Pempilai Orumai, a women-only labour union that was born in the tea plantations of Munnar, is all set to join hands with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The group will also work closely with the labour union of AAP – Shramik Vikas Sangathan. The decision was taken after a meeting held between the representatives of Pempilai Orumai and AAP leaders at Delhi. Gopal Rai (Labour Minister, Delhi), Somnath Bharti, MLA (Kerala in-charge), Arun Joseph (State Secretary, Kerala), Lissy Sunny, Rajeshwari, Stella and Sreelatha (Pempilai Orumai) were present at the meeting.
Pempilai Orumai, the labour movement that led to the formation of a larger union, was the driving force behind the Munnar plantation strike, demanding hike in wages and protecting the other rights of plantation workers. By questioning their own trade union, the women workers set a new trend in Kerala’s trade union history. The Munnar protest model by Pempilai Orumai changed the perception about trade unions. It recognised that even without leadership, unity could grant victory. Moreover, it was reminder for the mighty trade unions in the State. When the major trade unions continued blaming each other, Pempilai Orumai focused on the workers’ rights and needs.
Pempilai Orumai has faced some challenges in the past. There was infighting after the Munnar “operation”. One of its main leaders Gomathy Augustine left the collective and joined another trade union. However, this didn’t affect Pempilai Orumai’s unity. It was that power of the sisterhood that made them reject the support given by political parties at the time of protests in front of the Kannan Devan Hills Plantation Limited in Munnar.
The collective’s move to join AAP can be considered as a turning point in the history of trade unions in Kerala. It remains to be seen if this will help AAP create a strong base in the State.
Main photograph by Stefano Ravalli via Flickr.