At UL CyberPark, manual workers of Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society Limited will play landlord to information technology majors, signalling the evolving face of labour in the State. Eighty-seven years ago, a group of young men, their names long-forgotten, joined hands to fight feudalism in pre-Independent Kerala.
Today, their successors, under the banner of Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society Limited, have again flipped convention on its head by building themselves a cyber park in Kozhikode.
Started on January 20, 2011, the project, UL CyberPark, spread across 31 lakh sq ft and situated on 25.11 acres notified as Special Economic Zone, is worth Rs.600 crore. The 1,350 member-labourers of the society will play landlord to IT companies this April when it completes the first phase of the park — a 10-storey eco-friendly building worth Rs.210 crore, covering 5.07 lakh sq ft and neatly divided into software development, commercial, and service blocks. Companies will occupy space either on rent or lease.
This structure is expected to generate 4,000 jobs. The funding for the initial phase was routed from a consortium loan of Rs.126 crore from banks and equity worth Rs.84 crore provided by the society’s members.
Each member, from board directors to workers, shares ownership of the cyber park. All are shareholders in the society. A minimum 10 per cent of their salary is diverted to a thrift deposit account. Every year-end, the deposit is converted into share capital. The society also has 560 non-members who do not hold shares.
The society clocked a turnover of Rs.143 crore in 2011-12. It has Rs.370-crore worth of contract works for the Public Work Department, National Highways, Kerala Water Authority, Harbour Engineering, and LSGIs.
The Uralungal society shuns politics at work. “Personally, each one of us is political…very political. But there is no politics in our work,” society’s president and CMD UL CyberPark P. Rameshan said.
At worksites, the society’s board directors pitch in with manual work. “All the nine directors started out as manual labourers with the society. Entry into the society is a stamina test in breaking granite boulders into jelly with a hammer. Probation is for a year. A talented person can go on to be director with several years of hard practical experience which no MBA school can give,” K.V. Suresh Babu, the youngest of the nine and in charge of the cyber park site, said.
Two granite fields spanning 107 acres and 65 acres at Mukkom and Kuttiadi and an eight-acre hollow brick unit at Iringal ensure the society’s self-sufficiency in raw material for construction works.
At the cyber park site, amid the dusty swirls of laterite soil and drilled rock, directors and workers share the same food sourced from the society’s farm at Pashukadavu.
The society finds its origin in the social reform movement led by Guru Vagbhadananda against the “rigid caste barriers” in the State in the early 20th century. Records with the society show that young labourers, inspired by the social reformer’s speech at Mayyazhi, sought his guidance to help them unite against landlords.
The Uralungal Koolivelakkarude Aikya Sangam, an organised front to usher in social reform through infrastructure works, began in 1925 with 14 members who built bamboo fences, thatched huts to dry fish and dug wells.
About a decade ago, the Uralungal’s labour force had started depleting. At the bottom of the problem was the educated young Malayali’s exodus for white-collar jobs.
“Even the children of our own members had B.Tech. and M.Tech. degrees. For these qualified youth, manual labour was not a career option. So we decided to diversify… to build ourselves a place in the future of these youngsters,” Mr. Rameshan said.