World of Labour


Calcutta Jute Mill Strike

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 11, October 1929, No. 10, pp. 634-635, (944 words)
Transcriptionp: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2010). 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 at the jute mills of Calcutta is the direct result of the attempt on the part of the jute millowners to introduce a sixty-hour week.

In November last the Jute Mills Association at one of their meetings decided to work all the mills that are under their management and members of that Association for sixty hours per week in place of fifty-four without any increase in wages and bonus; this was to be put into operation on July 1.

The jute mills have been in a prosperous condition; their profits in 1918 amounting to Rs. 7.23 crores (5½ millions) against 6.67 crores (5 millions) in 1927. (Indian Textile Journal for August, 1929.)

To resist this attack the jute workers had been making preparations by collecting funds. Frequent conferences had been held between the leaders (Kankinarrah Labour Union) and the employers prior to the introduction of the new system.

On July 6 the weavers of the Alliance (managing agents: Messrs. Begg, Dunlop & Co.) and Meghna Jute Mills (agents: Messrs. Mackinnon, Mackenzie & Co.) and the spinners of Barrackpore Jute Mills (agents: Messrs. George Henderson & Co.) struck work on the question of increase of bonus and overtime. Between 30,000 and 40,000 were involved.

Immediately the leaders of the Union, L. Hussain and S. Prasad Shah, Vice-President and General Secretary respectively, made vigorous efforts to induce the workers to resume work, and at a meeting of the weavers a resolution was passed to the effect that they would work fifty-four hours a week until the mill authorities paid the extra bonus for the sixty-hour week on the same rate as they were now paid for fifty-four hours. The large majority of the jute workers refrained from working on the Saturday in protest against the introduction of the sixty-hour system and the discontent grew until on July 24, 5,000 weavers of the Alliance, Waverley, Craig and Meghha Mills struck work.

These marched in procession to the Alexandra Mill with the object of organising a sympathetic strike, but the police, who had been drafted in, prevented them. Within a few days the Alexandra workers joined the strike.

The strike spread in a sporadic fashion. Police repression intensified and on July 29 K. Sen, the General Secretary of the Bengal Jute Workers’ and a number of workers were arrested and kept in jail for some time.

By August 3, 70,000 were out in the Jagaddal and Kankinarrah area and 5,000 at Barrackpore. Brisk picketing was carried on while Gurkha armed guards paraded the area “guarding” the mills.

Several incidents were reported of police attacks; at Barrackpore several workers were injured by police charges, the Eastern Frontier Rifles being called in to “maintain order.”

Miss Das Gupta, at an informal conference called by the District Magistrate of Barrackpore of the millowners and Labour leaders, stated that she was prepared to call off the strike if the management of the single-shift mills complied with the Union’s demands and sanctioned bonuses at the old rates and gave assurance that none of the mills working the double-shift system would adopt the single-shift working and that forty-eight hours’ working would be introduced as soon as possible. This was turned down by the owners.

Orders were promulgated by the authorities, directed mainly against rank and file workers, prohibiting meetings and demonstrations, and a number of worker leaders were arrested. The strike situation became more critical and serious criticism was being made of some of the Union leaders and others who are playing the part of “leaders.” It was reported that the police had to defend the house of M.L. Hussein, M.L.C., from attacks by the strikers, and Miss Das Gupta was later deprived of her official position as President of the Bengal Jute Workers’ Union.

Despite the orders prohibiting demonstrations, the strikers of Jagaddal marched, some 5,000 strong, towards the Gourepore Mill at Naihati with the idea of calling upon them to join the strike. A large band of Kabulis, who carry on the business of money-lending (at an extortionate rate of interest), interfered with the strikers and whipped out their knives and attacked them. A free fight ensued which resulted in the loss of seven lives and a large number being severely injured. The police raided the homes of the mill workers and arrested about 243 in this area a few days later and meetings of every description were prohibited.

By August 10 over 200,000 were on strike and a few days later the paint-shop workers at Gourepore and the Britannia Engineering Works joined in a sympathetic strike.

On August 16, following a series of negotiations between the millowners and the Jute Workers’ Union, a settlement was reached after about thirty-eight days’ strike situation.

The Committee of the Indian Jute Mills Association agreed to recommend to the Association the following terms of settlement:—

(1) Proportionate increment should be given on the total earnings of the workers retaining the rate of bonus, and all “Khorakis” should be paid as before when mills worked fifty-four hours in the week;
(2) Wages should be paid for the strike and lock-out period;
(3) There should be no victimisation or corporal punishment;
(4) A board should be appointed to inquire into the workmen’s grievances;
(5) All cases should be withdrawn excepting murder cases.

With the calling off of the strike a new development took place in several jute mills, in the Hooghly and Budge Budge district. These were unaffected during the jute mill strike, but now demanded the same terms as offered to the strikers and by August 22 about 45,000 were immediately affected in the new strike.