Ford India workers continue strike against planned plant closure

Auto workers occupy Ford’s Chennai Assembly plant in Maraimalai Nagar in India (Photo taken by an auto worker in India)

More than 1,500 auto workers at Ford Motors’ assembly plant near Chennai, the capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, have been on strike against factory shutdowns for more than a week. The workers occupied the factory, stopping the production of cars completely.

Strikes are initiated by young workers who make up the majority of the workforce. Although some 500 mostly older workers did not join the occupation for fear of losing severance pay due to management retaliation, they have supported the strike by refusing to cross the line. The work action has disrupted the company’s plans to complete more than 1,400 cars before factory shutdowns are set for later this month. “If we finish building the car, then there is no relationship between management and us, and we won’t be able to sue for anything,” an anonymous worker told ThePrint.

Prior to the strike, workers staged protests inside and outside the factory demanding severance pay before the factory shutdown. A large contingent of police was rushed to the factory to intimidate the protesting workers. However, the workers continued their protest and then went on strike indefinitely, opposing police intimidation.

The Ford Chennai strike is part of the global resurgence of the class struggle to maintain jobs, decent wages and better working and living conditions against efforts by governments and companies to implement tough austerity measures. Workers and youth in Sri Lanka have been involved in mass protests and strikes over the past two months demanding the resignation of President Gotabhaya Rajapakse and his government over skyrocketing prices and shortages of essential goods.

Last May, when the Delta variant of COVID-19 hit India, workers at Ford’s Chennai plant went on a sit-on strike and protested with their brothers and sisters at another Tamil Nadu auto plant owned by Korea- and French-Japan-based Hyundai Motors. Renault-Nissan. They are demanding health protection against COVID-19, following the deaths of more than 25 workers and hundreds of infections in factories. The uprising forced automakers to close their factories for five days. However, they quickly moved to restart production, with the help of the union.

The following September, Ford announced it would end its operations in India, closing its Chennai plant and another in Gujarat. The closures directly threaten 4,000 jobs. However, the Chennai factory closure alone will indirectly affect around 40,000 jobs in total as factory work is associated with many additional units employing unorganized workers. Ford has been manufacturing in India since the mid-1990s but has accumulated more than $2 billion in losses over the last 10 years.

The company’s exit from India is part of a robust global restructuring in the auto industry, which took place before the pandemic but has accelerated greatly since. The auto company announced a billion-dollar investment in electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing. To pay for this, Wall Street is exerting enormous pressure to cut labor costs. An article on Bloomberg reports that Ford plans to spend an additional $10–$20 billion to accelerate the shift to EVs over the next five to 10 years. The costs of this transition will be paid for by a “reorganization” plan that has not yet been defined in an ambiguous manner.

Compared to traditional internal combustion vehicles, electric vehicles require far fewer moving parts and less labor to manufacture. Widespread job destruction is on the agenda, while the company plans to add a lower rate of ultra-low-paid production workers at its new EV battery plant.

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