A massive, nationwide strike caused major disruption to India’s economy on 2 September, popularised as Bharat Bandh (literally ‘India closed’ in Hindi/Sanskrit). Some unions have claimed this was the largest general strike in history, with up to 150 million workers involved and costs to business of around $US 2.7 billion.
A significant feature of these strikes was the involvement of thousands of temporary workers, very few of whom have representation or support from trade unions. Another important strike took place recently in Bengaluru (Bangalore) where up to 400,000 workers emptied the city’s garments factories and flooded the streets in response to government changes to state pensions (the Provident Fund or PF). Key features of this strike included its primarily ‘wildcat’ character—local CTUOs were taken by surprise, despite having organised their own, much smaller response to the changes—and that the strikers were overwhelmingly women. This massive protest succeeded in deferring the Modi government’s plans.
Given that women tend to work outside the male-dominated structures of most trade unions, another highly significant development occurred in the tea plantations of Munnar in Kerala in September 2015, when female plantation workers established a new women migrant-led union—Pembila Urumai (‘Unity of Women’ in Tamil)—to break with male-dominated unions that had virtually ignored their interests.