All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)

Context: 100 years since the formation of AITUC


  • The first Central Trade Union Organisation was formed in India on 31 October 1920 by the Indian National Congress (INC).
  • The INC, the central organ of the Independence movement, formed the AITUC to give India representation at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) of the League of Nations.
  • The first session of The All-India Trade Union Congress was inaugurated in Bombay.
  • It marks a distinct stage of growth in the labour movement in India.
  • All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the first Central Trade Union of India founded on October 31, 1920, in Mumbai with unions of various sectors from all over the country.

Circumstances which led to the formation of this historic organization of workers (AITUC)

  • In 1857, when India’s first war of Independence did not achieve the goal of the end of colonialism, the foreign rulers opened India’s market to British goods.
  • Subsequently, railway lines and telegraphs were set up in India, coal mines and plantations were developed, cotton textiles and jute mills were established.
  • This, in due course, brought in a new class of wage labourers during British Raj in India.
  • These wage labourers were routinely oppressed and exploited by the Indian capitalist and British employers.
  • The self-sufficient village economy was shattered with no new structures in place, creating impoverished peasantry and a landless labour force.
  • The dumping of cheap industrial goods resulting in millions of artisans, spinners, weavers, craftsmen, smelters, smiths, potters, etc, who could no more live on agriculture also turned into landless labourers.
  • This led to widespread famines in India through the period from 1850 to 1890 resulting in deaths of several lakhs and also reducing millions as beggars.
  • The anguish of impoverished masses, the ruined peasantry was up in revolt which resulted in several movements even though crushed by the rulers.
  • Till this time trade unionism was not known to workers, they were reacting to extreme exploitative working conditions and very low wages.
  • They formed themselves as ‘jamaats’ which were based more on a social caste basis in order to fight back the oppression of employers. This was the beginning of the organization by the workers even though not the trade unions in essence.
  • From 1905 onwards there was a notable advance in the working class actions and it was more and more closing its ranks with the advance of freedom struggle in the country.
  • A strike took place in Bombay against an extension of working hours. The printing press workers in Calcutta also struck work.
  • Another great event of the period was a strike by industrial workers of Bombay from July 24 to 28, 1908, in protest against the pronouncement of judgment sentencing six years imprisonment to freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
  • In 1918 great strike in cotton mills of Bombay started and soon it spread to other areas with 1,25,000 workers participating by January 1919.
  • The strike against Rowlatt Act had a great impact on the national struggle itself.
  • In the first half of 1920, there were 200 strikes involving 15 lakh workers. The demands were for 10 hrs working and dearness allowance.
  • It was in this heroic background that the preparations began on July 16, 1920, when a convention was held in Bombay which decided “to hold All India Trade Union Congress in Bombay”.
  • A reception committee with 500 members with Joseph Baptista as chairperson was formed.
  • Hence the first session, the founding conference began on October 31, 1920, in Bombay with Lala Lajpat Rai as the founding President in which 101 delegates from 64 unions from all over India participated with the presence of political leaders of various shades of opinions such as Moti Lal Nehru, Mohd. Ali Jinnah, Annie Basant, V J Patel, B.P. Wadia, J. Baptista, Lalubhai Samaldas, Jamnadas, Dwarka Das, B W Wadia R R Karandikar, Col. J.C. Wedgwood.
  • British Trade Union Congress attended as a fraternal delegate. 43 other unions which could not join the conference expressed sympathy and full support.

A few unions of government servants kept themselves aloof.

  • Lala Lajpat Rai led a procession of 10,000 workers in the city of Bombay.
  • Lala Lajpat Rai had declared “for the present, our greatest need is to organise, agitate and educate. We must organise our workers, make them class conscious and educate them in the ways and interest of the commonwealth”.
  • He also observed that labour “today had become an international factor and everyone’s life all over the world had become interlinked. There would be no salvation until and unless the workers of Asia were organised and internationally affiliated”.
  • Lala Lajpat Rai was elected the first president of AITUC and V.M. Pawar its General Secretary. In the meeting of the first Executive Committee, Diwan Chaman Lal replaced V.M. Pawar as General Secretary.
  • Later on Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, VV Giri, Sarojini Naidu, C R Das and several of other political leaders of the freedom struggle were associated with subsequent conferences and work of AITUC giving impetus to the work.
  • AITUC in its second session in 1921 in Jharia had adopted a resolution of Swaraj (Complete independence from British rule), almost eight years before the platform of freedom struggle- the Indian National Congress adopted such resolution in 1929.
  • In the aftermath of the Second World War, the AITUC played a significant role in the foundation of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU)
  • Until 1945 when unions became organised on party lines, it was the primary trade union organisation in India. 
  • According to the industrial census of 1921, around 2.6 million workers were employed in establishments that employed 10 or more workers.

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