Fellow Since 2009
Learn Women Workers' Union
This profile was prepared when Nitin More was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
The growing focus of citizen organisations (COs) as well as the government on the issues plaguing informal sector workers has bypassed the more than 30 million home-based workers in the country, the majority of who are women. Nitin set up LEARN Mahila Kamgar Sangathana (LEARN Women Workers Union), an organizational platform run and managed by the women themselves. The union is focused on basic social security needs such as sustainable livelihoods, fair wages, health, citizenship, and access to food and fuel. The women union members are now leveraging their identity as members of LEARN to negotiate with employers and public officials such as the police and state. Nitin has based his work in Mumbais Dharavi, Asia s largest slum, which reportedly has an annual turnover of over US$500M but is also home to people who are both economically and socially marginalized. Thousands of women here are engaged in home-based work, in microenterprises or employed as domestic help. With no earlier efforts made to unionize them, LEARN has been set up as an apolitical organization, which enables the women to identify themselves for the first time as workers, rather than according to gender, caste, religion, or social status. LEARN now has a growing membership of more than 3,700 women with a target of 30,000 women in Dharavi alone. Finally, Nitin and LEARN are working to create a private limited company in an effort to reorganize the microenterprises of Dharavi to operate more favorably for the women. He is bringing together key aspects of a cooperative and a private firm to form a company for services and production activities that the women currently engage in, ultimately bypassing exploitative wages and working conditions. This company will be owned by the workers. Apart from this, LEARN also manages a womens support center that deals with family problems such as domestic violence and a health center. An offshoot of the trade union is a young girlsgroup called Grand Group, comprising the daughters of women members. Other plans coming up include a housing initiative for the members.