Objectives | History | LEARN today

Labour Education and Research Network (LEARN) is a NGO headquartered in Mumbai dedicated to mobilising female informal sector workers in the urban slums of Maharashtra since 2008. Our membership includes home based workers, domestic workers, street vendors, micro factory workers, garment workers and ragpickers in three districts of Maharashtra state, namely, Mumbai, Nashik and Solapur. The objectives of LEARN are to assist in building collectivisation of workers in informal employment, to conduct research and to develop collective grassroots responses to issues that affect the informal sector workers. LEARN is registered under the Society’s Act 1860 (registration no: F 22990), Mumbai Public Trust Act, 1950 & Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976.

Objectives

The objectives of LEARN are to assist in building collectivisation of workers in informal employment and also to conduct research so as to increase our understanding of their issues and develop collective grassroots responses to them. With these broad objectives, it has been successful in bringing together a dispersed workforce, register them as members of a trade union; thereby providing them the identity of a worker. LEARN has also been able to generate literature on the urban informal economy in India based on the findings and learnings from the work of the trade union. In this sense, the two processes are interlinked—field findings inform research, which in turn help in developing strategies for field mobilisation.

History

LEARN was formed in 1998 by a group of activists and Mumbai University teachers who are still its founder members. The original objective of LEARN was to provide inputs to existing organsiations among workers in the informal sector, especially women, who are most vulnerable. Though registered as an NGO, LEARN was striving to become a membership based organisation.

The initial financial support came from a research project that was given to Prof. Sharit Bhomwik, which was part of a larger project on managing mega cities in South Asia. The amount given for the project was invested in LEARN for renting its office space. The first office of LEARN established in 2001 was in the Parel-Bhoiwada Municipal School in Mumbai. However, after a few years, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) decided to let out these spare rooms at commercial rates. LEARN had to thus move out and find another office space. Meanwhile, we had held training programs for women in informal employment, which were funded by some of the major funding agencies. We later found that there were hardly any organisations that were involved in mobilising/unionising informal sector female workers. By 2006, we had moved our office to Dharavi. Given the enthusiasm of some of our grassroots participants, we decided to initiate a full-fledged trade union. Hence, in 2006, LEARN Mahila Kamgar Sanghatana (LMKS- LEARN Women Workers’ Union) was formed. At that time, our base was waste recyclers, domestic workers and home based workers. We had also started activities through some of our comrades in Solapur and Nasik cities of Maharashtra. By 2008, when the membership in these areas had expanded substantially, we decided to register LMKS under the Trade Unions Act, 1926. Given the spread of our membership over the state, we were given the status of a State-wide union. Hence, LEARN is the NGO that guides Learn Mahila Kamgar Sangathana. At the national level, LMKS is affiliated to the federation Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).

LEARN today

The membership includes home based workers, domestic workers, street vendors, micro factory workers, garment workers and ragpickers in three districts of Maharashtra state, namely, Mumbai, Nashik and Solapur. The membership includes home based workers, domestic workers, street vendors, micro factory workers, garment workers and ragpickers in three districts of Maharashtra state, namely, Mumbai, Nashik and Solapur.

Today, LMKS represents workers from 40 slums in Mumbai, 17 areas in Solapur and 9 areas in Nashik. These workers are engaged in various trades such as home based work, domestic work, street vending, ragpicking, garment and micro factory work, slum-based manufacturing and services.

The group leaders and members of LEARN in Mumbai come from poor households in slums of Mumbai, Nasik and Solapur and they represent the everyday struggles of the urban poor in the slums, especially those faced by women. Even though their hard work and toil makes up for much of their city’s growth and economy, the conditions in which they live are extremely challenging.

LMKS is engaged in helping women to improve their earnings by negotiating for better work and working conditions. Thus far, these illiterate and/or semi-literate women have managed to achieve a number of successes for furthering their goals. These include, but are not limited to, asserting their rights to procure ration cards from the ration office, holding multiple medical camps round the year for members’ families, counselling through the women’s support centre, setting up of an adolescent girls support group etc.

As grassroots mobilisers, our leaders have faced numerous challenges not only from the immediate environment, but also, and more importantly, emerging from unconscious absorption of patriarchal ideas and power relations. It is therefore vital, in all of LEARN’s efforts to focus on learning to think, listen and effectively communicate through training, peer learning and sharing of experiences. When people are enabled to reflect on what they do and how they do, they realise the importance of making improvements in their life and work.

Labour Education

January 2014: First planning and reporting meeting of LMKS Nashik, Mumbai and Solapur, held at Mumbai on 26 January 2014. Flavia Agnes was the special guest. The LMKS activists successfully negotiated the release of one of their members, Mamata, from a difficult employer in Thane. Mamata was often locked up in her employer’s house for days and forced to eat stale food when the employers went on a holiday. When she surreptitiously contacted the LMKS activists through a relative, she had not been paid her wages for several months. The activists went to Thane immediately and convinced Mamata’s employers to pay her the outstanding wages and release her. After a brief altercation, the employers finally gave in, seeing as the issue was attracting a lot of unwanted attention from their neighbours and workers in the housing society. While cases such as these knock at our doors any time of day or night, other activities of the organisation go on more or less as per plan. For instance, many members were assisted by the activists to open zero balance bank accounts, among other activities conducted for the members.

In the adolescent children’ group in Dharavi, fondly called the ‘Grand Group’, January was a month for creative introductions, dance practice, music chairs leading to sessions on active listening skills as well game-based discussion on the problems faced by children in Dharavi.

February 2014: this was a month for research at LMKS. While all other activities continued, their frequency and intensity subsided in view of the planning of a survey focusing on home based workers and wastepickers. The aim of the study was to examine the present conditions of their dwelling places in Mumbai’s low-cost settlements such as slums. The broader purpose was to situate home based workers’ and wastepickers’ work and life in the broader context of urban infrastructure and civic amenities. The study attempted to do so by mapping the existing infrastructure, amenities and services that enable or disable her work, and also by examining the role of her earnings for accessing these services. The early part of February focused on preparing and repeatedly refining the survey form which was finally ready on 14 Feb 2014. Data collection began soon afterwards. From 17 Feb to 10 Mar 2014, LMKS activists scurried through by-lanes, corridors and alleyways of 43 slum settlements in various parts of Mumbai to ensure representation of various kinds of home based workers engaged in different trades, as well as wastepickers from various areas. They interviewed a total of 300 respondents.

The activities in the ‘Grand group’ of Dharavi’s adolescent children were many and significant. As usual, games were used to address a number of issues that affect children and young adults. These games include reflection and mirroring, drawing and acting, along with recreational activities such as dance and yoga. On Valentine’s Day, the children were asked to write letters to whoever they loved, also mentioning what they loved about that person. Children wrote letters mainly to their friends, parents and family. It was a learning exercise to understand that love need not be restricted to couples, that one can develop love in the most common everyday relationships with people in the immediate environment. On another Sunday, the children were asked to create groups and present short plays on the topic ‘A day in the life of a Dharavi child’. It turned out that children are so busy shuttling from home to school to tuition and back that they had no time to play or come together. The only time they could do so was during birthday parties. This was important for us as facilitators, because we realised that birthdays are a good occasion to bring children together for celebration and play. Another street play by children showed us the moving story of a frail young boy from Mukund Nagar who gets beaten in school by his teacher, gets screamed at by his tuition teacher, targeted for his parents’ fights with the neighbours and has nobody to talk to. His isolation frustrates him, making him immune to the wrath of his parents, family and teachers. Nobody is able to understand the reasons for the change in his personality and ultimately he is sent to a hostel. Most of this play was the boy’s real life experience. A third play highlighted the story of a scared girl whose bravery brings peace to her family. It portrays a young girl who witnesses her alcoholic father beating and abusing his wife. On most occasions, the girl looks away or shuts her eyes pretending to sleep, but one day decides to do something to end it. She meets a female journalist that she has briefly met through her ‘Grand Group’, tells her the whole saga and asks for help in approaching the police station. Soon after, the police show up at her home and talk to the father, threatening him with dire consequences if he does not mend his ways. The play ends on a happy note where the father apologises to his wife, daughter and to the family for his misbehaviour. By consensus, all the children participating in grand group meeting of that day selected the third group as the winner for depicting the brave move of a small girl in bringing hope and optimism to her family’s hopeless circumstances.

March 2014: The survey work of LEARN Mumbai activists from February continued until 10th March and then the data coding and analysis began. This was followed by a reflect workshop where the activists were asked about their experiences of the survey. They recollected being moved by the stories of their fellow workers in various slums, especially by the situation and plight of the wastepickers. Due to the survey itself, the membership soared and the activists’ rapport with an increased number of workers expanded. March was also the time for consolidation of our organisation’s accounts and audit for IT returns filing. In addition, another survey was being planned for Nashik and Solapur districts for the months of Apr-Jun 2014. In March, the short survey questionnaire was finalised The adolescent children’s group were introduced to a musician playing guitar as well as a female journalist. It was, by the children’s own admission, a great experience to learn what journalists do, how they perform their work, what is the news media industry etc. Also, in a unique turn, the children were asked to make drawings of whatever they wishes, minus any colour.

April-June 2014: The survey on ‘Occupational Safety and Health’ (OSH) was conducted in Nashik in Apr-May 2014 and in Solapur in Jun 2014. A total of 518 home based workers engaged in 18 different trades were interviewed from 51 areas in Nashik, whereas a total of 500 workers engaged in 26 trades were interviewed in Solapur from 21 areas. Majority of them were engaged in home based tailoring work and almost all of them complained of severe back ache and eye problems, all associated with their occupation and dwelling spaces.

In Mumbai, the activists engaged in continuing their ongoing field based work, but also focused on the tailoring component. They networked with garment manufacturers in Bhuleshwar, Marine Lines and Colaba while continuing their tailoring and fashion designing training in Dharavi. Through a social enterprise called ‘UpCyKal’, the trainees took up orders for making bags, rakhees and pouches.

On 04 Jun 2014, LEARN participated in the ‘Ghar Hakk Andolan’ demonstration at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. The demonstration was planned in coordination with the Committee for Right to Housing (CRH), a housing rights organisation based in Mumbai. The demand was to ensure that slum dwellers get affordable housing and tenurial rights. For residents of urban slums, a bulk of whom comprise the informal sector workforce, housing is an important component of their lives. Not only is this true because a large number of them use their homes also as a workplace (such as home based workers), but also because of the insecurity associated with living in low cost settlements in metropolitan centres such as Mumbai or fast growing small towns such as Nashik and Solapur.

LEARN representatives also participated in a South Asia level ‘Regional Conference with City Authorities on Homebased Workers’ in Bangkok (07-09 May 2014) organised by HNSA.

In May, two medical camps, one to check for cancer and one eye camp, were held for the residents of Dharavi. The response was superlative.

Under the pretext of a survey, several mess workers were fined for owning CNG cylinders illegally. When the activists were contacted and informed of this, they stepped in and diffused a potentially violent situation.

In a similar altercation, activists of LEARN Mumbai were informed about a NGO that had taken money from 25 wastepickers by falsely promising to obtain ration cards for them. In June 2014, the activists organised a demonstration outside the house of the NGO head who was responsible for grabbing the money. Followed by a heated back-and forth of arguments, the NGO official finally returned the money to the wastepickers due to the efforts of LEARN.

The ‘Grand Group’ took up issues of children fighting bitterly with other children. A group session was conducted, children talked to each other, some screamed, others rose to hit, and finally calmed down with the facilitator’s intervention. The question asked was: why is there no unity among children? why are children always fighting? Responses differed, but in short, the themes that came up were distrust and the lack of respect for each other. The facilitator stressed that there should be unity in the grand group, and only we can make it possible by being aware of our prejudices and not seeing each other as enemies. At the end of a long cathartic session, one of the participants wrote in the group’s minutes book ‘Seriously, we don’t need to fight because from this something we lose, our faith. Friendship is important.’

July-September 2014: Through its Mahila Adhar Kendra (Women’s Protection Cell), LMKS activists continuously get engaged in dealing with women’s cases of injustice—both at the domestic and workplace level. Peer support helps in solving most of the issues. However, we realised that more was required. This is the reason LEARN partnered with Majlis Legal Centre for a course titled Paralegal Understanding for Social Workers (PLUS), through which they gained legal knowledge and practical understanding, in turn helping them to better handle case work and deliver legal rights lectures in the community. Due to this training, which stretched over 2½ months, the grassroots activists were able to effectively handle cases of battered women and resolve domestic conflicts and workplace problems faced by women. The training finally culminated into a convocation ceremony on 16th October 2014. Majlis Legal Centre is a team of women lawyers and activists working on issues concerning women’s rights and access to justice. Their goal is dignity and support to victims of sexual and domestic violence.

LEARN child care centre in Dharavi continued to run successfully and at full capacity in 2014. Unfortunately due to the lack of funds, it had to be closed down in September 2014. This was a big step-back in our journey, especially so, because it was well received by our members. Despite their willingness to pay up substantially higher fees, the overhead costs were way too substantial for LEARN to keep it going.

As reported earlier, LMKS successfully completed a survey of 1018 respondents in Nashik and Solapur (500 in Solapur and 518 in Nashik) during the months of Apr-Jun 2014. As common practice, we share the findings of any mapping/ survey with our respondents and other interested members, non-members. Completion of the OSH survey provided us a very good opportunity to do so. Therefore, on 03 September 2014, LEARN Nashik team leaders organised a Melawa (a workshop, a Mela) titled ‘Jagnyachya Hakkache Andolan’ (Movement for the Right to Live). The core idea was to present what is the basic minimum a worker needs to live— in terms of food, shelter, clothing as well as right to free and fair work and decent working conditions, right to education and knowledge. Thus, it included components such as constitutional fundamental rights (freedom of speech, right to live a dignified life, right to education, right to food, right to work). Further, LEARN also talked about its own role as an action-research based organisation attempting to build an alliance of workers in order to realise all of our fundamental rights collectively. Approximately 500 members participated in the Melawa. The children’s group continued its activities through interactive sessions, dance, games and discussions.

August-Oct 2014: The convocation ceremony of LEARN Mumbai activists was held in October 2014, to mark their successful completion of the course Paralegal Understanding for Social Workers (PLUS) conducted by Majlis Legal Centre.

In September, another survey was conducted in Nashik and Solapur districts to document the life stories of senior citizen home based workers. The purpose was to understand the nature of their work, the reasons for why they need to work in their oldage, the conditions in which they live, the impact of the work on their health and the status of social security support available to them. In Solapur, 60 seniors from 15 areas were interviewed, and in Nashik 60 seniors from 16 areas were interviewed. Most of the respondents had lost their spouses and were found to be living alone. All senior home based workers worked at least for 4-5 hours a day and prefer to be engaged in work that requires less mobility. They prefer sitting in one place and perform the tasks, due to their reduced agility. Since the space in the home itself is small, it was found that most seniors prefer to be engaged in kitchen-related home based tasks such as spices packing, pickle-making, papad and farsan making etc. Most of them also spent their lives in isolation and were unable to access state support. In Solapur, the condition of the seniors was way worse than the ones in Nashik. However, the efforts of the union in Solapur were stronger than in Nashik for ensuring that their senior members got the social security support that they rightfully deserved.

In Mumbai, LEARN activists enthusiastically helped members open bank accounts through the new ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’. Throughout the year, LEARN also continued its strong collaboration with its national federation SEWA for meetings, trainings, workshops and capacity building initiatives. For Diwali in October 2014, LEARN Mumbai distributed food packets with essential groceries to members who were destitute and out of work, which had forced them to beg on the streets.

In the adolescent children’s group, it was decided to nudge the creative side of children. The facilitator brought an umbrella to class one Sunday and asked the children to come up with ideas on how to use it in different ways, except as a rain guard. The children brought surprisingly interesting ideas to the group— one said, when his mother can’t reach a box kept on the higher shelf, the upturned handle could be used to bring down the items from a height, another said that it could be opened and turned upside down to be used by a street vendor to sell things, yet another said, it could be used as a roof when one is taking a break to sit at a bus stop after a long walk. The same session was taken further by asking children to draw instances of their lives, ‘A day in the life of a Dharavi child’. Some months ago, the same exercise was conducted as a group using plays, and this time the focus was on the child’s individual experience. The next Sunday, the facilitator said that she did not want to suggest any activities on that day, so the children were free to do whatever they liked. This is how one of the children described that day at the Grand Group: ‘aaj hum sab chatting kar rahe the ki hum hamare personal life mein kaise rehete hain. Do ghante acchi gappe mare, masti kiye aur last mein dance kiye.’ The month for Diwali was around the corner, so the facilitator showed the children how to make colourful rangoli using craft paper, scissors and glue. An hour and 19 rangolis later, there was a ‘group selfie’. Towards the end of the month, there was a brief training on documentary making using a simple handycam. The session was conducted by LEARN accountant Neha Belkar, a documentary film maker trained by Mam movies.

1: Grand Group Craft paper Diwali Rangolis Nov 2014: Coordination with SEWA for LMKS participation in a workshop on street vendors (organised jointly with Streetnet), followed by SEWA National Council meeting and finally a workshop on domestic workers’ rights, legislation and welfare board. Simultaneously, we started the process of closing LMKS accounts to be submitted to the registrar of trade unions on 31st December 2014.

Children’s Day 2014: Organised a celebration on the occasion of Children’s Day on Sunday 16th November 2014 in Dharavi. 132 children participated in the event. It began with a playful yoga workshop, followed by a drawing competition. A prominent upcoming artists Vrushankh Raghatate judged the competition, while the children watched an animated movie. The movie had to be turned off within the first 15 minutes because of its passive entertainment, the children preferred to dance and play. So they did. With a Dharavi-based DJ, also a grand group participant for several years, the children let their hair down and danced to popular Bollywood numbers. Some children who had self-choreographed group dances also performed and received a cheerful approval from their mates in the group. The celebration was a grand success, not just for the kids, but also for their mothers who came to witness the spectacle.

Planning of field meetings relay Nov 2014: LMKS activists engaged in planning field meetings for December 2014 in the run up to the elections of office bearers. The meetings also included scoping strategies for mobilisation for 2015 in LMKS membership areas. The union elections in membership areas (Mumbai) in early December were being planned. Induction of four student interns from the department of Social Work, Sophia College (Mumbai) for field exposure. Interns were engaged in database management of our members in various sectors, documentation of the union’s work through the year and website management.

Field meetings relay 1-7 Dec 2014: LMKS union elections successfully held on 8th Dec 2014. Based on inputs from area meetings in the previous month, November 2014, this ‘Adhiveshan’ brought to the members strategic plans for 2015.

December 2014: Planning of streamlining governance and finance systems in LEARN and LMKS. At the end of the year, the total membership of LMKS was 1949.

31 Dec 2014: Closing of trade union accounts and submission to the trade union registrar.

Working with and for informal sector workers, we have worked on collectively mobilising people to address issues of wages and identity, strive for workplace rights, Decent Work conditions and address issues of harassment, violence and discord in the woman worker’s home and work life.

Identity:While organising informal sector workers is particularly difficult, what is all the more challenging is to convince them of their identity as ‘workers’. Over the past several years, LMKS has been working in this particular area. Providing identity cards to our members (~7000), assisting members in procuringration cards, opening bank accounts, registering in government welfare boards (such as the domestic workers board) are all the initiatives of LMKS that help to build her identity.Field meetings play an intensive role in this process, because it impresses on a workers’ mind her identity as a worker, among other identities such as wife, mother, daughter etc. and inspires confidence of a collective strength.

Grassroots female leadership: All the activists of LMKS come from poor households and workers in the informal sector. The decentralised leadership enables local problem-solving capabilities and a sense of ownership. Members also find it easier to relate to them and have faith in their abilities to take on any challenge. The erstwhile shy and scared group of women is now fearlessly engaging with various state authorities like the police, municipal and state government authorities, and more importantly, questioning patriarchy. Their life histories and tales of their transformation have been a source of inspiration for many. To know more about them, click on TEAM

Garment And Allied Workers’ department

Sometime around September 2013, a social entrepreneur, trained through Tata Institute of Social Sciences, had approached LMKS for starting a new venture called Upcykal. The exciting new venture aims to design and manufacture socially and environmentally conscious merchandise from used textiles after curating them. By ‘upcycling’, as opposed to recycling, this initiative means to take what was new or usable yesterday, and add value to it such that it can be used tomorrow. The vision is to therefore to eradicate the idea of “waste” from Indian consumer minds.

Conceptually, it was a perfect fit for what LMKS stands for. We have several members from within informally organised and buzzing garment manufacturing industry in Dharavi. In fact, it is the only department in LMKS which also has male members. Over the years, an entire ecosystem is developed around garment manufacturing with social relations of people deeply embedded in the economic ones. Seeing their parents work, the children of these workers too start learning the ABCs of the garment manufacturing processes fairly early in their lives. Through the various stages of garment transforming— from thousands of metres of cloth on the rolls to embellished pieces of wearable items— LMKS garment workers department has within it; membership that represents several groups of highly specialised members engaged in various steps in this process of garment manufacturing.

The social entrepreneur from Upcykal and the leaders of LMKS started to think of ways in which this synergy would materialise. Several meetings in the LMKS office helped in discussing this in detail. The conclusion of these meetings was that a small team of around 10 people (members of LMKS) would be trained to produce usable items out of old clothes. They would have to apply their minds, think creatively of the possibilities that every such piece would give them. This was, in a sense, an innovative response to the monotony of mass production that we witness today. Besides, it would provide continuous employment to those engaged in designing and making these products. The next step was to inform the members in each of the areas and find members interested in pursuing it.

In October, one meeting was held in Jai BhimChawl in Rajeev Gandhi Nagar, Dharavi Mumbai. This basti level meeting packed 22 participants. They were informed about this new initiative. After two hours of discussions, it was decided that the daughters of these workers would be suitable candidates for participating in this new venture. Similar meetings were held throughout the month in other areas as well. Soon enough, a list of about thirty two young women was drawn up. In order to narrow it down, LMKS decided to focus on the ones that were already undergoing tailoring training in LMKS. Their advanced training in fashion designing was slated to begin in Nov.2013. Everything seemed to be on track. However, the path was dotted with challenging situations.

Even though there was initial enthusiasm among the 10 girls who were shortlisted to undergo the advanced training, their numbers started dwindling over the weeks, and the attendance was irregular. It was disillusioning, but ways had to be found. LMKS leaders started to look for the reasons for this irregularity. It was soon clear that the main problem was to do with the number of hours girls were out of the house. The tailoring training was four hours, and the advanced fashion designing training was another two. It was disconcerting for the parents and family members that the daughters of the house were out for such a long span. LMKS leaders now had the task of speaking with the parents about this problem.

On 19 Nov, the leaders met with the social entrepreneur of Upcykal and discussed this issue, and jointly, they came up with an alternative. It was decided that fashion designing would be a part of the tailoring training, with two hours reserved for each of the activities. It was hoped that the parents would not object to this arrangement, since they had originally permitted their daughters to be away for four hours of the tailoring training. Following this, another series of meetings was held on 22 Nov and again on 19 Dec, in which leaders went to the homes of each of the trainees and spoke to the parents at length. They reassured them that their daughters were safe during the training hours in the LMKS office and convinced them to send their daughters again for the training. It was only after these long exchanges that the parents agreed to send their daughters back.

Today, Upcykal and LMKS are conducting daily four-hour trainings for their tightly knit team of 10 trainees, 2 fashion designers and 1 tailoring teacher. Orders for their unique products have started pouring in and the enthusiasm in the group has no bounds. The social entrepreneur from Upcykal trains the union leaders on pricing, quality management and branding. The materials required for this are jointly discussed and subsequently purchased. These smaller changes on a daily basis are not so small when one thinks in terms of the confidence it brings to them. This incident clearly shows that it is in fact possible to bring good ideas into practice, but the process can often be marred with many difficulties, not the least of which are related to the norms of a patriarchal society such as ours. It is only collective efforts of groups such as LMKS which provide the space for reimagining alternatives to it by initiatives such as these.

Shortening the supply chain: Building direct links with the employers to increase returns on creative work, breaking the chain of middle-level contractors, direct sale of products in several handicrafts exhibitions.

On 15 Oct, garments leaders tried to reconnect with an employer that had previously given the union direct orders for making dresses. Since there was no work available with him then, he connected them with two others in Bhuleshwar area of Mumbai— well known for being the ultimate market destination for wedding supplies. While one of the two enterprise owners declined by saying that they only get work done in-house, the other sounded hopeful when he said that he would intimate the union when work was available. On 05 Dec, they approached several micro-unit owners of garment enterprises within Dharavi for orders. Again on 20 Dec, LMKS garment leaders approached a saree embellishment unit in Sion-Koliwada for prospective orders. It is important to note here that the fluctuations in global demand for garments and textiles affect informal workers in this industry. Exploring possibilities for continuous orders of work as well as increasing the per piece rate of produced items by building direct links with employers, is one of the ways in which LMKS provides shock-absorbers to its garment members. This is not an easy task. It requires exhaustive follow-ups with prospective employers and export houses, quality control, turnaround of completed orders in a very short period and most importantly, convincing members that taking up this work through the union is beneficial for them. Along the same lines, LMKS leaders in December also found jobs for two unemployed, semi-skilled workers residing in Dagdi building in Dharavi. One of these two is a 35 year old poor widow, who is now also a single mother. The new job involving hole-making in leather belts in a manufacturing unit within Dharavi, has come as a relief to both. Working in a unit located within the slum is also crucial in saving costs and time of travel in a busy city like Mumbai. At the same time, it must be mentioned the leaders of garment and allied workers department face peculiar problems in terms of addressing issues of female workers. One such case is described below.

Indira Lakshman Dhobi, 28, garment micro-factory worker

Indira is a garment worker in a micro-factory in Dharavi. Her task involves cutting of loose threads off of tailored garments. It is one of the tasks that many women perform in urban slums where garment work is undertaken, and it almost always ends up being low-paid. Even though Indira earned a small amount for a salary, she had been working in the unit for several years. One day in October 2013, her employer asked her to leave. It came as a shock to her that in the middle of the month, she was asked to quit. She could not understand why he would do such a thing. Upon asking the employer why he had decided to throw her out, he simply said, ‘tum theekkaamnahikarti ho. Pishabkarnekebahanebaharjaati ho, aurbaaharghumtirehti ho, aurkyakarti ho hameynahipata’ (‘you do not work properly… you make the excuse of going out to the toilet, when in fact you loiter around, and I don’t know what you do in that time’). Indira stood there, betrayed, angry and in tears— she had been fired in an instant, her dignity questioned and her dues not cleared. Gathering herself, she asked the employer to pay her for the 15 days of work of that particular month, before she left the unit. He initially agreed, but subsequently kept putting it off. Not knowing what to do, she returned home helpless every day. Someone in her area, who was a LMKS member, saw her in this devastated state. After hearing Indira’s story, she suggested that she approach LMKS for her problem.

Indira contacted the LMKS president, and they arranged to meet in the union office. She said, ‘Pagaarnahi de rahe, kaam se bhinikaaldiya. Ekaurathoonisliyemeri koi izzatnahihainkya? Jab chaherakho, jab chahephenko. Ab aap log hi merimadadkaro’ (‘[he is] not giving me my salary dues, [he] fired me. How can he deny me my dignity and respect just because I am a woman? [he] used me when [he] felt like, now [he] is throwing me [at his will]. You people please help me’). She was made to feel completely comfortable in the union, and among the supportive environment created by the 11 LMKS leaders, she opened up gradually also about a sexual harassment incident that had occurred in the unit some time back. She had chosen to ignore it, because she was scared and did not know who to report it to. She could not tell her employer, her family and neighbours would get suspicious of her instead of supporting her, and the fear of instantly losing her job prevented her from opening up about it.

All the LMKS leaders went to the micro-factory unit immediately and met the owner. They spoke to the owner about Indira’s sudden firing, the non-settlement of her dues and the insensitivity of his lame reasons to do so. They also spoke to the male artisan who had sexually harassed her. In the words of the president, ‘HamariSangathanakitakatbhidekha, aur hum ne unkodhamkidiyakiiskeyaaur koi auratkesaathaisakiya to police station meintumhareupar hum case karenge’ (‘He saw the strength of our union, and we threatened him by saying that if such treatment was meted out to her [Indira] or any other woman working in that unit, we would slap a case against him in the police station’).

This was enough to frighten the employer. LMKS president says, ‘itnasunkewohdarrgaya. Phir to wohmaafibhimaanga, haathjodaaaur bola, “main iskopagaarbhidetahoon, aurmerakaarigaruskochhedegabhinahi.Auryehkaamkarnachahtihain to karsaktihain”’ (‘after he heard this, he was scared. Then, he joined his hands, asked [Indira] for forgiveness and said “I am willing to pay her, and my artisan will never harass her. And if she wants, she can work here”’). Indira got her dues within a day of this discussion with the employer. Her happiness knew no bounds, and she immediately signed up to become a member of the union. The reassurance of having a permanent support system in the form of LMKS gave her confidence a great boost. She thanked the LMKS leaders profusely. Despite the apology from the owner and the offer to restart working there, Indira chose to leave on amicable terms. She is now working in the same capacity at another garment manufacturing unit in the area with a slightly ‘elevated sense of self-hood.

Home based workers department

One of our strongest membership cohorts is that of home based workers in all three districts. Through 2013 and 2014, with support from Home Net South Asia, we have been able to put in focused efforts towards this group of workers in Nashik and Solapur, only to witness glowing results. Some of them are mentioned here:

Learning Workshops: Education and Information about PDS and other schemes to HBW members

Grassroots leaders in Nashik had realised through their work in 2013 that ensuring members’ ‘entry into the system’ is particularly difficult as far as the smaller details are concerned. Most of our members are the urban poor who work in insecure conditions as part of the large urban informal sector. Often, their dwelling spaces are slums, their education is low and their work poorly paid. While whole families pool in their energies and time to earn just about enough to make ends meet, they are stuck as far as accessing the policies designed to lift them out of their misery. This is mainly because the procedures for applying to become rightful beneficiaries of these policies and schemes are cumbersome and lengthy, and they require repeated visits to government offices. How should a poor worker be expected to run from pillar to post putting together the right paperwork while she tries to eke out a living through prolonged working hours? In order to ease this burden, in 2012 and 2013 LEARN leaders tried to play the role of a facilitator for our members in creating a ‘complete application package’ for various schemes, the most important of which is the PDS. While in most cases, we have been successful in completing the process for each member and they have received their ration cards, but the leaders were finding it difficult to impress on the worker the meaningfulness of the entire system and their access problems. After several discussions within the leadership over this issue, LEARN leaders came up with two ideas to address the issue— education and campaign.

The first is the idea of holding fortnightly workshops on explaining every relevant scheme to the members down to the last detail. They called these ‘learning workshops’ and they have been hugely successful. On every second and fourth Saturday of the month, LEARN Nashik leadership hold workshops on several schemes which would prove to be beneficial to our members. Local LMKS leaders conduct sessions on the schemes and policies, why they are relevant to our members, the procedures for application, the paperwork required and the follow-up mechanisms to ensure the start of accruing benefits. Members participating in these workshops find it very useful, especially because of its participatory nature. They are free to ask questions through and after the workshop, mention their specific challenges in certain applications and get advice on how to fix it. A short information booklet has also been designed in a user-friendly language for circulation to the members at every workshop. It has details on 7-8 most important policies and schemes for unorganised sector workers and associated paperwork. While the last two years we focused on active enrollment drives and followed up until most of our members’ applications saw its logical end with the receiving of ration cards, it was now beginning to move to the next step of demanding good quality, increased quantity and easier access to the subsidised commodities in the MR shops. In this light, the efforts of LEARN in Nashik have focused on education of members and activating a campaign for demanding their right to food.

Field level mobilisation is a continuous process. Therefore, while enrolling new members, it is also important to follow-up with the existing ones and to understand their issues. Among other field level meetings, LMKS leaders in Solapur did a ‘stock-taking’ in the existing membership areas on 04 Jan 2014 for renewal of memberships. It was also a way to discuss the learnings from the Ahmedabad FLOW training organised jointly by HNSA and conducted by SEWA. The leaders were enriched by their experiences in the FLOW training and did a second round of intensive sharing among the leaders at the office. By their own admission, this was highly ‘inspiring’, and it gave them ideas on starting of training centers and child care centres. Meetings of members are an important element of collective action. Thus, on 8th Jan, a general meeting was held with 180 members for a discussion on various issues such as scholarship form submissions, domestic workers board registration, formation of savings groups and renewal of memberships.

Relief for seniors: In Solapur, LMKS leaders were successful in connecting 600 senior citizens to the government monthly pension program for seniors called Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Yojana and Shravan Bal Yojana

Social security schemes are also an important component for our work in Solapur, given the large number of seniors, widows and destitute women. The efforts in this district have therefore always borne this in mind.For some reason, the implementation of Shravan Bal Niradhar Yojana, a central government scheme for senior citizens, was not effectivein Solapur. A large part of our membership in Solapur is categorised by senior citizens, and therefore, this policy could come as a relief for them. A number of our members (approx. 60) had applied for availing of its benefits, but due to lack of implementation, it was not happening. The process was application, followed by enquiry and verification of the applicant. After three months of the completion of this process, the applicant was supposed to begin accruing the benefits from the policy. But due to political and administrative issues, this was not happening. LMKS leaders in Solapur wanted to find the bottleneck and clear it up so that our members would not suffer.

It turned out that there was a fight of two MLAs over the control of the Shravan Bal committee. LMKS intervened and followed up on it. So the collector took notice of the constant follow up by LMKS leaders and formed a new committee. Forms which were pending for three years finally moved. The rigorous follow-up by LMKS helped in releasing the benefits (Rs. 550pm for expenses) for not just the sixty applicants who were LMKS members, but also for 1700 others whose applications were stuck. The policy is now implemented well. Of these 60, 48 women were home workers. This is a great example of effectively channeling the outreach of policy to the lives of ordinary men and women, and the urban poor in particular. Pressure from below helped in ensuring that the forms did not end up in the bin.

Another victory for LMKS Solapur was the recognition by the civic administration of our work and the appointment of some of our leaders as booth level officers for the 2014 general eletions. Three leaders of LMKS Solapur were selected as booth level officers (BLOs) in the run up to the Lok Sabha General elections in 2014. Their work was to do a survey, make lists of existing and prospective voters, check their voter ids and fill up their application forms. Each managed to get approximately 700-1000 names registered. They underwent 3-4 trainings for this. Several members of the LMKS benefited due to this exercise— they were able to get enrolled in the voter’s enrolment list and get voter id cards. The information required for registration of the election card was got from the leaders, instead of the election duty officers. This was one of the biggest benefits because our members are low-educated, illiterate— several times, they do not know about registration, enrolment etc. Due to its strong community base, leaders were given the responsibility to handle this. It was a highly gratifying experience for the leaders.

Child care centre, LMKS Mumbai: The child care centre or crèche, is where our members leave their infants and children in the care of trained child-care workers. The centre is headed by a LMKS leader, two teachers and two helpers. The enrollment has been going up steadily since the centre first opened its doors for its members. At a minimal fee, the parents go off to work without having to worry about their safety, their studies and their nutrition needs. Yummy khichadi is served frequently through the day, the children are encouraged to play, write, sing and dance and their needs are looked after. From Oct-Dec, an additional 12 children had been taken in at the centre, in addition to the existing 28. Since the timings of the centre are as wide as 9am to 8pm, it opens the doors for different kinds of people coming or going for diverse shifts at their jobs. It is a great relief for our members who are now ‘tension-free’ in the period that their children are in the care of our child care centre team. This does not mean that the work is a piece of cake. Working with infants and children of different ages is no joke, even for a trained child care worker. Secondly, the children are exposed to getting coughs and fevers from other children. In order to address this problem, in Nov, our LMKS leaders in Mumbai approached Nair hospital requesting a doctor’s visit at least once a week to monitor the children’s health. Three visits and repeated phone calls did not yield much. LMKS is still looking for doctors who would come for regular checkups of the children at the centre. Lastly, the funding issue has also affected the running of the child care centre, because the rising costs of rental spaces even in slums, increasing prices of food, better honorarium for our staff has meant that we would ned to cut down on the number of enrollments in the near future and work only with a small group of children.

Domestic Workers Rights: Facilitating registration of domestic workers in the welfare board, assisting in conflicts with the employer and in cases of police investigation.

One of the groups with the largest membership in the LMKS is that of domestic workers. Continuing the legacy of our previous work with domestic workers, LMKS continued its path-breaking work in this area. In October, one of our most experienced leader, a former domestic worker herself, went for a capacity building programme on domestic workers organised by Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad. She spoke about her work, about the domestic workers’ welfare board in Maharashtra, about the various cases that come to them and heard about the experiences other union activists from other states of India. It was a good learning opportunity and experience sharing platform, where the participants learnt from each other and were given information about the various laws pertinent to domestic workers. She was also taken on an exposure visit. Given her seniority in the field, our leader had more knowledge and information about the grassroots reality and challenges of organising domestic workers than the other participants. Upon returning from the training, she decided to go to the Labour commissioner’s office in KaamgarBhavan, to look for the recent updates in the laws, policies and schemes pertaining to domestic workers. Further, she also sought information on the renewal of 250 members’ application to the welfare board, associated paperwork required, applicable fees, and the date and place of submission. Then, she went back to the union office, discussed all these details with her fellow activists for spreading information in their respective field areas. This is an important step in the direction of taking efforts to mainstream informal sector workers such as domestic workers, in addition to keeping a tab on the latest laws pertinent to this category of workers.

In November 2013, area meetings of domestic workers were held in Shahunagar, Mahim and Labour Camp. They were given the information got in the previous month by the leaders, in addition to their identity cards and membership status. Besides, through interactions, they also found the situations of those that attended these meetings, their problems, and their working conditions etc. They were also given a brief on the recent cases of domestic workers that were handled by the union, thereby impressing on them that the union was standing in support of all its members engaged in domestic work.

One of the major tasks of the domestic workers department was and continues to remain solving problem-cases at the workplace. Several of our members see the inside of a police station for no fault of their own— often, they are accused of theft if something goes missing in the house, they are called liars if they try to take medical or emergency leave, they are silenced by the police who also pay heed to the employer’s voice rather than the workers’. Working in such precarious circumstances of ill-faith and insecurity, the disregard for the domestic workers’ dignity can sometimes also have violent undertones. A case in point is that of ChandaPawar, a young 19-year old domestic worker employed at a diamond merchant’s household in the affluent Cuffe Parade area of Mumbai, who died in mysterious circumstances in Nov 2013. Even though newspapers at the time were rife with coverage over the case initially, this momentum fizzled out soon enough. Neither the local police station nor the employer were helping Chanda’s family with the details of Chanda’s apparent ‘fall’ from the 23rd floor of her workplace. They merely wanted to know what had suddenly happened. They were turned away from every place, sometimes even rudely. Helpless and lonely, not knowing which door to knock, they finally approached LMKS at the advice of someone known to them. Upon learning of this case, the leaders rushed to the area to meet her sister, Balamma. They introduced themselves as leaders of a union in Dharavi that worked to organise people like Chanda and to help out in cases like such. After initial trust building moments, the leaders wanted to understand from her the few details she had known, and general information about Chanda herself. Following this, they lodged a police complaint for reopening Chanda’s case. Initially, they met with a lot of resistance from the cops themselves, who would not give complete information, and said that the post mortem report would take three months to arrive. Following this, the leaders again went to the area a week later, to meet Chanda’s family and follow up their complaint in the police station. Although the police’s authoritarian demure and rude behaviour shook the leaders in the first few instances, they stood up to them and said that they were there seeking justice for an innocent poor girl whose death had come as a sudden irreparable loss to her family. They also said that Chanda had died while still at the workplace and it would not be fair to close the case without providing closure to her family. Again in Dec, repeated visits to the police station along with Balamma helped to keep Chanda’s case on the minds of the police officers. The follow-up of the case is still ongoing, but the continuous meeting of LMKS leaders with Balamma had really helped her to feel that she was not alone in her struggle to get justice for her dead sister.

In Dec 2013, LMKS leaders got another call from a domestic worker in Andheri who wanted help in getting a divorce from her abusive husband and his family. The leaders again rushed for the case and helped her in her time of need.

Wastepickers Department

In a moving account of scavengers in Indonesia, Daniel Sicular (1985: 1) begins his narration by saying, ‘One persistent image of the Third World city; that of a place of squalor, poverty and hopelessness, is embodied in the scavenger. Filthy, shiftless, lonely and despised, he drifts about the city seeking miserable bits of paper and wire among putrefying haps of garbage, somehow eking out an existence as a parasite on the city.’ The rest of Sicular’s 200-page monograph goes on to describe the problems with this image, the reality on the ground and their role as being far from parasitic.

As eco-service providers that slog to keep the city clean, one would think that the citizenry would have nothing but gratitude for the urban wastepicker. This is hardly the case. Ignored by the public in general, and not recognised or protected by the State, the urban wastepicker in India today is perhaps the most vulnerable and poverty stricken of the informal sector workforce. They often come from the lowest castes and poorest backgrounds, live in the most congested slums with little or no civic amenities and are often looked down upon by the public. LMKS grassroots leaders, who themselves are slumdwellers and come from poor backgrounds, have been shocked by the situation of wastepickers who live in much worse conditions.

It did not take much deliberation or discussion among the LMKS office bearers to unanimously decide that wastepickers in Mumbai had to be unionised. Two leaders were designated to take up the responsibility and they were soon drawing up plans to visit three main areas in Mumbai, where much of the waste-picking population resides.

Preliminary interactions in three areas, namely, Priyadarshini, Mankhurd and Antop Hill revealed that wastepickers were working in particularly dangerous conditions, were paid measly sums for a whole day of walking and collecting trash, were malnourished, were finding that they were not able to sustain their children’s interest in going to school and were treated like parasites in a city of plenty. Two weeks of dealing with jarring differences in their own contexts vis-à-vis the wastepickers’, shook and at the same time strengthened the resolve of these two leaders to provide a support system to these vulnerable lot. But the process of entering these areas and to their hearts had not been easy.

The wastepickers had been approached by a similar organisation few years ago, and had spoken about organising them. They had formed savings groups and in the course of time, disappeared. This was the ultimate kind of betrayal. The wastepickers felt that they had trusted an organisation with their tiny incomes as savings, but repeated calls and messages did not yield much response. Ultimately, the wastepickers and their families gave up hope of ever seeing those people again and getting their savings back. This made it doubly difficult for them to believe that LMKS leaders were in fact trustworthy. The leaders took it up as a challenge and continued their visits to these areas daily for a few weeks, interacted with the same people over and over again until trust was developed and a good rapport established.

Due to this, even though the union membership of wastepickers in terms of numbers has been slow, the leaders have been able to make large qualitative differences in the lives of the people in these areas. The genuineness of their intent was clear, and soon, word quickly spread in other areas as well. Today, LMKS is actively organising wastepickers in the original three areas, namely, Antop Hill, Mankhurd and Priyadarshini; but have also started frequent field meetings in Pratiksha Nagar, Wadala and Postal Colony. Here’s a brief overview of these repeated field meetings: in October 2013 alone, LMKS leaders had 8 meetings in 4 of the areas, in November 7 meetings were conducted in 5 of the areas and in December, 9 meetings were held in all the above mentioned areas and also two new ones, namely Sathe Nagar and Jui Nagar (Navi Mumbai). The main agenda of these numerous meetings are to bring wastepickers together as a collective. The leaders try to understand the nature of their work (timings of work, areas of collecting waste, daily earnings, hazards etc.), the processes and strategies they use to go about their work all day and their challenges through this process. However, they maintain a delicate balance of ensuring that nobody thinks of them as the bringers of ‘magic bullet’ solutions to all their problems. Rather, they engage in brainstorming, by asking a simple question, ‘so how do you think we could collectively solve this? Engaging them in thinking of their problems is in itself a good exercise in getting a perspective on one’s own situation. While mentioning problems in such fora, sometimes people realise that trivial things have got blown out of proportion in their heads and speaking about it has provided the necessary catharsis.

It is interesting to note that our leaders had got a phone call from a wastepicker in Jui Nagar who said she had heard of their unionising efforts and would appreciate if they also visited her area to meet wastepickers. There is an important learning here. Social networks built on the foundation of community, caste and trade are so powerful that they can truly make or break an initiative. Even though the wastepickers of Jui Nagar live not in the same neighbourhood as their counterparts in Mumbai’s slums; clearly, an effort of this sort makes waves among people who truly need this kind of support. It does not have anything to do with education or literacy. It points to a much ignored fundamental fact, that the poor are rational, thinking beings. With the right guidance and orientation, they highly value the collective power of their status as a ‘worker’ cutting across community, religion and caste lines. It becomes even more pronounced when the wastepicker experiences acute exclusion not just from the citizenry in general (read middle class morality), but also indifference and apathy from the State. The most important thing that our leaders’ going to meet and talk, brings a feeling of being ‘wanted’, of being ‘cared for’ by at least someone out there. It communicates to them that their work and their existence is valued, their voice is heard, their needs cared for, and most importantly, their dignity as humans accorded to them.

Rights of the urban working poor: Lobbying for improved access to PDS, housing rights, urban infrastructure, healthcare, sanitation and access to medical aid.

The PDS and rationing of foodgrains and other essential commodities through MR shops is not only a matter of access, but also a matter of identity. Since the lack of identity proofs is a common problem of many workers in the urban informal sector, the ration card becomes an important government identity document that also helps in addressing food security— or so it is hoped. Lack of document-evidence hampers the process of getting government identity and access to various schemes and policies.

In Solapur, 9 ration card applications were rejected by ration zone officers, due to inadequate paperwork from our HBW members. This is despite the government circular (GR) of 2003 which clearly states that for getting a ration card, informal sector workers need not have any documents/ paperwork to prove their identity, and that only a physical verification of the place of stay suffices. Despite this ease in policy, the implementation is often mired with hurdles such as those mentioned above. For an informal sector worker, already victimised by multiple deprivations, such obstacles make her suffering even more complex and pronounced. Large amount of social sciences literature pointing to the discrepancies in the PDS situation exists. Leaders in all three districts of LMKS operations are actively working on this issue and closing this gap. At the state level, it is affiliated to the Rationing Kruti Samiti (RKS) which fights for citizens’ rightful access and proper quality of goods in the PDS.

In November, LMKS leaders in Mumbai went to meet the officer in Dharavi ration office. Due to past efforts of the organisation and several dharnas (demonstrations) since 2007, LMKS is fairly well-known in the Dharavi rationing office. The officer gave our leaders information about the release of new application forms and the process of submission for new applicants.

Housing Rights

For residents of urban slums, a bulk of whom comprise the informal sector workforce, housing is an important component of their lives. Not only is this true because a large number of them use their homes also as a workplace (such as home based workers), but also because of the insecurity associated with living in low cost settlements in metropolitan centres such as Mumbai or fast growing small towns such as Nashik and Solapur.

In order to approach this issue, in Mumbai, LMKS leaders engaged in a baseline survey of 900 members in various slums that face under the constant threat of eviction. The idea was to find out the current residential status of the respondents and their requirements for change. Some of these areas included Mukund Nagar, Kumbharwada, Bharat Nagar, Rajeev Gandhi Nagar, Muslim Nagar and other parts of Dharavi. The survey conducted from 14-20 Dec, showed that a large section of the respondents lived in rented households. Many of these had been living on rent in the same house for 3 generations. Despite this, they had no rights over their dwelling spaces. The survey was conducted in collaboration with Committee for Rights to Housing (CRH), a housing rights organisation based in Mumbai. CRH also roped in other like-minded organisations to do similar data collection work in their areas of operation. Eventually, the findings were to be discussed in a workshop at the end of the survey. Thus, on 21-22 Dec, a meeting of 40 representatives from 12 organisations met to discuss the findings, followed by an action plan. The conclusion was that, if the slumdweller has been residing in Mumbai for a period of 5 or more than 5 years whether on rent or ownership, s/he is eligible for housing rights, should there be a demolition of their existing area. Further, it also discussed the possibilities of according tenurial rights to those living on rent.

In Nashik, the situation regarding housing issues was a tad different. The corruption in the system regarding policies such as RAY and JNNURM creates bottlenecks and catch-22s, for which there is no way around. The urban working poor who need the benefit from such policies the most, end up having to bear the brunt of such bottlenecks. In Nasik, the NMC built 16000 homes under the JNNURM scheme. The RAY scheme suggests that the houses will be reconstructed in the same place where the individual’s house is situated at the moment, and that NMC can’t provide them ownership of the land. This way, the end user is at a loss. It was found that under Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) of JNNURM, all the rehabilitation policies to be implemented under this scheme were on the outskirts of Nasik. Due to this, the livelihoods of many will be affected. Home based shopkeepers in slums— selling vegetables, fish, and homemade products—will get destroyed in an apartment set up. The apartment dimensions in rehabilitation scheme are 240sq.ft. Markets were closer for workers in these areas, and due to rehabilitation they will need to travel long distances. NMC schools are closer to the workers’ current residence, so their expense will increase. As a result, right to education too will be violated. There were several discussions and community meetings to discuss it. In order to address this as a livelihoods issue, LMKS plans to organise a demonstration to ask the NMC not to take such a drastic step. If in any case, the workers are forced to, LMKS plans to demand new bus routes following the Jalgaon example, wherein 5 years of free bus service was provided until the rehabilitated individuals got settled in their new place.

Training and Capacity building

Leaders and workers undergo several skill-improvement trainings and leadership development workshops round the year. Our collaborations with organisations such as Acton Aid, Rationing Kruti Samiti (RKS), Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and Homenet helps in furthering our training goals. We partnered with SAP and FRB for furthering our goals of bridging the digital divide and increasing the employability of the youth in urban slums. The training department usually engages in a lot of planning, scheduling and coordinating with various stakeholders such as LMKS leaders, external training agencies, students, trainers and actively networking with prospective partners. The training centre has now also been spruced up with new computers, better furniture and internet connection. The computer training centre also doubled up as a tailoring training centre in the afternoons, which meant that there was a space and storage issue for both classes. It was therefore decided in December to look for another space for the tailoring training, close to the existing LMKS Dharavi office.

In November 2013, our training coordinator had discussions with other LMKS leaders for creating a list of interested students for the affordable computer training course at LMKS office in Dharavi. A planning meeting was held in the office to discuss need assessment and analysis of existing situation for new batches of computer training. They talked about drawing up a schedule for visiting various membership areas to inform members about the courses to be taught in the LMKS training centre, the potential benefits, the fees and so on. Based on this list, a schedule for batches was drawn up, and the teachers for assigned to each of the batches.

From 07-09 October, one of our most experienced leaders in Mumbai, a former domestic worker herself, went for a capacity building programme on domestic workers organised by Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad. She spoke about her work, about the domestic workers’ welfare board in Maharashtra, about the various cases that come to them and heard about the experiences other union activists from other states of India. It was a good learning opportunity and experience sharing platform, where the participants learnt from each other and were given information about the various laws pertinent to domestic workers. She was also taken on an exposure visit. Given her seniority in the field, our leader had more knowledge and information about the grassroots reality and challenges of organising domestic workers than the other participants.

The Foundation level Leadership and Organisation Workshop (FLOW) conducted by SEWA from 31 Dec 2013-03 Jan 2014 was very useful and highly stimulating for the seven LMKS leaders from Nashik and Solapur that attended it. Among other components, the session on difference between a ‘social worker’ and a ‘trade union activist’ was most important. Often, due to the nature of the informal sector, a trade union ends up supporting the worker in terms of health, education, social security linkages and this could sometimes result in a confusion of roles and identities for those who have newly joined the trade union movement. There were interesting insights for participants on the characteristics of a good leader who does not discriminate among individuals based on caste, religion, class, gender etc. The workshop also helped in addressing the question of how to build membership, how to resolve members’ issues (morchas, andolan, meeting with local, regional national leaders and the communication at all these levels)? It was also an excellent opportunity for meeting like-minded individuals organising home based workers in other parts of the country.

Capacity building and exposure visits do not happen just one way. LMKS offices in all three districts see an inflow of activists, researchers and students from all over the world. In Dec, Rahima from SEWA Ahmedabad spent five days in LMKS Mumbai office regarding the aims and objectives of capacity building of leaders and effective leadership. She also visited our membership areas in the slum along with our leaders.

Mahila Adhar Kendra: Set up to handle the domestic and workplace related cases of injustice. Peer support helps in solving most of the issues, and for legal aid, Majlis has been working with us. In collaboration with Majlis, LMKS leaders are able to provide free legal aid and counselling to battered women and resolve domestic conflicts, workplace problems and so on.

Medical Adhar Kendra: Addressing the huge gap in the need and availability of affordable and good quality healthcare in slums, LEARN has been conducting several healthcare camps in urban slums of Mumbai. This has been going on in active collaboration with various clinics, pathology labs and hospitals. Unfortunately, due to the interlocking of two aspects—the rising costs of holding such camps as well as a reduction in LEARN funds, we have had to severely curtail our activities in this area. The Medical Adhar Kendra now restricts its activities to only conducting eye-checkup camps. However, this has not marred the spirit of the LMKS leadership. An eye-camp was conducted on 22 Oct 2014 in Prem Nagar with 31 members. This is an interesting case because most of our members here are engaged in sifting powdered glass (kaanch). They separate thicker glass pieces from the fine powder. This sifted and fine glass powder is then loaded in heaps onto trucks which are then taken to multiple destinations. Presumably, a large part of it is used to make kite-flying thread (maanja) and as decorative dust in art installations, table stands etc. Sifting this glass powder is an inherently hazardous task. Not only is the worker exposed to inhaling the dust, but also to the possibility of minor pieces getting stuck in the eye. Not surprisingly, several of our members in Prem Nagar have been advised to use spectacles due to diminishing vision. Four of these members need a cataract surgery. On 03 Dec, LMKS leaders went for a post eye-camp follow-up to Prem Nagar for distributing custom-made spectacles, only 8 of the 29 people were able to afford them. As mentioned earlier, the cost of the spectacles have gone up because our collaborating hospital lost its long-time funder, thereby losing its subsidised spectacle-making initiative. Increased rates of these subsidised spectacles are a problem for many of our members, but not all. In December, LMKS leaders approached the members in several areas of Rajeev Gandhi Nagar slum to discuss if the increased rates of spectacles would be affordable for them? If no; the LMKS leaders sought to find out; if the members saw any merit in continuing to hold the eye camps. Members instantly said yes. The leaders said, ‘but the costs have increased…’ To this, the members replied, ‘at least the service comes to our doorstep. Besides, the costs of those spectacles have increased only slightly. They now cost Rs. 350. If we go to an ophthalmologist, they cost no less than Rs.1000/- to begin. And the running around is additional. Why would we go in for something like that, when your camps bring affordable and reliable eye-checkups to us, and the spectacle costs Rs. 350/-?’ This served as a great confidence booster for LMKS leaders, who were slowly losing hope about eye-checkup camps. They are now in the process of continuing to plan these camps for 2014. Similarly, in October, spectacles were distributed to 14 of the 38 participants in Muslim Nagar area, as a result of a previous eye-checkup camp.

LMKS leaders have been actively scouting for collaborations with prospective partners such as the Family Planning Association of India (FPA) in Tilak Nagar. The idea for this in fact came up as a result of experience sharing with LMKS Solapur team, which has been conducting anemia and thalassemia checkups for its members. In Mumbai, the collaboration with FPA would start by checkups of wastepickers in the areas of Priyadarshini, Antop Hill, Pratiksha Nagar, Mankhurd, Postal Colony and Wadala. Follow-up meetings to iron out the details are planned for 2014. Also included in the plans are searches for funding support towards the healthcare initiatives of LEARN.

In November, the leaders handling responsibility of running the Medical Adhar Kendra were engaged in several activities. They went to meet obstetrician-gynecologists Dr. Asha Dalal and Dr. Devki Desai in Nair hospital to check if they would be interested and able to conduct health camps for our members through their hospital. After the meeting, the leaders were asked to meet Dr. Mamta in Sion hospital for the same. Two follow-up meetings with Dr. Mamta make it look hopeful for such a camp to materialise. In line with continuous approaching health care organisations, in December, LMKS leaders approached the F-North ward office in Parel for ideas on conducting health camps.

Campaign for the girl child: Empowering adolescent girls and boys by creating a support group, helping in skill upgradation, counseling, and raising awareness about the rights of the child, more specifically rights of the girl child. The group meets every Sunday in the Dharavi office.

Research: Generating literature on the urban informal economy in India based on the findings and learnings from the work of the trade union. To know more about our work in this area, click on Research.

Network: LEARN and LMKS collaborate with like-minded organisations and campaigns for the rights of the urban working poor, trade unions and the global labour movement,rights of the girl child, improving and creating inclusive urban infrastructure, enhancing the accessibility to various social security schemes. In our work, we are supported by a small number of organisations. To know more about our work in this area, click on Network.

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    LEARN looks forward to any researcher interested in MicroResearch in reference to the issues dealt in the organization

    LEARN encourages any voluntary contribution in enhancing the Overall personality of its members.

    The children are the future of this society, and hence their co-curricular development is a matter of vital importance for us,any voluntary effort would be happily welcomed.

    Team

    LEARN Executive Committee | LMKS activists-Mumbai | LMKS activists-Solapur | LMKS activists-Nashik
    • Late Prof. SHARIT K. BHOWMIK Founder and Chairperson, LEARN >>
    • Ms. FATIMA SHAIKH EC MEMBER, LEARN >>
    • Prof. KISHOR GAIKWAD Chairperson, LEARN >>
    • Prof. SUDHA MOHAN EC Member, LEARN >>
    • Prof. DR. RAMESH KAMBLE Treasurer, LEARN>>
    • Prof. NEERAJ HATEKAR EC Member, LEARN>>
    • Dr. BHALCHANDRA KANGO EC Member>>
    • Dr. INDIRA GARTENBERG EC Member, LEARN >>
    • Mr. Amar Kharate Secretary, LEARN >>
    • Prof. P. S. Vivek EC Member, LEARN >>
    • Dr. S. T. Sawant EC Member, LEARN >>
    • Ms. Fatima Shaikh PRESIDENT, LMKS
      SECRETARY, LEARN
    • Ms. Savitra Badigeri TREASURER, LMKS
    • Ms. Nirmala Bussapnoor Organising Secretary,LMKS
    • Ms. Sheeladevi Paswan Secretary,LMKS
    • Ms. Asiya Shaikh Incharge, LEARN Child Care Centre>>
    • Ms. Anusha Madari President, LMKS Solapur>>
    • Ms. Rajeshree Patil Vice President, LMKS Solapur>>
    • Ms. Tejashree Kalyanshetti General Secretary, LMKS Solapur>>
    • Ms. Laxami Tambake Joint Secretary, LMKS Solapur >>
    • Ms. Anita Burkule Joint Secretary, LMKS Solapur >>
    • Ms. Rajeshvari Kumbhar Joint secretary, LMKS Solapur>>
    • Ms. Jijabai More President, LMKS Nashik>>
    • Ms. Surekha Ahire Vice President, LMKS Nashik>>
    • Ms. Jareena Shaikh Treasurer, LMKS Nashik>>
    LEARN Mahila Kamgar Sanghatana,
    M-B-30-6/6, Floor-Grd, Basweshwar Nagar, Sant Kakkaya Marg, M P Nagar, Dhorwada
    Dharavi, Mumbai 400017
    Our Other Locations >>