Factory Gate Meetings
Factory gate meetings have played an important role in the history of union organizing. GLU has been conducting factory gate meetings since its inception in front of target factories. These meetings help the union to be in regular communication with its members. Such meetings instill confidence in the workers to speak publicly about working conditions and ways of acting collectively to change the situation. These meetings also help to publicize the union and its services so that workers are encouraged to enroll as members.
Self Help Groups (SHGs)
In developing countries, Self Help Groups have served as a means for community organising. Small groups of fifteen or twenty persons form a group around savings and credit activities. These groups often form the core of the community, which also discusses various issues confronting the community such as income generation, sanitation, health, food security etc.
Trade unions that organise workers in informal sector have also used self help groups to begin with organising workers into collectives. GLU has also successfully used groups to bring together garment workers as a precursor to union organisation.
Apart from assisting in building union strength SHGs also act as a platform for women workers to meet and discuss work related and domestic issues. At present, there are 20 active SHGs of women garment workers, with a membership in total of 395 workers. Each worker saves an amount of Rs. 100 per month. Members take loans and repay in instalments.
SHGs help to meet the credit needs of the members to some extent. Workers are able to use the saved amounts to educate their children, meet medical expenses, pay house rent and meet various other social obligations. GLU activists support the SHG leaders in their bank transactions and accounts maintenance.
Executive Committee Meetings
The sixteen-member Executive Committee of GLU is the governing and decision making body of the union. They represent the nearly 1000 members of the union and meet at least once a month. All issues of importance for the union are discussed at the meeting and decisions are made. Strengthening the membership of the union, services to be offered to union members, problems faced by workers in the factories and within the community, advocacy with companies and the Government are some of the major issues that come up for discussion. Detailed planning for capacity building programmes for union leaders, awareness programmes for workers, publicity for the union, mass contact programmes are all discussed and designed by the Executive Committee. The committee is also responsible for the annual General Body meeting of the members and for conducting the elections to fill the positions of office bearers of the union.
Family and Individual Counseling
Many of the families of garment workers are women headed households. The reasons for this are many. Women from rural families migrate to the city in search of employment at a young age. Many of them settle down in the city and eventually begin a family. Husbands of women garment workers are also employed in the informal sector which is not governed by labour regulations. They most often work on a daily wage basis as painters, electricians, construction workers, vendors or auto rickshaw drivers. None of these jobs are covered by social security schemes and therefore on days when they cannot work due to illness or other reasons, they go without a wage. This is one more reason for the poverty and distress of the families of women garment workers.
In general, men and women from the low waged occupations tend to marry early. This is true also of garment workers and many of them are married by the time they are nineteen or twenty. The stress of managing the households and full time work in factories tells upon the relationships within families. There is a high level of family discord due to poverty, incompatibility, sexual jealousy and other psychosocial reasons.
GLU activists have been trained in basic mental health and psychological counseling. A number of women workers who approach the union for help come seeking support to deal with their individual psychological problems or to resolve family disputes and discord. Many a times, all they require is a patient hearing from a sympathetic individual. Some times when issues are more complex the union refers workers to professional counselors and institutions specializing in counseling and mental health.
Legal Counseling and Legal Aid
Practicing lawyers with experience in labour law and litigation visits the union office regularly to provide legal counseling to workers. Women workers and many a times even men come with a variety of problems which have legal dimensions. Illegal termination of employment, denial of back wages after leaving employment, shifting of factory without notice and therefore denial of employment, failure of factory managements to remit social security contributions to authorities, denial of leave and maternity benefits, sexual and other forms of harassment on the shop floor are the complaints with which workers approach the lawyer appointed by the union. Sometimes workers are satisfied with counseling and suggestions for dealing with their problems. At other times sending notices to the other party, usually factory managements is necessary. Some of the cases go on to the labour department and a few have to be taken to the labour courts. The union keeps a follow up of each individual case so that the complainant worker gets justice from the legal administration.
Advocacy and Lobbying with the Government – Membership in Wages Committee
State policy related to businesses and labour affect workers lives directly. For example, the State Government is the authority which determines the minimum wage payable in the garment and other sectors. The labour department administers all labour laws such as the Factories Act and the Industrial Disputes Act. The Inspectorate of Factories and Boilers is the authority to ensure that factories comply with legal provisions.
GLU has been alert to the extent of the influence of the government on working conditions and has maintained a working relationship with elected representatives in the legislature as well as the labour bureaucracy. As soon as a new government was formed in Karnataka in mid 2013, GLU representatives met the Chief Minister, K. Siddaramaiah and submitted a memorandum of demands. Similarly the new Labour Minister PT Parameshwara Naik was also met by a GLU delegation.
As a result of the lobbying with the government GLU was included in the Karnataka State Minimum Wages Advisory Committee. The union has been advocating a raise in minimum wages to the extent of Rs. 500 per day. However, the advisory committee is a tripartite body and the industry lobby has been pressurizing the Government not to revise wages radically.
Newsletter – ‘Labour Behind the Label’
Soon after the inception of GLU, the union started publishing a newsletter named ‘Labour Behind the Label’ which is gaining popularity among the workers. The newsletter contains regular columns on legal information related to labour, contact details of authorities, reports of new developments in garment industry, reports on events organized by the union and fiction and other writing by the workers themselves. The newsletter is increasingly recognized as the voice of garment workers in Bangalore city.
The union publishes a handbook every year which includes calendar, space for personal details, pages for notes, contact details of labour and other authorities, brief information on labour laws, popular songs among activists and quotations from statements of workers leaders. Workers like to use this as a ready reckoner and carry it along to their work place.