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

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Evolution of Unionism and Labour Market Structure-Case of Bombay Textile Mills, 1947-1985

Using primary and secondary data this paper shows that the origins of the phenomenon of independent unionism in the Bombay mill industry were embedded in the dynamics of technological transformation within the industry as well as in the struggles of the workers at the mill level over time. The evolution of both the structure of collective negotiations and the structure of textile unionism occurs simultaneously. Thus not only does the bargaining structure result from prior union-management negotiations and varying capital intensities within firms in an industry, but the type of unionism is transformed during these processes. Examining the opposing forces of the law in preserving the status quo in the form of the BIR Act and the role of the 1982 strike in breaking down the state-imposed industry-wide bargaining structure in the industry, it is observed that the strike was partially successful.

Bombay Labour Once Again

THE history of Bombay textile labour continues to occupy the scholarly interest of professional social scientists.

Industry- Lock-Outs with a Purpose

Two inferences seem to follow from the data on industrial disputes published in the January 1984 issue of Indian Labour Journal First, throughout the period 1974 to 1982, the time lost per industrial dispute and the time lost per worker were several times more in the case of lock-outs than in that of strikes. In other words, lockouts by managements were of much longer duration than strikes by workers. One likely explanation may be that owners of out-dated plant and machinery resort to lock-outs either as a step towards closing down their units or as a pressure tactic for extracting more aid and concessions from the government.

Politics and Organisations of Urban Workers

The working class is an apparently privileged section. It has sained a more or less secure entry into the mainstream of economy, the sphere of organised production. In a society characterised by unemployment, poverty, scarcity and deprivation even wage slavery can be considered a privilege.

Textile Industry-Putting Sickness to Use

Union Commerce Minister V P Singh apparently underestimated the influence of the Bombay textile mill owners' lobby over his party's government and has hence been forced to retrace his steps. The prolonged strike by roughly two lakh textile workers in Bombay's textile mills, organised by Datta Samant's Mumbai Girni Kamgar Union, has petered out. About 15,000 workers have been retrenched following modernisation in some of the reopened mills. And another 36,000 workers are yet to get back their jobs owing to the alleged sickness of 12 mills which are at present virtually closed. Maharashtra's Chief Minister Vasantdada Patil and leaders of the Congress(I)'s Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh, in their discussions with the Commerce Minister during the latter's visit to Bombay on September 26, pressed for government take-over of the sick mills.

LABOUR-Textile Strike Turns Political

Three hundred thousand workers marched in pouring rain in Bombay on August 1, bring Bombay's strike of 250,000 textile workers, the largest in history, to a new level of political confrontation with the Congress(I). "Without destroying the anti-working class power of Congress, the basic problems of textile workers and other sections of workers cannot be solved", declared the workers' leader, Datra Samant. Other union representatives, women's organisation representatives, and activists of the Lai Nishan Party called for workers' take-over of factories, recalled China's 'long march' and stressed the transformation of the workers' struggle into a political one.

Bombay Textile Workers-After the Strike

As Bombay's textile workers have gone back to work, following the petering out of Datta Samant's long strike, the millowners, it is clear, have extracted the maximum advantage out of their helplessness. And the state government, not surprisingly, instead of exercising its powers, is pretending to be leaving it to the courts to provide justice to the workers.

LABOUR-Minimum Wages for Industrial Workers

It was in 1946 that Bombay textile workers won the right to a minimum wage for the whole industry, a wage that was supposed to be related to the needs of a worker (rather, of the worker's family) and not to the capitalists so-called capacity to pay. The 1946 Award based the minimum wage on the diet recommendation of Dr Aykroyd, the then Director of the Nutrition Research Laboratories at Coonoor, which laid down a minimum daily intake of 2.600 calorics for an adult working six hours in India. Even at that time this recommendation was regarded as being too low. Given that (he League of Nations Nutrition Commission had recommended 2,400 calories the energy requirement for basic diet (i e, without work) for workers in temperate countries and 75 calories per hour of moderate work, 3,000 calories would be the requirement for eight hours of moderate work.

Labour Legislation and Working Class Movement

Sumit Guha has written a critical comment (June 26) on my paper "Labour Legislation and Working Class Movement'' (Special Number, November 1981). I had argued that the retardation in the growth of an organised working class movement in the Bombay textile industry undoubtedly had something to do with or must even chiefly be attributed to the institution of a labour officer under the 1934 Act. Guha, in his comment, contends that the trade union movement went tram strength to strength in. the latter part of the 1930s and suspects me of having swallowed uncritically the labour officers own reports'

MAHARASHTRA-The Textile Worker in the Village

"First tell us why you're here — have you only come to tell us Datta Samant is power-hungry and that we should go back to work?" Textile workers, now back in their village homes three months into the longest strike in their history, are at first suspicious. From the beginning they have heard from their more well-known village leaders only anti-strike propaganda — workers are well off anyway and are causing damage to the nation by demanding too much, etc, etc. But once they find out that these visitors, organisers with agricultural labourers and toiling peasants in a nearby village, are different, are supporters of their strike, have been distributing pamphlets showing this support, their mood changes. A lamp is brought, friends are called, a meeting is held in a small temple in this poor peasant section of a prosperous and merchant dominated village in the foothills of the Sahyadris, and the process of organising the textile workers in Shiralapeth taluka of Sangli district has begun.

Labour Legislation and Working Class Movement

In his article (Special Number, November 1981) Dick Kooiman has argued that the chief explanation for the weak and disorganized condition of the Bombay working class movement in the period 1934-37 was "the institution of the labour officer", which by appropriating the main function of the unions, prevented them from gaining strength. But even a vestigial acquaintance with the history of the Bombay workers' movement suffices to disprove this.

Teaching the Workers A Lesson

As the strike of the two-and-a-half lakh workers of the textile mills of Bombay is about to cross the 150-day mark, a series of developments in the last few days have removed any remaining doubts about the Union government's determination to make no concessions to the striking workers and to defeat the strike. About the beginning of this month there were indications that the Maharashtra government would not be averse to moves to bring about a negotiated settlement of the strike. The state Chief Minister had told journalists in Pune on May 30 that the strike could be settled if all trade unionists came together and evolved a common minimum demand for the workers, taking into account the mills' paying capacity. Three days later he disclosed in Bombay that he was hopeful of a quick end to the strike. He was, he claimed, holding informal talks with several persons connected with the strike.

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