Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Poverty No Longer a Negotiable Instrument

These lines from today’s TNIE editorial show how women empower themselves:
Poverty No Longer a Negotiable Instrument
The New Indian Express  / 15th September 2015
On Sunday, September 13, 2015, a little over 5,000 women workers of the Munnar-based Kanan Devan Hill Plantations Company (KHDP) created history when their unique nine-day-old strike against the management yielded the desired results. Unique, as the women workers, with no single notable leader, decided to keep out both trade unions and political parties of all hues, in what they knew was a just cause. The historic decision agreed to 8.33 per cent of salary as bonus and 11.67 per cent as ex-gratia. And their demand for fixing the minimum salary at Rs 500 a day is to be taken up for consideration in a fortnight’s time.
Many of the striking ladies are also shareholders in the firm. Set up in April 2005, it is the largest employee-owned tea company in the world, covering 17 plantations spanning 24,000 hectares. (When the Tata group decided to exit the plantations business in 2005, it sold 75 per cent of the shares in KHDP to 13,350 workers in a landmark deal of ‘participatory management’, with 300 shares of `10 each allocated per worker; the shares are independently valued at `70. As if taking a cue from this model, the striking workers too decided to traverse a refreshingly new path).
Consider these facts: the striking workforce comprised a few thousand women, mostly middle-aged and of Tamil origin – men were conspicuous by their absence; the stir was not marred by violence; by and large, social media ignored this ‘non-event’. Putting it in a different zone was their conscious decision to keep at bay leaders from political parties and trade unions, highlighted by the vigour with which the local MLA was chased away from the venue. No gender bias there, as many women leaders, from the LDF and UDF coalitions alike, barring a lone woman MLA, faced ire.
The huge tourist flow will no doubt be looking beyond the model tea factory when they visit Munnar (Kerala) next. Because, ready to regale them would be stories about how a bunch of ordinary women turned the tables on wily politicians and corrupt trade union leaders, saying their poverty would no longer be a negotiable instrument.

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