FREEDOM STRUGGLE-Working Class Movement Against British Rule in India !
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The early nationalists, especially the Moderates:
i. Were indifferent to the labour’s cause;
ii. Differentiated between the labour in the Indian-owned factories and those in the British-owned factories;
iii. Believed that labour legislations would affect the competitive edge enjoyed by the Indian-owned industries;
iv. Did not want a division in the movement on the basis of classes;
v. Did not support the Factory Acts of 1881 and 1891 for these reasons.
Thus, earlier attempts to improve the economic conditions of the workers were in the nature of the philanthropic efforts which were isolated, sporadic and aimed at specific local grievances.
Sasipada Banerjea started a workingmen’s club and newspaper Bharat Shramjeevi.
Sorabjee Shapoorji Bengalee tried to get a bill, providing better working conditions to labour, passed in the Bombay Legislative Council.
Narain Meghajee Lokhanday started the newspaper Deenbandhu and set up the Bombay Mill and Millhands Association.
The first strike by the Great Indian Peninsular Railways took place, and it got widespread support. because Tilak’s Kesari and Maharatta had been campaigning for the strike for months.
There were many prominent nationalist leaders like Bipin Chandra Pal and G. Subramanya Aiyar who demanded better conditions for workers and other pro-labour reforms.
Workers participated in wider political issues. Strikes were organised by Ashwini Coomar Banerjea, Prabhat Kumar Roy Chaudhuri, Premtosh Bose and Apurba Kumar Ghosh. These strikes were organised in government press, railways and the jute industry.
i. Recognised trade unions as legal associations;
ii. laid down conditions for registration and regulation of trade union activities;
iii. Secured immunity, both civil and criminal, for trade unions from prosecution for legitimate activities, but put some restrictions on their political activities.
Strong communist influences on the movement lent a militant and revolutionary content to it. In 1928 there was a six-month-long strike in Bombay Textile Mills led by the Girni Kamgar Union.
The whole of 1928 witnessed unprecedented industrial unrest. This period also saw the crystallisation of various communist groups, with leaders like S.A. Dange, Muzaffar Ahmed, P.C. Joshi, Sohan Singh Joshi etc.
Alarmed at the increasing strength of the trade union movement under extremist influence, the Government resorted to legislative restrictions. It passed the Public Safety Ordinance (1929) and the Trade Disputes Act (TDA), 1929. The TDA, 1929
i. Made compulsory the appointment of Courts of Inquiry and Consultation Boards for settling industrial disputes;
ii. Made illegal the strikes in public utility services like posts, railways, water and electricity, unless each individual worker planning to go on strike gave an advance notice of one month to the administration;
iii. Forbade trade union activity of coercive or purely political nature and even sympathetic strikes.
In March 1929, the Government arrested 31 labour leaders, and the three-and-a- half-year trial resulted in the conviction of Muzaffar Ahmed, S.A. Dange, Joglekar, Philip Spratt, Ben Bradley, Shaukat Usmani and others. The trial got worldwide publicity but weakened the working class movement.
The workers participated during 1930 in the Civil Disobedience Movement but after 1931 there was a dip in the working class movement because of a split in 1931 in which the corporatist trend led by N.M.
Joshi broke away from the AITUC to set up the All India Trade Union Federation. In 1935, the communists re-joined the AITUC. Now, the left front consisted of the communists, Congress socialists and the leftist nationalists like Nehru and Subhash.
During the 1937 elections, the AITUC had supported the Congress candidates. The Congress governments in provinces gave a fillip to the trade union activity. The Congress ministries were generally sympathetic to the workers’ demands. Many legislations favourable to the workers were passed.
Initially, the workers opposed the War but after 1941 when Russia joined the war on behalf of the Allies, the communists described the war as a “peoples’ war” and supported it. The communists dissociated themselves from the Quit India Movement. A policy of industrial peace was advocated by the communists.
In the period 1945 to 1947, workers participated actively in the post-War national upsurges. In 1945, the dock workers of Bombay and Calcutta refused to load ships taking supplies to the warring troops in Indonesia.
During 1946, the workers went on a strike in support of the Naval Ratings. During the last year of foreign rule, there were strikes by workers of posts, railways and many other establishments.
The working-class movement got polarised on the basis of political ideologies.
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