A Strike in the Indian Nut Company: Theyi

[This is an account given by a cashew worker who worked in the Indian Nut Company, Kollam, about a strike they organized in the 1930. Theyi was born in the Kurava community in 1922. She was an eight-year-old at the time of this strike and remembers with great clarity, a strike led by women workers. As retold to Anna Lindberg in Experience and Identity, Lund: Lund University Press, 2001, This strike was probably in 1937.]

“I remember the first strike; there was no union at that time. This particular
day we had finished our work with shelling, but the owner, Swaminathan
(he was in league with WT. Anderson), wanted us to continue-without
payment-grading broken nuts from the whole ones. It was already dark
and we wanted to go home. We were fed up with the treatment in that
factory.

Suddenly a woman – I think it was Lekshmi- shouted: “We won’t
do it. We are going home and we will not come back until we are
treated better!” This was the first time we had dared to oppose the bosses. All
the workers left the factory and went home. We did not go to work for
several days, but the owner sent his men to our houses and we decided to go
back-after all we had no rice. I am not sure if I correctly remember the
names of the leaders in this strike. Several women were leaders; I remember
Lekshmi, Chellamma, and Bhargavi. They are all dead and gone now. All
the workers went to see Swaminathan and we told him what we wanted.
Our main grievance was that we wanted better treatment, especially for our
children, and a stop to the severe and humiliating punishments which were
imposed upon us, even if we had done nothing wrong. We also wanted to be paid for all our work; we had to do so much unpaid work before, such as sweep, clean, grade baskets and even work in the owner’s house sometimes.

We cannot say that our strike was very successful, but nevertheless we were astonished and we felt a little bit strengthened because we had dared to act like this. It had never happened before. We also realized that we had some power; or else why would he come and fetch us in our houses? And we realized that we could do it again, if we only managed to save some rice.

There was another strike during this period and the police arrested several
women. The manager and his rowdies provided the police with the names of
those they suspected to be the leaders. The women I mentioned before were
certainly arrested more than once. Shortly after this event we were organized
in trade unions with the help of  K C. Govindan and T.K. Divakaran. During the years from then on until we were included in the Factory Act [of
1945], we carried out so many strikes – a behaviour that was completely unknown and unthinkable to us only a few years years earlier. And then so many
people from all factories-men and women-were imprisoned because of
this ! I can’t remember them all.” (pp. 223-24)

 

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