Women in Textile Industry
It was 1980s, the period when trade union movements started gaining stronghold in the southern districts of Tamilnadu. Mill owners and big labour intensive manufacturing sectors overnight were faced with protests, Strikes and shutdowns by the workers who started to unionize themselves and start to demand for their rights.
Having things written on the wall, the mill owners were faced with 2 challenges. One is, being how to handle the issues of the trade union strikes that was rapidly eating into their profits and two being how to continue production to stay in the competition. The answer for both was one that is women. Women, typically subservient, hardworking equal to their male counterparts but can be paid less, women who don’t take frequent leave, quickly became the ideal solution for the problem faced by the mill owners.
Having seen the light at the end of the tunnel, the mill owners were quick to recruit women in large numbers to fill the gaps caused by striking employees. Once the supply of alternative labour force achieved, the mill owners, with the help of police force severely clamped down the union protesters. Brutal force was used against the workers. As a revenge action, these actions destroyed several trade unions and union members working in the mills were systematically replaced by a new breed of workers. A new breed that is faceless, voiceless and clueless of what lays ahead of them.
An idea, which evolved out of necessity, surprised even the mill owners in terms of results gained. Overnight mill owners were handed over the power to do anything with their employees with impunity. Women were hired and fired at will, working hours became 12 hours, and pay was halved. Employment became short term contracts, medical allowances casual leaves, Provident funds, Dearness allowances, Overtime etc. became defunct. It’s during these times, the spinning mills owners became one of the richest and most powerful industrial houses in the state. Today over 80 percent of workforce working in the mills are women.