[Reader-list] A nocturnal roof-top conversation

Jeebesh jeebesh at sarai.net
Mon Sep 14 13:48:38 IST 2009

dear All.

In the latest issue of GurgoanworkersNews i found this conversation  
very illuminating. For more see http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com


*** A nocturnal roof-top conversation: Skilled textile workers talk  
about changes in technology and work-organisation undermining their  
power -

Kapas Hera, a former village in Gurgaon in walking distance to the  
huge industrial area Udyog Vihar Phase 1, now home of many factory  
workers. A roof-top. In the house below live 400 factory workers,  
three to four share a room, the rent is about 1,000 Rs. The rooms have  
no windows, so many people decide to sleep on the roof. People sit in  
circles and talk, some sleep, some arrive late from work. In our  
circle sit four friends aged between 19 and 55, all skilled tailors,  
working in different companies in Gurgaon. They tell us about their  

“I come from Bihar, I arrived in Delhi in the early 1970s, since then  
I work as a tailor. Most of these years I worked for ‘fabricators’, in  
small unofficial workshops, like you still find them, for example, in  
Hauz Rani (see newsletter no.7). The work-atmosphere in these  
workshops was much different from the atmosphere in the factories now.  
We basically all lived in the workshop – so we also did not have to  
pay rent. We would cook and eat and work and sleep there together. The  
working-time was not that fixed. Today you are sent back home from the  
factory gate or your half-day’s wage get cut when you arrive one  
minute late at work – even when you are on piece rate work. In the  
workshops you would have your breakfast and bath and start working  
when you like. You are on piece-rate, so you are master over your  
time. You can take a break in the evening and go to the cinema, if you  
like. You might then work till 3 am and sleep in”.

“I arrived in Delhi in the late 1970s, but then I decided to move to  
Nepal in the 1980s, I worked in textile factories there for about ten  
years. Then the political turmoil caused a lot of factories to close  
down. I moved back to Delhi, then to Gurgaon. My friends told me to  
come with them to Madras, they say that you can earn 8,000 Rs as a  
tailor there, but I don’t want to move again. In Madras people don’t  
speak Hindi, and it’s far away again. But even Manesar, which is only  
20 or 25 km away seems like too far. Maybe not because of the  
distance, but because the factories are new there and there are even  
less facilities for workers. Here you find a room quickly, you know  
some people, the drinking water is ok. In Manesar I heard that you are  
not safe, that people get robbed and so on”.

“I then worked in factories in Okhla, that was in the 1990s. There  
people would not have that time and space like in the ‘fabricators’  
workshops. They live in rented rooms nearby, you have to arrive at the  
factory in time, take your breaks in time. We then still worked ‘full- 
piece’, meaning that one tailor would sew the whole piece. We started  
hearing about ‘chain-systems’ in the late 1990s, but this system was  
not implemented in the factories in Okhla. It was only when I came to  
Gurgaon Udyog Vihar in 1998 when I actually worked in ‘chain-system’  
for the first time. Now there might be 400-500-600 textile factories  
in Udyog Vihar Phase 1, in 1998 there were two or three, like Gopal  
Clothing or Fashion Express. Then a lot of factories moved from Delhi  
to Gurgaon. I worked at Modelama as a permanent worker for quite some  
time. During that time, from 1998 to 2001, the chain-system’ became  
dominant in all factories. Now 20 to 25 tailors work on one piece.  
They might still be on piece rate, but they would just do the collars,  
just do the pockets and so on. The piece-rate for the whole piece came  
down a lot. Less people are necessary due to the increase in  
productivity. In 1998 I earned something like 2,200 Rs, now I earn  
around 4,000 Rs. A cup of tea in 1998 was 1 Rs, now it is 3 Rs, even 4  
Rs. Another difference between ‘full-piece’ and ‘chain-system’ is the  
fact that you don’t need that much experience. Nowadays you find  
dozens of schools in Kapas Hera and the surrounding areas, where you  
pay 700 Rs for a week’s course in tailoring. After that you can work  
in the ‘chain system’. It takes much longer – a year or longer – to  
become a proper tailor”.

“And it is not only the ‘chain-system’ that puts pressure on people.  
Together with this system more and more tasks are done by computer  
controlled machines, like cutting and embroidery. Nowadays you have  
even thread cutting machines, which replace all the women who used to  
do this ‘unskilled’ work. If you want to work as a full-piece tailor  
you have to try to get a job in the sampling departments, this is  
where the first pieces are made which are then mass-produced in the  
production departments. Or you have to go back to the ‘fabricator’  
workshops, but there the rates are low. I just quit a job at Orient  
Leather after only 18 days. It is a huge factory, around 1,000  
workers, but the offered rates were just too bad”.

*** The daily railway bad trip to work -

For six years I have been commuting between Faridabad and Delhi every  
day. Stampedes and huge crowds, jumping onto moving EMUs (commuter  
trains), hanging outside of the train carriers… In these years I have  
seen many accidents. On Friday, 29th of May 2009, a student crashed  
his head against a signal shortly after the train left Ballabhgarh  
station. His friends and me dragged the student inside the carrier.  
His head was bleeding and he was unconscious. We immediately informed  
the railway police at Old Faridabad Station. But when we arrived at  
the station there was no police on the platform. We lifted the student  
off the train and the train left. At this point he was alive. In the  
station there is no ambulance, no doctor, no First Aid. We waited next  
to the injured for ten minutes, then some railway staff arrived. He  
was still bleeding… While for us the whole situation was very  
unsettling, for them everything seemed rather like business as usual.  
The railway police guy was rude. They put the injured onto a stretcher  
and carried him outside the station. In a hired auto-rickshaw the  
student were brought to a hospital. The atmosphere in the hospital was  
extremely harsh… The student later died.

Deaths on the tracks and deaths in order to build them: on 12th of  
July 2009 several construction worker – exploited to build the Delhi  
Metro line – died, crushed by a huge steel part. The accident only  
made it into the news because the steel part also crushed the main  
water lines of the area. At least two more fatal accidents on the  
Metro site had happened by end of July.

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