Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 10, August 1928, No. 8, pp. 509-510, (890 words)
Transcriptionp: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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The Bombay textile strike still continues with no sign of the ranks of the workers breaking. The workers’ resistance continues in spite of severe distress, and the employers are refusing all discussion of their standardisation scheme in the hope of starving them into submission. After a great deal of palaver the millowners consented to meet a delegation composed of six members of the Joint Strike Committee and two from the reactionary section of the Girni Kamgar Mahamandal outside the Strike Committee. Negotiations, which were held in camera, began on June 9, and were continued at intervals throughout the month, but the proceedings were purely farcical, as the employers had no intention of making any concessions, and were not prepared to budge an inch from the position they had taken up.
The strikers, on the other hand, will not accept the owners’ standardisation scheme until they are forced to do so, since it involves heavy reductions, especially for the weavers, and the “standing orders” are both arbitrary and tyrannical.
The scheme is a mixture of rationalisation and standardisation, of the levelling-down variety.
In the spinning section, wages are standardised at the lowest rates ruling in the mills, and the number of workers is to be cut down. The position of the weavers is even worse, as they are faced with a prospect of a 20 per cent. cut, which would bring their wages down to 40 rupees a month, while at the same time the quality of work is to be raised, and the scheme involves displacing 15,000 men. Blowroom operatives are also threatened with reductions, as indeed are all classes of workers.
With regard to other conditions, a full ten hours are to be worked, and fines for lateness enforced; operatives may be laid off without notice or compensation, with the consoling reflection that they are “not dismissed, but temporarily unemployed and not entitled to wages.” A list of actions regarded as misconduct is given, for which the punishment is summary dismissal, with or without forfeiture of wages due, and this includes striking or inciting to strike without giving a month’s notice.
Since the negotiations with the Strike Committee made practically no progress, the millowners’ next move was to send for groups of strikers in order to explain the standardisation scheme, and then to put up notices at the mills and keep the gates open, asking the workers to return on the new basis, but these tactics did not meet with the success hoped for.
Nothing will make the strikers return except starvation, and as the millowners are prepared to starve them out, a complete deadlock prevails. Meanwhile, fourteen relief centres have been opened and 80,000 have been receiving relief. The work has been made harder by the callous refusal of the Bombay Municipal Council to grant relief to the strikers’ families, at the instigation of two representatives of the millowners.
Of the various other mill strikes in progress, that at the Elgin Mill, Cawnpore, ended in a victory for the strikers, who went back on the old conditions, all hands to be started and the forfeited wages paid.
The struggle at the Tata Iron and Steel Works, Jamshedpur, also continues, and here also dire distress prevails, and the employers have replied to the men’s demands by locking out 90 per cent. of the employees and discharging a large number on the plea of reduction of staff, in violation of the declared policy of the company. They have announced the terms on which the works will be re-opened, and these include a reduction of the staff by a quarter, bonus scheme offered in April to be renewed, wages claims to be considered when work is resumed, the company not to be compelled to pay for periods when the works are closed for any reason.
The workers’ publicity officer issued a reply to the company’s manifesto reiterating the strikers’ demands for a direct increase in wages instead of the bonus scheme, and pointing out that so far from carrying out their promised policy of Indianisation of the plant, they had been taking on foreign workers to fill the new vacancies as they occurred. The workers insist that all the reduced staff, who had been dismissed as a result of the reduction policy, should be taken back and that policy stopped, and that all the strikers should be reinstated in their old jobs without break in their service or victimisation.
A difficulty has arisen in the conduct of the strike, owing to the refusal of both the employers and the Labour Association to recognise the strike leader, Mr. Homi. The management declares that he has a personal grudge against the company, while the Labour Association is unable to accept his leadership, owing to the fact that he gave evidence before the Tariff Board in advocating a drastic reduction in the staff.
Mr. N. M. Joshi, General Secretary of the All-Indian T.U.C., has appealed to the political department of the Bihar and Orissa Government to intervene in the dispute, on the grounds that the company has received financial assistance from the Central Government, which gives it the right and duty to exercise moral pressure upon the company to accept its good offices to settle the dispute.
1. Cf. LABOUR MONTHLY, June, July, 1928.