“You celebrate International Womens’ Day, while we smash our cerebrals to a speeding train”

This seems to be the message of challenge to the fighters of women’s causes and more importantly to the plethora of unions claiming to fight the injustice against garment workers particularly women.

In a shocking instance (just three days before the celebration of International Women Day this year) to the kind of desperation faced by women garment workers, four dismissed garment workers of   Choice Apparels/Novacraft, a garment manufacturing factory off Mysore Road (one of the garment industrial belt in Bangalore), took the extreme step by attempting a group suicide on a railway track. While three of the women were dragged to safety by the timely intervention of the railway workers and passers-by, Aarti, a 20 year old women, was not so lucky and died on the spot hit by a speeding train.

To anyone familiar with the conditions of the garment industries in Bangalore, the story of Aarti or the other three garment workers is nothing new . Poor working conditions, low wages and little or no entitlements, abusive supervisors/ management (usually male), on the spot dismissals, sexual harassment, migrant women workers belonging to lower class/ caste backgrounds, occupational hazards and a highly exploitative environment to maintain the profit margins of the company – it is an all too familiar story with no ending in sight!

In the cut throat competition of the world textile market, the plight of these women workers do not figure at all in the calculations of the leading brand companies. All talk of brand not enforcing strict labor laws to their hired henchman (contracting company) in the developing countries or the labor department remaining unresponsive is like missing the wood for the trees.

The obscene in Tamil Nadu!

It is the same news from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, in the textile town Tiruppur which is euphemistically called as India’s own Japan,those who are toiling to give the spectacular growth to the state of Tamil Nadu and significantly add to the growth figures of corporate India, but the hundreds of thousands of textile workers and their families are living in desperate conditions, forced by the circumstances they are now committing suicide at the rate of 40 to 50 per month.

It was recently reported that in the two years ending in September 2010, 910 Tiruppur garment workers, their spouses/children had killed themselves. The majority of the suicide victims were adults between the age of 20 to 40 in the youth of their lives.

During the past year 2009 alone, 495 garment workers and family members commited suicides , in the first six months of 2010 there were 350 suicides. And just in the three months of June through August 2010, some 250 workers took their own lives.

This sudden increase is undoubtedly connected to a growing crisis in the garment industry and lopsided policies of the UPA and the DMK ruled state govt. of Tamil Nadu, Tiruppur’s employers have cut 25,000 jobs and slash knitwear production by 20 percent during the past half year and to press for speed-up and wage cuts. Industry spokesmen have blamed the job and production cuts on a steep rise in yarn prices, a rise they say is the due to the decision of the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to allow unlimited exports of raw cotton and yarn.

Who should be blamed?

If at all there can be a verdict on the death of Aarti or the countless other women garment workers before her, it is a plain murder & nothing else. And the murderer is not just Garment Company in question here. It is a perpetuation of similar murders constructed over a social milieu (based on capitalism & landlordism) that is inherently exploitative with maximum exploitation of the working people & guaranteed profits to its end sponsors – the so called brand companies.

Union  activists reported that Aarti has been working in Choice Apparels for the past 3 years.  She used to live in a hostel provided by the factory with about 50 other women workers. A native of Mandya district about 100 kms. from Bangalore city, she had gone home two weeks back and returned to the factory on March 4 for work. She was shouted at by the Production Manager in abusive language and asked to get lost and never to show her face at the factory again, other workers report.  She returned to the factory again on March 5 but was denied entry to the factory. During the lunch break the same day, between 1.00  and 1.30 pm she was joined by three other co-workers who were seen crying huddled together on the Nayandahalli railway platform.

Aarti was from the Dalith community and her father Palaniappa and mother Susheela are subsistence farmers who are engaged in daily wage labour to make both ends meet in their village in Kirugavalu Hobli in Mandya Taluk of Karnataka

While the ruling class in India and it’s mouthpiece media will once again go full blast this year to showcase some of the “exceptional women achievers” of India, at the same time it will try all its best to hide the other side of the story, which will truly expose the underbelly of the system based not equal terms (to say the least) but practices which can only be described as feudal/ slave relationships.

Let’s accept the fact ; there are no fighting unions for workers

As this horrific instance was being penned, a rude sequel crept in ; “there was an intervention regarding the Arati’s death yesterday where the NGO’s  and self styled rights organisations based on Kannada language intervened in the situation to “settle” a compensation of Rs.1 lakh and funeral expences of Rs.10,000 for Arati’s kins”. What a parody of justice and struggle, things are as usual because the death has been compensated, management of the Choice Apparels thanked for their gratis, muscle-men of Language rights organisations have been appreciated for their extraordinary  skills of crisis management, Police were happy to maintain the law& order with the help of benevolent thugs and the NGO is more than happy to get a report sheet for the next fund raising from the donor agencies. Not  to forget, there will be a memorial meeting for the victim of the drama ‘Arati’

Profit system of Capitalism is the rogue, fight to change it

It is imperative on the leadership of the Unions Such as CITU, AITUC, HMS and others to have an industry/ trade wide unions with the local, city, state and national units strictly run on grass roots democracy, which will be enormously effective in fighting for better wages and conditions. Unless and until the women are encouraged to come to the leadership of these unions in a transparent democratic manner , however big and militant the union may be, it will fail to address the real issues of garment workers who are predominantly women. The trade unions have to build a strong movement against the lack of workers’ rights, equal pay, price rises, harassment at the workplace including sexual harassment & last but not the least the freedom to organize into trade unions and to strike.

A capitalist system based on the system of profit making is doubly oppressive on women especially & women therefore have a special interest in fighting for an alternative system. Only a socialist society based on a democratically planned economy can guarantee women real equality & lay foundations for future that is free of all the evils under capitalism & all the other exploitative system that preceded.