Notes and Videos from ‘Garment Workers; Dollar Cities’ – An Event on the Recent Garment Workers’ Strikes in Bangalore

July 9, 2016

Notes from ‘Garment Workers; Dollar Cities’ – PEOPLE’S FILM COLLECTIVE

By Aatika Singh

The event titled ‘Garment Workers; Dollar Cities’ held at Jogesh Mime Academy, Kolkata, started at 6pm on June 24 2016 and centered on understanding garment workers’ struggle and the recent strikes in the city of Bangalore.

The common motif of the discussion was to highlight the continuous plight and struggles of women workers of the garment sector, in the context of globalised capital’s extreme exploitation and the genocide of female workers of the subcontinent. The discussants, Comrades Madeena Taj and Raju B C, both former garment workers of Bangalore, and presently full-time activists and labour organisers with the Garment and Textile Workers Union in Bangalore, talked about their lived experiences as workers and organisers, goals of organising and impediments.

Three documentary films namely, Tazreen, Above the Din of Sewing Machines and Labels from a Global City were screened to set a background and to further understanding on the protest against the new ordinance on the Employment Provident Fund by the Central Government and also on the prevailing work conditions of the garment factory workers. All three portrayed instances of sheer violence and insensitivity towards the workers. The women narrated real life incidents wherein they delivered still born babies or had abortions due to the heavy nature of work and not being given any respite by the managers even when seriously ill along with a plethora of other deep-rooted issues.

While the first documentary by Yasmine Kabir narrated the after-tales of an infamous fire which engulfed the factory premises of Tazreen Fashion in Dhaka, the other two documentaries (made in 2004 and 2009 respectively) by Surabhi Sharma explored the daily ordeal the Bangalore garment workers go through by shifting the focus of the lens on their daily routines and interactions. Sharing their experiences, Madeena and Raju spoke about the present movement and its dynamics, how it precipitated, about the massiveness and spontaneity, about workers organising in the sector, the general labour scene of Bangalore, the wage question and questions of workplace democracy, dignity and social justice, and in particular the condition and role of the women workers in it and the physical and the psychological stress they face.

As shared by comrade Raju BC, the angst among garment workers was triggered by a newspaper article in Vijaya Karnataka – a Kannada daily – on April 16th, 2016. The resulting demonstration was a landmark event, as it led the Central Government to withdraw the ordinance, thus benefiting lakhs of salaried workers across the country. While this protest has been lauded across the country as a victory for workers’ rights, specifically for the distinctive role played by women workers, the response of the state law enforcement machinery has been of utmost repression and violence, with an attempt to systematically create an atmosphere of abject fear, by targeting workers due to their vulnerable class character.

Raju laid stress on the fact that such abject conditions prevail despite the management exceeding profits by crores per month and hence the workers are bound to languish for generations. This systematic exploitation however has still failed to make the hue and cry it should have, a long time back. Raju’s talk carried vital information culled from two recent reports on the condition of garment workers in Bangalore, namely “Production of Torture : A Study on Working Conditions including Workplace Harassments facing by Women Garment Workers in Bangalore and other Districts” (prepared by PUCL Karnataka, NLSIU, Vimochana, ALF, Concern IISc, Manthan Law and Garments Mahila Karmikara Munnade) and “Wage and Work Intensity in Garment Sector: Study of Bangalore and Karnataka” based on a fact-finding by GATWU and CWM and released in January this year.

Madeena Taj spoke on her lived experience as a worker and organiser. She commenced by retelling how she joined garment industry despite ample derogatory pre-conceived notions prevalent about the female workers. She then recounted her journey of becoming politically conscious following a fellow woman worker’s suicide and joining the worker’s union braving harassment and isolation tactics as a result facing arrest and a yearlong ‘enquiry’. She also remarked on her experiences as an organiser explaining the terrible working conditions in factories especially for women, the fight for dignity and hand-to-mouth survival, the toll it takes on workers’ health.

Madeena also talked about the commonly held notion that the women workers’ salary is a secondary/supportive salary for the family with the wage-report findings which show that in many cases the woman worker carries the primary responsibility for her family, while also often being a victim of domestic violence. She also invoked the 1910 Chicago garment workers’ strike and retold various instances of similar exploitative conditions that persist even today among garment and textile workers in India. Their only savings being possible through Provident Fund (PF), and how that is the only savings for the worker, and hence when the government even attempted to introduce an ordinance trying to put withdrawal restrictions on that, the women workers could take it no longer and in huge numbers decided to strike back.

The strike which was eventually successful comes however in the light of the centre announcing a Rs. 6000 crore special package- with tax and production incentives for the textile and apparel sector to enable firms to compete globally. This they say will result in increased jobs and exports surpassing Bangladesh and Vietnam, however it is not surprising that the workers fear that the move shall also result in mass violations of International Labour Organization’s norms and standard procedures and the domestic labour and welfare laws being flouted on a minute basis. The event also saw a question-answer session, in which a few queries and suggestions were raised, aimed at redressing the grievances which were discussed. The program had a DVD and book stall selling discs of contemporary political documentary films from India, and various books and pamphlets on workers’ rights and struggles and other related themes of Bastar, caste and gender atrocities in Haryana etc. The event ended at 9:15pm.

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Bangalore: Garment Workers, Dollar Cities – Part 1

Bangalore: Garment Workers, Dollar Cities – Part 2

Interested people who would like to go through the two reports mentioned and presented by Raju BC, may email peoplesfilmcollective@gmail.com

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