Sitting in nice wine bars or cosy restaurants in superbly gentrified inner city areas, the chattering liberal middle class expresses its disgust about the xenophobic under-classes turning against migrants and voting for right-wing populist parties. Being a member of the chattering class myself I fully share these feelings. The populist migrant bashing makes me furious. A Portuguese lady comes once a week cleaning our house, a Moroccan craftsman does all repair work at our place, a French lady does the ironing, the Bangladeshi dish washer helps to keep prices down in the local Italian restaurant, the coffee at work is served by migrants from Africa, and workers from Eastern Europe clean my office. Thanks to the housing bubble only well-to-do middle class people can afford to live in our neighbourhood, our kids go to a private school and, being a well-paid civil servant at the UN, cheap migrant workers do not compete for my job. Indeed, I have the great pleasure to work in a diverse multicultural and multiracial environment of similarly well-paid and privileged people. Actually I am an “elite migrant” myself who left his own country out of choice to take on exciting jobs in other countries. In short it is easy and cheap for me to be the nice and tolerant cosmopolitan criticising dumb xenophobia as I have all the benefits and none of the disadvantages of mass immigration.
Background At the commencement of the 2012 International Labour Conference (ILC), the spokespersons of the Employers’ Group and the Workers’ Group met to finalize a “short list” of 25 cases drawn from the Annual Report of the ILO Committee of Experts which would be discussed by the tripartite constituents the following week in the Conference Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS). Without warning, the Employers’ Group refused to agree to a negotiated final short list that included any case where the Committee of Experts’ Report contained observations regarding the right to strike. The Employers’ Group (EG) also sought a “disclaimer” on the Committee of Experts’ General Survey. The purpose of this disclaimer was two–fold – to diminish the persuasive authority of the Committee of Experts’ observations outside of the ILO and to attempt to establish a (non-existent) hierarchy of the political, tripartite body - the CAS - over the independent Committee of Experts. The Employers’ Group makes three central claims. First, the mandate of the Committee of Experts is limited to commenting on the application of conventions, not to “interpret” them. They also argue that the General Survey and the Annual Report of the Committee of Experts are not agreed or authoritative texts of the ILO tripartite constituents. Specifically, they argue that the Committee of Experts does not supervise labour standards but rather the ILO tripartite constituents and thus the tripartite constituents ultimately decide upon the meaning of the ILO conventions. Finally, they argue that given the absence of any reference to a right to strike in the actual text of ILO Convention 87, the internationally accepted rules of interpretation require Convention 87 to be interpreted without a right to strike. As such, the right to strike is not an issue upon which the Committee of Experts should express an opinion.
The new plant of India´s biggest passenger car producer, Maruti Suzuki, saw two illegal strikes and wide-scale rioting in 2012. The causes of the conflict included the extension of contract labour, a higher work speed accompanied by real wage losses of 25 %, since the early 2000’s, and a harsh work regime. Despite the events getting widespread attention they did not lead to a considerable change of labour relations in India.
The industrial city of Gurgaon, south of New Delhi, has seen an upswing of factory struggles since 2005. In that same year, workers at a Honda factory occupied their plant. In 2007, both the contract workers at Honda and India´s biggest motorcycle producer, Hero, saw major strike movements.
Maruti Suzuki: New workforce, new conflicts Initially, Maruti Suzuki was established as a state-run company but went on to be controlled by the Japanese company, Suzuki, since mid-2000. Maruti’s main plant is also located in Gurgaon and 20 kilometres further south, in Manesar. In 2011, 75 % of labour in this factory consisted of contract workers from 60 different contractors, and at the time totalled to 2700 contract workers but only 1000 permanent workers. The contract workers earned about half of the wage (9000 Euros – 100 Euro) of permanent workers in 2011 (18000 Rupees).