8 February, 2021After an eight-month struggle and international solidarity campaign, the Garment and Textile Workers’ Union (GATWU) has signed an agreement with H&M supplier Gokaldas Exports that recognizes the union and reinstates all the 1,257 workers – mostly women - who were fired.
After the first Covid-19 lockdown, garment producer Gokaldas Exports, based in the Indian state of Karnataka, used the pandemic as an excuse to break the union at its Euro Clothing Company 2 (ECC-2) factory. It began removing machinery on 30 May, and on 8 June, it shut the factory and fired all 1,257 workers. The firing was illegal under Indian federal labour law.
Gokaldas has more than 20 production units. However, ECC-2 was the only one that was unionized, with about 900 workers belonging to IndustriALL Global Union affiliate GATWU and its federation Unions United. ECC-2 produces clothing for European brands. At the time, the factory was fulfilling orders for H&M, its main client. Gokaldas claimed that H&M order cancellations were the reason for shutting the factory. H&M disputed this, saying that it had paid for all clothing produced.
Before and after shutting the factory, managers engaged in an aggressive union busting campaign. This included travelling to workers’ home villages to threaten them. The workers did not back down: they launched a sit-in at the factory as soon as the closure was announced, which continued for 50 days and resulted in the workers receiving pay that was owed to them.
IndustriALL first wrote to the company on 9 June. IndustriALL has a global framework agreement (GFA) with H&M that guarantees freedom of association in the company’s supply chains. Violations are monitored by a National Monitoring Committee. Gokaldas initially refused to meet with the committee, and later refused to engage in the conciliation process.
IndustriALL launched an international campaign, which included a Global Day of Action on 4 September. The case received widespread media attention and support from the Worker Rights Consortium who put pressure on American brands such as GAP and Columbia. H&M, in compliance with the GFA, announced its intention to stop ordering from Gokaldas if the company failed to respect freedom of association.
In India, GATWU kept up the pressure on the company. The resolution of the union paid off, and on 1 February 2021, Gokaldas Exports signed a memorandum of understanding with GATWU, their national centre NTUI and IndustriALL.
The most important points of the agreement are:
- All 1,257 workers who were employed when the factory shut will be offered work if they apply before 15 March 2021.
- ECC-2 will remain shut, but workers will be offered employment in two other factories.
- The company will provide transport to the factories.
- GATWU will be recognized as the sole bargaining agent for three years in any factory where they have more than 20 per cent membership.
Padma, a worker at ECC-2 and a key union activist said:
“We always knew that after such a powerful struggle we would win back all 1,257 jobs. This is because of the sustained struggle of all the workers and of GATWU, NTUI and IndustriALL.”
Nagamma, a worker at ECC-2, said:
“We fought because all we have is our jobs to keep us alive. All workers should learn from this and join a union. It is only through strong unions that you can fight such big companies.”
GATWU president Prathibha R said,
“It was the determination of the union and its members, along with international solidarity, that ensured that an agreement like this, which has never been seen before, can be signed. GATWU will continue to organize garment workers and build its strength”.
IndustriALL General secretary Valter Sanches, said:
“This is a tremendous victory for GATWU against almost impossible odds. Against a backdrop of a global pandemic that has resulted in economic carnage and lost jobs, GATWU won workers’ jobs back, as well as a recognition agreement that it will use to expand its coverage at the company. The courage and determination of the workers is an inspiration to us all.
“This victory also shows the importance of our global framework agreements. Combined with a strong campaign on the ground and international solidarity, they provide the leverage that leads to victory. I would like to thank all our affiliates around the world that engaged in the solidarity actions.”
The general secretary of the NTUI, Gautam Mody, added:
“This is what union power is about – a united and militant membership makes for strong union, a strong national centre and a strong global union. The solidarity and support we received was incredible. That kept the spirits up. IndustriALL really proved what a fighting global union can achieve.”