Over 1,000 workers lost their jobs when nine dairy cooperatives in Uttar Pradesh – India’s biggest milk producing state – closed in early 2010. After a tough two-year fight the dairies are being forced to re-open.
The nine dairies were operated by the Pradeshik Cooperative Dairy Federation (PCDF) whose failure to pay wage arrears led to protest actions by the PCDF Trade Union in 2008.
The PCDF Trade Union, a member of the IUF-affiliated Dairy Employees Federation of India (DEFOI), represents 2,200 members in 39 small and medium dairies, including the nine that were closed in 2010 without any warning or any prior negotiations.
While the PCDF Trade Union waged a campaign for wage arrears, PCDF began sourcing milk from outside the state, undercutting the livelihoods of both dairy workers and farmers in Uttar Pradesh. This was the beginning of an attempt at “backdoor privatization” by PCDF, deliberately undermining the cooperative dairies while allowing the non-unionized private sector dairies to flourish. This aggressive attempt to undercut the cooperatives then escalated with PCDF’s unilateral closure of the nine dairies.
Protest actions and sit-ins organized by the PCDF Trade Union and solidarity actions by DEFOI – including a rally by 800 workers in Delhi on April 26, 2010 – generated political pressure on both the state and national governments. As these actions grew into a “Save Our Milk!” campaign, a combination public pressure, extensive media coverage, political lobbying and high-profile legal cases filed against the closures finally forced three dairies to be re-opened in January and February 2012.
Over 250 union members returned to work by February as the dairies in Muradabad, JP Nagar and Bulundshar re-opened, while another three dairies (Mathura, Agra and Fathepur) will begin re-opening this month. As the dairies become fully operational and and the remaining three are re-opened, it is expected that all union members and contract workers made redundant in 2010 will return to work.
The PCDF Trade Union expressed thanks to IUF members, especially the New Zealand Dairy Workers Union (DWU), for their support in helping to win the campaign to re-open the dairies, with the national organizing work of DEFOI playing a crucial role.
While welcoming the re-openings, DEFOI has warned against continued efforts by state level dairy cooperative federations in India colluding with local authorities and private companies to privatize the dairy industry through “backdoor” methods such as reducing the supply of milk, outsourcing milk supplies to other states or forming joint ventures with private companies. This will become a major fight in the near future and the support of the members of the IUF Dairy Division will be vital.