Indian Weavers. Sarojini Naidu Poem Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran

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Indian Weavers was written by Sarojini Naidu in the 1920s. Besides being a great poetess, she was one of the leading figures of the Indian Independence Movement. This article therefore is also a lookout into what happened to the weavers of India after independence. Indian weavers who were once favorites in king’s homes to poor man’s huts are now pushed to extinction by governments, politicians, large textile mills and arrogant bureaucrats. Suppose Sarojini Naidu returns, and finds this?

The range, variety and magnificence of Indian weavers’ work.

I. ABOUT SAROJINI NAIDU’S POEM INDIAN WEAVERS.

Indian weavers weave at the break of day, at the fall of night and at midnight, i.e. throughout day and night. It is a back-breaking job they do round the clock to make a frugal living out of it. But it is not the perpetuality of their work that is discussed in the poem but the variety, range and magnificence of their products. At the break of day they weave the gay robes of a new-born child, as blue as the wing of a helicon wild. At fall of night, they are weaving the happy marriage veils of a queen, so bright like the purple and green plumes of a peacock. Thus the weavers have passed through a birth in the morning and a nuptial in the evening. Now they are to pass through a death at midnight. Their mirth and joviality are over and they are now solemn and still, preparing to weave the garment in the next order, an express order. In the moonlit chill of midnight they are now weaving the funeral shroud of a dead man, as white as a feather and as white as a cloud.

This here is the poet’s licentious use of the word Helicon which was a mythical Macedonian river in Greece which was blue only when it flowed peacefully in its halcyon days but then it never could have been wild also simultaneously. Or it might have dawned on her mind the butterflies belonging to the Heliconiinae species, some of which do have blue wings but are not wild, except during mating dances. When we hear the word Helicon, if we are poets, what normally comes to our minds is the image of an explosion of bright clouds in a serene blue sky, but poets are not normal always. If they are interested in a word and love to use it, they just use it without caring for the meaning the world uses it with. When they do this, we would love the meaning changed to what they meant.

New garments for new born babies, brides and bygone people are wet with tears of love, deliquescence, and blessings.

We will wonder what thoughts might have been going through those weavers’ minds while weaving those fine garments. Weaving the robes of a new born child will surely rouse memories of their own children’s infanthood, of their want for new clothes and how they had been unable to provide them to make them happy. They will also no doubt think about whom these robes would be going to- to some obedient child or some unruly and abused child? Will it be an only child or one among many in a household? Will it be coloured like them or elite and white? Will it be blue blood or Brahmin? Weaving nuptial clothes for the bride will invariably rouse memories of their own marriages- how their parents had struggled to make money for the marriage, how they had struggled to purchase wedding clothes for the daughter, how they had wept when their land and house were sold to purchase gold for giving dowry, and how they had suppressed tears when sending their daughter away to husband’s house. Will the dress go to a virgin who will think about them perspiring behind the garment or will it be a harlot who would just consider it as merchandise? Will she be caring enough to keep it spotless and clean or will she just throw it to the cleaners? Will she be a kind and considerate human being worthy of wearing this hard-produced beauty or will she be a hard spoiled brat? Weaving the funeral shroud also would invariably remind them of their own passing away some day and the losses of many of their own beloved ones they suffered on the way. One thing we are sure of- newly woven garments for new born babies, brides or bygone people will be wet with tears of love, deliquescence, and blessings.

II. ABOUT THE LIFE OF HANDLOOM WEAVERS IN INDIA.

Britain and America stole weaving industry from India.

Weaving in India was in comparatively good shape before the British came. From the royal court to the peasants’ huts, their hand-made products were in demand. Compared to other people and other artisans, they could even afford two story houses as they were enjoying the patronage of kings and queens and princes and princesses. Of course there were swindlers too among them. We have heard about the story of two swindlers who posed as weavers and cheated a king out of a fortune, and also made him laughable in the presence of a large number of his people. (Read the story at the end of this article).

After the American War of Independence England lost their factories in the colony and raw cotton from India was sent to their remaining factories in England. Thus raw cotton became short in India and weavers suffered. Then the British started weaving factories in India and flooded markets with their cotton goods- another blow to Indian weavers. They lost their export and domestic markets. Like when Napoleon Bonaparte banned the importing of British textiles to France to keep the silk industry in Lyons intact, the un-united kings in India could not foresee the same British textiles ruining the silk industry of India. Agricultural land replaced by crops like rubber during the British rule was yet another blow. The life of weavers in England at this time also was not good. The sad living conditions of weavers and peasants in England had been brought to world’s attention by then by Percy Bysshe Shelley in his poem Song To The Men Of England, one of the finest revolutionary poems in the world for which, luckily, he was not hanged. In India, no one was there to sing the dirge of the death bells of the Indian weavers then.

After the British, it was the Americans’ turn to bring down the handloom weaving enterprise in India. Cotton cultivation for non-silk handlooms was wrecked by the invasion of American genetic varieties and replacement of agricultural plantations by commercial plantations. Sericulture for silk handlooms also came to an end for want of land. Attacked from both front and back by the plantation policies of government and suffocating from lack of raw materials, this sunset industry with the largest number of weavers in the world gradually began to die out.

Innovations in weaving were brought by weavers’ families, not by research institutes.

A weaver’s life is a desperate struggle against poverty, illness and competition from large textile mills. A weaver’s set up is not owned by him but lent to him by an investor who employs him for profit. Working sixteen hours a day, he earns only 500 to 600 rupees a month, completing a sari or a few dresses within this time. A hand-woven Indian sari is not just a sari but a work of art. The exquisite golden and silver designs woven into saris by Indian weavers were a thrill to the world once and these saris were coveted. Now imitation Chinese silk saris flood the market, promoted by bureaucrats in government, under trade agreements. A fine six metre silk Indian sari still brings 50,000 rupees but the weaver is paid 600 rupees. Even though Indian saris are much in demand, the weavers now are a neglected and lonely lot. The thousands of handlooms in Indian villages are silent now; villages which once had hundreds of looms have only one or two now. Poverty and malnutrition are prevalent among weavers, and left out of their traditional vocation, many of them beg in the streets and a few have turned to coolie labour in the agricultural and industrial sectors. Weavers want to continue in this art and, if offered other jobs, only a few are willing to go out of this profession. All innovations in weaving were brought about by weaving families, not research institutes, and they want to preserve this know-how in their families. But continuing in this profession and preserving this know how now is impossible for them. The large workforce of once-500,000 weavers in India has now been reduced to a few thousand and great weaving centres in Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra, Assam, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal have been reduced to ghost villages. In India, weaving is now a precious endangered tradition. In Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also the picture is not different. No education for children, no marriages for daughters, no jobs for sons, no hospital treatment for the old. This largest and one of the oldest industries in the world still provides employment to 13 million people, and next to agriculture, is the largest employment provider in rural India.

The problems of wrinkle resistance, frequent weft changes and greenhouse gas emissions solved by handloom weavers.

The handloom weavers’ skills are honed over centuries and have no substitute. The problem of wrinkle resistance, overcome by handloom weavers by using special types of fabric, weave, density and process unique to them, is persistent with mill-made clothes and machine-made imitations. Gold and silver-interwoven threads loose their polish, multi-colour designs needing frequent changes of weft loose their beauty, and poly-colour embellishments in border and body loose their delicateness with industrial machines. These are all yielding only to the skills of handloom weavers. Weaving fine delicate materials with yarn counts of 100 and above needing light jerks are also is possible in handlooms only. The handloom industry also is a challenge to the large textile mills industry in minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. The marching of mechanization and government’s indifference to protective laws for handloom weavers took their toll and financial institutions’ decisions to help only large industrial mills broke the backbone of this indigenous industry. The intricacies of skills in this industry, which will take many years to master and so has to be learned from childhood, has stopped passing from generation to generation, and technical institutes have been unable to preserve them for use of future generations in the country.

Deny raw materials, and you can break the backbone of any industry.

Yarn and dyes are the basic requirements for weaving. Yarn is cotton fibers used to weave cloth vertically and horizontally. Hank yarn is the basic for handlooms and cone yarn is the basic for power looms and industrial machines. Today the monopolizing large yarn spinning companies send their stock to cloth mills only and village weavers are out of supply of hank yarn for their handlooms. Dyes for colouring also are costly now and most often unavailable to them. Cloth mills, governments, politicians and bureaucrats all want hand weavers pushed out of the field and it is a wonder how they still survive in this profession. These traitors of common people enacted laws giving preference to export of primary fiber and yarn products so that the remaining weavers also will be pushed out of the field. Large contributions to politicians and governments will come only from large cloth mills. Gandhi was thoroughly defeated and Nehru won. Had spinning units remained small and remained in villages like Gandhi envisioned in his Grama Swaraj (Self Sufficiency of Villages), instead of growing big and moving to large cities like Nehru wanted, the cost of yarn production would have remained low and their products would have been available to village weavers first.

Transition from Gandhi to Nehru meant transition from government support to government animosity towards weavers.

In times when weavers were based on local craftsmanship, local resources and catering primarily to local markets- a concept emphasized by Mahatma Gandhi in his Grama Swaraj- they were independent of machine commerce. Anyone could see in advance that machine commerce would destroy them. To warn against this, Gandhi himself was always seen spinning threads in his Charka, even while directing great conferences, to emphasize the importance of weaving and the need for protecting the weavers’ economy. Governments and the politicians since the independence of India wanted fast industrial growth and began to consider handloom weavers as an encumbrance and burden.

Governments’ subservience to large textile mills and refusal to allow subsidized raw materials to handloom weavers are unnoticed by people and human rights organizations in the field even while clothing remaining one of the three basic necessities of mankind. The hundreds of human rights organization in India, and the world, including those headed by top dignitaries eager only for collecting donations from whomever possible, has not raised voice against government pushing weavers to self deaths. If you write to them about a horrible human rights violation on you or someone you know, the first email you receive would be asking for a donation even while not acknowledging the receipt of your complaint. If you have doubts, write to them once and you will loose all confidence in the world’s human rights organizations. Practically there is no one there to speak for and defend the victimized child, woman, man or village. Some human rights organizations revel in submitting consolidated reports to UN as if they have climbed the Everest! Every scheme formulated by government to help weavers provide an opportunity for bureaucrats and politicians to pilfer public money from it as a recompense for looking away when top government officials loot public money from other sources. It is like throwing skin and bones to lower officials while top government people devour breast and legs.

Products from 38,00,000 handlooms brought 19,560 million rupees to India’s national revenue in 1998-99.

The thousands and thousands of government offices in the country won’t use handloom clothes even as window curtains or table spreads. The cheap government officers sitting in these offices, coming from very low-income families and entered government employment through windows, not through doors, would only order mills-made silk and polyester cloth for office use, and demand full furnishing of their homes also as commission. Cabinet ministers who want to downsize weavers’ cooperatives do not want to downsize the cabinet they sit in. They accuse weavers’ cooperatives of recurring losses, over-expenditure and corruption, simply forgetting how much loss their governments incur and how much corruption in government there is. The number of handloom workers came down from 3.47 million in 1995 to 2.9 million in 2015- a 16 percent reduction in just 15 years according to the Handloom Census of India. Handloom products from the 38,00,000 handlooms- two thirds of them set up in homes- brought 19,560 million rupees to India’s national revenue in 1998-99 which proves they still have a world-wide market, even after fierce competition from large textile mills and China. Cotton farmers, weavers’ families, transportation firms and marketing firms and many other fields benefited from this turnover. This feat was achieved without any assistance in skill development and training from government, without polluting the environment and ecology much, with in-house transfer of skills from elders to youngsters and permitting all castes and communities to take up and take part this profession, a rare achievement in caste India.

All benefits go to people’s representatives and politicians and none to weavers.

Considering the huge amount of revenue handloom weavers bring to India’s national coffers, we would expect proportionate amounts to go back to them as pension and other welfare schemes. Old age pension allowed for a weaver by a state government is a ridiculous Rs. 75 per month where old age pension allowed for a member of that state’s legislative assembly is Rs. 75,000. And this Rs. 75 was granted by that group of legislative assembly members! They give Rs. 10,000 to the family of a weaver who committed suicide due to hunger due to government’s policies!! What is the amount of help package for the 500 member-strong parliament community of the country, compared to the help package of 30 crores for the 5,00,00,000-strong weavers’ community of the country? Free medical treatment is only for the members of the parliament, legislative assemblies and cabinets, not for the weavers. Medical administration rouses up from sinful sleep only when weavers commit suicides in hundreds. Governments do everything except shooting them to turn them to every other menial job so that the field would be cleared for mammoth industries to march over, instead of training weavers’ children in weaving and giving assistance to them in setting up their home units. Governments are discriminative towards weavers and every subsidy goes to large cloth mills and power looms. Co-operative societies formed for weavers were infested with and plagued by politicians and became centres of corruption. Government go down facilities are not open to them. Banks would not give them loans for creating new designs to compete in the market; they will give them only to large textile mills. The National Institute of Fashion Technology gulped down several hundred crores of rupees given to them for developing new designs for handloom weavers but gave them nothing, and gave everything they developed to large mills, acting like private institutions operated by the textile mills industry. Governments did nothing to patent and protect the designs already developed by weavers. Political parties including Congress (I), Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) see the fat purses of spinning companies and salivate and shed crocodile tears when handloom weavers take their own lives.

III. THE IMPORTANCE OF BENARES SILK IN THE WEAVING INDUSTRY.

The centre of sari weaving and the City of Lights- Benares- falls into darkness and doom.

The largest and the oldest handloom weaving centre in India is Benares, or Varanasi- the oldest lived-in city in the world, known in the ancient world as Kusi or the City of Light. The Islamic and Hindu weavers of this city, divided into clans famous for the distinctive designs of each, have been producing the famous high quality six yards-long silk saris for the past six hundred years, which once sold $600 million gross in the world a year. There was once even a saying that this Holy City in Uttar Pradesh is to handloom saris what Darjeeling is to tea.

The importance of Benares silk is in that it combined Chinese silk threads made easy to be woven into saris by recording design data in Jacquard Punch Cards developed by the French inventor Jacquard a century ago- the predecessor to all modern computers- and creating semi-automatic weave. This enabled international standard home-spun silk to be made in India without the use of heavy machinery. It also ensured the length and strength of saris to match the world’s-best Chinese silk. Weaving silk as saris needs an intricate pattern defining the threading in each row of the fabric. It needs defining in advance which threads get pulled up and which threads stay down, made possible through a criss-cross pulley strings system, which is where Jacquard Card System becomes useful. Here it is the cards which define which strings are to be pulled up and which strings are to stay down, making it easy to weave elegant and complicated patterns in saris. The more advanced the cards, the more number of colours can be used and the more gold and silver threads can be ingrained.

This City of Light is in darkness and doom now for the fall of this indigenous industry there. In Kancheepuram in Tamilnadu which was the second-best in hand woven silk saris in the world also the looms are becoming silent. Pochampalli in Andhra Pradesh which was perhaps the third largest centre for hand woven saris also is fading away. West Bengal, the home of Sarojini Naidu and Andhra Pradesh, the home of her husband, were home to great numbers of weavers’ families where their death bells are tolling now due to negligence and betrayal by Indian leaders.

Hollow words delivered to Indian weavers during election campaigns.

Handloom weavers in India can be saved, and they do need saving within a few years, by promoting sari wearing. Indira Gandhi was the Sari Ambassador of India. This Prime Minister beautifully wearing sari in world capitals made sari popular. The present Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi reminded weavers that ‘every mother would want to gift her daughter with a Benares sari in marriage, there would be about 20 crore marriages in India in the next few years, and they need only to tap into this domestic market’. This Benares sari of Uttar Pradesh also is saying farewell to the world, after years listening to the hollow words of politicians. Mr. Modi’s election promises did not materialize and his help package to weavers did not appear and thousands of traders are withdrawing from this 1,80,000 million industry. His economic reforms also brought down the purchasing power of people except the immensely rich. Once the wife or daughter of a Nawab was given fifty one saris as her wedding present which sustained this industry, but now only wealthy film stars and politicians like the late Ms. Kumari Jayalalitha of Tamilnadu can afford such luxury.

The emperor has nothing on: exclaimed an innocent child.

Why this story is retold here is to note how the Indian authorities stand in protecting the weavers and the handloom weaving industry in the country: they stand with nothing on. Not all weavers were truthful in the past; there were swindlers too among them. The Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen in his story ‘Keiserens nye Klæder (The Emperor's New Clothes)’ told the story of an emperor who changed clothes every hour and engaged two swindlers posing as weavers to weave exquisite clothes for him. They claimed that they could weave magnificent fabrics which would not be visible to the stupid eyes. The emperor hoped these clothes could be used to measure the stupidity of his people also. These two swindlers took hold of large quantities of silk, gold threads and money from the emperor’s treasury and pretended to weave trousers and coats for the emperor. They were weaving nothing but just pretending through gestures to do so. Those who inspected and saw nothing praised the garments though none were there for fear of revealing their stupidity. The emperor also went through the same experience and exclaimed the garments were magnificent and fine. He even gave the title of ‘Sir. Weaver’ to each of these swindlers. On the day of parade they even pretended to cloth the emperor in new dresses and then fled. When the parade began, an innocent child exclaimed loudly: ‘But he has got nothing on’. Finally all spectators admitted that the emperor was totally naked and they all laughed at the joke the swindlers played on their emperor, but the parade went on for the vanity of the emperor.

IV. ABOUT THE AUTHOR’S WORKS ON SAROJINI NAIDU.

Bloom Books Channel has a video of Indian Weavers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un-pWZcPmv4

Indian Weavers was written by Sarojini Naidu in the 1920s. It’s one of the most famous and endeared songs in the English language. A primitive prototype rendering of this song was made in a crude tape recorder decades earlier, in 1984. In 2014, a home made video of this song was released. This third version is comparatively better. The next version, we hope, would be fully orchestrated. This song was originally part of the project PROPÈS INDIA or ‘Project For The Popularization of English Songs In India’, recorded from an English class by Mr. P S Remesh Chandran. Today it belongs to Bloom Books Channel’s Sing A Song Project for children. It's free for reuse, and anyone interested can develop and build on it, till it becomes a fine musical video production, to help our little learners, and their teachers. Rushes of the original recordings were made available from the archives of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Our listeners mostly comprised of teachers and students who needed, and demanded, studio-versions with more clarity. Though beyond our limited resources, we release these new versions, for them. We thank them all for their support and goodwill. Why we, with only scanty resources, prepared these recordings in the first place and released and made them mostly public domain can be read about in the article, 'My First English Recitation Videos Took Thirty Years To Produce By P S Remesh Chandran' here: http://sahyadribooks-remesh.blogspot.in/2014/05/058-my-first-english-recitation-videos.html

Bloom Books Channel’s video of Coromandel Fishers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhL8txK6RGI

The sea has been an attraction for man since his first appearance on this planet. Primitive forms of life originated first in the primeval soup of ancient oceans billions of years ago, migrated to land, and became bird, beast, reptiles and man. If we close both our ear openings with our fingers, we can still hear those reverberations of ocean waves crashing. Oceans have served not only as the ancient home to man but provided him with a multitude of marine products for his sustenance also.

Also read The Life And Works Of Sarojini Naidu by the author.

‘It is impossible to tell whether Sarojini Naidu was a poet or a politician. She left her footprints in both fields and her achievements in poetry and politics make it impossible for us to select either one as her favourite field. From studying in England as a teenager to dying while at work in the UP Governor’s office in India as Governor, her life was one of the most vibrant tales of Indian women, stretching through nations and touching peoples in Asia, Europe, Africa and America.’ (Excerpt from the article).

Links to Sarojini Naidu’s works by the author.

1. The Life And Works Of Sarojini Naidu: Article.
Article: http://sahyadribooks-remesh.blogspot.in/2017/06/075-life-and-works-of-sarojini-naidu.html June 2017.

2. Indian Weavers: Poem.
Article: http://sahyadribooks-remesh.blogspot.in/2017/07/076-indian-weavers-sarojini-naidu-poem.html July 2017
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un-pWZcPmv4 May 2015.

3. Coromandel Fishers: Poem.
Article: Sahyadri Books Trivandrum
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhL8txK6RGI May 2015.

First Published: 01 July 2017
Last Edited:

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Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
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Picture Credits:

01. Village Weaver in North India PD By ShefShef.
02. Weaver in Indonesia By Michael Gunther.
03. Weaver in Bhutan By Franz Foto.
04. Weaving in Karnataka India By Pavanaja.
05. Weaver Making Jamdani Sari By Kamrul V B.
06. Weaving Silk Sari in Tamil Nadu By Saravan KM.
07. Weaving In Japan By 663HighLand.
08. Punch Card Loom Mechanism Varanasi Silk By Steve Kimberley.
09. Punch Card Loom Kanchipuram Silk By McKay Savage London.
10. Finished Kanchipuram Silk Saris By Jonoikobangali
11. Finished Handloom Saris to Market By Harsha K R
12. Indian Weavers Video Title Image By Radio Free Barton.
13. Coromandel Fishers Video Title Image By Moon Sun 1981.
14. Life And Works Of Sarojini Naidu Article Ad By Sahyadri Archives.
15. Author Profile of P S Remesh Chandran By Sahyadri Archives.

Meet the author: About the author and accessing his other literary works.

Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of 'Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book'. Edits and owns Bloom Books Channel. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahya Mountain Valley in Kerala. Father British Council-trained English Teacher and mother university-educated. Matriculation with High First Class, Pre Degree studies in Science with National Merit Scholarship, discontinued Diploma Studies in Electronics and entered politics. Unmarried and single.

Dear Reader,

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Identifier: SBT-AE-076. Indian Weavers. Sarojini Naidu Poem.
Articles English Downloads Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum.
Editor: P S Remesh Chandran

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author avatar PSRemeshChandra
Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of 'Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book'.

Unmarried and single. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahy...(more)

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author avatar Lady Aiyanna
7th Jul 2017 (#)

Indian Weavers was a poem I did in my year 6 and then again for my O Levels and A Levels.
Now with regard to weaving, they are still existent in India wherein the technology has been mechanised wherein the fibre existent for Cotton is the Short Stapled variety, Silk is predominantly a South Indian Tradition that they use actual Gold and Silver in thread form to create it apart from jeweled inlay work.
As a daughter of a General Manager of Textiles who handled whole of South India and the cotton growing areas of India, I have had the pleasure of seeing all this in person.
You should be knowing Parvathi Mills in Quilon and many others known for their textile manufacturing. Quilon is just an hour or two from your Trivandrum and I am no Chattakari I am a Jacobite ie. Syrian Catholic from the Priest family of Karimarithinal Kuttumveed.
Well, for the other types of Saree weaving, they are still done on handlooms under Co-Op Tex - This is a Co Operative society to keep the cottage industry of India for the textile division running. It has not lost the legacy, just that idiot of the modern day don't like studying about it.
Its all part of the economic five year plans.
India is the biggest exporter of towels, bedsheets, sarees and handloom works around the world.
Learn your own country.

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author avatar Lady Aiyanna
7th Jul 2017 (#)

One reason why the Kerala cottage industry suffers is because of their violent Trade Union practices.

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author avatar Lady Aiyanna
7th Jul 2017 (#)

Learn about their Strikes and Lockouts, they even pour human urine and shit on their CEO's as part of their strikes and lockouts.

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