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Vicious Union-busting Continues at Unilever Assam Plant

Posted to the IUF website 04-Sep-2007

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Management at the Unilever factory in the Doom Dooma Industrial Estate in the north eastern state of Assam, India, has stepped up the pressure against the Hindustan Lever Workers Union and its members by intimidating workers into joining a sham union which the management has created and is calling "Hindustan Unilever Democratic Workers Union".

A dispute over the breach of a provision in the CBA led to a lockout of the union's 700 members on 15 July. Management´┐Żs condition for ending the lockout was that the legitimate union disband and that all workers transfer their membership to the sham union. > Background

Following the failed attempt by the HR Manager and Commercial Manager to recruit workers into the new union by phone, the company made house-to-house visits of workers, using vehicles supplied by management and the plant's suppliers. Workers were told that the plant would have to close if all workers didn't join management's yellow union.

While this was going on, the leaders of the Hindustan Lever Workers Union collected signatures from members in support of their union and from the general public in protest against the lockout. In an act of desperation and out of a sense of powerlessness to deliver justice to his members in the face of the company's arrogance, one of the union officers, Brother Ratul Bora, committed suicide on 18 August.

Confident that it had lured enough workers into its union, the company announced on Monday, 3 September, that the lockout was over. But when workers returned on Tuesday, they were met by members of management, plant security and leaders of the management-sponsored union who instructed them to sign a printed form declaring that they were resigning from the Hindustan Lever Workers Union and joining the Hindustan Unilever Democratic Workers Union! Only after signing the form, the workers were told, would they be allowed to enter the factory for work.

The legitimate union at the plant, with the support of the IUF-affiliated All India Council of Unilever Unions, is fighting back by intervening with the state labour commissioner while preparing a wider response. The IUF is preparing an appropriate international response to these flagrant and brutal human rights violations, and requests unions with membership in Unilever to protest forcefully to their respective management.

Lockouts have been used before by Unilever India to try to break union strength. When a lockout failed to break the union at its Mumbai (Bombay) facility, Unilever spent years gutting the facility, relocating production, and eventually arranging a sham sale and closure to try to bust the union which organizes the plant > background. Anti-union repression and the energetic exploitation of state tax havens (as Indian states compete for investment) are an essential element in Hindustan Unilever's 29% rise in 2007 second-quarter profits and their recent USD 156 million share buyback. The share buyback was announced shortly after the Assam lockout was imposed. The super-profits garnered through these methods contribute significantly to the parent company's global profits, and are helping fund Unilever's share buybacks and dividends. A 16% jump in global profits last quarter encouraged Unilever to announce the elimination of 20,000 jobs - 11% of the global workforce - over the next 4 years, mostly in Europe.