A Women's Tea Plantation Workers' Strike in Munnar, Kerala

Lessons for Trade Unions in Contemporary India

Author: Rajalaxmi Kamath and Smita Ramanathan


In September 2015, some 5,000 women workers of the Kannan Devan Hills Plantation, a large tea estate in Munnar in Kerala, launched a spontaneous agitation demanding increased wages and bonuses. They staged a massive sit-in in Munnar town, bringing operations on the tea-estate to a halt. What was unique about this strike, which garnered considerable domestic media attention, was its non-violent nature and distancing from party-affiliated tea-plantation unions. In this paper, we use interview transcripts from a community radio program to analyze whether this strike can be seen as a precursor for a "new unionism" of the great mass of contractual, informal workers in India. We do this within the broader question of whether class identity is still relevant for informal labor in the global south. We conclude that a successful working class movement can only emerge when workers understand their roles in the long and convoluted chain of profits and are able to universalize their situations through concrete political action.

Regions: South Asia
Countries: India

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© 1990 ILO/Maillard J.