Tirupur Exporters Association (TEA), established in 1990, is well known for its cotton knitwear and has over 6500 companies related to garment industry. According to some estimates, Tirupur provides jobs to six lakh workers (600,000) and is supposed to have an export earning of over Rs. 12,000 crores.
But after years of making huge profits, all of a sudden everything seems to be down. According to a report in rediff.com “The downfall began with the closure of all dyeing units a few years ago, for polluting the Noyal river. The units were closed following a court order. The dyeing units started running in the neighbouring districts of Namakkal and Salem but soon they closed down too. Dyeing makes up 35 per cent of the total cost of the finished product so its closure really affected business here. The increased price of yarn, ruthless power cuts have brought this once booming city to its knees.”
Apart from the environment which has been seriously been affected by pollution from industries, what is also not that very well highlighted is the plight of the working class of Tirupur who manufacture all these garments. While CITU has a stronghold in Tirupur with even an MLA from the CPI(M) to boost, but the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has failed to reach out amongst the different section of working class, especially the migrant workers and the youth. There are many issues facing the workers here from low salary packages, price rise, no proper ration system, power cuts etc.
While Centre of India Trade Unions (CITU) has led a number of strikes, many a times they fail to reach out to the broad section of the Tirupur working class and usually tends to remain isolated. The living standards of the migrant workers (numbering more than 60,000), who hail from different parts of India (usually the northern and the eastern parts), is pathetic and face a lot of difficulties. The wages are less compared to a local worker and are paid anywhere between Rs. 80 to Rs 220 per shift depending on their labour hierarchy. Whereas the average wage for the local worker starts at about Rs. 200 (which is also very less). The migrant workers also do not enjoy even a weekly holiday. Even a government holiday is a half working day (in Tirupur half day means 8 am to 6.30 pm and full day means 8 am to 10.30 pm or more!). The simple motto of the company is “If you want more money, you have to work more”!
Since most of the migrant labourers come with their families, often at times most of the family members including children are employed illegally by the companies. All of these families live in cramped quarters for which they pay an astronomical sum of Rs. 1300 per month and have to share a single bathroom/ toilet with lot of other families. Neither the government nor the different political parties here are bothered about the conditions of the migrant workers as they do not form a vote bank for the political parties and most of the political parties are aligned with the company bosses one way or the other. Communication is another problem as the migrant workers cannot speak the local language.
During work, if any worker commits a mistake, he/ she have to listen to the abuse of the supervisors, sometimes they are even slapped around and there are cuts in their wages which can be high as Rs. 80 per day. The workers do not have any permanent job assurance and is totally dependent on whether the company has any work order or else the workers have no choice but to seek work elsewhere or go back to their native places and remain unemployed or underemployed. While the workers are supposed to be given a yearly bonus of 13% during the Diwali festival, most often the workers do not get the full bonus at all.
It seems one company owner told his workers “In this current time everything is globalised, work more to get more, you need more money to survive.” When the CITU was asked by this writer on the problems faced by the workers in Tirupur, the typical answer usually tended to be “We already have sent a number of letters to the TEA head office as well as to the State Government, but the fact is that the Government promotes TEA not the working class.” But if the unions like CITU do not take initiatives in reaching out to the broader sections of the working class in Tirupur and put pressure on the bosses vis a vis the government through street action, how long will this bare struggle for existence go on?
Protap Debnath (Student activist)
New Socialist Alternative (CWI-India), Tirupur