Two great visionaries of Indian nationhood
By Sudarshan Kumar Kapur
Not many people know that the great patriot, freedom fighter and national leader, Lala Lajpat Rai was one of the founding fathers of the trade union movement in India. It was Lala Lajpat Rai who delivered the presidential address at the inaugural conference of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the first central trade union organisation of Indian workers, which came into existence on October 31, 1920.
The origin of trade union movement can be attributed to the conflicts between capital and labour in Europe and America at the global level. But in India, the last quarter of the 19th century laid the groundwork for the movement when the reformers started a movement in Bombay in 1875 under the leadership of Sorabji Shahpurji, M. Lakhande and others. However, it was not until the close of World War I that the modern trade union movement took off in India. The establishment of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1919 gave a fillip to trade union movements worldwide and had its influence on the growth of unions in India as well. While some unions chose to operate independently and confine their activities to an industrial centre or unit, others felt the need for coordination of their activities at the national level.
Lala Lajpat Rai saw the significance and importance of uniting the working class at the national level to ameliorate their lot and regarded their fight against exploitation as a part of the battle for swaraj and of freedom movement. An excerpt from his presidential address delivered at the inaugural conference reads like this: ?The trade union movement in this country is yet in its infancy and it may be said that an All India Trade Union Congress is rather premature in my humble judgement, it has not come a day too soon…. It is desirable that Indian labour should lose no time to organise itself on a national scale. Capital is organised on a worldwide basis, it is backed up by a financial and political strength beyond conception and it presents dangers that apply universally. In order to meet these dangers, Indian labour will have to join hands with labour outside also, but its first duty is to organise itself at home.”
Lala Lajpat Rai and Dattopant Thengadi
Thus this address by Lala Lajpat Rai gave a direction to the Indian labour movement, in which it should emphasise three basic ideas, viz:
(i) Workers to be organised to act as a class, (ii) workers to be organised at national level and also to act in solidarity with workers outside India and “to forge link in chain of international brotherhood”, and (iii) the Indian working class to participate actively in the fight for swaraj while fighting for its own interests.
Initially, AITUC was a non-party, non-political and a genuinely national labour organisation but after India attained Independence, fissiparous tendencies started arising due to differences in political ideologies of the then AITUC leaders. AITUC was split in 1947 as a result of which a new trade union called the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) came into existence. The Communist leader N.M.Joshi called INTUC an adjunct of the Congress and thus AITUC became a captive organisation of the Communists. In 1948, INTUC was split as a result of which Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) led by socialist leaders came into being. Socialist radicalists formed themselves into another union named the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) in April 1949.
In 1964, a division in the CPI took place and a new political party CPI(M) emerged. The unions led by the CPI(M) broke away from the AITUC in 1970 and set up the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). Obviously, CITU owed allegiance to CPI(M). When the Socialist Unity Centre came into being, the UTUC split into two and the UTUC (Lenin Sarani) came into existence.
Two pioneers and stalwarts of the trade union movement
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)
Almost all the central trade union organisations mentioned above came into existence as a result of the splits in the existing trade union organisations due to political differences and perceptions of the then union leaders. However, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh came into existence, arising from grassroot level, as an independent and autonomous organisation in the labour field with nationalism as its base-sheet anchor. BMS was founded on July 23, 1955, the birth anniversary of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, through the continuous, dedicated and untiring efforts of Dattatreya Bapurao alias Dattopant Thengadi who like Lala Lajpat Rai was a great orator, thinker, organiser and visionary. Its first All India Conference was held in 1967 at Delhi.
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh came into existence, arising from grassroot level, as an independent and autonomous organisation in the labour field with nationalism as its base-sheet anchor.
During the last four decades or so, BMS has made rapid strides in terms of membership and it has reached the top position amongst the central trade union organisations. Presently, it has more than 4,280 affiliated unions in 44 industries with a membership of over 83 lakh (8.3 million). Dattopant Thengadi was also the founder of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.
As the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh celebrates its golden jubilee on July 23, 2005, we salute to the memory of the two great souls and legends, Lala Lajpat Rai and Dattopant Thengadi, pioneers in the field of trade union movement.
?The trade union movement in this country is yet in its infancy and it may be said that an All India Trade Union Congress is rather premature in my humble judgement, it has not come a day too soon… It is desirable that Indian labour should lose no time to organise itself on a national scale.?
(The writer can be contacted at 660/10, Krishna Colony, Gurgaon-122 001.)