Self Employed Women’s Association
July 2006
SEWA Joins the ICFTU

SEWA has been admitted as a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, joining 236 national trade union federations and 1.55 billion workers from 159 countries.

It has been a long journey to this point. When SEWA first started in 1972, since it was part of Textile Labour Association, a major trade union, it automatically became part of the international labour movement, a member of ITGLWF (International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation) and affiliated with the ICFTU through the National Labour Organisation. However, as SEWA grew in size, conflicts with TLA increased, and in 1982 SEWA was asked to leave the TLA. With this action SEWA was cut off from the National and International labour movements and was suddenly on it’s own. SEWA continued to grow as workers were attracted in larger and larger numbers and as it’s methods of organizing workers in the informal economy became more relevant.

In the 1980s the international labour movement there were few efforts to organize in the informal economy. It was believed that the workers in the informal economy were not really workers as no employer-employee relationship could be established. In spite of this many trade unions still believed in SEWA’s work and continued association with us. The FNV (Dutch Trade union) was the first to support us when we had to leave the TLA and that support has continued. The AFL-CIO and the DGB have continued to appreciate our work and continually give moral support. Other trade unions such as the Ghana Trade Union Congress and CROC from Mexico have been important supporters of SEWA. 

The first international federation to appreciate SEWA’s relevance was the IUF. Ela Bhatt the General Secretary of SEWA met Dan Gallin the General Secretary of the IUF and explained about workers in the informal economy and how we organized them. Dan and the IUF were convinced that SEWA was a genuine trade union and in 1985 SEWA became a member of the IUF. Some years later SEWA also became a member of the ITGLWF after the new General Secretary Neil Kearney came to visit SEWA. There has been a long and fruitful relationship with both these Global Federations which were in the forefront in SEWA’s efforts to pass the Home Workers Convention in the ILO in 1996 and the Resolution on the Informal Economy in the ILO in 2002. SEWA also joined the ICEM.

A friendly relationship with the ICFTU, and in particular with the Equality Department, continued and SEWA was invited to the ICFTU congresses and was able to speak about the workers in the informal economy there.

In 2002 SEWA’s membership crossed the 500,000 mark required for an Indian trade union to be recognized as a national federation and SEWA applied for recognition to the Indian Government. In spite of the opposition from the other Indian federations the Indian Government is in the process of verifying SEWA’s membership. In 2005 SEWA wrote to the ICFTU asking for membership. SEWA’s application was not considered favourably by the existing Indian affiliates, so a Mission from ICFTU headed by General Secretary Guy Ryder and composed of eight prominent trade union leaders, visited SEWA in April this year.

The Mission met the Executive Committee of SEWA and had two day long discussions with them. The mission raised and discussed the objections about SEWA that they had received.

The first objection was that SEWA is a trade union of small employers. We explained that our members do not employ others. They either work for contractors or employers directly or indirectly; or they are own-account workers, like street vendors or marginal farmers. Paluben, a street vendor said, “ I may be self employed, but I sweat harder than any factory worker, and still my work is so insecure and my income so small”.

The second objection was that SEWA does not do collective bargaining. SEWA executive committee members listed 102 collective bargaining agreements that they had undertaken with bidi manufacturers, incense manufacturers, tobacco processing factories, municipal corporations, forest corporations and many more. As Bhanuben an agricultural worker said, “If we do not unite and bargain for better wages the employers and contractors treat us like dirt”. 

The third objection was that SEWA organised only in one state of India and not truly national. In response, SEWA executive committee members from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh talked about their extensive membership and activities.

The Mission asked about SEWA finances, were we truly sustainable? We showed them that over 55% of our total costs were covered by membership fees. Grants and donations accounted for the other 45% which were used mainly for education and publications. The mission wanted to know why SEWA organized only women and the executive committee explained that in the Indian context when men and women organized , the men took over and women could not speak. “In our families we cannot speak in front of the elder men, and if they come into our union, we can no longer lead the union”.

The Mission also wanted to know why SEWA did not join one of the nine existing Indian labour federations. We explained that in India most labour federations were associated with a political party and it was SEWA’s policy to remain apolitical. Finally, the mission had been told about SEWA’s problems with the present Government of Gujarat and were going to meet the Government. We explained to the mission how we were made the subject of an attack from the present State Government and requested the mission to show support for SEWA when they met the Gujarat Government.

We thank the Mission and all our friends who have supported us and look forward to working closely with the ICFTU to promote organizing of the workers in the informal economy.

June is a Month of SEWA Co-operative Annual General Meetings

By law Co-operative bodies in India have to hold their annual general meetings (AGM) before the 30th of June, so the Co-operatives sponsored by SEWA all held their annual meetings this month. In the SEWA family, women workers come together to create economic organisations. Many of them are registered under the Co-operative Act while over 5000 small groups are registered as self-help groups or federations under the Societies Act. The Co-operatives registered in Gujarat have Federated into the Gujarat State Mahila SEWA Co-operative Federation.

Over the years 97 Co-operatives have been formed, but as markets change, some become dormant, and so this year 65 Co-operatives held their annual general meetings in the month of June. Over 30,000 share holder women came together in these meetings listened to their boards read out their balance sheets, collected their dividends and celebrated yet another year of a successful co-operative.

SEWA Bank --- Shri Mahila SEWA Sahkari Bank Ltd.

Shri Mahila SEWA Sahkari Bank Ltd. registered a profit more than Rs. 6million during the current year. Working as the bank of poor women, it made a credit worth more than Rs. 243 million available to self employed women during the last fiscal year through many different types of loans. 

In the report presented in its 32nd AGM, the bank announced over 25% increase in its share capital and over 30% increase in credit. SEWA Bank has a working capital over Rs. 940 million. During the AGM attended by over a thousand women on 26th June at Ahmedabad, the Bank announced a new scheme for Pensions for the women working in unorganised sector in collaboration with UTI Mutual Funds. In an enthusiastic response over 25,000 women joined the scheme in two months.

SEWA Health Co-operative --- Shri Swashryee Mahila Lokswasthya SEWA Sahkari Mandali Ltd.

Shri Swashryee Mahila Lokswasthya SEWA Sahkari Mandali held its 16th AGM on June 20th at Ahmedabad. The 529 shareholders of this cooperative are all health workers—doctors, mid-wives, community health workers, pharmacists. It provides primary health care to SEWA members including family planning and welfare, T. B. eradication, AIDS, STD awareness, vaccination, and health trainings. The cooperative also runs fair-price medical shops with a sale of over Rs. 12 million. To preserve indigenous medicines and health care techniques, the Cooperative trains women into making indigenous medicines, which are cost effective and harmless. It has so far trained 400 women who make these medicines and earn a livelihood by selling them.

Video Co-operative --- Shri Gujarat Mahila Video SEWA Information Broadcasting Cooperative Ltd. 

Shri Gujarat Mahila Video SEWA Information Broadcasting Cooperative Ltd., the video cooperative with 165 self employed women shareholders held its AGM on 27th of June. Last year the Cooperative made 223 programmes some of which were shown a video film festival following the AGM. The festival was organised to celebrate 21 years of Video technology in SEWA and to showcase its mile stone works such as "My Life My Work", "Fashion Show", and some of its latest productions like a film made on smokeless stove "Annapurna Chula". Besides media representative and students of development communication institutes, hundreds SEWA members also attended and enjoyed the film festival.

Milk Co-operative --- Pethapur Mahila Doodh Utpadak Sahakari Mandli Ltd.

There are 55 milk co-operatives in the SEWA Co-operative Federation out of which the Pethapur Co-operative of Gandhinagar district is one of the most successful. Its 1020 members sold Rs. 19 million worth of milk, ghee and other products and apart from their income, distributed bonuses from their profits worth Rs. 1.5 million. The co-operative has seen steady growth since it was registered in 1994, last year it had a growth in sales of over 15%.

Cleaners Co-operatives --- Saundarya Mahila SEWA and Karyasiddhi Mahila SEWA Sahakari Mandli Ltd. 

The two cleaners co-operatives with 763 members have been able to generate increasing amounts of employment and income by cleaning premises and in collection of waste from private houses and businesses, as cities become more cleanliness conscious. This year work was obtained by about 80% of the members earning a total of over Rs. 340,000.

New Co-operatives and Reviving dormant ones

Two new co-operatives were registered this year and both held their first AGM this June. The Rachaiyta Bandhkam Mahila SEWA Sahakari Mandli with 137 members is a co-operative of women working in construction industries with various skills such as masons, plumbers, and carpenters. The Surat Nagrik Mahila SEWA Sahakari Mandli Ltd. with 1500 members and is a savings and credit co-operative in the city of Surat, with a capital in it’s first year of over Rs. 550,000.

Many of the older producer co-operatives had become dormant as they had lost their markets. The Gujarat Mahila SEWA Co-operative Federation revived five dormant co-operatives this year helping them to find new markets. These were the Kadi Khuddar embroidery co-operative with 125 members, the Sachana Shakti embroidery co-operative with 51 members, the Abodana block printing co-operative with 200 members, the Matsyagandha Fish producers and vendors co-operative with 200 members and the Navapura milk producers co-operative with 51 members.

Other News 

Weather Insurance for Marginal Farmers Introduced By SEWA

SEWA’s rural wing with Vimo SEWA SEWA's insurance service introduced Weather Insurance for the 30 villages of Ahmedabad , Anand and Patan districts of Gujarat state. The scheme is to give protection to the marginal farmers against natural adversities. The scheme is introduced in collaboration with ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. Ltd. and would give coverage in three stages of cultivation, keeping the rainfall received by the different areas in view.

SEWA Woman Attends Cheese Art Fair in Italy

Foolkorba from Nanikhambhdi village of Kuchchh district participated in "Cheese Art" a fair organised in Khatalia in southern Italy for the farmers producing cheese and other milk products. Foolkorba is a craftswoman from Kuchchh district who produced organic milk products. She was invited to the fair to share her knowledge of producing organic milk products with the farmers coming from other parts of the world. SEWA's Milk Cooperative organiser Savitaben accompanied her to the event.
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Self Employed Women's Association
SEWA Reception Centre, Opp. Victoria Garden, Bhadra, Ahmedabad - 380 001. India.
Phone : 91-79-25506444 / 25506477 / 25506441, Fax : 91 - 79 - 25506446, Email
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