K.S. Bhat

The Workers’ Welfare League of India

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 13, December 1931, No. 12 pp. 777-779, (1,215 words)
Transcriptionp: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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Even Tory politicians had recognised by 1915 that bad labour conditions anywhere inevitably worsen conditions everywhere. Indian labour conditions have been studiously kept at a low level.

About 1916 a body of British and Indian sympathisers with labour met to consider how the workers of the two countries could get rid of their share of the blame for the maintenance of low labour conditions. So the Workers’ Welfare League of India was formed, independently of all political aims or movements to advocate the institution in India of provision for the welfare of the working population, equivalent to, if not identical with, that granted to the workpeople of Great Britain; and to propagate among the democratic bodies of Great Britain the general principle that orientals have the same claim to human rights as occidentals, including the right to organise and form Trade Unions. The object of the League was to press British democratic bodies for their support of the various efforts made to enable Indian workers to obtain measures of Workers’ Welfare such as reduction of hours of labour, raising of age for child labour, total abolition of indentured and impressed labour, payment of wages weekly, education of the children, improvement in housing and sanitation, increased and adequate provision for disabled sailors, soldiers and their dependents, and so forth.

To prevent any possibility of either the British or the Indian section going against the interests of the other, the constitution of the League provided that no work could be undertaken which had not been sanctioned by a separate majority in each section. Only common ground could therefore be traversed. Of this there was, and there still remains, plenty. The activity of the League was typified by:

(1) The sending of trained people from here, who organised Trade Unions in India and established the All-India T.U.C., of which the League has been the representative here for many years since its formation.

(2) The offering, publishing and circulating of evidence before the Joint Committee of the Houses of Parliament on the Government of India Bill (the “Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms”) to the effect that if the whole Bill could not be referred back on account of its ignoring the workers of India and seeking to accentuate the existing anti-labour privileges, the following amendments at least were essential:

(a) Introduction of popular franchise to include all workers and soldiers;

(b) Questions of labour legislation to be treated as indivisible questions, that is, applying to the colonies and the home country alike; full franchise rights to be given to the workers in India before control over them is transferred to non-labouring classes in India;

(c) Statutory recognition of the right of Indian workers to combine;

(d) Humiliating anti-labour laws like the Assam Emigration Act and the Madras Planters’ Labour Act, and the practices of impressment of labour, indentured labour, and recruitment of labour by the agents of private companies with direct or indirect government assistance to be abolished forthwith;

(e) An Indian Labour Ministry to be introduced into parliament;

(f) The practice of “safeguarding” labour interests through government nominees and not through those elected by the labourers to be given up;

(g) Immediate reforms in wages, hours of work, &c., for the employees of the Government of India.

The Workers’ Welfare League also aims at:

(1) Collecting information about labour conditions in India with bearings on British conditions, and circulating it through the columns of papers and by means of pamphlets, leaflets, and periodical bulletins

(2) The sending of speakers to workers’ organisations to describe Indian labour problems and conditions and how they bear on the British workers’ lives.

(3) Holding periodical conferences to consider outstanding problems and occurrences so as to enable British and Indian workers to help each other effectively.

(4) Circularising the British clergy, a large number of whom at one time professed labour sympathies and showed some interest in the welfare of the Indian masses.

(5) Securing and sending financial and other help to Indian workers during labour troubles.

(6) Parliamentary activity directed towards pressing forward legislation in the interests of Indian labour, especially centreing round the right to organise.

(7) Urging and securing delegations to go from here to India to investigate and report on labour conditions there, especially among the mining, jute, textile, and tea and coffee plantation workers.

(8) Acting on behalf of the workers in settling industrial disputes, securing, sometimes with retrospective effect, compensation for injured workers and redress, for victimised ones.

Such work naturally found support from members of all political parties and the League kept, and still keeps, apart from all the parties. Many attempts were made to absorb the League into one political party or another, but they all failed. So did the opposite type of attempt, namely, to get the League to exclude from membership individuals or organisations associated with one or other political party. Work alone mattered, and party feeling did not count.

The pioneer work done by the League can no longer be undone. In the teeth of every type of opposition, as a direct result of the League’s work, the Indian workers have caught enough of the spirit of self-reliance never to lose it again. The workers of this country, if they want, can, through the Workers’ Welfare League of India, take advantage of this spirit and help it to grow into a free union with their own independent class consciousness. Or they can let the Indian workers also get absorbed into the various party machines as is slowly happening in Britain. The last general election showed how some workers were bamboozled into the party machines to the ruination of their own interests.

For parties which do not make the workers’ interests their sole concern, cannot help some day or other fooling the workers who support them. Class conscious unity among the workers of course makes this fooling impossible, and every fresh bond between workers makes it more difficult of accomplishment. The Workers’ Welfare League of India is one of the few organisations in this country which help to create such a bond between British and Indian workers. I invite, therefore, every worker and workers’ organisation here and in India to join us and use our common table to sit round and discuss and solve all problems to mutual advantage.

To mutual advantage. It is true that so far most of the help has gone from Britain to Indian workers. But the time is near when British workers will need Indian help. Already a foolish antagonism is being created and fostered between the two. Already the Indian workers are being used indirectly against the British. The day is not far of when a direct conflict between the two will be engineered by the enemies of both. The Workers’ Welfare League of India alone, acting as it does solely for the workers, seeks to prevent this conflict. Join us, therefore, and study at our common table, with your fellow workers of the other country, the forces and movements against both, and help to bring together into close friendship the workers of the two countries now being forced apart.1



1. All offers of help should be addressed to the Secretary, 23 Great Ormond Street, W.C.1.