics have dismissed such announcements from Coca-Cola as primarily public relations efforts to deflect attention away from the legitimate and provable allegations of water depletion and pollution.
Amazingly, Coca-Cola has also announced that it has become water neutral in India, a claim they have not been able to substantiate. The idea that the Coca-Cola's operations in India have a "neutral" impact on water resources is preposterous.
Coca-Cola has chosen one of the most water stressed countries in the world - India - to announce water neutrality. And yet, it has not been able to become water neutral in relatively water-healthy countries such as Canada, Norway and Sweden. Critics dismiss Coca-Cola's actions as fantastical with no basis in reality.
"The confirmation of the sharp groundwater decline in Mehdiganj and elsewhere runs counter to the messages being sent out from Coca-Cola's public relations department that the company respects communities where it operates. Shutting down the Mehdiganj bottling plant is the only socially responsible action that Coca-Cola can take. Anything else will continue to subject the community in Mehdiganj to thirst and loss of livelihoods, courtesy Coca-Cola," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning group.
For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org
Secularism, as a concept, appears to be in danger from both the left and the right. Among feminists, it tends to be only some minority women scrambling for the soul of secularism. It is time for all feminists to muck in, says Rahila Gupta
Marieme Hélie-Lucas, founder of Women Living Under Muslim laws (WLUML), speaking at a conference on ’Secularism, Racism and the Politics of Belonging’ organised by the University of East London and Runnymede Trust in January , posed an important question: in the face of so much discrimination, why do women of migrant Muslim-descent still choose to support secularism? She was, of course, speaking about the the North African community in France, particularly Algerians, who had fled the rise of religious fundamentalism at home. However, it is no less valid a question to pose about minority women in the UK despite their very different histories. It is also important because it shifts the focus from those women who use their religio-political identity to challenge racism to those who recognise the dangers of that strategy.
As much of state policy constructs minority communities in terms of their religious identity, it is a question of particular interest to Southall Black Sisters (SBS) who have resisted religious categorisation in their provision of a secular service to women escaping domestic violence. Their new report, Cohesion, Faith and Gender  which will be launched on 16 March explores precisely this question through in-depth interviews with women of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian backgrounds who use the centre. For those who associate secular ideals with Western values, it may come as something of a surprise that all but one of the women did not want religious authorities to shape their lives. Whilst the majority of women were believers, they wanted a clear separation of their spiritual needs from their social needs. Most felt a primary loyalty to their gender identity and found that any attempt to assert their rights had met with the disapproval of religious leaders. They welcomed an inclusive and secular space such as the one provided by SBS because they carried memories of the gendered, caste-based and religious discrimination they had faced in their countries of origin.
To some extent public policy is influenced by the public debate. Secularism, as a concept, appears to be in danger from both the left and the right. The growing popularity of the term, secular fundamentalism, an oxymoron if ever there was one, is part of the continuing attempt to discredit it. Although secularism was traditionally the preserve of the left, some on the left have abandoned this territory, in the face of rising anti-Muslim racism and the state’s War on Terror, and developed an anti-racist politics that gives succour to religious extremism rather than challenging it. The marches against the war in Iraq, for example, that were organised by the Stop the War coalition in which the major partners were the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Muslim Association of Britain, often used slogans like ‘We are all Muslims’. Rallies started with prayers from the podium! This is not the way we tackle ‘islamaphobia’, certainly not by squeezing our public secular spaces.
Similarly, the alliance of anti-EDL (English Defence League) forces in June 2010 in Tower Hamlets, which included Respect, SWP and the East London Mosque , illustrated very neatly the capitulation of the left to the fascists within while organising against the fascists without. When a member of Women Against Fundamentalism challenged one of the organisers, an ex-Respect member, on the make-up of the alliance, he dismissed her reservations as a counsel of perfection. The only threat that he could see was from the white fascists, he was not interested in the complex and complicated way in which Islamic fundamentalist forces were vying for power and for the leadership of the anti-racist/anti fascist movement in Tower Hamlets.
There are also attempts by academics to chip away at the theoretical basis of secularism. Haleh Afshar, an ex-Marxist, Muslim feminist academic and member of the House of Lords, wants to ‘problematise’ the notion that secularism is ‘an avenue towards equality’ . She believes that adopting it in order to be inclusive has not worked because ‘people of faith feel excluded by the faithlessness of society’. This is a particularly enervating construct of ‘people of faith’ and does not reflect the lived reality of the women who come to SBS. In any case, people of faith are likely to be at greater danger from each other i.e. from different faiths rather than the faithless and would therefore benefit from a level playing field. Secularism is not about hostility to religion but about not privileging faith over non-faith.
Further constraints on secularism are placed by those who argue that religion is not a matter of choice but should be considered to be as primordial a part of one’s identity as ethnicity; a position that was articulated by AbdoolKarim Vakil of King’s College at the UEL conference. If religion is not a belief system, chosen freely, but seen as an embedded part of one’s identity, then any critique of it becomes offensive and is collapsed into the same category as racism. As Haleh Afshar puts it, ‘If what you say belittles me, if what you say disempowers me…then we can’t be equal, we can’t have the same rights’. But there’s an unacknowledged substitution of ‘me’ for ‘my beliefs’.
Vakil also questions the neutrality of the secular space as a way of undermining it: because ’it is basically the way the state regulates a space in which the differences that are acceptable can manifest itself and differences that are unacceptable are excluded’, and because that entails ’the disciplining of certain subjectivities and their acceptability for the public space’ he argues that it cannot be neutral. But does it matter? Especially if it means discipling of certain subjectivities such as misogyny or homophobia. He appears to further condemn ’the secular as a thickened state that’s already a sedimentation of our relations, including over the very conceptualisation of what is religious, what is secular, what is political.’ But as these concepts are continually contested, it is a dynamic process, a churning and not a setting.
At the far-right end of the spectrum, secularism has been hijacked as a way of asserting national identity. In France, a constitutionally secular country, Bloc Identitaire, to the right of Le Pen’s National Front, embraces secularism as a way of ’othering’ Muslims. Marieme Hélie - Lucas reported that in parts of Paris where Muslims pray on the streets outside their mosques, the Bloc holds provocative picnics with wine and pork on the same streets. In the UK, the Stop Islamification of Europe (SIOE) group also seems to be supporting secularism when it argues that,’SIOE wants all religions to be treated in law the same way as politicial parties, with no special legal protection.’ However, their secularism is implicitly and explicitly defined as an Islam-free space, a position shared by the more sophisticated though equally racist EDL. A similar attempt to assert national identity by the BNP and the English Democrats takes them down the opposite route: identifying with Christian values in Britain, constitutionally a Christian country.
With the resurgence of religion, secularism is bound to be contested territory. The women who come to SBS to rebuild their lives testify to the importance of secular spaces. One woman said, ‘I would like my views represented by women, not by community and reigious leaders...If religious leaders bring their laws where can we run to? There will be more suicides, depression, castaways, conversions. It would be the biggest disaster.’ Among feminists, it tends to be only some minority women scrambling for the soul of secularism. It is time for all feminists to muck in.
8 March 2011