Garment workers in India: Super growth or Super exploitation?

Textile Industry in India is the second largest employment generator after agriculture.

In fact Indian textile industry is the second largest in the world, second only to China.

The policy of the Govt. is also aimed at achieving the target of textile and apparel exports of US $ 50 billion by 2010 of which the share of garments will be US $ 25 billion.

But what is very clear is this achievement, like in China will be by the super exploitation of the Garment workers. Bombay Rayon one such ruthless Corporate which is very feudal in its operations, employs more than 26,000 employees all over India & claims to follow best labor practices but has violated every law in the rule book to cow down the workers to meet its profit diktats.

Bombay Rayon Workers Protest

After days of uncertainty regarding their employment at Unit 17 of Bombay Rayon Fashions (which employs 850 workers), between 300 to 600 workers that included mostly women, clinging their children along with them, launched a sit-in protest on 10th December outside the premises against the company management, after forcing them to resign en mass (read sacked) from their jobs. Initially, the management of the unit had informed the workers on the takeover of the unit by another company ‘Disha Designs’ & had promised to settle closure compensation due to them.

As most of the workers were forced to resign by manipulation by the company management, what the company wanted to avoid most was the settlement money & other benefits due to the workers who had to put in years of service. The new company/ unit – Disha (located a few miles away from the current premises) the was merely a figment of the management creation allowing them to deny workers their rightful benefits & on the other hand claiming subsidies from govt. for launching new units.

According to the workers, even the salaries of the workers at the new unit was less than the minimum wages norm of Rs. 3800 (which is a pathetic sum in itself) & new recruits would only be paid Rs. 3200 – 3300. And this is not first incident involving Bombay Rayon.

Last month saw protest in another unit of the same company due to illegal transfer to another unit located far away & lack of many of the basic facilities like drinking water & proper toilet facilities. Far more serious than all of these is the continuing struggle of the workers belonging to Unit 5 since 2007, who have borne the brunt of all kinds abuses, torture, sexual harassment, physical intimidation, public humiliations & other barbaric acts meted out to them at the hands of the management.

Matter came to a head last August, when the company threatened to shift Unit 5 almost 30 Kms away from its current location primarily to break the union formed by the workers painstakingly over the years & dismiss the workers. But the unity of the workers proved to be a strong deterrent against the management which has backed down for now, probably due to the repercussions this may have on the company’s image abroad & fear of spread of protest by workers in other units.

In Bombay Rayon, women workers are forced to work beyond their capacities to meet targets & face maximum exploitation to meet the profit margins of this exporting company. All these only makes one wonder why the labor department has remained silent all along & the govt. all too often wanting to be seen on the management side by placing police at the company’s disposal.

The current protest is being supported by several unions that include NGO’s & AITUC backed Garment Employees’ Sangha & the issue has been reduced to minimalist demands of compensation & stopping closure of the unit. But if there is a lesson for the unions & worker’s organizations to learn, it is that problems faced by the workers at Bombay Rayons is not an isolated incident but is taking place in every garment industry in the city. More such incidents will be the order of the day given the unstable global economy unless the unions act now to unionize maximum number of workers possible & prepare them for the coming onslaught.

New Socialist Alternative fully supports the sit-in strike of the Bombay Rayon workers.

It demands the Central Trade Unions such as the CITU, AITUC and the NTUI to call for a

  • general day of action in support of the Bombay Rayon workers.
  • an immediate mass meeting to mobilise support among all sections of the workers.

It is imperative on the leadership of the Unions to have an industry/trade wide unions on a town. City, state and national basis strictly run on grass roots democracy, which will be enormously effective in fighting for better wages and conditions. It will be a leap from the present fractured, scattered small unions which are merely organized scape goats at the altar of whimsical political parties/bosses. NGO’s and mafia dons.

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