Dalit workers get organised
More than 30,000 Dalit workers in Tamil Nadu have formed local unions over the past 2 years as part of the UnionAID project with the Tamil Nadu Labour Union. 164 local unions work together under TLU leadership and 10,600 of the members are women.
This is a tremendous achievement by workers who have historically been oppressed, abused and exploited by upper castes.
The TLU also reports a huge list of achievements for the project, but probably the most impressive is the sense of pride and confidence which their collective work has given them.
The project has also helped them with leadership training and the development of communication and organising systems. A particular focus on the role of women and leadership and gender training has ensured a prominent role for women in a culture where women have had few rights.
Working together the union has developed their cooperative employment ventures, established micro-banks, organised representation and campaigns to local and national government on a range of issues.
But perhaps their most enduring achievements will be the changes of attitudes which the education work is bringing. At this stage this is mainly among union members and their families with gender training, but the confidence that collective action is bringing is changing other relationships as well.
The current UnionAID project will continue over the next three years with support from NZAID through the KOHA-PICD funding programme.
(See Kaleeswari’s story on page 2 for more information on Union AID‘s work with the TLU.)