ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Labour Act of 1938 under the ‘Nationalist’ Government

Strike, Violence, and an Ideological Paradox

The strike of November 1938 was the first time that the untouchable workers, organised under the Independent Labour Party led by B R Ambedkar and the communists, came together to strike against the Industrial Disputes Bill that the Indian National Congress’s provincial government in Bombay Presidency had introduced. The contradictions in the Congress's ideology and practices suggest that the nationalists were not only protecting capitalist class interests, but the ideology also kept changing under the domain of caste and class hegemonic nationalism. By looking at the November 1938 strike and its larger context, the Congress government’s justification and support to the violence on workers under the rubric, their nationalistic agenda is examined.

In the history of the strikes in colonial Bombay, the strike of November 1938 was significant for its organisers and the forces who broke the strike. It was the first time that B R Ambedkars political partythe Independent Labour Party (ILP)and communists came together to strike against the Industrial Disputes Bill that the Indian National Congresss provincial government in Bombay Presidency had introduced only two months earlier. Conventional labour historiography has not given importance to non-leftist organisations contributing to the labour movement. Workers involvement in the events of 1938 reveals that the ILP was one of the strongest labour and anti-caste organisations in the history of Bombays labour movement.

This paper focuses on debates between the Congress and the ILP on the Trade Disputes Bill (TDB) of November 1938. It examines the Congress government policies on working-class issues. The paper argues that the contradictions in the Congresss ideology and practice suggest that the nationalists were not just simply protecting capitalist class interests, but the ideology also kept changing under the domain of caste, class hegemonic nationalism. By looking at the November 1938 strike and its larger context, this paper examines how the Congress government justified and supported the violence on workers under the framework of their nationalistic agenda. Also, this paper examines how Ambedkar analysed the importance of labour rights to protect democratic values.

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Published On : 15th Feb, 2024

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