About HMS

In December 2008, HMS completes sixty years since its foundation in Calcutta in the newly independent India in 1948. Of course for the labour movement, six decades are not too long a way and in that sense we have miles to go still. However, it is a matter of accomplishment for a national trade union center to have survived and grown without being a part of the political parties in a country like India where virtually every other central trade union organization is part of some political party or the other. From about 6 lakhs membership in 1948 to over 55 lakhs and still growing, is no mean achievement. But the times ahead are tough. As it is, nearly 90% of the workforce in the country is unorganized, working in low paid, over worked jobs in dismal working conditions. As we move ahead, we need to stop and think - how do we build upon what we have? How do we face the challenges of the 21st century?

India, as we know, is undergoing significant politico-economic changes, led by the forces of economic liberalisation and globalisation. These changes are posing serious challenges to the trade union movement. At stake are hard won trade union rights of the workers. The role of State in India is undergoing major changes. What then should be the role of trade unions in this changing scenario? The time has come to sift from experience and draw from it the lessons for the future. This process needs to begin from looking back at the history of our own organisation, factors responsible for its growth as well as our misjudgments that prevented us from growing as much as we should have. Most importantly, to assess how far the organisation has been able to follow up on its goals and the ideals for which it was established.

The birth of HMS:

It may be remembered that in 1947-48, apart from M. N. Roy inspired independent Indian Federation of Labour (IFL), there were 2 main central trade unions - the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) which was under the control of the Communist Party of India and the newly formed Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) which was set up at the behest of Congress nationalists and the Gandhians of Hindustan Mazdoor Sewak Sangh in the Indian National Congress, the ruling Party. The Socialists in the Congress who broke away from Congress party in 1948, formed Hind Mazdoor Panchayat (HMP).

This was a period of much turmoil as well as many hopes for the future of free India. This post 2nd World War period in India was marked by acute shortages, rising prices and spiraling unemployment. There was much turbulence in the industrial relations scene as workers were facing many hardships. As many as 16 million mandays were lost due to strikes in 1947 as discontent among the workers grew. The response of the two major central trade unions -AITUC and INTUC- was not acceptable to the socialists at that time. Mere militancy dictated by the needs of the communist party (as reflected by AITUC at that time) or sub-servience to the government (as reflected by INTUC) was not meeting the needs of the workers. The socialists felt that the trade union movement could not be tied down to the needs of the political parties but must follow policies only in the interests of the Indian workers. This necessitated both cooperation with the development efforts of the country as also constructive opposition to the anti-labour, anti-employment policies of the government and the employers. This thinking led to the formation of Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS).

HMS was founded in Calcutta during the trade union conference from 24th to 26th December 1948. The conference was attended by the representatives of Indian Federation of Labour (IFL, founded in 1941), Hind Mazdoor Panchayat (HMP, founded in mid 1948), unions from the Forward Block (Party set up by Sh. Subhash Chandra Bose) and leading independent trade unions at that time. Over 600 trade union leaders participated, representing 427 unions and a membership of over 600000 workers. There were leaders like Jay Prakash Narayan, Sibnath Banerjee, R.A. Khedgikar and Ms. Maniben Kara who represented the railway unions; Shri Dalvi and Sh Ramanujam attended on behalf of Post & Telegraph employees; Miners were represented by Basawan Singh and P.B. Sinha while Textile workers were represented by R.S. Ruikar, Anthony Pillai and P.S. Chinnadurai. There were also representatives of Government employees, Teachers, Commercial employees, Port & Docks, Printing & Paper, Tobacco, Plantations and Sugar. Although HMS as an organisation was new, the men and women who founded it were veterans of the Indian trade union movement, most of who had been instrumental in the formation and growth of AITUC earlier. The Founding Conference elected Com. R.S. Ruikar as the first President, Com. Ashok Mehta as the General Secretary and Com. G.G. Mehta and V.S. Mathur as Secretaries. Ms. Maniben Kara and Com. T.S. Ramanujam were elected as Vice-Presidents of HMS and Com. R.A. Khedgikar as the Treasurer. The members of the Working Committee included veteran leaders like - Jayaprakash Narayan, V.G. Dalvi, Ms. Aruna Asaf Ali, V.B. Karnik, Dinkar Desai, N.V. Phadke, M.V. Donde, Rajani Mukherjee, Haren Ghosh, Anthoni Pillai, P.S. Chinnadurai, Peter Alwares, A.M. Williams, Munshi Ahmed Din, Vinayak Kulkarni, Nibran Ch. Bora and Basawan Singh. 

The formation of HMS represented the emergence of a new force in Indian trade union movement - that of unionists who believed in free, independent and democratic trade unionism. It represented independence of trade unions from the control of Government, Employers and Political Parties. It also represented a new thinking that role of trade unions is not only to oppose anti-labour policies of the government and employers but also to play a positive role in the development of industry to share gains from growth and of preparing & training workers to discharge their responsibilities as citizens (see HMS Manifesto for details).

The Early Years (1948 - 1956)

The history of HMS reflects the politico-socio-economic currents in the country and the reactions of the different union leaders and constituent unions to these developments. Although HMS is philosophically and organizationally independent of the political parties, the diversity of political opinion often caused conflicts and pulls and pressures from different sides (especially from the Socialist and the Congress party), shaping in the process the history of HMS. In the 1950s, it was the developments (splits) in the Socialist Party that always had repercussions on HMS.

The decision of the Socialist Party in 1949 at the Patna Conference to widen its base and open its membership to different people and organizations which had faith in socialist principles and peaceful and democratic means for achieving the goals (democratic socialism) was not acceptable to a group led by Mrs. Aruna Asaf Ali, who left the party in 1951 and later joined the Communist Party.

HMS Membership in early years
Year No. of Unions Membership
1948 427 606472
1951 570 804337
1952 267 398499

The membership fell in 1952 not only because some leaders like Mrs. Aruna Asaf Ali and Com. B.D. Joshi left HMS to join Communist Party, taking away some of their unions to AITUC but also due to organizational overhaul. In 1952, HMS decided for organizational reasons to do away with those unions which were not functional in active sense and were not paying their membership dues to HMS. The unity of Socialists under Praja Socialist Party (PSP) in September 1952 however boosted HMS which improved its effectiveness in the trade union field. Within HMS, five unions of transport and dock workers in Bombay came together in January 1954, to form Transport and Dock Workers Union, Bombay, under the leadership of Com. P.D’ Mello, which greatly expanded HMS organization and influence in the Port industry. HMS was also represented in the Textile Working party and the Coal Working party in 1951, which were set up by Sh. Gulzari Lal Nanda, the Minister for Labour and Rehabilitation - a very sincere man who genuinely wanted the well being of the workers and commanded much respect of the union leaders.

Major Struggles and Strikes during this period:

During the 1950s, HMS faced a number of struggles and carried out many nationwide campaigns. Important among these are -

* 1950 Textile Strike in Bombay, headed by Mill Mazdoor Sabha (MMS), over the issue of Bonus and collective bargaining rights of MMS and recognition through secret ballot. The strike involved over 200000 workers and lasted for 63 days leading to the acceptance of payment of bonus as deferred wage.

* 1954 Strike of Lodna Colliery workers in Jharia Coal fields in Bihar, over the issue of reinstatement of 250 workers as per the terms of agreement reached earlier and of recognition of HMS union. Over 7000 workers participated in the strike led by Com. Mahesh Desai, General Secretary of Koyla Mazdoor Panchayat. Com. Mahesh Desai had to face murder trial concocted by the authorities in collusion with the Employers but the charges were dropped after about 3 years under sustained campaign of HMS and its unions in a campaign led by Jayaprakash Narayan.

* 116 days strike of 4000 sugar workers of Tilaknagar in Maharashtra led by Com. G.G. Mehta, the General Secretary of HMS at that time. HMS won four & half months Bonus and reinstatement in jobs of 600 workers.

* In 1952, HMS carried out a country wide campaign against the Labour Relations Bill and the Trade Unions Bill, both of which sought to impose unjustified curbs on trade unions and its activities. The whole of the trade union movement was against these black labour laws, which were finally dropped by the government.

This period witnessed a number of other strikes and struggles over issues such as wages and recognition of HMS Unions. The policy of the government in the 1950s (which continued even later) was to promote and foist INTUC unions all over, irrespective of which union the workers wanted. This led to a number of conflicts in different parts of the country and repeatedly (such as in Rohtas Industries in Dalmianagar, in Chotanagpur coal fields, Jharia Mines, Basudeopur collieries, Ramgarh Power house, lodna collieries, various centrally owned and princely State - owned Railways, etc).   

HMS also embarked on a number of positive and constructive campaigns during this period for giving voice to the demands of the people in regard to employment and protection of purchasing power. From time to time Anti-Unemployment Day was observed as also Union Shop day, issues such as Civic rights of the people, scrapping of Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), improvements in public distribution system, self reliance, social security, health care and poverty alleviation policies often figured in these HMS campaigns. HMS also contributed much to the first Five Year Plan on the employment policies.

Period 1956 to 1963: the period of consolidation: 

During this period a firm foundation for the organisation was laid. This was also the period where some landmark policy decisions were arrived at in the tripartite bodies (such as in the Indian Labour Conferences), which set the tone for struggles and campaigns for the next two decades.

After the Jharia Conference in 1956, the newly elected General Secretary Com. Bagaram Tulpule took up the challenge of putting the HMS house in order as per the decision of the conference. He undertook extensive tours of various states and helped revive the State Councils where fresh elections were held, records upgraded and communications between the State body and the affiliates as also with the central office were improved. The administrative procedures in the central office were streamlined, meticulous records were maintained, membership figures were updated and accounts closely checked. Letters were promptly replied and detailed reports were prepared for the working committee meetings and the annual conventions.

Extensive studies of labour problems were made by Com. Bagaram and his colleagues. On behalf of HMS, detailed written submissions were made to the government and the tripartite bodies. The in-house HMS Bulletin which was called “Hind Mazdoor” was regularly printed and it contained not only news of affiliates but also the results of HMS studies on labour problems and suggestions.

In all 7 Indian Labour Conferences (ILCs) were held during this period and many important decisions were taken and agreements arrived at. HMS leaders contributed constructively in these conferences and helped to bring about consensus on a number of issues. Notable among these were -

1. Needs based Minimum Wages in industry (15th ILC);

2. Tripartite Wage Boards and norms for guiding wage fixing Authorities;

3. Principle of workers participation in management;

4. Code of Discipline in Industry for workers/unions, employers and the government (16th ILC);

5. Norms for rationalisation and conditions under which rationalisation should be introduced.

The experience of HMS (and other unions) in later years was that most of the above mentioned agreements were violated by the government and the employers when it came to honoring their side of the bargain. The code of discipline was often used only to prevent a strike action by the union while refusing or delaying the collective bargaining or preventing voluntary arbitration. The Government also refused to recognize the trade union rights of the government employees and also backed out of its commitment to need based minimum wage.

The 6th Annual Convention of HMS in Bangalore in October 1957 took note of all these developments and the delegates emphasized on the need to plan out some programme of action on the outstanding problems. The plan of action that was prepared and put before the delegates by Com. Anthony Pillai included - observing a nationwide token strike of one day on the date to be decided by the working committee after the convention. The working committee which met in January 1958 decided that in order to make the nationwide strike action more effective, other Central Trade Union Organizations (CTUOs) should also be contacted to make this a joint action. Accordingly HMS organised a conference of CTUOs and independent federations. Except for INTUC, everybody agreed that a nationwide protest action was needed but the meeting decided on first observing a Demands day in all states to prepare for the all India Strike. The Demands Day was observed in all states but the nationwide strike could not be held. This was not only because not much enthusiasm was shown by the other CTUOs but also because many affiliated unions of HMS were busy with their own struggles and strikes during this period (such as prolonged strike of cotton textile workers in Madras, 110 day strike of Premier Automobiles in Bombay and Dock workers strike).

As a consequence, HMS President and General Secretary decided to refer the matter of all India strike back to the working committee. Failure of HMS to follow up on the conference resolution agitated some members of HMS working Committee, notably Sh. George Fernandes, who was treasurer of HMS at the time. This group demanded resignation of the President and the General Secretary, which was not supported by the majority of the working committee. This led to Mr. George Fernandes walking out of HMS, along with Com. V.N. Sane another member of the working committee.

However, the real reason for the splitting of Com. George Fernandes is to be found in the politics of the PSP (Praja Socialist Party) in which there were two groups - one led by Ashok Mehta, who advocated cooperation with Congress on the thesis of compulsions of a backward economy and the other led by Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia who was extremely critical of Pt. Nehru and Nehru led Congress. These differences led to PSP finally splitting by the end of 1955, with Lohia group walking away to form Socialist Party (SP) to which belonged Com. George Fernandes. However both SP and PSP unionists continued to function within HMS even after the split in the PSP, although Dr. Lohia wanted the SP group to split from HMS. Com. P. D’Mello one of the prominent Socialist Party leaders and a trade unionist did not favour such a split. Within HMS, both groups held the leadership positions (Com. S.C.C. Anthony Pillai from SP group and General Secretary Com. Bagaram Tulpule from PSP group), even though the PSP group held sway at that time. The demise of Com. P. D’Mello in 1958 was a blow to this unity of SP and PSP unionists. Many SP leaders were not very happy in a situation where PSP activists were in majority. The failure to carry out the decision of the Bangalore Conference provided an opportunity to some of the Lohia Group followers like George Fernandes to leave HMS in 1958. In the following year some SP led unions in Bombay did not pay their affiliation fees to HMS and as a result were disaffiliated by HMS. By 1962, SP formed its own Central Trade Union Organization (CTUO) called Hind Mazdoor Panchayat (HMP). This split also weakened HMS as an organization at that time.

It was against this background that took place the historic 1960 strike of central government employees prominent amongst whom were Railwaymen led by AIRF, from 11th July to 16th July 1960. The immediate cause for the government employees strike was the recommendations of the 2nd Pay Commission (appointed in 1957) which had not given any meaningful rise in wages to the government employees even as their purchasing powers were declining due to ever increasing prices. Government refused to negotiate with the Federations of the government employees for improvements in the recommendations and the compensation package. As a consequence the disappointed central government employees went on strike. The strike was led by the Joint Council of Action, comprised of the Confederation of Central Government Employees, All India Railwaymens  Federation, National Federation of Post & Telegraph Workers and All India Defence Employees Federation. At Dahod (Gujarat), in Railway Workshop Colony, firing was resorted to by the State Police wherein 5 workers of Western Railway Employees Union, (an affiliate of AIRF) were killed. The strike was extensively supported by HMS unions and was led by many of its leaders. HMS held a special convention under the chairmanship of Barrister Nath Pai and on 14th July 1960, a nationwide sympathetic strike was held. Although the Strike lasted only 5 days, it left a long trail of after effects and vindictive actions on the part of the central government. Many HMS leaders, including HMS General Secretary were arrested and all the federations participating in the strike were derecognised. Thousands of employees were arrested, dismissed or suspended from service. In protest against this repression, all the CTUOs in the country observed 2nd September, 1960 as Trade Union Rights Day and the government was warned to not to pursue vindictive actions against those who had participated in the strike. This day was also supported by INTUC, which otherwise had played highly anti-labour role prior to and during the strike.

Some of the other major strikes/ struggles during this period were:

- December 1957 strike of 4000 workers of India Security Press, Nasik in Maharashtra, led by Com. R.A. Khedgikar for improvements in service and working conditions;

- 110 day strike from 11th April to 29th July 1958 of the workers of Premier Automobiles Ltd. in Bombay involving about 5000 workers, led by HMS affiliate Engineering Mazdoor Sabha over the issue of collective bargaining rights of the union. Management did not respect the code of discipline agreed to in the tripartite committee. Strike was withdrawn only after Sh. Gulzari Lal Nanda, Union Labour Minister intervened.

- Strike of about 2000 workers of the Coastal Shipping Companies in January, 1959 over dismissals and recruitment practices of the companies;

- Strike of Port & Dock workers on 16th June, 1958 in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Cochin, led by All India Port & Dock Workers Federation. Six workers died in Madras due to police firing. Strike called off after the Transport Minister assured to implement the Chaudhari Committee Report.

Other major strikes during this period led by HMS were the strike of Buckingham & Carnatic Mills at Madras and Municipal workers strike led by Municipal Mazdoor Union in Bombay.

All of these strikes were conducted in disciplined and peaceful manner. In many other industries too strikes and protests were launched over the issue of non-recognition of and non bargaining with the HMS unions by the government or the employers who often favoured INTUC unions (such as in Premier Automobiles, Bikaner Gypsum Co., Orient Paper Mills in Orissa, Kirloskar Oil Engines Pune, Indian General Navigation & Railway Co. Calcutta, Bharat Sugar Mill, Bihar, etc). This was in breach of the Code of Discipline agreed to in the 16th ILC session.

In 1963, HMS Union in the Port & Dock of Goa succeeded after a bitter struggle and many arrests to end the Mukadam system of recruitment in Goa Docks. At the same time Dock Workers Regulation of Employment Scheme came into effect due to the efforts of Transport & Dock Workers Union, Bombay. As a result workers were regularised and the Mukadam system was abolished.

Role of HMS during Chinese invasion in 1962:

On 21st October 1962, when China attacked India openly on its borders and annexed a substantial part of India s territory in Laddakh and NEFA, National Emergency was declared by the Government. HMS and its unions whole heartedly supported the government in its measures for defence of Indian territory. All differences were forgotten and Industrial Truce Resolution was agreed upon in an emergency tripartite conference (from which AITUC was excluded due to its links with Chinese Communist party). The workers and the unions accepted obligations to maintain industrial peace and even contributed part of their salaries towards meeting defence related expenditures.

When the war was over, HMS however reminded the government to respect its obligations towards workers and take positive actions to mitigate their hardships which were plenty at that time. The war had exacerbated the inflationary pressures in the economy, profiteers and hoarders were having a field day, there were shortages of all essential items and workers’ wages were highly depleted due to rising prices. Unemployment was ever present as a demon. But the economic conditions did not improve and government also did not take any positive measures to put in place labour democracy, preferring to tough measures and squeezing the workers and the middle classes. In Post 1962 period therefore, the industrial turmoil continued.

Later half of 1960s and early 1970s:

In general, the decade of 1960s saw economic and social conditions deteriorating rapidly in the country, which tested the trade union movement to its limits. Main economic issues were - shortages of essential goods, especially of food grains, spiraling prices, inadequate inflation compensation of wages and salaries, faulty Consumer Price Index, high and inequitable taxes on people, inequitable sharing of burden of economic difficulties, etc. As a consequence the trade union movement in the country had to be constantly on struggle against the government and the employers for most parts of the decade, except during the Chinese invasion. Post 1962, government failed to harness the patriotic spirit of the people and in the face of growing economic difficulties, what followed was communal disharmony, provincialism, narrow-mindedness fanned by the political parties.

After its Dalmia Nagar Conference in April 1963, HMS geared up itself to launch nationwide struggle against rising prices and for full neutralisation of inflation. At this time also on the agenda, was withdrawal of Compulsory Deposit Scheme (CDS) proposed by the government to raise resources from the workers. HMS suggestion was to raise the contribution to the Provident Fund Scheme which would have not only given more resources to government but also ensured that the burden of raising resources would have been shared both by the workers and the employers. During the course of this campaign (which started from July, 1963), several protests programmes such as Anti-Price Rise Rallies were held all over the country, including in Delhi, the historic Bombay Bandh on 20th August, which was followed by Maharashtra Bandh and similar Bandhs in Uttar Pradesh and other States. Earlier a special Convention of HMS was called on 21-22 February 1964 in Bombay, under the Presidentship of Com. Basawan Singh, which was attended by over 500 delegates from allover the country. The Convention resolved to intensify the campaign and also pressurise the government to take action on controlling prices, take action against the black marketeers (most of whom had much political patronage), correct the Consumer Price Index Numbers series, and ensure proper inflation compensation to the workers. The Convention also resolved to withdraw HMS from the Industrial Truce Resolution and Code of Discipline as Government and the employers did not respect it at their end. In the struggle that followed, HMS was also often joined by other CTUOs in the demonstrations. The 22nd Session of the ILC was also held under the shadow of these protests and threat of boycott by HMS and could be held only after government promised to discuss the food problem in detail. However no concrete steps were taken by the government and the result was several demonstrations and bandhs that took place in different states.

The other major cause of industrial unrest during this period continued to be government’s partiality towards INTUC at the cost of other CTUOs, especially HMS which was often denied collective bargaining rights during this period. This led to HMS strikes and repression by government in many industries such as in Bhilai Steel Plant in April, 1964 (which culminated in atleast the contract workers getting equal wages as permanent workers), Strike by the Handloom and Powerloom workers of Bhiwandi under the leadership of Textile Mazdoor Sabha, fights in Sugar Factory in Niphad, Maharashtra, Struggle by Neelmalai Plantation Workers Union in Coonoor, Strike by Calcutta Port Shramik Union in April, 1968, in Collieries and in several other places. 

During the 1960s several important Committees and Commissions were set up by the Government in which HMS representatives played an important part. Some of the major Committees/Commissions set up during the 1960s were -

The Bonus Commission: In the course of setting up the labour policy for the 3rd Five Year Plan, the issue of bonus as part of the wages became a point of conflict between the unions and employers. To sort out the issue, Union Labour Minister Sh. Gulzari Lal Nanda agreed to set up a Commission and Sh. M.R. Meher, Ex-President of the Industrial Tribunal of Maharashtra was appointed the Chairman in 1961. Employers opposed the appointment but the government, supported by the Unions, including HMS stood firm over the choice of the Chairman.

However, HMS was not represented on the Bonus Commission (only INTUC and AITUC representative was there). HMS however submitted a detailed reply to the questions raised by the Bonus Commission, advocating that the concept of Bonus should be seen both as deferred wage and as means to share in profits. HMS was of the view that Bonus should be comprised of two parts- fixed (non-negotiable, irrespective of profits or loss) and variable component linked with profits. The validity of the Bonus concept was also there because in India, workers’ wages did not rise every year to keep pace with the changing conditions and therefore Bonus filled the gap to certain extent. HMS also advocated for Bonus to casual labour and no upper limits to Bonus. Bonus Commission gave its report in January 1964 but the government did not accept most of its recommendations. Hence a special Conference was called in Bombay sponsored by HMS and other independent unions in September 1964 to discuss the situation. In November 1964 during the 12th National Conference of HMS, the Conference condemned the government for disregarding the Commissions report. HMS also did not agree with many recommendations of the Commission but wanted the report to be discussed in the Standing Labour Committee or the ILC to finalise the issue.

The Payment of Bonus Act was finally enacted in September 1965 after many deliberations and disagreements. This Act was not supported by the Unions and its enactment in no way reduced the industrial disputes on account of bonus in the industry.

First National Commission on Labour (NCL): 37 years after the Royal Commission on Labour, Government of India appointed NCL in December, 1966, with Sh. P.B. Gajendragadkar, the former Chief Justice of India as its Chairman. Com. Manohar Kotwal, the then General Secretary of HMS, was appointed as one of the members of the Commission. The terms of reference of the Commission were very wide and covered every aspect of industrial relations. Both trade unions and employers welcomed the step and hopes were high that industrial relations system in the country would be overhauled. HMS submitted a detailed memorandum to NCL in June, 1968 advocating for a labour policy that recognised workers’ role in national development efforts, their right to share in growth and policy that promoted recognition of trade unions on the basis of workers’ ballot (rather than government prerogatives and preferences). HMS reiterated that government policy of controlling trade union movement had led to too much politicisation of the trade unions. HMS called for settlement of industrial disputes through direct collective bargaining with the single majority union recognised through secret ballot, advocated for abolition of the system of contract and casual labour, equality of opportunities and wages for women workers and abolition of arbitrary demarcation of certain industries as public utilities.

When the NCL submitted its report on 28th August 1969, HMS found its recommendations incomplete and half hearted. The powers given to the proposed Industrial Relations Commissions (IRC), HMS felt, intruded into the realm of the collective bargaining and hence were not acceptable. The Commission had however made some good recommendations but government never implemented the NCL report.

Other important committees and events during this period in which HMS made significant contributions were - Committee on Automation (October, 1969), Iron & Steel Committee (formed in 1947 but first met in January, 1965), Industrial relations in Public Sector (December, 1967), 2nd National Sugar Wage Board and Nationalisation of Banks (July 19, 1969).

Other Activities: HMS made valuable suggestions for the setting up of an autonomous Central Board of Workers Education, which was established in 1958. In November 1965, Sakhar Kamgar Sabha, an affiliate of HMS in Sugar Industry in Maharashtra built up a hospital in Shrirampur. The year 1966 saw the first trade union education course conducted by HMS for union full timers. It was followed by a Communications workshop in October 1966.

Trade Union Unity Attempts:

The question of trade union unity first came up for discussion in the General Council of HMS at the Nagpur Convention in 1952 and the basis and principles for such unity were finalised in subsequent conventions and working committee meetings. Three basic principles for trade union unity were finalised by HMS. These were -

1. Acceptance of adherence to the principles and methods of democracy in the activities of the unified movement;

2. Freedom from the interference by the Government and political parties; and

3. Elimination of existing rivalries through secret ballot.

Ms. Maniben Kara, President of HMS in 1952 was of the opinion that if these principles were not acceptable to INTUC and AITUC then- We should not lack the courage to stand alone, if it comes to that .

HMS strived for merger of both AITUC and INTUC along with it. Between 1955 and 1958, some serious attempts were also made for unity of trade union movement. A five member committee was appointed by HMS General Council in 1956 to explore the possibility of resolving rivalries at the primary union level. Although for various reasons these did not succeed at central trade union level, some success was achieved at the level of industrial federations and unions.

In 1953, an agreement for unity was arrived at in the Railways between All India Railwaymens Federation (AIRF) and Indian National Railway Workers Federation (INRWF) and both the Federations as well as many of their affiliates merged. In 1953, INTUC and HMS Seafarers’ organisations in Bombay and Calcutta merged to form Indian Seafarers’ Federation. Defence employees unions of HMS, AITUC and INTUC came together to form a Federation of about 250000 workers. Similarly unions of Petroleum workers affiliated to different central trade unions joined together to form Federation of Indian Petroleum Workers, with a membership of about 15000 workers. These mergers however fell apart in subsequent years. AIRF was revived in Poona in August 1957 and the merger of Railway unions also took place at the same time.

In addition, the unity efforts at national level with Congress controlled INTUC and with Communist controlled AITUC were not favoured by many of the socialist trade union leaders of HMS who wanted unity only on the principles of democratic socialism and freedom from political parties, which the other two organisations could not ensure. The fact that the government was actively promoting INTUC during this period caused many conflicts in the industrial relations and prevented unity. The 12th Annual Convention of HMS in Secunderabad in 1964 noted this deteriorating state of affairs, disruptive activities of INTUC affiliates at unit level and lack of independent thinking of INTUC at national level (over vital issues like price rise, CDS, Bonus Commission, etc).

However in 1967, the attempts at forging trade union unity in India were revived by HMS which again constituted a five member committee for this purpose. The 14th National Convention of HMS at Baroda passed a resolution asking HMS leadership to propose concrete steps for trade union unity with other CTUOs to evolve common approaches to labour problems. Following this, many letters were exchanged between INTUC and HMS as well as AITUC. INTUC also during the Presidentship of Sh. Gulzari Lal Nanda appointed its own sub-committee to explore the possibility of trade union unity. INTUC however did not want communist controlled AITUC to be part of any such unity initiative, which was not acceptable to HMS and that again led to a deadlock.

The efforts of HMS for unity with HMP also did not meet with any success (both in 1964 as also in 1967).

In the meanwhile HMS-AITUC unity talks led to an agreement in March 1968 whereby both organisations agreed to stop the policy of mutual accusations and consult each other, especially before the tripartite meetings. This period also saw a number of joint actions by the trade unions of different national centres, such as in the Jute industry in West Bengal, for a National Convention on Need Based Wage and Trade Union Rights, for the meetings of the National Coordination Committee of Trade Unions, etc. INTUC however did not participate in these joint conferences. AITUC and HMS often had similar views on a number of issues and often worked in close cooperation (such as during the central government employees strike in September, 1968 and on the approach to the issues before the National Commission on Labour). AITUC was however internally disturbed during this period of late 1960s and it finally led to its split in May 1970 when CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) was formed. The aftermath of this split saw a lot of violence in West Bengal. In order to contain further rivalry in trade unions, HMS decided to invite CITU also to the joint conferences of trade unions.

Another factor that led to the coordinated action of the different CTUOs during 1970-71 was the war for Bangladesh. India supported the people of Bangladesh in their bid for independence from Pakistan. In May 1971, Com. Abdul Mannan and Mohammed Shahjahan (from Bangladesh) sought the support of Indian trade unionists against the oppression of Pakistan authorities against the workers and students. So Indian Unions formed a Coordination Committee for Solidarity with Bangladesh, with INTUC President Dr. (Mrs.) Maitrei Bose as its Chairman. HMS was represented in this committee by its President Dr. Shanti Patel and General Secretary Sh. Mahesh Desai.

The mid-term elections in 1971 changed drastically the political scene in India. The Congress party led by Smt. Indira Gandhi won two-thirds majority in Parliament and along with it came new arrogance of the ruling party. HMS called a conference of trade unions in Delhi in May 1971, in which all CTUOs except INTUC participated. After the conference, HMS had a separate meeting with INTUC out of which was born a National Consultative Committee (NCC) of HMS and INTUC in June 1971, followed by similar NCC between HMS and AITUC in August 1971. Much hopes were raised during this period of the long awaited unity of Indian labour movement. The 16th National Conference of HMS in September 1971 at Coimbatore enthusiastically endorsed these efforts and welcomed this historical opportunity for trade union unity. Soon thereafter, the National Council of Trade Unions was formed in May 1972. But all these efforts did not succeed and the National Council did not really achieve very much and soon slipped into nothingness.

The hurdles before the trade union unity process were -

- differences over aims, Objects and methods of working;

- personality factors;

The period of 1970s:

The period of 1970s began with great expectations. Mrs. Indira Gandhi had won a landslide victory in the Parliamentary elections and workers were hoping that this would pave the way for her to implement her Garibi Hatao programme in earnest which to the unions meant employment and need based wages. The Bangladesh war had also taken its toll on Indian economy and there was a need to ensure industrial peace and boost up production. Union Labour Minister Sh. Khadilkar was keen to bring unions together for this purpose and he took the initiative to form a Working Party of employers and trade union representatives to redesign the climate of industrial relations. HMS welcomed the move.

During this period  (around February 1972), a group of unionists from AITUC, HMS and INTUC also reached a consensus on some vital issues of labour policy. It was also decided to set up joint industrial committees of the three organisations at the national level. Talks were also started to form a National Council of Trade Unions as a first step in the process of unification of the mainstream trade unions. This period also saw the State Councils of INTUC, AITUC and HMS come together in the States of West Bengal and Maharashtra to celebrate the May Day jointly. The National Council was formed in May, 1972 and in its first meeting on 21st May, 1972 discussed the issues of Bonus, partial Nationalisation of Coal industry, wage revision in Cement industry, proposed Industrial Relations Law and the Governments reluctance for discussion with trade unions in the matter of formulation of Five Year Plan.

However, cracks soon developed in the National Council over the selection of representatives for the ILO Conference in 1972. Government had earlier assured that the old practice of sending the delegate only from INTUC would be abandoned and it would consult all the three organisations well in advance. But in 1972 also the same practice continued with INTUC being given the representation as the delegate, along with two advisors and HMS a single seat as advisor. HMS declined the offer. The atmosphere after this continued to deteriorate in so far as chances for trade union unity were concerned. Government policies (especially under the Labour Minister Sh. Raghunath Reddy) of favouring INTUC over all others in matters of representation to the Committees continued to cause schisms in the trade union movement.

In the meanwhile, the economic crisis in India continued to deepen. The trade union delegates at the HMS 17th National Convention in 1974 at Calcutta passed a main resolution which pointed out the following:

Prices skyrocketed during this period, industry was in stagnation and unemployment grew significantly. Partly the Indian economy’s problems were caused by the hike in international oil prices and failure of monsoons in India. But in a major way, the failure was of the government policies which continued to subsidise the rich in the name of poor (such as large farmers and trading community) and its failure to take action against the blackmarketers and hoarders. The workers in the unorganised sector were the worst hit although the protests came mainly from the organised sector classes (such as government employees, public sector workers and workers in large units) whose purchasing powers during the period fell significantly.

Some of the major struggles and strikes during this period were:

Coimbatore Strike of Textile workers, which started after a year long struggle in February, 1972 under the Joint Action Council of HMS, AITUC and INTUC. It spread to entire state of Tamil Nadu, bringing to halt the entire textile industry. The strike was in protest against the closures of textile mills and failure of the government to take over the Mills to safeguard workers employment. Coimbatore District Textile Workers Union, under the leadership of Com. A. Subramaniam, played a leading role in this strike, which was withdrawn on 11th march, 1972 after a settlement providing for government takeover of 6 closed Mills and compensation to workers. Industrial relations in Coimbatore again flared up from October, 1972 onwards when the government announced major power cuts for most parts of the day which led to workers being laid off and losing their wages.

In Maharashtra State too, HMS was leading anti-price rise agitations and strikes in 1972-73, which culminated in a Maharashtra Bandh on 2nd January 1974.

In Dhanbad district of Bihar, six workers of Sirjua Colliery were killed in police firing on 15th November 1973, when they were agitating for non-fulfillment of agreement reached earlier. As a result workers of other nearby collieries of Bharat Cooking Coal Ltd (BCCL) struck work for next two days and on 21st November 1973 protest strike was observed through out BCCL. Letters of protest and solidarity came from International Trade Union Organisations like ICFTU and WFTU and Bihar government appointed a commission of enquiry into the incident.

In other parts of the country, HMS and other unions were carrying on agitations on the issue of Bonus during this period.

1974 Railway Strike:

The Indian Railwaymen went on strike from 8th to 28th May 1974. HMS had heavy stakes in this strike since the zonal unions of western, northern and central railways were HMS affiliates. The main demands of the railway employees were that they should be considered as industrial workers, that their wages should be fixed in the same way as those of other industrial workers and as industrial workers, railway employees should also be entitled to bonus. The strike was led by All India Railwaymens Federation, along with other railway unions all of which had been united for this struggle.

On 2nd May 1974, the day the negotiations were to start between AIRF leadership and the Railway Minister Mr. L.N. Misra, the authorities arrested AIRF President Mr. George Fernandes and his colleagues in Lucknow in the early dawn operations. The labour Minister appeared to be very ineffective during this period. This gave very clear indications that the Government was not interested in any negotiations, even when the all India Railway strike began on 8th May. HMS also took up the matter in the Asian Regional Organisation of ICFTU which extended support and sent a message to the Government of India requesting it to release the trade union leaders, start negotiations and stop victimisation of workers.

Victimisation of railway workers during the 1974 strike was quite ruthless- 46000 were dismissed, 9000 were suspended, 19000 were arrested and out of over 12 lakhs who participated in strike, 863000 employees suffered from break in service.  Earlier on the eve of the strike, AITUC had also floated a new Railway Federation which later on at the instance of AITUC merged with AIRF. INTUC as usual played the role of opposing the strike.

The growing economic crisis fuelled much discontent in the working class and students which led to Government imposing the infamous Emergency on 26th June 1975.

HMS during Emergency:

Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi declared emergency on the ground that the opposition political parties had crossed the limits observed under democracy and hence the integrity of the country was in danger. The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was sternly imposed and a number of political and trade union leaders including those of HMS were imprisoned.

The emergency gave rise to internal crisis in HMS with some leaders opposing and others expressing themselves in favour of emergency and the government’s 20 point programme in view of national crisis. There was as a result a tussle between two groups - one led by the President Com. Makhan Chaterjee in favour and the other led by Com. Mahesh Desai, General Secretary opposing it. So a Working Committee meeting was convened in Delhi on 21st July 1975 to resolve the issue. At the meeting, after a heated debate a resolution in support of emergency was passed with 14 in favour and 7 against. This resolution was then forwarded to the Government of India. But the tussle between the two groups continued which led to successive meetings and conferences being called by the two groups and Court cases to take control of the organisation. During this struggle, there were many unions which wanted the two groups to stop this divisive actions and wanted a national convention to be held to democratically elect new leaders. The President did not favour such suggestions. The opposition to emergency within individual HMS unions was however wide spread and the group led by the General Secretary had more organisational support which was also proved in the Calcutta Conference on 3rd-4th July, 1976, where a decision was taken to set up a committee of representatives of all States called the Restructuring Group- to plan and coordinate the activities of HMS at national level and to hold State level Conferences in each State to chalk out anti-emergency programmes.

INTUC and the then leadership of AITUC had from the very beginning expressed themselves in support of emergency and the governments' programme. HMS leadership therefore held meetings with CITU, BMS, NLO, HMP and TUCC to fight back the emergency. Workers were however quite sub- dued during the emergency as all democratic rights of protest were suspended during this 19 month period that the emergency lasted. The National Convention of HMS could also not be held in view of the differences between the two groups. By the end of January 1977, most of the people including several HMS unionists arrested during the emergency were released, the 5th Lok Sabha was dissolved and elections to 6th Lok Sabha were announced for March 1977. In the elections that followed a number of HMS union leaders got elected. For the first time in the history of independent India, the Congress Party lost power at the centre. On 21st March 1977 the emergency was withdrawn and Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi resigned. The Government led by Janata Party- a combination of 4 major political parties - came to power, with Sh. Morarjee Desai as the Prime Minister.

After this, the group led by the President wanted the rift in HMS to be closed and for that purpose wanted HMS Working Committee meeting to be called to fix the dates for the National Convention of HMS. But now Com. Mahesh Desai, General Secretary kept on postponing the issue and the meeting was ultimately called after a great persuasion and the 18th National Convention was convened in New Delhi on 3rd-4th, June, 1978. The Court cases filed by both the groups against each other were also withdrawn and both groups came together once again. Dr. Shanti Patel was elected as the President and Com. D.D. Vashist as the General Secretary. The new working Committee that got elected placed on record its deep appreciation of the previous HMS Secretariat, led by the General Secretary which steered the organisation during the difficult period of emergency.

HMS and Janata Regime (1977 - 1979):

The new Janata Party Government took oath to serve the country at Rajghat- the  Mahatma Gandhi memorial, under the Chairmanship of Sh. Jayaprakash Narayan, the architect of Janata Party and the moving spirit behind it. Together with the students and other people, the workers too hoped for realisation of their long standing demands regarding food, shelter and freedom of association.

On 11th April, 1977, the new Government called a major meeting of representatives of HMP, BMS, NLO and HMS in Delhi, which was also attended by the Prime Minister, apart from the Labour Minister.  Some of the major issues that came up for discussions were -

a. Recasting of Bonus law;

b. Repayment of the amounts deducted under Compulsory Deposit Scheme (CDS) and discontinuation of CDS; these were also a part of the manifesto of the government;

c. Guaranteed work, income and social security for landless labour, marginal
farmers and self employed people;

d. Reinstatement of workers dismissed during the emergency and reimbursement of wages for that period;

e. Restructuring of industrial relations to promote collective bargaining;

All major issues of trade unions were discussed, which the government promised to take up seriously. Trade Unions on their part assured the new government of their full cooperation.

But for various reasons these hopes did not materialise. However, one major promise was fulfilled under pressure from AIRF. The dismissed workers of 1974 Strike were reinstated by the Railway Minister Sh. Madhu Dandawate. But other Public sector workers were much disappointed by the new government’s  failure to address any of their long pending demands. Moreover, in the beginning the new Labour Minister of the Janata Party- Sh. Ravindra Verma continued to give fuel to the rift in HMS by continuing to recognise two groups in HMS and inviting both the groups to nominate members for the tripartite committee meetings. It was only when the General Secretary led HMS decided to boycott the Indian Labour Conference in May, 1977 that the Labour Minister was forced to recognise only one HMS and he ceased to extend invitation to the President led HMS group. This was later followed by HMS National Conference in June, 1978 where the two groups buried their differences and came together.

The emergency had also brought home the fact that unless the different CTUOs united, they could not influence the labour policies in the country. It was with this view that another all India Convention of Trade Unions was jointly organised by CITU, BMS, HMS, HMP, UTUC and TUCC on 18th September, 1977 in New Delhi which was also attended by a number of independent national level unions from Post & Telegraphs, Banks, Insurance, Defence, Railways, etc. The meeting welcomed the new government and expressed hope that it would take up workers long pending demands. The Convention  decided to celebrate Demands Week from 24th October to 30th October, 1977 all over the industrial areas and Mass Rallies on 30th October. The Convention also passed a resolution on wages and incomes policy demanding reduction in disparities as promised by the Janata Party manifesto.

The Government also appointed a 30 member Committee in July, 1977 under the Chairmanship of the Union Labour Minister to rationalise labour laws and to recommend a new framework for industrial relations. HMS submitted its views in detail. But the Industrial Relations Bill that was introduced in the Parliament raised a storm among the trade unions,  as it severely sought to curb freedom of association and right to strike and bargain collectively. This was the time when many HMS leaders were not only active in the ruling Janata Party, but quite a few even occupied ministerial berths at the Central and State levels. Thus in a way it was an acid test of the policy of independence which the HMS was committed to since its inception. HMS decided to rise and resist the Bill. Not only this, it organised a National Campaign Committee against the IR Bill, comprising of HMS, INTUC, AITUC, CITU, BMS, UTUC and other Central organisations. Many Conferences, Public meetings and demonstrations were held throughout the country against the proposed Bill, during 1978 culminating in a historic and massive demonstration of nearly 50,000 workers on 20th November, 1978 before the Parliament House in Delhi. It was during this struggle that the Janata Party government fell and the Bill never again saw the light of the day.

This Bill very nearly brought about the merger of trade unions in the country. A Committee comprising of HMS, HMP, TN National Trade Union Congress and other independent unions was formed in the 2nd half of 1978 to take steps for merger of trade unions. Subsequently a National Convention was also held in Bombay on 24th-25th February, 1979- titled Consolidation Conference. Com. Bagaram Tulpule was the Chairman of the Reception Committee and the conference was inaugurated by Com. George Fernandes, ex-treasurer of HMS and the Industries Minister under the Janata Party. About 2000 delegates attended the Conference from several Indian and International Organisations. The Conference declaration gave a clarion call for a united independent trade union movement under the name of HMS. Sh. S. Venkat Ram and Dr. Shanti Patel were elected as the President and General Secretary, along with a new 35 member Executive Committee. Many hopes were raised by this merger but cracks started appearing by 1981.    

HMS leads Indian Workers delegation to ILO:

After the Consolidation Conference, HMS became a strong contender for the delegate’s post for ILO s 65th Session which was to be held in June 1979. For the first time since independence, INTUC monopoly was broken and AITUC, BMS and CITU supported HMS in this bid. All of them, including HMS, were of the view that the delegateship of workers should be rotated every year. That year, HMS President Com. S. Venkat Ram led the workers  delegation which consisted of CITU, BMS and HMS. This was not liked by AITUC and INTUC who changed its stand and refused to participate. INTUC not only boycotted but also challenged the credentials of Indian workers delegation, which was successfully contested by HMS General Secretary Dr. Shanti Patel before the credentials committee of the ILO. The Credentials Committee allowed the Indian delegates to attend the convention but made some remarks which went against the ruling of International Court of Justice. The Credentials Committee, after hearing the government but without hearing HMS ruled that when there is no agreement among the unions, the government should nominate the union with a largest membership. HMS standpoint was that when the combined membership of other organisations is more than that of the largest organisation, it cannot dictate the choice of delegates. ICFTU supported INTUC's position in this dispute.

International Relations:

HMS, along with INTUC, is among the founding members of International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the non communist block of trade unions which believe in free, independent and democratic trade unionism. It was founded in November-December, 1949. On behalf of HMS, Ms. Maniben Kara was elected as an alternate member on the Executive Board of ICFTU. Earlier in 1945, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) was formed in which too Indian trade union leaders participated. But this war time cooperation between democratic and communist unions in India broke down in 1947 and the cold war that followed also affected WFTU. WFTU did not support the post war Marshall Plan, which it saw as preparation against communism. British TUC, US workers organisation CIO and NVV of Netherlands walked out of WFTU Executive Board meeting in Paris in January, 1949, which led to the formation of ICFTU later in the year in London.

Although HMS was a founding member of ICFTU, it was only after 1962 that HMS decided to accept financial aid from ICFTU for trade union education purposes, after the working committee decision in Ahmedabad. This was done as the organisation was financially weak and was finding it difficult to continue it’s workers education and training work, to which HMS had always placed a very high priority.   

After the ILO Session in June, 1979, HMS Working Committee discussed the attitude of ICFTU vis-a-vis HMS and discussions took place whether HMS should continue to be part of ICFTU, which had appeared partisan towards INTUC during the ILO Conference and had also indirectly supported emergency in India when it refused to pass a resolution condemning the emergency and arrest of many HMS leaders. ICFTU representatives had refused to deal with HMS delegates during this conference. Bro. Otto Kersten, General Secretary of ICFTU at that time was also participating in this meeting and he allayed the fears of HMS leaders. He also said that whatever happened at the ILO Conference was not the creation of ICFTU. He appealed to the HMS leaders that they as socialists should continue the relationship and to work closely with ICFTU. Then the Working Committee, reaffirming HMS principle of international labour solidarity decided to continue HMS relationship with ICFTU.

HMS in the 1980s and 1990s:

The decade of 1980s has been a period of much expansion and   diversification as well as many difficulties for HMS. This period saw the State Councils getting activated, several new Industrial Federations i.e. steel, Engineering & Metal Workers Federation in November 1979, Sugar Workers Federation in Feb. 1982, Hind Khet Mazdoor Sabha in Aug. 1982, Building and Wood Workers Federation in Feb. 1981, Chemical Workers Federation in Jan. 1984, Textile Workers Federation in Sept. 1983, Federation of Indian Plantation Workers in March 1984, Coal Workers Federation in 1982, Hotel Workers Federation in 1982, Municipal Workers Union in 1983 got organised and HMS also expanded its organisations in rural and unorganised areas. HMS membership went up from about 22 lakh in the early 1980s to about 40 lakh by the end of the decade. This period also saw HMS Education and Training Activities expanding substantially all over the country both for workers and union leaders.

In 1980, HMS established a nucleus for education and research activities in the form of Maniben Kara Institute at Bombay (now called Mumbai). In 1982-83, HMS Central Office also started Research & Training Programme as well as Long Term Education Project to train its activists in different unions. Over the years a number of HMS unions too took a lead in establishing Education and Training Institutions(List annexed). There are now about 20 trade union education, research and training institutes set up by various HMS Unions all over the country, besides initiating a number of cooperative schemes for the welfare of workers. The publication of Hind Mazdoor- the monthly news letter of HMS was also revived in 1980, after a gap of about 6 years. This publication had to be stopped during the period of Emergency  in 1975.

In May, 1980, Bombay Port Trust Employees Union, one of the oldest affiliates of HMS celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. This Union has played a major role in the history of HMS.

In 1981 (18-20 March), World Trade Union Conference was held for the first time in India where trade unionists from all over the world met in New Delhi for a Conference on Role of Trade Unions in Development. The members of HMS Working Committee attended the conference as delegates.

In April, 1981, at Cochin Conference of HMS (20th National Convention), a small section again split from the main stream HMS. The differences were however soon sorted out and the two groups reunited two years later in the Jaipur Conference in 1983, when Com. S.R. Kulkarni was elected as President and Com. D.D. Vashist reelected as General Secretary.

The major issues that continued to occupy the centre stage in the 1980s were - struggle against inflation and protection of purchasing powers, Bonus for workers, unemployment and Right to Work, organising the unorganised workers, trade union rights of association and collective bargaining, new Industrial relations law, struggle for meaningful tripartitism and protection and revival of public sector undertakings. 

There were a number of Joint Actions carried out with other CTUOs during this period under the aegis of National Campaign Committee (NCC, which was formed earlier to wage struggle against the anti-labour IR and TUs Bill in 1979, brought out by the Janata Dal). The issues for joint action were - repeal of Essential Services Act (ESMA), anti-price rise, wage revisions in PSUs, Minimum Wages revision, full neutralisation of inflation, etc. On 4th June, 1981 a Joint Conference was held in Delhi in which all CTUOs participated. In this struggle, a faction of INTUC led by Com. Dara also joined in with NCC constituents in the programme of struggles, strikes and March to Parliament.  On 23rd November, nearly 1 million workers marched in New Delhi from the historic Red Fort to Parliament House, which also decided on country wide strike on 19th January, 1982, which was a great success as the strike was observed in different states and industrial centres through out the country. Apart from the workers, students, women and Youth organisations also participated. During this strike, the Government arrested nearly 50000 trade union leaders and workers in various parts of the country.

Several such State and industry level Joint actions were also carried out in the 1980s, especially in the Public Sector, in which HMS and its unions often played a leading role. NCC basically reflected the aspirations of the united trade union movement for most parts of the 1980s. For us it was a matter of special pride because it was the HMS that had the laid the foundation of NCC at a Convention in Bombay on 4th June 1981 under the leadership of Bal Dandavate the then President of HMS.

One of major struggles during the 1980s led by HMS affiliate- Kapra Mill Mazdoor Union- was the struggle of 14000 textile workers of Modinagar, U.P who went on strike from 31st May, 1980 against the autocratic and anti-union private owners of the Modi Mills. The workers wanted the implementation of the bipartite agreement and reinstatement of 2790 workers who were either dismissed or retrenched or compulsorily retired. But the management hired anti-social elements to break the strike. In this struggle, the families of the workers also joined in the demonstrations. Support for the strike came from various HMS affiliates as well as from international unions. The strike was ultimately settled through the intervention of Sh. Surendra Mohan, M.P. and all disputes were referred to arbitration of Shri V.P.Singh, the then Chief Minister of U.P, who later announced payment of bonus at the rate of 15% which was a great victory of workers. This however did not end the struggle for workers as Modis continued with their repression of the workers and their leaders with the help of Police and anti-social elements. Over 50 workers, along with their leader Com. Jayprakash were imprisoned. He was released only in April, 1981 and after two months of negotiations a settlement was reached, which was regarded as great victory for workers. Though this was a struggle for several demands like payment of bonus, payment of wages according to arbitration award, reinstatement of workers etc. the real dispute was survival of a free Union. On 27th June, 1981 a meeting was organised by the union to celebrate the settlement. It was during this meeting that Com. Jayprakash, President of the Union was brutally murdered by the hired goondas, behind which was the hand of the management, rival union and some politicians. But the martyrdom of Com. Jayprakash did not go in vain and the workers united under the banner of HMS to establish their rights at workplace. The influence of HMS spread throughout the region as a result of this struggle.

The other major struggles during the 1980s were that of the workers of Dalmia Nagar in Bihar, led by R.I. Mazdoor Sangh against closure of Rohtas Industries, affecting almost 30,000 workers, 4 day strike of Coal workers in Talcher, Orissa, 25 day agitation of the P.W.D. Irrigation and Water Works Department of Rajasthan for increase in their minimum wages, a number of strike of Coal workers in West Bengal Collieries, and 101 days strike of Cochin Port workers. Also very significant was the nearly one month long all India strike of port and dock workers in March 1984 led by the HMS unions through their Federation. The Govt. had to ultimately sign an agreement conceding most of the demands of the workers. The port and dock workers had once again resorted to a nationwide strike in April 1989 when all avenues to reach a negotiated settlement reached a dead end. This time the Govt. and its minister adopted a hostile stand threatening to deploy army and navy personnel to run the ports. But the unity and militancy of the dock workers backed by the solidarity support of HMS and International Transport Workers Federation, ultimately led to success and paved way for a satisfactory agreement.

The early 1990s also witnessed a major dispute in Chandigarh between the JCT Electronics Ltd. and the HMS affiliated union. The struggle lasting over one and a half year between 1992-93 was bitter  with the might letting loose a reign of terror. In this struggle HMS lost the valuable life of one of their activist Shiv Dutt Gautam. Many others were physically injured and mentally tortured before the union accomplished a settlement. There have been several such long and bitter struggles that HMS unions have had to launch in the 1980s and 1990s. It is not possible to list down them all here in this brief note. All one can say is that the 1980s has been the beginning of a long period of transition and struggle for Indian workers in general as the country’s economic policies started to change in favour of business & free markets which have put lot of pressure on the workers, unions & public sector activities.

The year 1984 was a dark year for India’s politics as well as workers. In December, the world’s worst industrial disaster happened in India when there was a deadly gas leak in the Union Carbides  plant in Bhopal. Over 4000 people died, and several hundreds of thousands were grievously injured by the leak of the deadly MIC gas for which no one knew the remedy. The after effects of this disaster are still being felt in the lives of the people. Thousands of people are yet to be compensated for it even though their lives have been made hell by the gross criminal negligence of the multinational company. This disaster also exposed the woeful inadequacy of Government machinery and its health care infrastructure. Just before this disaster, the country’s ruling party- Congress- lost its charismatic leader Smt. Indira Gandhi to separatist violence. This led to her son Sh. Rajiv Gandhi taking over the reigns of Congress and becoming the Prime Minister of the Country. Sh. Rajiv Gandhi was a young man and he raised many a hopes for the country and its politics. The April 1985 HMS Conference in Rourkela discussed all these developments in the country and voiced workers’ expectations from the Government. At this Conference Com. Umraomal Purohit, General secretary of Western Railway Employees Union, became the General Secretary of HMS, while Com. Raj Kishore Samant Rai was elected as the President.

Every one, including the trade unions, were hoping that with a young Prime Minister at the helm of the affairs of the country, it would mark a break from the past but it was not to be so. During this period, the government lived on borrowed funds and this only led to increasing the economic crisis.  Corruption in politics also reached new heights during the 1980s which eventually led to the Congress Party losing its position as ruling party for the second time in the history of independent India. The new National Front Government, led by Janata Dal party and others from left to right of the political spectrum, did not however last long and since then we have seen all kinds of permutation and combinations coming to power. In the meanwhile, the economic crisis, financial crisis of the government in particular, went from bad to worse, forcing Indian government to take loans from the World bank and IMF in 1991. This came along with conditionalities which were the formal beginning of the economic liberalisation and globalisation process in India.

It was against this deteriorating background that HMS initiated another attempt at forging trade union unity. In 1991, representatives of HMS and AITUC met in New Delhi to discuss the modalities of trade union unity and eventual merger between the two organisations. Since then a number of meetings were held, and coordination committees formed at national level and in some states. The process progressed slowly but was moving in the definite direction till 1998 when it once again seems to have fizzled out. HMS on its part will continue these efforts as we feel this is the need of the times.

Around the late 1980s, HMS also participated actively in the process of forging regional trade union unity among free and independent unions of the South Asian Countries. HMS, along with INTUC took a lead in the formation of SARTUC (South Asian Regional Trade Union Council) in January, 1988. SARTUC comprises of leading trade unions from SriLanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.  In times ahead, SARTUC is expected to play an important role in the regional economic developments and safeguarding of trade union rights in the region.

In the 1980s, HMS Campaign for Employment went a step further. In 1987, HMS along with other trade unions and social organisations spearheaded the movement for Right to Work to be incorporated as a fundamental right in the Constitution of India. On 25th March, 1988, HMS organised a massive Rally in New Delhi on this issue wherein over 2 lakh workers and unemployed youth participated. This issue has since figured on the agenda of almost all political parties and trade unions but is yet to be achieved. HMS Youth and Women Committee members have been carrying on this campaign in recent years through - post card campaigns, Public rallies and Conventions in many parts of the country, including in the nations capital. It has also become a part of the Trade Union Rights Week  campaign every year being observed by HMS in the 1990s. 

A number of HMS affiliates celebrated their Jubilees in the 1990s. The National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) celebrated its Centenary, Western Railway Employees union (WREU) observed its Platinum Jubilee in 1995, the Birth Centenary of Com. Sibnath Banerjee, founder member and President of HMS was celebrated in 1997, BPT Employees Union, Mumbai celebrated its 75 years in 1997, Coimbatore District Textile Workers Union celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 1998. Coalfield Mazdoor Union (CMU) celebrated its golden jubilee on 4th July, 1999 at Ramgarh (District Hazaribagh) and Mill Mazdoor Sabha of Mumbai celebrated its Golden Jubilee in October 1997. ILO also celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 1994 and International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), of which Sh. Umraomal Purohit, AIRF President (and HMS General Secretary) is the current President, celebrated its Centenary in 1996. More recently the All India Railwaymen s Federation celebrated its Platinum Jubilee at Lucknow in November, 1999.

The Present Scenario:

The new economic policies were announced on July 24th, 1991 by the Congress Government and have since been followed by all subsequent governments. Both the United Front and BJP led Governments, irrespective of their pre-electoral promises have pushed on ahead with the liberalisation process which has also meant privatisation and withdrawal of government support to Public sector activities. All these have caused much problems for the workers and trade unions and industrial closures and privatisation process has gathered pace. The unemployment pressures have also gone up as a result and trade unions all over the country have been fighting with their backs to the wall.

During these last 9 years, HMS and its unions, either alone or in cooperation with other CTUOs and Unions have launched several protests against the new economic policies. A number of all India Strikes, March to Parliaments, Jail Bharo and other mobilisation campaigns have been carried out by HMS as also along with other CTUOs against new economic policies under the aegis of Sponsoring Committee of Indian Trade Unions as well as under CPSTU (Committee of Public Sector Trade Unions). In the Indian Labour Conferences held in the 1990s, HMS has made detailed written submissions to the government, pointing out the problems being faced by the workers and suggesting measures to protect the workers. Government has promised time and again to address the issues raised by HMS and other unions but has not taken any concrete measures to protect and promote employment in the economy. While we have been able to delay, we have not been able to stop the forces of economic liberalisation. For the Public sector workers, our opposition ensured that the Government set up National Renewal Fund (NRF) to provide some compensation to the workers, but on the whole it has been a struggle with not many successes except an Employees Pension Scheme for the members of Provident Fund in 1995. HMS has been strongly advocating with the government to manage the NRF through a tripartite body.

In addition, the Government has set up 2nd National Commission for Labour (NCL) in May, 1999 to address the various issues raised in the field of labour on account of economic liberalisation and globalisation policies. While NCL is definitely needed, HMS has opposed the way its terms of reference have been framed as also  the inadequate representation given to labour on the Commission.   Government however it seems is going ahead with the NCL, not withstanding trade unions reservations. In times ahead, we have a battle on our hands.

Concluding Remarks:

While the trade unions have played an important role in India's economic, social and political development over the last 50 years, the economic liberalisation and globalisation policies at the turn of century have posed a number of new challenges before the Indian trade union movement. Mere opposition to change will not help; Trade Union movement in India needs to strengthen and expand its coverage in times ahead. It is of paramount importance to strengthen the Indian trade union movement through -

* forging Trade Union Unity,

* expanding into unorganised sectors,

* improving trade union communications,

* increasing the information collection activities, and

* expansion of Education and Training activities,

* extending into new services for the membership such as social insurance, which the unions are well placed to offer, if only they could become more professional;

It is time to reflect and take stock. Trade union movement needs to realise that workers interests cannot be safeguarded by being divided along political party lines. At present in India, there is no political party that stands for the policies that will protect workers employment and income rights, despite promises to do so. In recent years we have had the experience of governments  of all hues from left to right, all of which have treaded the same path on the economic policies front, while doing nothing much to address the workers genuine needs. It is our house divided state of affairs in the trade union movement that permits this liberty to the political parties, even the so called socialist parties.

In the 21st century India, if trade Unions have to remain relevant and strong enough to influence the country s destiny, then there is no alternative but to unite.
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