A trip down the garment companies of Tiruppur aka ‘Dollar City’

CHENNAI: The money I make is not too much, it’s not low. I have a good rapport with my owner and and I’m happy with what I get,” claims a daily-wage worker who earns less than `5,000 a month for working nearly 12 hours a day at a garment-export company at Tiruppur everyday. RP Amudhan, in his documentary Dollar City, explains how Tiruppur became a successful economic system following Gramscian idea of manufacture of consent.

Speaking to City Express on the sidelines of the screening at Madras Institute of Developmental Studies, Amudhan said, “There is a kind-of feudal system by itself; the state can’t intervene without getting through the unionists and the workers don’t want the intervention either. They directly solve their problems with the exporters and they strike their own deals.”
 
One exporter proudly expresses that there has not been a workers’ strike in Tiruppur in the past 20 years. Amudhan explains, “There is connivance and consensus between the masters, mediators and the workers, where ambitions and loyalties collapse, where rights become a privilege, where duty becomes an opportunity and where one’s desperation is another’s prospect.”

Dollar City presents statements recorded from labourers, trade unionists, entrepreneurs, brokers and garment-export company owners from Tiruppur. “Tiruppur is an urban city now, it was a village 35 years ago,” claims a resident. While the documentary elaborates the economic success, it also speaks about how workers have come to terms with receiving money below minimum wages, owing to job security.
 
Amudhan also shows how politics takes shape in everyday conversations. While the exporters speak about manufacturing for national pride and the spread of ‘Made in India’ products, the unionists in the city speak about labour laws and incentives.
 
One exporter even says that he hasn’t given PF or ESI for 20 years and that nobody demanded that off him. It’s with the growth of labour unions such as AITUC that labour benefits became more prominent. “AITUC was born along with the baniyan (vest) industry here and we help people get their bare minimum,” said a unionist.

Amudhan leaves his documentary open ended, with a mere presentation of different view points. Although he empathises with the labours, he strongly believes that the consensus has worked well among the people so far but he wonders if this model is sustainable. “In most of my films, A beats B and I show that B has to be saved in the society. In this documentary, I stand  behind and observe how C, D, E & F in the society facilitate and ensure that B gets beaten up.”
 
Sushmitha Ramakrishnan
Indian Express | 9 November 2016
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