Munnar struggle was not a doomsday warning insists leaders of Kerala's trade unions

Anathema of media and government affecting trade unions, not Munnar like struggles says CITU
Munnar struggle was not a doomsday warning insists leaders of Kerala's trade unions
Munnar struggle was not a doomsday warning insists leaders of Kerala's trade unions
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Employee trade unions have played a significant part in Kerala’s contemporary history; most have been part of inspiring sagas of struggle, socialist movements, revolutions and some remarkable success stories. Trade unions have received their share of brickbats and condemnation too for their rigidity that has been instrumental in halting Kerala’s progress to some extent.
But in recent times, never has a shadow been cast so strongly on the future of trade unions, as it is happening now.
What has cast a shadow is a successful protest by a motley group of women labourers of Munnar's Kannan Devan Tea plantation. These women created history of sorts by organizing a protest without the support of any trade unions or political organisations.
Is the Munnar struggle just a rarity or does it speak of a larger trend highlighting the irrelevance of trade unions in a new scenario?
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the Left’s union, downplays the Munnar struggle and calls it a one-off incident, rather than a trend that could threaten the existence of trade unions.
 “Many spontaneous agitations have taken place in the past, but those groups that sprung up like mushrooms, did not exist for a long time. Only organized trade unions will last in the long run. Munnar agitation by women workers is not a threat to any trade unions. Unions work for the welfare of the workers and what those women did is appreciable,” CITU state President Anathalavattom Anandan told The News Minute.
Why were unions rejected?
Anandan firmly says that unions were not rejected, and after the agitation workers returned to their respective unions.
“It was a spontaneous and emotional outrage, there was no organization behind it. It was not that they intentionally rejected us,” he says.
However Anandan accepts that the trade unions including CITU could have handled the issue better.
“The present situation is that bureaucracy, media and government are against trade unions. Protests initiated by unions are looked down upon as goondaism. This is one reason why many unions have become passive. In Munnar too, unions has become passive for the fear of criticism and that was their fault. Trade unions should do their duty, under any circumstances,” he added.
He believes trade unions have lost their power and courage due to the stand taken by giants in the media and government. "What if the unions had organised the Munnar struggle? Would it then have been successful? No, they would not have. Now everyone wants to ruin the power of unions,” he added.
Anandan says unions taught those workers to unite and fight for their rights.
“We taught them to shout ‘Zindabad’, we gave them awareness about the minimum wage being Rs 500 and earlier in April we held a strike for the same. They learned to agitate together from union activism. Unions have inspired them and so one cannot say the Munnar agitation was sans trade unions,” he claimed.
But Congress’ trade union, Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) maintains that Munnar women agitators had misunderstood unions.
“The workers thought that trade unions had agreed to a decrease in bonus that had been offered by the company management, but we had not. Many people spread canards about unions and they believed it. But now they have come back to the unions.  We will sort out all issues in coming days,” said INTUC state working president PK Gopalan.
Gopalan also said that if the women wanted to form an exclusive women’s group, unions would extend all support.
 “Trade unions and workers are not different, they are same. But I don’t see the possibility of them forming any separate group outside the trade union structure,” he adds.
Both the unions are putting up a brave face, fighting to tell the state of Kerala that they are as relevant as ever. The news that Munnar women workers may form a separate union has already sent jitters down union leadership. With the aspirations of the state and its people changing drastically, union leaders know deep down that they cannot afford a re-run of the Munnar situation anymore. As that would be the first big step to push them to the annals of history.

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