Last week, two members of Gubbi Labs team had to camp in Lakkavalli. After about two days of work there, the team went to Jayapura via Koppa. En route, we noticed the "SAHAKARA SAARIGE" buses with pale yellow-green colour. Wondering what it was, we made some enquiries with a few locals at Jayapura about them. We soon discovered that this was a successful transport cooperative - the Transport Cooperative Society (TCS) [TCS, pun intended] of Koppa. The Cooperative came into existence when the original promoters were unable to manage the affairs and intended to sell it of. However, the employees of the then transport company, devised a mechanism of saving their jobs by creating a cooperative society. And since then, there is no looking back. The society will soon celebrate its 20 years of successful existence amidst the competition from other private and government operators.
Apparently, for each route, a pair of driver and conductor are assigned and shouldered with the responsibility of that particular route. They take care of any incidental repair and maintenance in their own garage. Literally, every bus driver and conductor are part-owners of this venture. And further, we discovered there are 26 cooperative societies in the state of which the Koppa TCS is performing well. (Source).
Way to go! May many more such cooperatives emerge and prosper.
We googled to find out more about this initiative and bumped in to this paper.
Empowering Workers through Cooperative Initiative: A Case Study
by Sureshramana Mayya, Professor of Commerce, MGM College, UDUPI - 576 102 INDIA.
Working class in India, especially the wage earners, have never been in the mainstream. In the changing market scenario they are looking desperately, not only to meet their economic requisites but also for specific social identity. They have been making constant efforts to come at par with other socially upward classes. Their aspirations for their children are not different from those of middle class, but they seldom have access to the means to realise them. Thus, they never enjoy social identity in the society. This has been the basic feature of wage earning class of our country. It is true that the social side, especially the general social well being of family is of greater significance than the wage cost. More than money, they yearn for a career path that will catapult them across the fence to a job, which sounds middle rung, if not actually middle class. Therefore, any worker organisation should have an objective of providing the minimum social facilities, requisites and social identity to the working class.
It is in this context that the Workers Cooperatives attain greater significance. Whether in the field of production or service, these organisations are centred around the well being of the workers. It is rather disheartening that such vital organisations have been downgraded both in concept and practice in our setting. Most of them do not have a fair standing as an economic enterprise and hence they are incapable of attending to the social side of the member community. There are however, exceptions to this general trend. One such case is of the Transport Cooperative Society of Koppa, which has made a mark as an economic enterprise and more importantly an organisation that guarantees social status and identity to its member workers.
That was a windswept Friday evening on 8th March 1991 and the future of hundreds of workers was carved with toil and determination. Outside the society a crowd of townsfolk had gathered; some just to gawp, others to make fun and to jeer, and a few to watch with a mixture of anxiety and pride - mainly anxiety! Inside, as the shutters were taken down from broken windows of the rented building, a humble society had begun operating two buses for the first time.
So it was that the first little Transport Co-operative Society, Koppa began in 1991. It may have seemed quite insignificant at the time, but it is no exaggeration to say that what happened when the former mechanic Chikke Gowda and other Pioneers set up a Society changed the course of history for hundreds of retrenched transport workers. Now, 10 years later, the Co-operative Transport Society celebrated the decennial of that event and the aim is to show that Co-operatives are as relevant in this millennium as they ever have been.
The case of Transport Cooperative Society, Koppa throws open a new area of inquiry in industrial relations. In March 1991, the Shankar Transport Company (Private) Limited, a well established private transport company of Koppa, in Chikkamagalur District of Karnataka, dismissed its employees, following their demand for a hike in wages. The workers then took the initiative to set up their own transport service. Thus, the Transport Cooperative Society was started in March 1991, with the sole aim of providing livelihoods to the suspended employees. The workers starting a transport cooperative society was an attempt to protect jobs and it undoubtedly reflected a rational accommodation within the constraints of the existing socio political and economic milieu. Initially the workers of Shankar Transport Company explored all possible avenues to get the transport unit run by the existing management. They sought the intervention of the Government and political leaders, but their labour revolt failed to assume political overtones. Finally, the shutdown, a devastating experience, compelled them to constitute action committees to start their own transport cooperative society. A lockout and then a challenging proposal by the then management to take a few buses and run on their own, compelled the workforce to a decisive stand. Thus the Transport Cooperative Society started its operations in the selected routes of Malanadu regions from 8th March 1991.
When the Transport Cooperative Society started functioning with two buses, nobody including those who started it believed that it would be what it is today. The private company thought that after some time the workers would come back and surrender. The general public thought that the whole exercise might just help a few individuals. But the collective and committed effort of the workers, proved to be much superior to all this. The social networks, trusts and values deep-rooted in the people of India held them together. In ten years the Transport Cooperative is an organisation with a fleet of 60 buses, more than 300 employees and ironically the private transport house that used to exploit them, has closed its operations, not being able to put up with the collective - productive and competitive - might of the workers. But this part of the story, could at best be exiting. What is significant is the change among the workers individually and in their families in terms of access to various socio economic privileges.