- Earliest labour leaders were Sasipada Banerjee of Bengal, S.S. Bengalee & N.M. Lokhanday of Mumbai.
- Sasipada Banerjee founded the first labour organization Working Men’s Club in 1870 in Kolkata. He also published the journal, Bharat Sramjeevi.
- In 1878, Sorabjee Shapoorji Bengalee tried to get a bill- for better working conditions passed in the Bombay Legislative Council.
- N.M. Lokhanday could be regarded as the first leader of Indian workers. In 1890, he founded Mumbai Mill hands Association and protested the poor conditions in factories. He published the journal, Deenbandhu.
- 1899 the first general strike by the Great Indian Peninsular Railways took place. Tilak’s Kesari and Mahratta campaigned for the strike.
- Other important leaders like B.C. Pal and G.S. Aiyar demanded better working conditions for labours.
- Swadeshi: Workers were organised by Ashwini Coomar Banerjee, Prabhat Kumar Roy Chaudhari, Premtosh Bose and Apurba Kumar Ghosh. Workers for the first time participated in wider political issues. Subramaniya Siva and Chidambaram Pillai led strikes in Tuticorin and Tirunelveli.
- Chennai Labour Union: Founded in 1918 by B.P. Wadia. First trade union organization of India on modern lines.
- Gandhi founded Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association also known as Majdur Mahajan Sabha in 1918-20. Anasuya Sarabhai played an important role.
- All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) (1920): Was influenced by Social Democratic ideas of the British labour party and moderates like N.M. Joshi. First session of AITUC was held in Mumbai with Lala Lajpat Rai as President & Dewan Cham Lal as Secretary. INC session at Gaya in 1922 welcomed the formation of AITUC. C.R. Das at the Gaya session advocated that Congress should take up the workers’ cause and incorporate them in the struggle for swaraj.
- Lala Lajpat Rai was the first to link capitalism with imperialism.
- Other prominent leaders associated with AITUC are Jawahar Lal Nehru, Subhash Bose, C.F. Andrews, J.M. Sengupta, V.V. Giri, Satyamurthy and Sarojini Naidu.
- A dip in the labour movement came because of a split in 1931 in which a corporatist trend led by N M Joshi broke away from AITUC and formed All India Trade Union Federation in 1929. V.V. Giri was its first president.
Under Communists Influence
- Late 1920s saw strong communist influence giving revolutionary character.
- 1928- strike led by Girni Kamgar Union in Bombay Textile Mills.
- Various Communists groups were coming up under the leadership of – S A Dange, Muzaffar Ahmed, P C Joshi, Sohan Singh Joshi etc.
Labor Laws Passed During British Period
- First Factory Act, 1881: A commission for this purpose was constituted in 1874. It prohibited child labour below 7 years, fencing of dangerous machinery and fixed working hours for children below 12 years.
- Second Factory Act, 1891: A commission for this purpose was constituted in 1884. It prohibited child labour below 9 years, fixed working hours for children below 14 years and weekly holidays for women.
- Indian Trade Union Act, 1926: Legal status was given to trade unions and rights of registered unions were recognized. Strike was made illegal in public utility services.
Labour Conspiracy During British Rule
- Kanpur Bolshevik Conspiracy case 1924: M.N. Roy; Muzaffar Ahmed; S A Dange; Shaukat Usmani; Nalini Gupta; Singaravelu Chettiar; Ghulam Hussain was trailed for conspiring against the government.
- Meerut conspiracy, 1929: Government arrested 31 labour leaders. The trial resulted in conviction of Muzaffar Ahmed, S.A. Dange, Joglekar, Philip Spratt, Ben Bradley, Shaukat Usmani and others. This trial got worldwide publicity.
Significance of labour in national movement
- During the 1920s, labour class began a nationalist struggle to demand human rights and constitutional changes among many other demands.
- C R Das advocated that Congress should take up workers’ and peasants’ causes and incorporate them in the struggle for swaraj.
- By second half of 1920s, strong Russian communist influence on the labour class lent a militant and revolutionary content to nationalism.
- Due to heavy crackdowns by the British Government on the labour class through legal and judicial measures, the gradual participation of the class in the national movement began shedding.
- Labour class and parties began side-lining the British Government during World War II calling it the People’s War. They also shared sympathy with the Britishers as they were fighting the Axis powers along with Russia (Communist angle).
- Labour leaders also remained aloof during Quit India Movement. However, small strikes were organised to protest.
- In 1946, workers went on a strike in support of the Naval Ratings.