Working Class Movements Notes

The Indian Factory Act, 1881

  • Dealt primarily with the problem of child labor (between 7 and 12 years of age).
  • Its significant provisions were:
  1. employment of children under 7 years of age prohibited
  2. working hours restricted to 9 hours per day for children
  3. children to get four holidays in a month
  4. hazardous machinery to be properly fenced off.

The Indian Factory Act, 1891

  1. increased the minimum age (from 7 to 9 years) and the maximum (from 12 to 14 years) for children
  2. reduced maximum working hours for children to 7 hours a day
  3. fixed maximum working hours for women at 11 hours per day with an one-and-a-half hour interval (working hours for men were left unregulated)
  4. provided weekly holiday for all.

The Indian Factory Act, 1881 and 1891 applied only to children and women and not to the adult male labourers who formed the bulk of the workforce, and, even in their cases, the protection was not comprehensive.

  • The Factory Act of 1911 restricted the working hours of adult males to 12 hours
  • The Working Class on any one working day.
  • The amended Factory Act of 1922 further reduced the working time to 11 hours.


  • A British company, the Assam Tea Company, was established in 1839 to set up tea gardens in Assam
  • Coffee plantations were started in South India by 1840.
  • The Great Indian Peninsular Railways laid its first line between Bombay and Thane in 1853.
  • Another line was opened by the Eastern Indian Railway between Calcutta and Raniganj in 1854.
  • The real expansion occurred after the Revolt of 1857 when the British rulers realised its significance for military purposes.
  • Coal production had begun as far back as 1775. The Bengal Coal Company was established in 1843.


  • Cotton mills in Bombay, jute mills in Calcutta, and and several factories in Madras were set up in the late 19th century.
  • The first cotton mill was built in Bombay in 1854 by a Parsi businessman and it started production in 1856.
  • Similar developments took place in some other cities as well, i.e., Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Sholapur and Nagpur. It was mostly owned by the Indians.
  • A Scottish entrepreneur started the first jute mill in Calcutta in 1854.
  • The ownership of the cotton mills was with the Indian entrepreneurs, while that of jute was of the with the foreigners for a long time.
  • Force and manipulation were used to recruit the labourers who were then kept in bonded condition.


  • The emergence of trade unions occurs after the First World War.
  • Before that there have been various forms of labour movements and protest against low wages, long working hours, inhuman conditions of work and several other issues.
  • Individual and collective abstention from work and abandonment of the te gardens were forms of passive resistance by the workers.
  • The workers in the cotton and jute industries and in the railways, on the other hand, were more in the public gaze.
  • In 1884, the Bombay cotton mill workers held a big meeting and submitted their demands to the government for lesser hours of work.


  • In Bengal, Sasipada Banerjee initiated welfare activities among the workers since the early 1870s.
  • He founded the ‘Working Men’s Club’ in 1870 and started publishing a monthly journal in Bengali entitled Bharat Shramjibi in 1874.
  • The Brahmo Samaj formed the ‘Working Men’s Mission’ in Bengal in 1878 to impart moral education among the workers.
  • It also established the ‘Working Men’s Institution’ in 1905.
  • In Bombay, N.M.Lokhanday was actively involved in welfare and organisational activities among the cotton mill workers since the 1880s.
  • In 1890, he established the ‘Bombay Millhands’ Association’, and in 1898, he started publishing a journal entitled Dinbandhu in Marathi.
  • Besides him, S.S.Bengali was also actively propagating for improving the conditions of the workers since 1878.
  • Some other important organisations active among the Bombay workers were the Bombay Millhands Defence Association formed by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1908, the Kamgar Hitwardhak Sabha formed in 1909, and the Social Service League (NM Joshi) established in 1911.


  • The rising prices of essential commodities, decline in the real wages of workers, increase in the demand for the industrial products resulting in the expansion of India industries, Gandhi’s call for the non-cooperation movement, the Russian Revolution, etc., were the main factors which led to the emergence of trade unions in the post-War period in India
  • The rising prices, declining real wages, and shortage of foodstuffs during the First World War created the situation for a larger action and it resulted in the general strike in 1919 involving all cotton textile mills in Bombay.
  • There was another general strike in 1920 on the issue of wages and bonus.
  • These took place before the existence of any trade unions in the Bombay mills.


  • The Madras Labour Union, formed in April 1918, is generally considered to be the first trade union in India.
  • B. P. Wadia, a nationalist leader and an associate of Annie Besant, was instrumental for its organisation.
  • It was mainly an organisation based on the workers of Carnatic and Buckingham Mills in Madras.
  • The Textile Labour Association, also known as Majur Mahajan, was established in Ahmedabad in 1920.
  • In Jamshedpur, the Jamshedpur Labour Association, was formed during the 1920 strike by the Congress leaders.
  • In 1925, the renowned Congress leader, C.F. Andrews, became its president


  • The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was formed in 1920 as a development of these trends towards union formation all over India.
  • Many people connected with labor realized that there was a need for a central organization of labour to coordinate the works of the trade unions all over India.
  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak, N.M.Joshi, B.P.Wadia, Dewan Chamanlall, Lala Lajpat Rai, Joseph Baptista and many others were trying to achieve this goal.
  • The formation of the International Labour Organisation ( ILO ) in 1919 acted as a catalyst for it.
  • It was felt that there should be a national organisation of the trade unions whose nominees could be chosen to represent the Indian labour in the ILO.
  • Lala Lajpat Rai became the first president of the AITUC and Joseph Baptista its vice president.
  • Motilal Nehru and Vithalbhai Patel were also present.
  • The AITUC received a lot of support from the Indian National Congress.
  • One notable absence was the Gandhian trade union of Ahmedabad, the Textile Labour Union.



  1. recognized trade unions as legal associations
  2. laid down conditions for registration and regulation of trade union activities
  3. secured immunity, both civil and criminal, for trade unions from prosecution forlegitimate activities, but put some restrictions on their political activities.


  1. made compulsory the appointment of Courts of Inquiry and Consultation Boards for settling industrial disputes
  2. made illegal the strikes in public utility services like posts, railways, water and electricity, unless each individual worker planning to go on strike gave an advance notice of one month to the administration
  3. forbade trade union activity of coercive or purely political nature and even sympathetic strikes.


  • The growing influence of communists in the working-class movement and their absurd demands in AITUC conferences led to a split.
  • The moderate and reformist group, led by N.M.Joshi, Dewan Chaman Lall, V.V.Giri and B.Shiva Rao, left the AITUC and formed the Indian Federation of Trade Unions ( IFTU ) in 1931.
  • The next split occurred due to divergence between the nationalist and communist opinions.
  • The communists severely criticized Gandhi and condemned the Round Table Conference in which the Congress was participating.
  • They walked out and formed another federation of trade unions, called the Red Trade Union Congress (RTUC).
  • Thus, by 1931, there were three national federations of trade unions – the AITUC, the IFTU and the RTUC.


  • The Red Trade Union Congress, led by the communists and the AITUC, led by radical nationalists, were coming closer.
  • They united in 1935 and the name AITUC was retained for the unified organization.
  • The Railway unions and some unaffiliated unions united with the IFTU to form the National Federation of Trade Unions (NFTU) in 1933.
  • The unity was achieved in 1940 when the NFTU merged with the AITUC and N.M. Joshi of the NFTU became its general secretary.