Bajaj Auto Union: First Steps On a Road Less Travelled

Arvind Shrouti of Option Positive, the advisor to 100+ unions in the Pune – Chinchwad belt invited me to join a very novel project. If it is not the only one o fits kind, it is surely one of the rare projects in India.
Vishwa Kalyan Kamgar Sanghatanadecided to shape its and its members’ future proactively. It invited Arvind Shrouti to help its members define it and prepare plans for future.
Vishwa Kalyan Kamgar Sanghatana [VKKS for brevity] has a very interesting history. Bajaj Auto closed down its Akurdi plant on 29th Aug 2007 abruptly. The intention was to move production to Uttaranchal plant which offered advantages in terms of labour cost and financial benefits. Shiv Sena union seems to have helped Bajaj in this closure. VKKS stepped in and got the Shiv Sena union derecognised, and fought lone battle against Bajaj Auto. Finally a settlement was arrived at. Broadly speaking, as per the new terms of contract, each worker was to be paid upfront Rs 5.75 lakh in cash in hand and the remaining Rs 12 lakh would be paid in monthly instalments of Rs 10,000 for the next 10 years.
VKKS then organised the workers at the Chakan Plant of Bajaj Auto. This history is important. The immediate concern of its members appears to be how to protect them from a possible loss of job in future. They are aware that the vicissitudes of economy can hit them before they are ready for it. Their long term vision is a reflection of their desire to keep happiness and wellness, not just physical wellness but psychological too, as priorities, while preparing for future shocks, if any. And they are aware that unions have earned a bad name in recent times, they want it to have a positive image for their union.
The one day workshop generated a lot of ideas and enthusiasm. It was preceded with some work on delegates working in groups, preparing collage to convey their dreams with pictures. Interesting thoughts had gone behind making collage. Emerging strongly were concerns of children’s education, social security and empowerment of women. They showed heightened social awareness stating that they must play a part in preventing female infanticide! One group emphasised the need to listen actively, while another group emphasised the need to make their union vice-free. One delegate narrated how he had helped an employee to give up the habit of chewing tobacco [I saw his sms to this delegate thanking him for it!]. A lot of new thoughts and a renewed dedication to take charge of their own lives – this is what made this event so energising.
Establishing meaningful livelihood is everybody’s goal, it should be. It means having enough money to provide for oneself and family and ‘acceptance of his sense of worth.’ If deliberations are any indication, VKKS delegates are undoubtedly marching in that direction.
I was fortunate to be a part of this endeavour. I wish them success.
Alvin Toffler said, “For the first time in human history, virtue is a condition of effective work.” Yes, people are listening Mr Toffler.
PS: The photographs show Arvind Shrouti leading the discussion and the delegates involved in a group exercise.