World of Labour


Bombay Mill Strike

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 11, June 1929, No. 6, pp. 375-377, (1,065 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 which occurred in the Bombay Textile Mills and lasted from April to the beginning of October last year, was settled on the understanding that the conditions of work were to be referred to a Government Committee, and that, pending the result of that inquiry, status quo was to be observed in the mills.

Despite this agreement, the owners made piecemeal attacks on the workers, especially those connected with the Girni Kamgar Union, which led to sporadic strikes. These attacks finally resulted in a lightning strike on March 2 last when about 15,000 millworkers downed tools. The strike ranged around grievances in the Wadia Group of mills where about 6,000 workers had been dismissed and others employed in their place. The demands of the strikers included the reinstatement of seventeen victimised members of mill committees, and the recognition of these committees which have functioned since the end of the last strike.

On March 30 thirty-one of the most active trade unionists and leaders of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party were arrested on a charge of “Conspiracy against the King.” Practically every official of the Girni Kamgar Union was arrested. A one-day strike in protest took place. New officials, mainly workers from the mills, were elected to carry on the union work.

Then began sittings of the joint representatives of the workers and millowners to discuss the findings of the Fawcett Committee’s report which had just been published. On April 16 the representatives of the Girni Kamgar Union stated that they were not prepared to continue the discussions until their grievances with regard to the treatment of the union and union members at certain mills had been redressed.

On April 24 this statement from the new Secretary of the Girni Kamgar Union appeared in the Press:—

15,000 workers belonging to the three mills of the Wadia Group, the Spring, the Textile and the Century, have been on strike for about fifty days in protest against the victimisation of those comrades who have been taking a leading part in the activities of the Girni Kamgar Union. . . . All attempts to negotiate with the individual millowners having failed, the complaints about victimisation were placed before the Millowners’ Association, and it was agreed that questions about the Wadia Group of mills should be thrashed out at the next sitting of the Joint Conference. If a satisfactory settlement of the question is not reached on Wednesday, there is a likelihood of a general strike being declared. The contention of the Union is that a systematic campaign of victimisation of its members has been begun by individual mill-owners with the connivance and encouragement of the Millowners’ Association with a view to destroying the Union. The campaign is being carried on with great vigour, especially since the arrest of the Labour leaders on March 20.

It was reported on April 23 that women demonstrating against blacklegs had been attacked by the police, and about seventeen of them had been arrested.

At the Conference, on April 24, the representatives of the Girni Kamgar Union informed the Chairman that as there had been no response to their demands for the reinstatement of the workers in the Wadia Mills they would have to reconsider their position. Mr. Bakhale thereupon stated that this did not commit himself or his Union, the Bombay Textile Labour Union, and suggested the appointment of a sub-committee to deal with the allegations of victimisation.

On April 25 at a mass meeting of millworkers in Bombay, called by the Girni Kamgar Union, it was decided that, as efforts at compromise had failed, the Union should declare a general strike at all the mills for 12 noon on the following day. This decision was unanimously supported by six other mass meetings on the same evening.

Mr. R.R. Bakhale, the General Secretary of the Textile Labour Union, issued a leaflet exhorting the workers not to resort to a general strike, since a strike is “a double-edged weapon,” &c., and suggesting that the strike was forced on unwilling workers. In another leaflet he asked “whether there was sufficient reason to justify a strike, since only eighteen operatives had been dismissed, and for their sake no less than 15,000 workers had already been on strike for some days.” He appealed to the workers to disillusion themselves and not to become party to a general strike.

By April 27 out of the eighty-four textile mills, the workers of seventy had downed tools obedient to the call of the Girni Kamgar Union, the largest textile union in the city with a membership of over 70,000. A strike organisation was immediately set up and picketing commenced. A volunteer force of 400 picked millhands with their red badges were posted at the mills.

On May 1 a huge and spectacular May Day procession, organised by the Girni Kamgar Union, was broken up by the police. A vast concourse assembled for the first meeting and after about two hours, as the workers were forming up for the demonstration, the police forced the demonstrators into three groups, and it was only due to the extreme restraint of the strikers that a clash was averted. The following is the comment of the Bombay Chronicle:—

The noteworthy aspect of it was that they were perfectly peaceful and disciplined. That a mere handful of “Red Badge” volunteers could so wonderfully manage such a tumultuous gathering of people spoke volumes for the discipline and organisation of these workers.

On the same day the General Member of the Government of Bombay invited the representatives of the Girni Kamgar Union and the Millowners’ Association to discuss the strike situation.

The Union representatives confined the discussion to the following demands, on which they would accept no compromise, and on the acceptance of which depended the resumption of work:—

(1) That the policy of victimisation which is being pursued should immediately stop.

(2) All workers who are on strike, including the old operatives in the Wadia Group of mills, should be forthwith reinstated.

(3) The Mill Committees should be allowed to function without any impediments being put in their way.

(4) The collection of union funds within the mill premises should not be prohibited.

(5) That the Millowners’ Association should give full recognition to the Girni Kamgar Union.

(6) That the owners should put a stop to their surreptitious efforts to crush the Labour Unions.