UnionAID

Tamil Nadu Labour Union

(TNLU)

Tamil Nadu - India

The Tamil Nadu Labour Union (TNLU) in southern India is UnionAID’s longest running partnership.  The TNLU team, led by Manohari Doss, is an umbrella organisation providing training, support for 18 unions and 17 cooperatives that it has developed with support from UnionAID.  Today over 15,000 men and women, from vegetable growers in the high country of Kodaikanal to sandal makers in the slums of Madurai, are members of the TNLU.  All are Dalit and Tribal people, who are often harassed and economically exploited under India’s caste system.  

The TNLU works at a grassroots level educating Dalit and Tribal workers about their rights. Workers are shown how by joining together in a union they can bargain for better wages and conditions, or by forming a cooperative they can cut out middlemen and money lenders.  Through education, the development of leaders, organisational structures, campaigns business plans the TNLU supports Dalit and Tribal workers to establish and maintain their own unions and cooperatives to fight for long lasting change.     

The ongoing impact for workers of these unions is clear.  In 2018, the TNLU helped members of the Manual Scavengers and Street Cleaners Union in Madurai to undertake legal action after workers did not receive stipulated wage increases for several years.  The result was 470 workers receiving up to NZ$500 in backpay, a significant amount of money for men and women living week to week on low wages.

The TNLU staff surveyed members of the seven cooperatives established over the most recent three-year project period (2017-20).  Their findings showed a 400% increase in the number of co-op members earning over 150 rupees per day and a 16% decrease in the number of members owing 5,000 rupees or more in household debt.

Not only have these men and women increased their incomes but they have confidence to assert their rights when dealing with government officials and middle-men. They express pride in belonging to a collective occupational group, and those who are illiterate can now “put their signature” to forms and petitions. The power of collective action to overcome injustice is key thread that runs through the TNLU’s advocacy as reflected in the words of Meenakshi, a leader of the Cremation Workers Union “only when we all clap together then they will hear us.”

Cooperative and Union Building in Tamil Nadu

UnionAID supports the TNLU, who in turn provides training to existing cooperatives and unions on cooperative functions, negotiation, advocacy and welfare entitlements. When strict COVID-19 measures were put in place, the TNLU provided urgent assistance to its members which included making online applications for government welfare support.

Dalit Children’s Evening Education Centres

With the support of NZEI Te Riu Roa, the Tamil Nadu Labour Union runs evening education centres for Dalit cooperative and union members. Over 800 children regularly attend the 14 cetnres, funded by the project. The Children receive school homework tuition alongside a holistic range of lessons including Dalit history, Dalit culture, civics, and environmentalism. The TNLU has reported improved retention in school and more children going on to higher education.

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Tamil Nadu Labour Union

The Tamil Nadu Labour Union (TNLU) in southern India is UnionAID’s longest running partnership.  The TNLU team, led by Manohari Doss, is an umbrella organisation

Read More »

UnionAID supports democratic, worker-led organisations that help empower working people to improve their work and livelihoods through collective action.

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