HM: Mythological Motown

I could never think that HM would be news material worth a place as the main headline on the front page of Telegraph. Only yesterday, a worker from HM visited me hearing that we were here in Salt Lake. I got the information of the headline from him. But he was just surprised rather annoyed why the company is deducting Rs 400 from all the permanent workers. He is still temporary after working for more than 12 years. He still hopes that if the company executes the agreement with the union, he will be become permanent. And he gets work hardly for 15 days a month.

In January 2008, we visited the residential zone of HM. I saw it dying and barren. Whatever had been constructed with lot of fanfare is decaying in the ghost township. When I remember of 60s and 70s, I feel anguished. For the facilities for employees and their children such as the dispensary and the high school, the present workmen are to pay. Teachers in school are on contract and paid nominally. I wanted to go in the factory and take some photographs of the places where I worked for so many years. I talked with a senior executive of our time who still holds an important position. He, a civil engineer by profession, is local with political connections working as administrator is the main executer of the management’s labour related issues. However, I didn’t get a favorable response about my visiting HM. And I didn’t want to do that without permission that I could have.

With forced VRS, the employees were made to leave. Those who refused to accept VRS were transferred to far distant places to make them leave. The largest manufacturing unit in West Bengal has become unrecognizable. Heavy engineering division has been sold out. However, the company still produces some Ambassadors. Other products such as Contessa, Trekker and Hindustan Trucks have gone in history. I don’t know why the pundits in CII still talk of the labour reform. With militant unions in India, the only beneficiaries are the officeholders in union.

I don’t know but perhaps today’s story of the workers at Hindustan Motors (HM) having responded to a management appeal to join executives in accepting a pay cut is that of the reporter or planted by the management. Unfortunately, the reporter does talk about the pay inequity between the executives and workers. Most of the executives including the CEO with almost no responsibility because of no work going on inside the factory are very highly paid are all from the South. For long the CEO has started believing that the local executives can’t be that rough and tough with workmen. The union office bearers have colluded with the management to damage this industrial giant of the state. And the promoters have squeezed the best from it.

I feel bad only as the story has tried to paint the executives pay cut as exemplary to please Pranab Mukherji and the government that suggested the preference of pay cut over the layoffs. Even the name of Vikram Pundit of Citi Bank has been referred in the report. I don’t think there was any dialogue with the workmen at large with an appeal of pay cut, which is very much possible with the dwindled numbers of workmen now employed in the factory.

I don’t know why the media play in the hand of unscrupulous business houses.

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