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Working Class Movement(Colonialism)


As India's economy developed, a new working class emerged. Growth of the tea plantations in northern and southern India, as well as the beginning of an infant iron and steel industry in the early nineteenth century.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, railway construction began, mining was discovered in eastern India, and after World War I, jute and cotton industries in Calcutta and Bombay and Ahmedabad experienced spectacular growth.

The size of the working class exploded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There were workers in the informal sector, such as dockworkers and market vendors, as well as housemaids and other domestic helpers.

As a result of constant rural-to-urban migration, the urban industrial working class has grown in size. The living and working arrangements at both British and Indian-owned businesses were very enticing, worsened by slave-like conditions.


In urban industrial areas where they were forced to live, migrant workers maintained a cultural dual self as both farmers and industrial workers, and they were separated into many religious classes and groupings. A similar demographic mix was seen in the working-class neighbourhoods, which had a village-like feel to them as well as were urbanised-industrialised. Working-class mohallas were characterised by religious segregation, as well as by caste-based cornmensality limitations, dress rules, and slogans that used overt religious idioms. According to certain historians, the working class has always been distinct and hierarchical due to a systematic recruitment system.

Push and Pull Factors

The exhausted agrarian economy could no longer support a surplus labour force, therefore the rural poor were forced out of their villages.

  • In Ranjit Das Gupta's words, "unskilled individuals" represented "the majority of the working mass employed in the jute mills." According to the author, "a large number" of them were from "land-owning peasant communities."

  • However, this was not always the case, as noted by Arjan de Haan, who argues that there were a variety of pull factors at play, including the allure of industrial employment and the allure of urban living-and not only the 'push' of the paucity of land-as motives for labour migration.

Swadeshi and rise of labour unrest

The time of industrial discontent in India coincided with the growth of the Swadeshi movement, which took place between 1905 and 1908. Several strikes, trade unions, legal assistance, and fund-raising initiatives were organised during this time period, which marked a shift away from educating workers on simply economic matters toward involving them in current political issues. It was mutually beneficial to both the leaders and workers.

Workers' movements during World War I

The war's fervour raised awareness of workers' rights among the city's workforce. Workers had a better bargaining position in the post-war era because of a shortage of labour. It forced employees to see the value in organising unions and going on strikes. As a result, there was a massive increase in the number of strikes and the development of labour unions.

Gandhiji was in charge of the Ahmedabad mill strike. Strikes were organised, and politicians from the home rule league gave the leadership.

In 1920, the All India Trade Union Congress was founded. The first chairman was Lala Lajpat Rai. Workers were exhorted to get involved in national politics in the AITUC manifesto. In his inaugural speech, Lajpat Rai emphasised the urgency of the national labour organisation in India. Organizing, agitating, and educating are the country's most urgent needs. The AITUC's goals included the creation of a socialist state in India, the nationalisation and socialisation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, the improvement of the economic and social conditions of the workers, and the protection of workers' civil liberties like freedom of speech, association, assembly, and the right to strike.

Participation in the non-cooperation movement

It was the working class's passionate response to Gandhi's new political climate that sparked the non-cooperation movement.

In 1919 at its Amritsar session it adopted a resolution urging the provincial committees to "promote labour unions throughout India". But by this time it had also developed a close relationship with the big business. So in the labour front, Congress could afford to be more articulate only where European capitalists were involved, such as

  • the railways,

  • jute mills or

  • the tea gardens;

and they exerted a moderating influence where the Indian capitalists were affected, like the Jamshedpur steel plants or the textile industry in Bombay and Ahmedabad.

This was a key complaint levelled at Congress: it showed insufficient concern for the labour movement and incorporated it into the nationalistic struggle, which explains why it never spoke out strongly against the persecution meted out by the Indian capitalist class.

Communist Penetration

From the early 1920s, Communists began to participate in the labour union movement. All India Workers and Peasants Party was formed by various community groups and labour and Kisan parties in different sections of the country. It served as Congress's left-wing.

Reaction Of The Government

The government used a two-pronged strategy to counter communist influence on the working class.

On the one hand, it enacted restrictive legislation like the public safety entry dispute, jailed the whole radical Communist leadership of the labour movement, and launched the Meerut conspiracy case.

On the other hand, by appointing a Royal Commission on Labor, it attempted to wean away from a significant portion of the labour movement through concessions.

Civil Disobedience

Workers participated in the civil disobedience movement, despite the fact that there was an organisational dispute at the political level.

There were protests by textile workers in Solapur, dockworkers in Karachi, transport workers in Calcutta, and mill employees in Madras.

A state of martial law was necessary to quell the uprising and restore order.

The Congress election manifesto of 1936 stated that it would guarantee the working class a decent standard of living, fixed hours and conditions of work, the establishment of suitable machinery for settling disputes, adequate provisions for worker protection against economic consequences of old age, sickness and unemployment, and the right to form trade unions in accordance with the 1931 Congress resolution on fundamental rights in economic policy.

Responses generated by the Civil Disobedience movement.

The Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) Railway went on strike in 1930, and the Dockworkers went on strike in 1932 as part of the boycott movement.

People began wearing Gandhi hats and going to nationalist gatherings by the numbers when they first arrived in Chota Nagpur in 1930.

Workers sought greater credibility for their own problems by tying the strikes to the nationalist movement, which Congress as a party had little interest in, it had its own way of amalgamation. Despite INC's indifference, the working class in various sections of the country massively supported the nationalist movement. They were selective in their direct participation in Gandhi's programme, but what was essential was that they frequently blended nationalist agitation into their own conflicts and industrial actions.

Quit India Movement

Following Gandhiji's arrest on 9 August 1942, following the Quit India Resolution, there were strikes and hartals all over the country, lasting for almost a week, by workers in Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Bombay, Nagpur, Ahmedabad, Jamshedpur, Madras, Indore, and Bangalore.

Many communist rank-and-file members did however enthusiastically support the demand to Quit India, while involvement by workers was modest in Communist strongholds.


Political ideologies polarised the working-class movement. Nationalists in the early days, particularly the moderates, were at odds with the labour movement. Those who were concerned about labour laws affecting the competitiveness of the Indian-owned businesses made a distinction between the Indian-owned factories and the British-owned companies.

There have been isolated, sporadic, and targeted philanthropic efforts in the past to better the economic situations of the working class.

Strikes and other forms of protest by the labour movement were mostly successful in getting the government to listen to their demands.


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