It was summer of 2012 when I graduated and had an offer to join one of the biggest Indian manufacturing company. I was more than excited to begin the new phase of my life. The early days in the organisation mostly involved interaction with the officials, workers and various level of training before I was given the first work assignment. The job included assisting in managing one of the smaller plants in the suburbs of the Jharkhand. The productivity of the plant had declined continuously over the year, and the management wanted to bring some changes to keep it profitable. This had caused resentment among the workers, and it further aggravated the situation.
I was sharing my workspace with Ajay Sinha. He was senior plant manager and my mentor. He was in his early 50s and had spent thirty years of life in the organisation. A man known for his values and widely respected among peer and workers. However, the bitterness in the workers was growing, and he was snubbed a couple of times while addressing them in the morning. The same day something happened that frightened me to the core of my heart. At 11:30 AM, approx. 40-50 workers came into our cabin, and there were more than 200 workers that stayed just outside in the lobby. I had recently read about the deadly riot in 2012 at Maruti plant in Manesar in Haryana that happened due to a certain conflict between workers and senior management. The workers there had smashed properties, set the factory on fire and burned manager to death. I was literally scared playing out different scenarios that could happen. I looked at Ajay helplessly.
“What happened? There is still an hour to go before lunch”, said Ajay.
“Nobody is working until we know what is management’s decision” replied a voice from the crowd.
“Very well” replied Ajay with a calmness in his voice and then continued, “You know these things take time. I have conveyed the issues to management, and appropriate solution will be implemented keeping in mind everyone’s interest. However, I cannot defend us if the management comes to know that you are halting the work.”
“We’re not moving from here till our demands are met. No work today. We are ready to go on hunger strike” came another voice from the crowd after a pause.
Nobody moved or spoke anything for next couple of minutes. The tension in the room was palpable. Breaking the silence, I said, “I am not asking anyone to go out of the room, but then some of you can sit on the sofa.” I then vacated my chair and looked at Kartar Singh. I knew him because he was retiring in a couple of months and was one among many who had been in the manufacturing unit since its inception. He was respected figure among the workers, and they used to affectionately call him ‘Sardarji’. I pulled him from the corner and politely asked to sit on the chair. He was startled with this gesture and couldn’t refuse. I went back and sat on my desk. A dead silence prevailed in the room.
I looked at the clock. It was about lunch hour. I said, “I know we have issues here and I am trying hard to resolve it, however, if you think skipping work or lunch can help it then let me try that also.” I switched off my computer and put aside my lunch box. Everyone looked puzzled. At this, Sardarji got up from his chair and with folded hand said, “Sorry, that we all barged into your cabin, but we were just concerned whether management is taking necessary steps to safeguard our interest.” In next couple of minutes, the crowd dispersed, and it was just two of us in the cabin. I looked at the big screen in the hallway where Lufthansa ad was playing. I believe a major incident was averted that day because of the values that I learnt as a kid.