Organizing metalworkers' and fighting for change in India
Union leaders in India are building a powerful force for change in some of India's most vulnerable societies and uniting the union movement in the process.
INDIA: Building a union movement in some of India's poorest states is not an easy challenge. But that was the challenge accepted by the International Metalworkers' Federation's affiliates, the Indian National Metalworkers Federation (INMF) and the Steel, Metal and Engineering Workers' Federation India (SMEFI). To date they have organized 28,000 workers in Chhattisgarh, Jharkland, and Orissa since 2009. The activities are part of a joint project with Solidarity Support Organizations, SASK (Finland) and LO-TCO (Sweden)
In addition to the newly organized workers the project has also led to new levels of cooperation among the IMF affiliates. They have consolidated their state and national trade union structures and in two states (Chattisgarh and Orissa) they have decided to work together within the framework of a single affiliate. The affiliates do not compete among themselves to recruit members and jointly evaluate their work. At the outset of the project relations between both at the local level were difficult and sometimes violent.
By working together at the national level the unions have been able to conclude many new collective bargaining agreements. At the National Joint Steel Committee the unions were able to pursue successfully an increase in the national minimum wage for precarious workers. In the Joint Bargaining Committee Coal Industry the unions achieved a 29 per cent increase in wages and an 82 per cent increase in fringe benefits. The project has demonstrated that if our affiliates do not compete and when they cooperate with each other good results are bound to follow.
Empowering women is also an important dimension to the project and although participation in project activities has improved to around 10 per cent since 2010 further steps are needed. One such step is the creation of a National Women's committee that will seek to identify ways in which to encourage greater participation and identify barriers for women in the work place. An example of the type of barrier facing women is the national law which prevents women from working night shift in production areas in manufacturing. Devika Singh is the Chair and she comes from Tata Robins Fraser Labour Union in Jamshedpur, Jharkland.
Standing up and fighting for local committees is not new for the unions, but the fact that 90 per cent of India's tribal people are located in the three states has added a unique dimension. India's tribal people are mainly poor agricultural workers with problems of access to education and living well below the poverty line. In order to build confidence and trust among the tribal people the unions have been providing food camps, informal schools and training seminars. This has resulted in the tribal people supporting the unions and the establishment of joint committees.
Having reviewed these results at the India Steel Project meeting from March 5 to 7, 2012, the conclusion was a strong desire to continue and expand the work into an additional two states in India in the coming years.Mar 07, 2012 – Rob Johnston