Date: Mon, 21 Sep 98 08:31:52 CDT
Subject: India/Globalization: Workers Campaign to Protect Health & Livlihood
Globalization: Workers Campaign to Protect Health & Livlihood
By Jagdish Parikh (firstname.lastname@example.org), Asialink, no. 16, early sep 1998
This issue is the second in a three-part series on work and
focuses on some recent Indian worker's campaigns to protect their
health and livlihoods, particularly in the face of globalisation.
These struggles are generally against disintegration and the
strategies and tactics people bring to them are as expressive of
their creativity as they are of the grim and painful reality of
We begin with a mainstream economist's take on that grim and
painful reality, excerpted from the Human Rights for Workers
Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 7. May 14, 1997. Professor Dani Rodrik
teaches international political economy at Harvard University in
the USA. His book, Has Globalization Gone Too Far? is published
by the Institute for International Economics.
Globalisation's Ills: An Economist's Diagnosis
... As Rodrik points out, the characteristic approach of
many policy-makers, economists included, is to downplay the
social tensions sparked by globalization and to brand "all
concerned groups as self-interested protectionists."
Instead, Rodrik believes that "the most serious challenge
for the world economy in the years ahead lies ... in
ensuring that international economic integration does not
contribute to domestic social DISintegration" ...
Globalization "fundamentally transforms the employment
relationship." The labour of ordinary workers in one country
can now more easily be substituted for the labour of workers
in other countries. Owners of capital, highly skilled
workers, and many professionals-fortunate in being able to
take "their resources where they are most in demand" are not
disturbed by this transformation, but most people are. As a
- Workers now have to pay a larger share of non-wage
costs, such as workplace safety measures and benefits.
- Their earnings and hours worked are more volatile
because of shocks to labour demand or labour
- Their bargaining power has eroded, resulting in lower
wages and benefits whenever bargaining is an element in
setting the terms of employment.
Compensation Is Not Enough
Our second and third selections explore the "dangerous
intersection of the environment, health and the economy" through
worker's struggles for safe workplaces and recent court rulings
on industrial pollution.
We turn first to the case of M.C. Metha vs. Union of India,
excerpted from "Polluting Industries, Environment and Workers'
Health: A Case for Intervention," by Mukul in the Economic and
Political Weekly, Vol. 32, No. 35, August 30 - September 5, 1997,
... The case of M. C. Mehta vs. Union of India, popularly
known as "Ganga Matters" ... for the first time establishes
a noble principle: a polluting industry which damages the
environment outside the factory, simultaneously creates
havoc for the health of the workers inside the factory.
Hence the industry has to pay the price of its pollution to
the citizens, in general, and to sick and suffering workers,
in particular ...
The court judgement is important, but (how it) was achieved
is as important as the judgement itself (and) gives a
concrete example of (how) environmental initiatives,
workers' organisations and support groups, people's science
activists and others can work together on the burning issue
of industrial pollution and can promote their cause mutually
It started in the distant tribal village of Chinchurgeria,
Jhargram, in the Midanapore District of West Bengal state. A
stone crushing unit, Surendra Khanij, started here in
September 1987. The unit was manufacturing quartz powder
from quartzite stone and supplying it to different glass
manufacturing units ...
(Within three to four years, twenty workers died and twelve
remain chronically ill.) ... Most of the workers were
suffering from silicosis, one of the most deadly
occupational lung disease in India ...
Had it not been for the existence of the Quark Science
Centre at Jhargram, it would never have been possible to
know the fate of the workers of the Surendra Khanij.
(According to) Bijan Sharangi, a 33-year-old school teacher
and secretary of the Quark Science Centre, "In early 1993,
we came to know of a series of workers' death and diseases
in Chinchurgeria, through two foresters of the forest
department ... We tested at least 100 villagers and then
found that several of them were suffering from silicosis ...
We organised a massive signature campaign among the
villagers and people of Jhargram, demanding closure and
compensation. We also organised many street corner meetings.
When these programmes did not bear any fruit, hundreds of
villagers from Chinchugeria and nearby villages assembled in
Jhargram in April 1993 and sat on indefinite dharna (sit-in)
outside the SDO office. Thereafter the SDO ordered the
closure of the factory, which has been closed till date" ...
(Later) Nagrik Manch, (citizens' platform or forum) a labour
support group in Calcutta, along with six central trade
unions, intervened in the Supreme Court and filed a public
interest (law suit) ...
The story does not stop here, the compensation only a
... It is indeed rare to find a hospital in the country
established by workers and their unions. Shrmajivi Hospital,
only 3.5 kms away from Howrah Station and at walking
distance from famous Belur Math, is an inspiring endeavour
of workers of a closed and sick industry. They started it
out of their own necessity and also to expand the union's
activities in a hitherto neglected field. But slowly it has
become an essential activity of the whole community in that
area, and local teachers, artists, doctors, social workers
and students have all become involved in it in one way or
Surrounded by factories, mostly closed small shops and
houses, Shrmajivi Hospital stands out on main road, going
towards Howrah. The hospital is like a home - a small old
house of five and six medium-size rooms, a staircase going
through the verandah and a first floor with tin-shaded
working space. The rooms are exceptionally neat and clean
... (but everything bears) a simple, raw, robust look ...
"Of course the charges are just here, but we do not come
here only for that reason. In this area alone, there are two
government hospitals and dozens of private nursing homes.
They also provide treatment to patients. Even if one could
afford them, one comes here. We feel at home. Here we feel
as if we will live longer," says local resident Pratap
Sinha, who has undergone a long treatment in the hospital
... They decided in April 1997, to set up a bi-weekly
occupational disease detection centre at the hospital, which
will be one of the rare ones in West Bengal. To deal with
the problem of industrial accidents, they would also like to
develop ... micro-vascular surgery in future. "But this all
will develop only if the participation of workers, their
unions and other people will develop. Seeing the present
situation one is very hopeful.
Who Pays the Costs of Pollution?
The Shramjivi Hospital and its worker-led community management
is doing away with the dichotomy between "worker" and "patient."
Similarly, the Delhi Janvadi Adhikar Manch (the Delhi Democratic
Rights Forum) works to extend workers' control. BOL - the
reproductive rights network on the Web - has this to say about
An Indian Supreme Court order on July 8, 1996, directed the
closure or relocation of 168 polluting factories in Delhi.
In response to this and other measures to "clean up" the
Indian capital, a group of labour and human rights
organizations have founded the Janvadi Adhikar Manch. As
part of its mission, the Manch has chronicled the impact of
The Manch reports that some 50,000 workers lost their jobs
due to the July 8, 1996 order. The group further details
continued violations of compensation provisions of the
Supreme Court order. To date no compensation has been given
to workers who have lost their jobs due to the ruling.
The Manch warns against reducing the issue of pollution to
"beautifying Delhi for the rich." The polluting factories
may simply relocate to other areas of lesser real estate
value or with lower wage differentials, without reducing
pollution emissions. While no real gains may result in
overall environmental improvement, many dependent factory
workers may unjustly suffer.
The Manch's March 1998 report interviews 53 women ... The
women talk at length about poor living conditions,
overcrowding in slum dwellings, and lack of access to water,
electricity and other resources. They note a need for
gainful employment after the closure of factories. In the
Delhi case, workers were being unfairly penalized for
failure on the part of owners of capital to meet
environmental operating standards.
The controversy surrounding the Supreme Court ruling points
to a need to consider the dangerous intersection of
environment, health, and economy. The Manch warns against
environmental movements that have too easily become the
mouthpiece of elite interests and (says) that the health and
well-being of working women must be factored into
initiatives to "clean up" the Indian capital. The
controversy generated by the struggle to relocate factories
in Delhi highlights the need to scrutinize the interests and
politics behind legislation to improve the environment and
opens up a new forum for debate over the health and well-
being of working women.
Our final selection comes from "History in the Making - Women
Design and Manage an Alternative Public Distribution System," by
P. V. Satheesh in the Forest, Trees and People Newsletter, No.
Rice Was a Wonder Grain
Like elsewhere in India, a public distribution system (PDS)
operates in the villages around Zaheerabad in the Medak
District of Andhra Pradesh ... (But) the women of Zaheerabad
never grew rice ... It was always sorghum, pearl, finger and
other millets mixed with a host of pulses that made up the
crops on their lands and meals in their pots. Suddenly rice
has invaded their kitchen via the PDS.
Rice is a seductive cereal. It ... needs no processing.
Comes ready to cook. Mix with water and put it on the stove.
... Women loved it ... Rice was a wonder grain ...
It took few years for the women of Zaheerabad to see and
understand the other side of the rice.
The first effect was on their nutrition. Rice is (mainly)
carbohydrate.... An increasing number of women and children
started becoming anaemic.
The second toll ... was on their lands. With more and more
PDS rice coming from the resource-rich belt-like coastal
Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, what was the need to grow
food crops on their dry lands at all? ... Dryland farmers'
lands were gradually put to fallow.
The women were hardest hit ... Their (traditional)
agriculture took care of a variety of their needs. It gave
them a nutritive crop mix that included pulses, cereals and
green leafy vegetables. It provided fodder for cattle,
fencing material for their fields and houses, and straw for
their thatch ...
... In the district of Medak (in Andhra Pradesh) alone, more
than 100,000 acres of land have been put to fallow in the
last ten years almost as a direct result of PDS ...
(The women's self-confidence) is linked to their role as
skilled food-producers and to (being the seed-keepers) of
the community. As food production becomes less important,
the status that accompanies (it) is lost. Being reduced to
food consumers, dependent on purchased food for their
survival, undermined one of their few sources of self-esteem
and self-respect ...
The women of Deccan Development Society (DDS), who had
organised themselves into sanghams, voluntary associations
of the poor Dalit women, deliberated on this issue in their
One answer was to reclaim their fallows. They would breathe
new life into their half-dead lands. They would plough it
and manure it. As the land came alive, they would raise a
crop of sorghum on it ...
But this needed investment. To the tune of 2600 Rs. an acre.
No financial institution offers such loans.
The women decided to fight for reversal of this policy (and
through the) DDS (approached) the Ministry of Rural
Development, which saw the merit in their case and approved
funding for ... a Community Grain Fund (CGF).
(For) the past three years, (women) in thirty villages
around Zaheerabad ... have been managing this path breaking
In each village they identified 100 acres of fallows, most
of which belong to marginal farmers.
Meetings were held in each of these villages with the
project partners, DDS and village poor ... Money was
advanced over a three-year period to the farmers for ...
ploughing, manuring, sowing and weeding. This money was
later repaid in the form of grain grown on the newly
developed lands. Rates were fixed for the entire three-year
Committees of women were formed to look after ... the
project in each village. They, in turn, selected about
twenty acres each and supervised the work on these
Unfortunately, just when the crops were ready for harvest, a
heavy cyclone hit the region in October. It rained
continuously for around 18 days ... (Yet,) a few months
after the harvest, the first year's repayment of sorghum for
the grain bank was completed ... (The women) knew that if
they failed (the community grain bank) would never have a
The grain collected was stored by the village committees ...
in decentralised fashion, using indigenous storage
techniques ... The next step for the women of the village
sanghams was to identify around 100 poor households in each
village for grain distribution. The sorghum from these banks
was to be sold at subsidised price to these families.
... For the first time in the history of this region, Dalit
women, poor and from the lowest social rank in the village,
decided who among the villagers were poorest and qualified
for the community grain support.
The proceeds from the sale of the grain are deposited in a
bank as the community grain fund. The money is utilised year
after year to reclaim more fallows in their village thus
contributing to increased productivity ...
Through this CGF Programme the women have brought over
acres of fallows under plough ... This has meant that they
were able to produce three million extra meals in 30
villages or 1,000 extra meals per family. The fodder
provided by the newly cultivated fields sustained over 6,000
head of cattle in 30 villages. Finally and more important,
in each village 2,500 extra (daily) wages were created - 500
for ploughing, sowing and manuring, and 2,000 for weeding.
In all 75,000 extra (daily) wages earned in 30 villages.
If the experiment continues to be successful, the women of
Deccan Development Society will have established the first
decentralised public distribution system in the country, one
with local production, local storage, and local distribution
- all adapted to the specific needs and opportunities at the
village level ...
Asialink - Electronic Newsletter
Information Exchange for Social Change
Issue No. 16 (Early September 1998)
(Document Size: 16.5 KB, 2411 words, 365 lines)
We welcome your comments. Send
your questions or comments to
Jagdish Parikh (email@example.com)