On the 16th of October, we went to the Garment Labor Union (GLU), a local labor union, which fights for more rights and better working conditions in the textile industry. We were surprised by the good conditions in the small factory (Inertia) a few days ago, so we were touched after the meetings in the rooms of the GLU, because had not expected that the present workers would described their shocking workdays so accurately. We were aware of the circumstances and conditions under which conventional clothing is produced, but to get a confirmation by the workers gave us a very different feeling.
When we arrived after a long drive, we were led to a small entrance. Over a staircase we reached the second floor. There were many pairs of shoes in the entrance. After we took off ours, we entered a room. 22 Women and children sat on the floor and looked at us with wide eyes. We sat down in a circle.
In the beginning Parag told the women in the local language who we are and why we visited them. The women were all sewers in conventional factories and could only speak and understand the local language. The President of the GLU, also a former sewer spoke English. After Parag had introduced us to some women, they told us stories from their working day.
A woman reported that, when she had to stay four days at home because her child was ill, she was abused and insulted by her supervisors when she came back to work.
Another woman said that each worker has only one work step to do. The requirement is to do this working step 120 times per hour, but realistic are only 35-40 times. In order to meet the expectations they have to do overtime, which is not paid. Only the overtime, in which they fulfill the expectations, are paid. Exceeding the expectations is impossible. If they do not fulfill the requirements, they will not get any money.
We were told by another woman about the system for the toilets in a factory. For 3,000 workers there are only four toilets. To be able to go to the toilet, you need to have one of five coins, but you have to wait for it for a long time.
If they are punctual every day, they get 500 rupees a month more, but if they are only three to five minutes late, they will not get that money. The women also have to pay their rooms 10 months in advance. To manage this they have to borrow money.
During their work in the factory, the sewers are completely isolated from the outside world. It is not permitted to take any mobile or other devices, with which you can communicate, into the factory. This is a problem for a woman who has a family with children at home, because she is not available.
The unskilled workers receive 6000 rupees a month and the trained 8000. This is not enough to live a “normal” life. When asked how much they at least need to live, they replied that 18,000 to 20,000 rupees would be the minimum.
The most effective protest for the workers against this situation is the strike. In order to finance this, the GLU has a strike fund to the pay workers wages during the strike. We also gave them some money for their strike fund.
Another question we have asked is whether they have seen a change in the factories or production in recent years. The women told us that the conditions have become worse because the demands are growing and they have to produce more and more.
Sometimes there also is physical harassment of the workers. The women told us that they were often addressed with “Darling” and similar words and were touched inappropriately. When they say something, their situation does not become better.
Another question that we had was when the women started to work. It is normal that the women go to school until the tenth grade (the tenth grade in India can not be compared with the German tenth grade). Then they start working at 15 years. With 16-17 years they get married.
In addition, we asked whether the workers prefer smaller or larger factories. We thought on a small factory like Inertia with less than 30 employees. The sewers had a factory with 500 workers in mind. They preferred the larger factory, where they earn less, but the working conditions are better.