The Labour Monthly
Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 10, July 1928, No. 7, pp. 439-441 (1,105 words)
Transcriptionp: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.
The general strike of the Bombay textile operatives, including about 150,000 workers, resulted from the gradual accumulation of grievances with regard to wage reductions and working conditions, to remedy which no efforts were being made by the leaders of the official Bombay Textile Union and the All-India Trade Union Congress. That it was no flash-in-the-pan or sudden response to irresponsible agitators is evident from the stubborn and united struggle of all the workers, which has already been in process for over two months.
The speeding up introduced in a selected number of mills last January led to a partial strike, but owing partly to the pronounced hostility of the Textile Union, led by Mr. N. M. Joshi, the General Secretary of the All-India Trade Union Congress, the workers were held back for a time. By the middle of April, the strike recommenced, and the number of strikers rapidly increased. On April 23 there occurred the incident in which the police opened fire on a procession, killing one and wounding others. The next day saw the proclamation of the general strike by the so-called “extremist” Strike Committee and the unanimous response of the workers.1
It was not until the general strike was actually in being that the officials of the T.U.C. altered their attitude of aloofness and hostility. When the strike re-started in the middle of April, the strikers were supported only by the Weavers’ Union (Girni Mahamandal) and by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party organisation, which had already been instrumental in founding a fighting trade union, the Mill Workers’ Union, during the previous month. N. M. Joshi and the other leaders of the Bombay Textile Labour Union (which itself only included less than 10,000 members) momentarily agreed to enter a Joint Strike Committee, but actually refused to attend a single meeting. On April 19, Joshi was still saying that he did not know the exact causes of the unrest, and that his union would have to be content to look on. As the strike still grew, his union discovered that the workers were suffering from direct and indirect wage reductions, and it appointed a committee “to get more information before deciding whether a general strike was desirable.”
Meanwhile, the general strike took place, and the Left-Wing leaders pressed once more for a Joint Strike Committee. Joshi’s Union met on April 25 and declared in favour of a joint committee of forty, provided they had 50 per cent. of the seats. The existing strike committee suggested ten representatives from the Textile Labour Union, ten from the Girni Mahamandal, five from the Mill Workers’ Union and fifteen representatives from among the unorganised strikers. In spite of negotiations during the next two days, no agreement was reached. The reports in the Press declared, “so far as the strikers are concerned, it is no exaggeration to say that the extremist group is temporarily dominating the situation.”
The leaders of the Bombay Textile Labour Union (Joshi, Ginwala and Bakhale) also published their own views on the remedies for the strike.
The fact that the moderate leaders discussed the situation with the Governor-General of Bombay, who refused to meet the Strike Committee, widened the breach, but at the beginning of May the actual strike leaders, for the sake of unity, agreed to the formation of a Joint Strike Committee of thirty members with equal representation for the two wings. A negotiating Sub-committee was appointed, consisting of Joshi and Ginwala from the Textile Union, Alwe from the Girni Mahamandal, Jhabwala and Dange from the Mill Workers’ Union, and three actual workers.
On May 3, the Mill Owners’ Association officially published a statement declaring that in making economies “labour cannot be left out, as retrenchment to be effective must be made in all directions.”
The new Joint Strike Committee answered this by presenting on behalf of the strikers a final statement of their demands. This included the following main points:-
(1) Reductions to be stopped and the 1925 position restored.
(2) No worsening of conditions without agreement of workers through their organisations. Hours not to be increased to ten per day where at present less.
(3) Rates on new varieties to be fixed in consultation with workers.
(4) Three-loom or whole-frame system not to be introduced without consultation and consent of workers.
(5) Increased wages of those getting less than 30 rupees monthly.
(6) Standardisation of conditions of employment and payment.
(7) Consolidation of high prices allowance with wages.
(8) One month’s notice to be given on each side before terminating contracts of employment.
(9) Weaving departments to be open to workers of “depressed” classes.
(10) No victimisation arising from the present dispute.
The Mill Owners’ Association refused to meet the Strike Committee, and on May 12 issued a reply completely rejecting the demands. The reply was issued to the Press and not communicated to the Strike Committee. They made it known that they objected to the Strike Committee because it contained “outsiders.”
With this refusal the strike entered on a phase of stubborn struggle, the workers being determined to hold out against the attempt to starve them into submission. Early in the month an attempt was made by the police authorities to prohibit picketing, but they were compelled to give way and allow two pickets to be stationed at each mill. Many instances of police violence against pickets and others were reported.
In spite of repeated attempts, the Bombay Municipal Corporation has refused to give any relief to the starving men. Some help has been voted by the Bombay Provincial Committee of the Indian National Congress, and money has also been sent by the R.I.L.U., the Textile Workers’ Union of the U.S.S.R., the International Textile Workers’ Federation, and the Workers’ Welfare League of India.
The mill owners enforced the deadlock by declaring all strikers dismissed and putting forward new conditions of work. This lockout only increased the determination of the strikers, and nearly two-thirds of them left Bombay for their villages.
At the end of May, the Mill Owners’ Association let it be known that it was ready to negotiate with the representatives of registered unions, while still refusing to recognise the Joint Strike Committee. This led to the registration of three new unions, in addition to the Textile Labour Union, one of them being a reactionary section of the Girni Mahamandal, not taking part in the Strike Committee. This left the position as it was, and up to the end of June no meeting had taken place.
1. An account of the development of the general strike was printed in the LABOUR MONTHLY for June, 1928, pp. 370-373.