The power loom workers of Ichalkaranji, a town situated in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, better known as the Manchester of Maharashtra, and home to one of the oldest textile industries in the country, on Thursday called off a historic 37-day strike on a triumphant note.

The strike also marked a rare example of unity among all the labour unions in the country, setting political differences aside. Interestingly, except for the Left parties, none of the political parties came out in support of the workers’ demands initially. It was only after a month into the strike that other parties took a note of it.

Around 30,000 power loom workers and 15,000 dependents on the textile industry had gone on strike from January 21 demanding increased wages and facilities. Despite five meetings with the Labour Minister of the State and a protest march to Mumbai, where the unions met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, the issue remained unresolved.

On Wednesday, following several hours of discussion, the factory owners offered a 48.71 per cent increase in wages and provided workers the option of working in eight-hour shifts, for the first time in 28 years.  

Ichalkaranji houses around 5,000 textile factories and is one of the biggest centres of small scale industries in the country. With about 1.2 lakh power looms, the industry produces approximately one crore metres of fibre everyday with a turnover of around Rs. 50 crores daily. Ever since the beginning of the strike, production had stopped, bringing the industry to a complete halt.

‘Labour laws violated’

“The workers are being forced to work for 12 hours. None of the owners bother about the eight-hour shift. They have violated almost all labour laws that exist in the country today, and, as a result, new labour is not entering the industry. This ultimately puts double burden on the existing workers,” said Datta Mane, of the Lal Bawata General Workers Union, affiliated to Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

A single worker produces 40-43 meters of fibre in 12 hours on one powerloom.

Before the strike, a worker, after working for 12 hours on eight power looms, earned Rs. 4,500 to Rs. 5,000 a month.

The strike has given big relief to workers. They will now get 87 paise per metre, which means that an eight-hour shift will give the worker approximately Rs. 5,500 to Rs. 6,000 a month. If he works for 12 hours, he will earn about Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 9,000 a month.  

“How can they expect us to work on a pittance in today’s era, when inflation is reaching sky-high? This historic strike had been called voluntarily by the workers as they could not bear the oppression of owners anymore,” said Bharma Kamble, Kolhapur district secretary of CITU.

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