Saturday, April 20, 2013

Growth of Trade Unions in India - Early Stage

    In the 18th century, Indian working class were suffering from twin evils of foreign imperialism and economic exploitation at the hands of foreign as well as native capitalists. The labour markets were largely unregulated. The workers were asked to work more than 11 hours a day. There is no ban on child labour. The Indian textile Industry posed severe competition on american textiles industry due to its unregulated cheap labour. Ironically, American Lancashire textile capitalist lobby was demanding to regulate Indian labour market. In 1881, Factory Act was passed. Later similar act was passed for jute industry also. These were the first regulation of condition of workers in Factories in India.

    The first ever political strike of Indian working class was happened in Bombay. It was the time when Congress was divided into moderates and extremists factions. Tilak the congress extremist leader campaigned for anti-British movement among the workers of Bombay during 1905. Later he was arrested for sedition in 1908. After that, the impact of first world war awakened leftist ideology and the organised trade unionism had grown in India. Drawing inspiration from October Revolution in Russia and setting up of International Labour Organisation, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was formed in 1920 and Lala Lajpat Rai was elected as its president. Many Congress leaders maintained close relationship with trade unions many of them have presided over the AITUC meetings. During 1926, AITUC was divided into two factions, one was urging to get affiliated with International Federation of Trade Unions (Amsterdam) and other was in favour of Red International of Trade Unions (Moscow). Due to its (AITUC) communist viewpoint it was affiliated to Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat (Asia Pacific branch of RITU) and The Third International at Moscow (Comitern). During 1929, N.M.Joshi seceded from AITUC and formed AITUF (federation) due to the difference with the moderate leaders. Alarmed by the increasing transfer of unions to extremist hands, Government tried to pass "Public Safety Bill" but it couldn't, then it passed it as an ordinance. The "Trade Disputes Act" made the strikes in public services like railways as illegal.

    With above backdrop came the case of "Meerut Conspiracy". Many unionists in Meerut tried to organize a strike in Indian Railways in 1929. And they were arrested for "sedition" case by Government of Lord Irwin. This case has attracted comments from many international eminent persons like Prof. Einstein, US president Roosvelt. Though this case was filed to suppress the communists in India, this case actually strengthened the communist movement in India. And provided an opportunity to spread its ideology among people. During suppression of "National Movement" Govt had arrested many working class people, this taught a lesson of unity among trade unions. In 1934, Congress Socialist Party was founded and it worked for unity between moderate and radical trade unions. During 1938, AITUC, RTUC and NFTU came together. There was a substantial growth of trade unions in India, by 1938 the number of trade union was increased to 296.

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