Manabendra Nath Roy

The Indian Trade Union Congress

(3 January 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 1, 3 January 1922, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

While the British Imperialists are vigorously beginning the reign of terror in order to crush the nationalist movement, organized labor is becoming an important factor in the political struggle. Trade Unionism was not introduced into India till 1916, and the organized struggle of the working class for economic improvement remained practically unknown until recently. In the short space of time, the working-class movement has progressed amazingly. Of course, Nationalist preoccupations confused class interests, thereby making the growth of Trade Unionism rather distorted. But nevertheless, the industrialization of the country has brought into existence a huge army of proletarians living in unspeakably horrible economic conditions. These masses of workers have started the struggle for the betterment of their class.

In the first Trade Union Congress, held in 1920, all the trade unions of India were organized into a National Federation. The great advance made in the short apace one year is demonstrated in the proceedings and resolutions of the Second Trade Union Congress, held in the coal districts of the province of Behar in the first week of December 1921. Before the Congress met, a strike of the miners had been on. The mineowners called upon the Government to prohibit the holding of the Congress. They even went so far as to suggest the dissolution of the Congress with the help of military forces. But the Government, busy in the campaign of repression against the National Congress, did not think it prudent to pay heed to the mineowners request.

The opening of the Congress was marked by a great demonstration, in which more than 80,000 workers took part. The number of delegates and visitors which could be accommodated in the hall was 10,000; thousands more congregated outside. A large crowd of workers, including 36,000 miners on strike, fired with enthusiasm, lingered around the Congress hall during the sessions. In his opening speech, Chaman Lal, Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, demanded Swaraj for the workers, and declared that they were determined to be free. He further said: “India’s political subjection is due to its economic subjection, and this the combined might of all organized workers would destroy.” The condition of the miners, who are carrying on a desperate struggle, naturally attracted great attention from the Congress. The miners’ leader, Viswananda, who in company with a number of other trade-union leaders including the President elect. Joseph Baptista, had made a tour of inspection of the mining districts, made the following pronouncement:

“If the present misery of the workers of India is allowed to continue, then nothing can stop Bolshevism. Let them take heed, because the workers are determined to become the rightful owners of the wealth produced by their labors.”

According to the report submitted to the Congress, the average wage in the mines was sixpence per day. Starvation was raging among the workers.

One of the most interesting features of the Congress was that the same Mineowners’ Association, which asked the Government to break up the Congress, ended by requesting a hearing before the assembly of the organized workers. Permission to speak before the Congress was granted to the President of the Association, who declared the intention of reducing the working-week to 44 hours, and invited the representatives of the striking miners to open immediate negotiations. Promises were made in the name of the owners that decent houses should be built and schools provided for the workers’ children. Still more, a deputation from the owners publicly apologized for having attempted to suppress the Congress, and presented a resolution condemning their own action. This incident shows the strength acquired by the organized workers of India in the short period of their activity.

But the leadership of the working-class movement in India is not all that might be desired. Most of the important unions are headed either by English skilled workers indirectly connected with the Government, or by humanitarian reformists without any conception of the class struggle, or by opportunist nationalist politicians. The defective leadership of the Trade Union Congress is betrayed in the following remark of its President, himself a petty bourgeois intellectual: “The political policy of the Congress must steer clear of extreme individualism and Bolshevism, and follow the golden mean of Fabian Socialism.” But despite himself, he couldn’t help expressing the energy of the masses of rebellious workers whom he pretended to lead. In the course of his speech, he declared that “the efforts of organized workers would gain Swaraj for India in ten years.”

In the last session of the Congress, two resolutions were unanimously adopted, one appealing to the workers of the world to secure peace and bread for Russia, and the second declaring that “wars can be avoided only by the united efforts of the working-class of the world.” More than 100 unions with a total membership of 1,500,000 were represented in the Congress.

Last updated on 2 January 2020