The Labour Monthly

World of Labour

Textile Workers’ Strike

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 8, February 1926, No. 2, pp. 122-123
Transcriptionp: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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The strike of mill hands in the Bombay cotton industry ended with the withdrawal of the notices of reduction of wages on December 1, which followed the Government’s announcement of November 30 that the cotton excise would be suspended. The strike, which lasted for ten weeks, was the cause of intense suffering to the 150,000 workers engaged. Many are reported to have succumbed in the effort to travel by road back to their villages, and many more have fallen victims to the epidemics which appeared in the slum tenements which they inhabit in Bombay. It was stated that at first the mills were resuming work slowly, but the number of hands presenting themselves was insufficient. Actually only a few thousands were ready to accept the reduced wages.

The chief excuse used by the millowners for their action in cutting wages by 11½ per cent. was the burden of the excise duty of 31 per cent. on Indian woven cotton goods, amounting to 21,000,000 rupees per year for the whole industry, of which about two-thirds is paid by the Bombay millowners. The campaign for the removal of this duty has been one of the planks in the whole Nationalist struggle for a long period, and has been especially intense since the slump set in after the post-war period of prosperity. A demand was made for its abolition by the Legislative Assembly in March of this year, and again on September 16, after the outbreak of the strike, the Government was defeated by 57-32 on a motion that the excise duty be suspended for the rest of the year. These votes, however, were ignored by the Government. Subsequently deputations from the millowners extracted from the Viceroy a promise that the duty would be removed when financial considerations permitted. Finally the Government gave way, and it was announced that the financial position was now sufficiently assured to allow of the duty being suspended from December 1, 1925. Thereupon the millowners announced the restoration of the previous wage rates, and the strike came to an end.

The leaders of Indian Labour took part in the campaign against the excise duty and, while opposing the wage-cut, proclaimed their complete solidarity with the millowners on that question. Their deputation to the Viceroy in August put forward as its chief demand that the duty be removed, on condition that the relief so obtained be used to restore the wage-cut.

No steps, however, were taken to organise resistance by the operatives to the employers’ attack, and until the last moment the Bombay leaders expressed themselves against a strike, although they warned the millowners that the mood of the men was such that a strike could hardly be averted. A few days after the strike actually broke out, a meeting of the Labour leaders was held in Bombay which

resolved that as the situation had become serious and had got out of hand the leaders should do nothing for the present, but to watch things for a week or so. (Bombay Chronicle, September 21, 1925.)

Meanwhile they contented themselves with making unavailing representations to the Governor of Bombay.

The extraordinary solidarity and determination of the men finally compelled the assistance of the leaders, and towards the end of October a Committee of Assistance to the Textile Workers was organised representing the chief Labour organisations in Bombay, with Mr. N. M. Joshi at the head, for the purpose of providing relief for destitute and starving workers. By its help many hundreds of strikers were enabled to leave Bombay for their village homes, and towards the end of the strike over 5,000 strikers in Bombay were being given a grain allowance daily at nineteen different centres, the total expenditure increasing to about 60 per day.

This relief work would have been impossible but for the donations that have come from the European Trade Union Movement, arid it is thanks to their aid that the strikers have been helped to hold out and a great deal of suffering alleviated. The Indian trade union organisations have given such help as their meagre financial resources permitted, but the Indian Nationalists and politicians generally, in whose interest the struggle had actually been brought about, stood by without lifting a finger to give financial or other support to the strikers.