Pasumai: from Self Help Groups to Trade Union:
Pasumai means ‘green’ in Tamil and is the name given to the organisation of homeworkers set up in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, in 2004. Pasumai has extended its work to include other unorganised women workers. It is now working in three districts of Tamil Nadu and has registered as a trade union for unorganised women workers.
Pasumai was set up as a result of a programme of action-research carried out by Read Foundation (Rural Education and Development) with the support of the Homeworkers Worldwide mapping programme, in 2002-2006.
Thousands of homeworkers were contacted in Pudukkottai, initially in three sectors: sewing garments, making flower garlands and grinding and polishing artificial diamonds.
Homeworkers were organised into Self Help Groups (SHGs) who then came together to form Pasumai, as a federation. In the SHGs, the women came together in savings and loans schemes as a first step to organising around broader issues.
The savings and loans schemes enabled women to break free from the money-lenders who charged high interest and in some cases were also the intermediaries who provided work to the women. Many of the groups worked together to increase the women’s income, for example, the garment workers’ groups bought raw materials in bulk or did common marketing; they agreed among themselves minimum rates they charged their customers so that they were not undercutting each other. Later, some groups took on issues of caste discrimination, such as access to water or land, or worked together to stop violence against women or child labour.
New groups of homeworkers were developed including those making sandals, doing pottery and weaving mats from coconut leaves. After the tsunami devastated the coast of Tamil Nadu, work was done with women who made a living from drying fish and selling it.
More recently, Read Foundation has been working with homeworkers in other districts, including those assembling leather shoes, an industry based in Chennai and nearby Vellore. Thousands of women work at home in this sector and the new groups of homeworkers are also part of Pasumai.
From 2011, Read Foundation has also been supporting new organisations – sangam – in the villages for young women workers who have migrated to the garment factories and textile mills in the Western districts of Tamil Nadu. Although they are not homeworkers, they are often working in unregulated conditions, some of which amount to bonded and forced labour.
In December 2012, Pasumai was relaunched to include all these different groups of women workers, as a trade union which will fight for their interests and given them a voice in bringing about change. Tamil Nadu is undergoing rapid development with poverty increasing in many rural areas and industries developing fast in other areas. Pasumai is taking up the challenge to ensure that in all these changes, women’s basic labour and human rights are not forgotten.
c/o Read Foundation,
47 Mettu Street,
Bhagavathi Amman Kovil Lane,
Annavasal – 622 101,
Pudukkottai (Dist), India