Munnar’s all-woman collective of tea workers, which stunned conventional trade unions with its successful strike for bonuses last year, has joined hands with the Aam Aadmi Party.
The Orumai will now work closely with the AAP’s labour wing, the Shramik Vikas Sanghatan, and will also support the AAP politically. The decision for the partnership, and possible merger, was taken after discussions the Orumai leaders had with the AAP leadership in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Orumai leaders Lissy Sunny, Rajeswari, Stella and Sreelatha, who are all tea-leaf pickers at Tata Tea’s Munnar plantations, had been invited to Delhi for talks with Delhi’s Labour Minister Gopal Raj and Somnath Bharti, who manages the AAP’s Kerala affairs.
The SVS and AAP will fully support the Orumai’s struggles for better wages and living conditions on tea plantations, as well as for changes in labour laws, CR Neelakantan, State Convenor of the AAP, told BusinessLine .
The Orumai had shocked the trade union establishment and their political supporters last September when the then apolitical and impromptu collective went on a strike, demanding a higher bonus from the Tata Tea-owned plantation units. Thousands of women workers went on strike, staged dharnas and blockaded roads in the hill station of Munnar for days together. They accused established trade union leaders of being on the kickback list of plantation managements and of exploiting the poor workers.
The Orumai’s success exposed trade unions’ hypocrisy and prompted a rethink among political parties. It also encouraged similar movements on many plantations in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Orumai later turned into a labour union with Lissy Sunny as the president. However, the union gradually weakened following a leadership tussle, said to be plotted by other trade unions.