Nature of Working Class Movement in Kerala: A Study of Social Movement Unionism

Producing a space for cross movement pollination, the relatively new style of Social Movement Unionism calls for widespread support from workers in various industries to move in solidarity with community groups and other movements in a collective struggle for justice. Indeed it is a different understanding of the role of the working class and its typical organization in the transformation of society. The present study is an effort to re-examine Mavoor agitation, a trade union skirmish which had a strange anatomy in comparison with the generally accepted perceptions on working class struggle in Kerala. The workers of the Birla-owned Pulp and Fiber Factory at Mavoor (Kozhikode district, Kerala state) launched an indefinite strike on sixth June 1985, on rejection of their charter of demands by the management. Contrary to the expectations of the trade unions the strike went on for a period of 39 months bringing untold hardships to the workers. 13 unemployed workers committed suicide, whereas several others were forced to leave the area in search of their livelihood. Paradoxically, the struggle which started for better emoluments slowly transformed into the nature of an SOS struggle with the sole demand, the immediate reopening of the factory. When the traditional type unions faced setbacks one by one and were struggling to retain the support of the workers, Gwalior Rayon Workers Union (GROW), an informal trade union formed under the leadership of A Vasu, a Naxallite turned human rights activist suddenly emerged as one of the major working class organizations in the area. They made an unprecedented appeal to the general public to extend support to the new movement which is intended to save hundreds of retrenched workers and their family from starvation. Contrary to the style of a traditional industrial dispute the GROW led struggle turned to be a success in mobilizing public support. The present study mainly is an attempt to explore this metamorphosis of a bipartite traditional labor dispute into the kind of a social movement unionism.

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