Lesson from Munnar; Warning Signal to Companies, Politicians and... Union Leaders

Kerala has recently witnessed one of the rarest of the rare women struggle for their survival at their work place. For nine days, female workers of Kannan Devan Hills Plantations kept administrators, management, politicians and union leaders at bay. The credit for their temporary victory goes solely to them.

The labour troubles at the largest tea estate in Kerala, Kannan Devan Hills Plantations, ironically began less than two months after its management practices were rated among the best in the country. In July this year, the Great Place to Work Institute and People Matters, a Human Resources knowledge platform, praised Kannan Devan’s bottom-to-top management approach under which 69% of the company’s shares are owned by its employees.

Kerala’s left trade unions, which exercise a strong sway over the working class in the state, rattled by the way they were made irrelevant by the female workers. The agitating female workers feels that the union leaders were betraying them by pocketing money and other benefits from the management, for their personal and organizational benefit. The striking workers also didn’t trust politicians. Barring leader of opposition VS Achuthanandan, who still enjoy the trust in their mind.

Since early 1980’s everybody who talked about industrial development in Kerala has framed the militant labour movement in the state is the main culprit for the slow pace in overall development of the state. But the scenario has changed a bit in last few years. The overall growth of the state, especially after the strong growth trajectory of Tourism and IT sectors, has termed as Kerala - the green pastures for investment.

At the same time the companies in almost every sectors in Kerala has got some warning signals from the Munnar struggle. If we didn’t pay the workers at par with other segments, slowly that will kill the good will of the organization and growth prospects of the state. Political parties and trade unions have already started the post mortem to maintain their trust, goodwill and strong presence in the socio- political spheres of God’s Own Country. But the question raised by Women work force in Munnar will echoes through out Kerala in coming months too, especially when the state is approaching to elect their local self government in early November.

In a way the Munnar Kurinnji revolution is a good start for new era of Kerala’s development. It will infuse new life into the nearly-dead the politics of welfare by reinterpreting the politics of public action in future. Hope the Entrepreneurs and companies, government, political parties and trade unions will realize the real sense on writing the walls and start a new brain storming session for a better Kerala in future.          


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