Learning lessons the hard way

The Munnar women agitators have created history by spurning trade union leaders’ help in negotiations

Updated - September 14, 2015 05:45 am IST

Published - September 14, 2015 12:00 am IST

For politicians and bureaucrats who are used to adulation and special treatment wherever they go, the women estate workers’ strike in Munnar has been a rather tough learning experience.

At the first round of talks convened by the government to thrash out a solution for the agitation that had taken everybody by surprise, the familiar faces of trade union leaders in Munnar were a little glum. For, they got to occupy on the second row. Sitting in front, talking eye-to-eye with Labour Minister Shibu Baby John and Power Minister Aryadan Mohammed were a few women who were perhaps on the portals of the State secretariat for the first time. They did the bulk of the talking as the seasoned trade union leaders listened. And the women had just two demands, 20 per cent bonus and higher wages.

It was not just about the second rows being given to the trade union leaders, but about subscribing to the legalities of labour negotiations. Under the provisions of the relevant laws, there can be a tripartite discussion involving the government only with registered trade unions.

The women were creating history by declaring that they did not require the trade union masters to speak for them.

From what those who were present on the occasion narrate, the women were quite forceful in their demand and were not willing to listen to even such a seasoned negotiator as Mr. Aryadan Mohammed.

That the women could force no less a person than Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to join the talks towards Sunday evening before any understanding with the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Limited could be thrashed out, was nothing short of a miracle. The Chief Minister had to put his everything into the negotiation to get the women leaders of the striking workers to agree to minimum bonus and an ex gratia package that would meet their demand in a certain way. One person to keep his poise all through the crisis was Labour Minister Shibu Baby John, who did much of the interaction with the estate workers’ leaders and the media as the crisis unfolded and finally reached a conclusion.

Hardly a day passes in Kannur district these days without at least one or two incidents that can be bracketed as cases of political violence. It may be a case of a country bomb being hurled at a house here or a case of stabbing there. Cases of vehicles of rival party workers being set to fire or of local clubs controlled by the rival parties being vandalised are not far and few between.

The main antagonists are expectedly Communist Party of India-Marxist and Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers. But they are not the only adversaries engaged in confrontation that sometimes trigger clashes and spill blood. Whenever, such incidents break out, the adversaries involved have one thing in common. They both accuse the police of failure to either check such incidents or nab real culprits involved.

Senior police officers say that neither the political parties that blame the police nor the police force that is at the receiving end of the blame game take the allegation seriously because they always have fresh cases of such outbreaks of incidents to attend to. It is a challenging game on view in Kannur, but surprisingly nobody seems weary for it. Except, perhaps, the police personnel and the commoners, who must live through sporadic violence, localised hartals and the inevitable disruptions in their very mundane lives.

With inputs from

C. Gouridasan Nair

(Thiruvananthapuram) and Mohamed Nazeer (Kannur)

The Munnar women agitators have created history by spurning trade union leaders’ help in negotiations

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