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Labour Relations: learning about the mill workers’ struggles

Inivator Tara Brown discovers the plight of the mill workers in Mumbai

I was kindly invited to the Labour relations discussion and workshop – this was led by Iniva’s curator Grant Watson and Neera Adarkar, an amazing woman who has been involved in the urban struggles of the mill workers in Mumbai.

I rushed in 15 minutes late, to watch a film on YouTube about the decline of the mills in Mumbai and the anxieties the workers had, including their living space, and the financial future for their children.

When the film had ended, the lights came back on and everyone could introduce themselves. The majority of people were involved in textiles and industry in some way, as artists, practitioners or working within charities that involved crafts, and people (like me) generally interested about the exhibition and issues it highlighted. There were also people who had come from industrial towns where mining used to be the local economy. The workshop was more like a discussion, salon-style presentation as Neera talked about the history of the struggles, highlighting the essential conflict between declining industries, civil rights and urban planning.

Showing a map of the mill lands in Mumbai, and how the classes organised themselves, Neera told us about how globalisation moved the mills away from Mumbai to other parts of the world and the resulting land grab where there was an alliance of civil rights activists, feminists, environmental rights groups and mill workers against the mill owners. The empty factories gave rise to a creative middle class who used them as galleries and creative spaces, before the factories were sold off as the land in Mumbai became more prosperous.

I couldn’t help but see some parallels to Shoreditch, where there are so many galleries and creative projects in a factory/industrial setting, along with waves of middle class people and rising prices pushing old industries out of the city. I had discovered with many others during the Social Archive project with Shiraz Bayjoo, where we talked to new and old businesses in the area.

Further parallels were also found when talking about towns in Britain such as within Lancashire and Paisley, where the towns had suffered following the decline of the mills. Young people in Mumbai, Lancashire and Paisley were all leaving the towns they grew up in, towns that resembled each other, with the universal towers and shapes of the factory – these places in France, India and Britain all resembled each other in images in the slide-show; the group were surprised and intrigued by that. It clearly presented that the themes of urban change and poverty were universal and through uniting on issues like these, it’s far easier to understand people along these lines.

It brings to mind the last lines of the song played in the youtube video: “Oh brother, for how long will you watch?”

For now, it’s the last week of the Social Fabric exhibition, so have a look and let me know in the comments if you see what I see…

Art & Economies: Informality – art, economics, precarity

Exhibition at SMBA (Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam)  14 August – 2 October 2011

The exhibition ‘Informality’ arises from the increasing attention to banking economy and the interest in alternatives to that, an interest also expressed within the arts. The most recent example of this is TimeBank, by Anton Vidokle and Juliete Aranda. The work involves a network of bank branches in art institutions – including Stroom, in The Hague – for which the central ‘currency’ is not money, but time, in the form of ‘Hour notes’ that circulate among the bank’s clients. The artwork, functions as a commentary on a form of capitalism directed (and misdirected) at the banks, here it becomes a form of alternative economy in and of itself. 

Specifically, the exhibition ‘Informality’ focuses on the concept of the informal economy. The informal economy is part of the commercial and service sectors that operate outside the circuit of formal financial transactions –and therefore outside normal banking channels – and is thus hidden from the oversight of the Revenue Service and other governmental institutions that control business and economic affairs. In the West, the informal economy makes up a relatively small part of the total economy: in The Netherlands it is estimated to be about 11%. That is not insignificant; one can think, for instance, of illegal or semi-legal work such as prostitution and domestic help, criminality and fraud, traffic in drugs and people, but also flea markets, EBay, volunteer work and bartering. On other continents, such as Africa and Latin America, but also in former East Bloc countries, the informal economy often makes up the largest part of the total economy.

Artists include:  Marc Roig Blesa, Rogier Delfos, Domestic Workers Union, Matthijs de Bruijne Detour (Marnix de Klerk / NinaMathijsen), Doug Fishbone, Kaleb de Groot, Jose Antonio Vega Macotela and Senam Okudzeto.

Information from the SMBA website and newsletter.