Sanmar women on war path

The women workers of Sanmar Footwear Ltd. have been locked in a grim battle with the management, against loss of employment, against subcontracting, and against the effects of globalisation. The unit is situated in Chettipunniam Village near Chengalpat, about 50 kms. from Chennai. It is a part of modern corporate group. Once 500 workers were employed here. After two rounds of VRS, the number has now come down to 170. All the leaders of this unit are women. Like the Tatas and other big players in this shoe export industry, Sanmar Footwear Ltd. was also moving toward subcontracting in a big way wherein the manufacturer becomes a trader. The two rounds of VRS were clear warning signals to the workers. The numerical strength and the bargaining power of the union have come down. The management took another place under lease, sent its machines and raw materials there, and started diverting its orders outside.

The workers were apprehensive about their power and future. A general body of the workers decided to go on a strike from 28.12.2000, incidentally the 5th anniversary of the formation of the union, demanding the management to put an end to subcontracting. A few days before the commencement of the strike, the workers started guarding the gate to prevent the movement of semi-finished goods and machinery. They started wielding casuarina sticks against any possible rowdy attack. Ever since the strike commenced, the women workers have started guarding the factory gates during the nights too. An attempt by the management to take out some important items from the factory in a clandestine manner was detected by the workers and it was defeated by their militant struggle.

The management contends that the issues of this strike are only ideological and not TU issues. They argue in conciliation talks that there is no denial of employment as on date. Even if there has to be retrenchment or lay-off the management will have to take the permission of the State govt. under the ID Act 1947 and such permission is very difficult. They assert that subcontracting is their prerogative and they will not discuss this with the union. They also admit that it is ideological. The ideology of capital in these days of globalisation is to minimise or do away with organised employment and to go in for unorganised sweat-labor. The management is only creating an atmosphere for large-scale VRS and the subcontracting will inevitably lead to that and this in turn will give a crushing blow to collective bargaining. The union is demanding an undertaking from the management that it will do away with subcontracting. The struggle goes on. The struggle is indeed against the concrete effect of globalisation. When the old reformist Left TUs are only opposing globalisation in general terms and that too only in words, the women workers of AICCTU have raised the banner of revolt against glabalisation.