Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose :
his glorious role in working class movement
--Dr. Barun Mukherjee, M.P.
1. The great Indian revolutionary leader Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was involved in multi-dimensional areas of India's freedom struggle at the national and international level. But inspite of his preoccupations in such a vast area of brisk political activities, he took active interest in trade union movement as a part of the national liberation movement, as he always considered the working class people as the 'revolutionary element'. Under the inspiration of his political 'guru' Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das, young Subhas got himself involved in working class movement from the early period of his political career.
From as early as 1923, we saw Chittaranjan Das devoting a lot of his time for addressing the problems of industrial workers. He presided over the Calcutta session of the All India Trade Union Congress in 1924. Subhas Chandra followed his footsteps in subsequent years.
2. In 1924, at the invitation of Deshabandhu Chittaranjan Das, the first Indian Mayor of Calcutta corporation, young Subhas Chandra Bose joined the Corporation as its Chief Executive Officer. And immediately he became absorbed in various activities for the welfare of the poor citizens, for the development of their education, health and environment, for improving the supply of drinking water and many other municipal services. In such a time, the British government suddenly arrested Subhas Chandra in October 1924 on charges of having connections with secret revolutionary and terrorist activities and sent him to Berhampur Jail, and finally to the far away Mandalay Jail. After suffering a long painful prison-life, he was ultimately released in 1927 on grounds of falling health.
3. While he was imprisoned in Mandalay Jail, Subhas came in close touch with many revolutionaries like Trailakya Maharaj, Bepin Behari Ganguly, Jyotish Chandra Ghosh, Surendra Mohan Ghosh and others, which had a great impact on his mind and helped to consolidate his left and revolutionary thoughts. When Subhas Chandra was released from Mandalay Jail in 1927, his health was completely broken down, but he gained tremendous mental strength. From 1928 to 1930/31 he toured throughout the country and addressed numerous students & youth conferences and conveyed to them a new message of freedom. With a call for political-social-economic freedom, he talked about socialism. He gave his fervent call to the workers, peasants & youth to join the national movement and emphasised that they were the real 'revolutionary elements'. Giving a challenge against the Gandhian rightist leadership, he told ------ 'Indian national movement needs a new leadership.... At present, the prime necessity is for a party which will stand for political independence, social equity and economic freedom.' [Manifesto of the Independence League, Bengal Branch, 1928].
The detailed programmes announced in this Manifesto included ------ 'Workers must have a say in the matters of industrial management, and appointment and retrenchment of workers... Industrial workers will work for 8 hours a day. State will give unemployment allowance and old-age pension. Workers will be entitled to these facilities ------ (i) insurance against sickness and accident, (ii) maternity welfare facilities, (iii) cresh for the children, (iv) quarters for the workers, (v) adequate leave provision, etc.'
At the Lahore session of the Indian National Congress, held on 31 December 1929. Subhas Chandra moved an amendment proposal for alternative government and asked the Gandhian leadership to accept his proposal that ------ 'The Congress gives a call to the people of India to organise (in its fold) the youths, workers, peasants and often oppressed classes'. It was obvious that the Congress under the Gandhi leadership refused to accept this proposal moved by Subhas. But Subhas was undaunted, he started country-wide movement on the basis of his proposal.
Subhas became associated with trade union movement from 1928 itself. He was elected President of the All India Trade Union Congress in 1929. As the President, he said in a statement issued on 6 December 1929 ------ 'Leftism has emerged in our country with the beginning of trade union movement and in recent times the strength and importance of the leftists are increasing'.
In another statement issued on 23 January 1930, he said ----- 'We are faced with a serious crisis in our history today. The wheels of Government repression are seeking to grind and overpower us. It is, therefore, the supreme duty of all those who live in or are connected with the working class movement to put forward every effort to organise and strengthen themselves. I appreciate with all my heart the honour which the workers of India did me by electing me as President of the All India Trade Union Congress.'
4. Incidentally it should be mentioned that Subhas Chandra fought not only against the British capitalists and mill owners, but also against the workers' exploitation by the Indian capitalists. Under the Presidentship of Subhas Chandra, the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee (BPCC) took a resolution in 1928, stating that -------'the labour movement shall have to be carried on irrespective of all questions of Indian or foreign capital. There shall be no distinction between capitalists on the score of nationality'. [Home Pol. (GOI) File no. 257/1 of 1930, quoted by Nirban Basu -----'The Political Parties and Labour Politics 1937-1947', Calcutta, 1992, p. 24]
5. When the Simon Commission visited Calcutta in early 1928, Subhas Chandra as the leader of the BPCC took initiative to organise anti - Simon Commission demonstration jointly with all other political and mass organisations. Accordingly, the labourers were also involved in observing one-day 'hartal' against the Simon Commission. With the active participation of the workers, almost all the factories, production units and transports of Calcutta, Howrah and other suburban areas were completely closed on the day of 'hartal'. In retaliation, the management of the British owned Calcutta Tramways Co. dismissed four of their workers and suspended many other workers for participation in 'hartal'. It was then Subhas Chandra who came forward to support the cause of the victimised workers. While presiding over a mass meeting held in Calcutta on 25 February 1928, Subhas Chandra called upon the people of the State to stand by the victimised workers and to open a public fund for the relief of those victimised. Subhas Chandra himself offered to be the treasurer of the Fund.
6. From that time onwards, Subhas became more and more actively involved in working class movement in Bengal & Bihar and in national level as well. In fact, Subhas Chandra was more closely associated with working class movement mainly during the period from 1928 to 1931 and in a later phase, from 1938 to 1940. The interruption in his trade union movement during the period from 1932 to early 1938, was caused apparently due to his absence from India on account of medical treatment in Europe, but more importantly, due to compulsion imposed on him by the British Government to lead an exile life in Europe and thus forcing him to be away from active political life in India. But again when he came back to India and was elected Congress President in 1938, he became more involved in anti-imperialist freedom movement at the national level, following anti-right wing leftist movements and All India Forward Bloc activities. But even during these turbulent days he was seen involved in colliery workers movements, particularly in Bihar and Bengal coalfield areas.
7. Going back to the days of his working class movement during the 1928-1931 phase, when he was also preaching socialism, we may recall his historical Presidential address at the All India Trade Union Congress session in Calcutta on July 4, 1931, where he explained the fundamental objectives of trade union movement and said: "Labour today wants the right to work. It is the duty of the State to provide employment to the citizens and where the state fails to perform this duty it should accept the responsibility of maintaining them. In other words, the worker citizen cannot be at the mercy of the employer to be thrown out on the streets at his sweet will and made to starve... Until this problem of retrenchment is satisfactorily solved, there can be no industrial peace in the country. Just as every worker can claim the right to work, he can also claim the right to a living wage. Does the factory worker in India get a living wage today? Look at the jute factories and the textile mills. What portion of their enormous profits did they spend for the welfare of the poor and oppressed workers? ... Can we rest assured that the minimum wages mean a living wage?" For the solution of all these problems, he ultimately concluded: "the salvation of India, as of the world, depends on socialism. ... but India should be able to evolve her own methods in keeping with her own needs and her own environment... India should, therefore, evolve her own form of socialism."
8. In this way ------ during the turbulent days of 1928 to 1931 ----- when Subhas Chandra preached socialism, widely talked about labour movements, along with the students & youth movements, and even when he himself led trade union movements in different places, the workers of Bihar also invited him to give leadership to their movements.
In the contemporary period, Subhas Chandra was associated, directly or indirectly, with the railway men's strike at Kharagpur and Liluah, jute workers strike at Bauria and also the Burma Oil Co. workers movement. With his presence and address before the striking workers or by issuing press statements in support of the striking workers, he indeed strengthened the trade union movements considerably. Under the impact of such a situation surcharged with a fiery spirit of movements, workers-friendly popular young leader Subhas Chandra reached Jamshedpur in 1928 and by virtue of his bold leadership there in the strikes and trade union movement of the workers of Tata Iron & Steel co. and the Tinplate Co., Subhas Chandra occupied a glorious permanent seat in the history of workers movement in India.
9. Subhas Chandra was closely associated with the Railway workers' movements on several occasions. On March 5, 1928 about 14000 workers of Liluah Railway workshop struck work with their demand for reinstatement of two dismissed workers, along with other demands. Due to adament attitude of the British authorities, the strike continued for a long time. On 25 March when the workers marched towards East India Railways' Fairlie Place office at Calcutta, the police intervened on their way near Bamongachi (Howrah) and opened fire killing two workers and injuring many others. This brutal firing created wide resentment throughout the country and the strike continued unabated Subhas Chandra fully supported the cause of the striking workers and issued a statement in April 1928, when the strike entered 42nd day, condemning the anti-workers policy of the Railway authority and calling for the people's support for the striking workers. When the management threatened retrenchment of 2600 workers and declared lockout at the Liluah workshop, Subhas Chandra called for a sympathetic general strike of the East India Railway.
Subhas Chandra also came forward on 10 April 1928 to give his support and leadership to the workers of Bengal Nagpur Railway at Khargpur. While leading the workers' struggle, he never compromised at the threat of the authorities.
While addressing a workers' rally at Liluah on August 16, 1929, Subhas Chandra said that there was not a single Indian member in the Railway Board. While the profit in railways was steadily growing up, the British owners never bothered to care for the living wages and minimum welfare of the workers. They were rather always indulging in oppression and exploitation of the poor workmen. Only on attaining independence, their sufferings can be redressed and their living condition can be ameliorated. Subhas Chandra, therefore, called on the workers to continue their trade union movement and the freedom struggle simultaneously.
On 27 October 1929, while addressing a gathering of 6000 workers of Budge Budge Oil and Petrol Company, who were on strike for the last six months on various demands, Subhas Chandra, elected president of their union, bitterly criticised the autocratic attitude of the British owners and their heinous conspiracy to break the workers' strike and unity by employing touts and agents. He further warned the owners that if they wanted to run their business and earn profits, they must come to terms with the workmen and fulfill their justified demands. They must come to a settlement after duly recognising the Union. Subhas Chandra further said in his speech that going for a strike was a legitimate right of the workers and if the British owners and the government tried to crush it with the help of police, he would resist such attempt with all his power and would start picketing at the gate of the factory facing all the eventualities that might come. This was the real character of a bold trade union leader that came out of Subhas Chandra while he was briskly involved in working class movement during the late twenties and early thirties of the last century. A contemporary government report stated that efforts were being made by Subhas Chandra Bose and his party to extend their influence in all fields like railways, docks, river transport, tramways and road transport, jute mills and other large industries in 1928-29. [As quoted by Nirban Bose, 'The Political Parties and Labour Politics 1937 - 1947.']
The thousands of poor workers employed in the then British owned Jute Mills were subjected to worst inhuman living condition, very low wages and constant oppression by the management. Obviously, Subhas Chandra was attracted to organise trade unions among the jute mill workers to ameliorate their living conditions and improve service conditions. He was involved in Bauria Jute workers movements. Instead of strikes in isolated mills, for the first time, 2,72,000 jute workers of Bengal went on a general strike from 1st July to 30th September, 1929. Subhas Chandra took keen interest for the success of the striking jute workers struggle against the European jute barons. Amrita Bazar Patrika of August 10, 1929 reported that in the Bengal Legislative Council, on 8 August 1929, a notice of adjournment motion was served by Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy to discuss the strike situation. The notice was admitted and debated upon on 9 August 1929. Subhas Chandra, along with J.C.Gupta and Surharwardy supported Dr. Roy in favour of striking jute workers. The motion was carried by 59 to 51 votes and the house was adjourned.
Subhas Chandra violated police order to preside over a jute workers meeting at Golghar, Jagaddal (near Calcutta) and was imprisoned therefor at the local police station for 31 hours on 11 October 1931.
Subhas Chandra also exerted his judicious intervention at the labour dispute in Mohini Mill (of Bengal) in 1939 and reached a settlement.
10. Subhas Chandra's role in the history of workers' movement in Jharkhand (Bihar) was also very glorious. In Jharkhand, Jamshedpur is the biggest industrial area. The two big companies of this are : Tata Iron & Steel Co. and Tinplate co. Subhas Chandra was closely associated with and gave leadership to the labour strikes and trade union movement in these two companies during 1928-29. Incidentally, two major speeches of Subhas Chandra in this respect may be referred to here.
After taking over the responsibility of the labour union of TISCO in Jamshedpur, Subhas Chandra told in a statement on the situation there on 28 October 1928 : Before the strike of May they had many genuine grievances. Till now some of their grievances have been redressed, but many are still pending. The workmen will allow time to the Company and its directors for redressal of these pending grievances, but unfortunately if they fail to take necessary actions, then again there will be disturbances. In that situation I shall have to come to direct confrontation with the Company, otherwise I will cease my relationship with the labour association ... the workers' grievances are genuine and justified and those must be redressed. It may not be liked by the capitalists, but still the fact remains that the trade union movement has made rapid progress during last few years and that can not be ignored now. ... I consider this industry as a national industry. Hence I have decided to devote my strength and energy entirely for the service of this industry'.
This statement clearly identifies Subhas Chandra as a sympathetic and fighting labour-leader of Jharkhand.
Regarding the strike launched by the Tinplate workers of Jamshedpur, another statement issued by Subhas Chandra on 6 July 1929 may also be referred in this context. He said : 'so far my information goes, Tatas are the owners of one third share of Tinplace Co., the rest are owned by Burma Oil Co. Moreover, two directors on behalf of the Tatas, are on the Board of Tinplate Co., who can easily exert their influence there. Tinplate Co. are dependent on Tisco for their own existence and hence for a settlement of the on-going strike in Tinplate, Tisco obviously can exert its influence on Tinplate Co. ... To pressurise Tisco for taking initiative in this matter, a sympathetic strike may be necessary to call in Tisco. ... Such a sympathetic strike is our best measure. If the Tatas decline to take necessary steps for a settlement of the strike at Tinplate Co. , we may have to resort to such a measure, however painful that may be.'
In this way, Subhas Chandra strengthened the labour movement in Jharkhand.
Incidentally, it may be mentioned that when the workers of Tisco started their strike against retrenchment and on other demands in 1928, it was on invitation of the striking workers Subhas Chandra first reached Jamshedpur on 19 August 1928. Sri Samsuddin of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee accompanied him.
Immediately on reaching there, Subhas Chandra addressed a meeting of the striking workers on 19 August 1928. Out of the 26000 workers, initially a few thousands didn't participate in the strike, which created some problems at the initial stage. Mainly Sri Homi was then opposing Subhas Chandra. But due to the presence of Subhas Chandra the number of striking workers started increasing. At that time, due to absence of the Union's former President C.F.Andrews, on appeal of the majority workers Subhas Chnadra was elected (on 20 August 1928) President of their labour union ------ 'Jamshedpur Labour Association.' Due to adament attitude of the management (with Chairman N. B. Saklatwala and General Manager Alexander), problems started increasing on the way of a settlement. But due to tuffness of Subhas Chandra's leadership, management was compelled to sit for negotiation with him. Madan Mohan Burman, Anandji Haridas, Swami Biswananda and others were then associates of Subhas Chandra. At the end of prolonged negotiation, with the signing of a settlement between Subhas Chandra as the President of the Jamshedpur Labour Association and the Company management on 12 September 1928, the strike ended. But even after that, as the management failed to obey all the terms fully, Subhas Chandra had to intervene several times to reach a full settlement. When Homi called a meeting to oppose the settlement-terms and was thus trying to create confusion among the workers. Subhas Chandra himself appeared at that meeting and explained the settlement-terms with facts & arguments and thus dispelled the confusion and maintained the labour unity.
When there was a labour strike at the Tinplate Co. of Jamshedpur in 1929, Subhas Chandra also gave his leadership there.
11. In the next phase, after 1928-29, Subhas Chandra was seen active in leading the colliery workers movements in different colliery belts of Jharkhand. But we could see him amongst the colliery workers after a gap of some years. This time-gap was due to the fact that from early thirties Subhas Chandra became closely associated with the freedom movement in a wider national field and at the same time he was compelled to spend a couple of years in Europe, during mid-thirties, for his medical treatment, as well as for the British government's restrictive orders to keep him outside. Subhas Chandra was, therefore, kept away from Jharkhand for some years. Again in 1938, when he was elected Congress President at Haripura session, he came back to the centre of Indian politics. At the post-Tripuri period his return to the centre of Indian politics was more prominently focused, when he was elected Congress President for the second time in 1939 and thereafter resigned from the Congress Presidentship and formed the Forward Bloc. To intensify the anti-imperialist struggle, he then moved around the country like whirlwind and addressed numerous meetings, particularly during the period from mid-1939 to mid-1940, and in this connection, Subhas Chandra was again associated with peasants & workers movements, when he have had to move and campaign at various corners of Jharkhand or the then Bihar. He was often seen amongst the workers of Jharia colliery belt, addressing meetings of Jamadoba colliery workers or workers' meetings at Jorapokhar, near Dhanbad. At that time his party organisation at Dhanbad was also strengthened and we got reference to the names of many of his close associates there. Subhas Chandra himself told that, during that one-year time, he addressed more than one thousand meetings at different places of the region. The police intelligence department people of the then Bihar used to attend his meetings and they also used to maintain secret reports of those meeting. Because, at that time, Subhas Chandra Bose was regarded as a 'very dangerous person' by the British government. The intelligence department, therefore, used to keep a constant vigil on his movements and also to take notes of his speeches at different public meetings. We are fortunate that at the Bihar Police Archives, a few secret files containing their notes of Subhas Chandra's speeches are still preserved. Photo-copies of those speeches delivered by Subhas Chandra Bose at Bihar-Jharkhand during 1939-40 have been obtained from the Archives and under the editorship of Com. Debabrata Biswas, General Secretary, All India Forward Bloc, those speeches have been published under the title 'What is Swaraj'.
Some of the relevant information and speeches as delivered by Subhas Chandra Bose at different places of Jharkhand at that time (1939-40) may be quoted to highlight his deep connections with labour movements in Jharkhand.
It is revealed from a secret IB report, dt. 4 January 1940, written to Mr. R. B. Murray (Deputy Inspector General of Police, Criminal Investigation Deptt., Patna) that a meeting of the Jamshedpur District Forward Bloc, under the Presidentship of Sardar Harnam Singh Malia, was held on 12 December 1939. It was directed in the same note that the speeches of Shilbhadra Yayee, a close associate of Subhas Chandra Bose, should be reported to the higher police authority.
It was known from the police report that Subhas Chandra was due to reach Dhanbad town by the afternoon of 11 February 1940 and after staying there for two-three days he would be going to Jharia colliery area to address the workers' meetings there. On receiving the report of this forthcoming visit and meeting, the police became very much alert and was in tension. It was particularly due to the fact that a couple of days earlier a severed pig's head was found in a mosque of Jharia and as such, there were apprehensions of communal disturbances. In this connection there were quite a few secret correspondence between Y. A. Godbole, Chief Secretary of the Government of Bihar (Patna) and the Addl. Deputy Commissioner of Dhanbad (Ray Bahadur Rameswar Singh) and the Addl. S. P. (P.K.Mitra) during the period from 8 February to 26 February 1940. As a precautionary measure, section 144 was imposed within area of 3 miles from Jharia for 7 days, so that Subhas Chandra might not be able to hold any meeting there. The police authority was quite aware that Jharia colliery workers would be very much influenced by Subhas Chandra's speeches and his call for anti-imperialist freedom movement. Besides this, the police authority have had the idea that Satyabimal Sen and other Subhas - followers of Dhanbad on being influenced by speeches of Subhas Chandra might he calling shortly general strike at Jharia coalfield area. As such, they took necessary actions to foil Subhas Chandra's meetings. Even they helped and encouraged one Mukutdhari Singh of that locality who was opponent of Satyabimal Sen. The local police used to keep constant vigil on movements and speeches of Satyabimal Sen too. The police authority thought on grounds of political precaution that it would not be prudent to arrest Subhas Chandra at that time. But they tried to impose many restrictions on Subhas Chandra so that he might not be able to hold his meetings. Inspite of all these, Subhas Chandra as usual reached Dhanbad on the scheduled day and addressed a meeting there. On the next day he addressed a workers rally at Jorapokhar near Jharia.
A detailed report about this Dhanbad visit of Subhas Chandra was available at the police Archives of Patna, as mentioned before. On 11 February 1940, Subhas Chandra left Giridih by motor car and reached Dhanbad at 8.25 p.m. although he was due to reach there at 4 p.m. In his car, Subhas was accompanied by Shilbhadra Yajee, Swami Sahajananda, Dhanraj Sharma and Shankarlal, Secretary of All India Forward Bloc. 3000 people gathered at the venue to hear him. The meeting continued till late hours of the night.
On the next day, 12 February 1940, Subhas Chandra addressed one workers' meeting at Jorapokhar, where one Munilal presented an appeal to him on behalf of the Jharia Coal Field, in which he sought guidance to get rid of the exploitation of the capitalists.
Labour leader Satya Sen, while welcoming Subhas Chandra, said that, due to the present war everything had become dearer and the labourers could not afford to buy the food stuffs and others. Hence the labourers of the Jamadoba Colliery had placed their demand before their Company that they should get war bonus on the following rate :
Per rupee - annas six, for one getting pay upto Rs. 20/-
Per rupee - Annas five & pice three, on pay from Rs. 20/- to 35/-
Per rupee - Annas four, on pay from Rs. 35/- to 50/-
Per rupee - Annas two, on pay from Rs. 50/- to Rs. 100/-
But their company was not prepared to give them more than six pice in rupee, as sanctioned by the Indian Mining Association. In such a situation, Satya Sen advised the labourers to be united and place their demands at the above same rate to their respective Companies. It was further complained that the labourers although cut coal for the whole day under mines, but they could not get any wages if that was not loaded for want of wagons. Mr. Sen demanded that the labourers should get at least eight annas in that case.
Subhas Chandra addressing the meeting said more or less the same thing as he said at yesterday's meeting at Dhanbad and analysing the international situation, gave clarion call for a fight for complete independence. Regarding the labourers demand for war bonus, he advised them that their demand being reasonable and minimum, they should organise the labourers of all the collieries in the Jharia coalfield and form their respective unions within a fortnight, and place their demand with an united voice. He was sure that the Indian Mining Association would submit to their demand within a week.
He further said that the profits of the colliery owners have gone up due to war, and if the labourers had not worked hard, the capitalists could not have made this higher profit. As the prices of the daily necessities have gone up, the labourers had claimed only a small portion of that profit, and this claim was justifiable. They had no objection if an arbitrator was appointed to decide their question of increase.
Subhas Chandra further said that the Indian Mining Association was the organisation of the colliery capitalists and the labourers could not make them submit to their demands unless all the labourers of the Jharia coalfield was organised together and were prepared to fight unitedly against them. Labour leader Satya Sen was arrested, because the Govt. was at the back of the capitalists. He warned the police and the Govt. that such sort of affairs could not continue longer, as the time had changed. They would establish their own Govt. and end with their troubles and sufferings. When there was a strike at Kanpur during the time of the Congress Ministry, then Govt. warned the capitalists to settle the dispute, and the result was that they had to settle it.
Proceeding further, he asked them to muster strong at Ramgarh for the anti-compromise conference. In conclusion, he assured them that once they are united, all his resources ----- kisans, youths, students and the labourers were with them in getting their demand fulfilled.
12. While Subhas Chandra thus got himself briskly involved in working class movement in different areas of Bengal and Bihar during the period from 1928 to 1931, and was elected to the high office of the national T.U. body, some ideological conflicts came to surface among the T.U. leaders, resulting in split in the national body ---- All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).
The trade union activities of Subhas Chandra became subject to criticism by the ultra left section. With left-sectarian bias, the Communist trade unionists branded Subhas Chandra Bose and his associates, Jamnadas Mehta and R.S.Ruikar as 'left national reformists' and "agents of the Indian bourgeoisie who form a reactionary block against the revolutionary wing of the trade union movement." [V.B.Karnik, 'Strikes in India', Bombay, 1967. Quoted by P.Saha, 'Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose : Studies in a new perspective', Calcutta, 1998.]
The clash of ideology gradually started affecting the trade union movement. The old reformist groups became alarmed with the rapid growth of socialist and communist ideas and activities in trade union field. Ultimately the ideological conflicts between the radicals and the reformists led to the split of AITUC at Nagpur in 1929 resulting in the formation of the Indian Trade Union Federation by the reformists who separated themselves from the parent body. Incidentally, it may be noted that Jawaharlal Nehru presided over the AITUC session at Nagpur on 30 November 1929.
Interestingly, even in such a situation Subhas Chandra Bose was elected President of the AITUC in 1929. In case of left-wing and right-wing conflict within the AITUC, Subhas had the support of the comparatively stronger section of the left-wing, but he was opposed to the left-sectarian line pursued by the communists at that time, which was greatly responsible for the split. Subhas Chandra, of course, was pained to see the split. He issued a statement giving vent to his anguish at the division of the organised trade union movement, causing harm to the working class movement as a whole. Although it was a fact that left-wing was gradually gaining strength in the T.U. movement, still there was no logic for the right-wing to separate themselves from the main body. He said in his statement ------- 'I do not know why the Right wing suddenly developed a defeatist mentality and withdrew from the Congress. ... If they believe in democracy they can not object to the growing importance of the Left Wing in the Trade Union Congress.'
But unfortunately another split took place in the ranks of the organised trade union movement during the Calcutta session of the AITUC (held in 1931 under the Presidentship of Subhas Chandra Bose) on the question of real representative of the Girni Kamgar union of Bombay textile workers. A group led by the Vice-President of the AITUC ----- Kandalkar and another by the General Secretary of AITUC ----- S. V. Deshpande, both claiming to be the real representative of the union. Conflict arose on that question between the communist group and the AITUC President Subhas Chandra. A vote of censure against the President was moved by B.T.Ranadive on behalf of the communist group which was defeated by 26-24 votes. Confusion prevailed after that and two separate meetings were held. Subsequently in 1932 a separate trade union congress styled as Red Trade Union Congress was formed by the communists with D.B. Kulkarni as president and S.V. Deshpande, Bankim Mukherjee and S.G. Sardesai as general secretaries. Greatly disappointed Subhas Chandra remarked: "The Moscow Communists are a serious menace to the growth of a healthy trade unionism in India and we can not possibly leave the field to them." ['Liberty', July 1931]
The second split of the AITUC was disappointing as it happened at a time when Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was making his sincerest efforts from 1930 onwards to unite the AITUC which was first split in Nagpur in 1929. This split further weakened the trade union movement of the country as a whole. However, the strained relation between Subhas Chandra Bose and the Communists was greatly healed in later years and they came to good terms with Subhas Chandra after their adopting in 1936 of the Dimitrov theory of united front in the Communist International and after subsequent development with the publication of R.P.Dutt-Bradley thesis.
Subhas Chandra was elected treasurer of the AITUC for the next session with R.S.Ruikar as president.
In the backdrop of all these developments Subhas Chandra Bose presided over the XI session of the AITUC at the University Institute Hall, Calcutta on 4th July 1931. In his historical Presidential speech at this AITUC session, Subhas Chandra explained the circumstances leading to the splits and also urged for unity in the trade union front. He also raised many other important issues like Whitley Commission Report and others and gave his candid opinion over these issues. His political philosophy of Socialism was also explained in his speech.
This Presidential speech is thus an important historical document, which we must read very carefully to correctly assess Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's glorious role in the working class movement of India.
The speech is reproduced below.
13. Presidential address of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at AITUC session in Calcutta on 4 July 1931 :
I doubt if we can claim that during the last eighteen months the trade union movement has gained in strength and in volume. I would rather be inclined to say that, during this period, the movement received a setback. Many factors account for this setback but in my humble opinion the two most important factors are " firstly, the split which occurred at Nagpur, and, secondly, the diversion caused by the launching of the civil disobedience movement. Some of our comrades may be disposed to think that the split did not weaken us: but I cannot share this view, for I have no doubt in my mind that, for the time being at least, we have been weakened by the split. I am therefore one of those who sincerely deplore the split, and if it be possible for us to close up our ranks I shall heartily welcome that event. So far as the second factor is concerned, I venture to think that the attention of the country as a whole was drawn away from the trade union movement owing to the superior attraction of the civil disobedience movement. Under different circumstances the trade union movement could have benefited by the civil disobedience movement and could have gained in strength as a result of it. But on this occasion the normal progress of the trade union movement has been impeded.
Attempts at unity within the ranks of the trade union movement have been made from time to time by various individuals and groups. I consider it desirable, therefore, to state clearly what the main problems are over which we quarreled, and how unity could best be achieved at this stage. The main issues are : (1) The question of foreign affiliation; (2) Representation at Geneva; (3) Mandatory character of the Trade Union Congress resolutions.
With regard to the first issue, my personal view is that we need have no foreign affiliation now. The Indian trade union movement can well be left to take care of itself. We should be prepared to learn from every quarter and even to accept any help that may come from any part of the world. But we should not surrender to the dictates of Amsterdam or Moscow. India will have to work out her own methods and adapt herself to her environment and her own special needs.
With regard to representation at Geneva, I am afraid that too much importance has been given to this question. The best course for us would be to have an open mind and come to a decision every year on this question. We need not decide before hand, once for all, as to whether we should send any representatives to Geneva or not. Personally, I have no faith in Geneva. Nevertheless if any friend will be satisfied by our keeping the question open for decision every year, I have no objection to it.
With regard to the mandatory character of the Trade Union Congress resolutions, I am afraid there can hardly be any compromise if the Trade Union Congress is to exist and function. If it is to work for the attainment of working class solidarity in the country, the resolutions of the Trade Union Congress should be binding on all unions affiliated to the Congress. To reduce the Trade Union Congress to the position and status of a loose federation, or to something like an All-Parties Conference, would be suicidal.
With regard to the question of trade union unity, my position is quite clear. I want unity because thereby we can have a strong and powerful organization. But if we are to quarrel again and part company, then we need not attempt a patch-up unity now. The Trade Union Congress is public property. All unions are welcome to join the Congress and make their presence felt. If thereby the office of the Congress passes into the hands of a particular party, then no one can legitimately complain. I would, therefore, earnestly invite all unions to join the Trade Union Congress and to capture the executive if they so desire.
Some of our workers feel very much concerned over the settlement arrived at between Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Irwin. I do not propose to launch into a criticism of the settlement because that would amount to something like a post-mortem examination. The truce is an accomplished fact and we may ignore it at this stage. We can use our time and energy more profitably if we look to the future and try to prepare for it. The Trade Union Congress as a body did not have much to do with the civil disobedience movement last year. But it is open to it to take a larger share in the movement that is to come. In order to do that, preparations must begin from today.
The Karachi session of the Indian National Congress passed a resolution, now popularly known as the Fundamental Rights resolution. Various opinions have been expressed with regard to that resolution. On the one hand, some have roundly condemned it as altogether inadequate and unsatisfactory, while others have waxed eloquent over it. Both these views appear to me to be one-sided. However unsatisfactory the resolution may be, there is no doubt that the resolution stands for a departure from the old tradition, for a recognition of the workers and peasants, for a definite move in the direction of socialism. The value of the resolution is not in what it contains in an explicit form but in what it contains in an implicit form. It is the potentiality of the resolution, rather than the actual contents of the resolution, which appeals to me. The contents of the resolution have to be amplified and improved before it can be altogether satisfactory. We are glad to note that a committee is already at work for the purpose.
People in this country are at the moment awaiting the result of the Round Table Conference. I cannot persuade myself to believe that anything substantial will come out of the conference in the present temper and mentality of the British Government. Further, the Round Table Conference is such as to make it exceedingly difficult to press home the popular point of view and the popular demand. When the result of the conference is announced, it will then be time for the people to take such action as they think fit. That psychological moment should not be lost by the people when it does arrive.
At the Nagpur session of the Congress the boycott of the Whitley Commission had been decided upon. That commission has just issued their report. If I were to act like a logician, I should ignore that Report altogether but I shall not do that. Whether it be good, bad or indifferent, we should not ignore a document of that character which is now before the public and which the public are bound to take serious notice of and criticize.
I should say at the very outset that the value of the report of a particular commission lies not in what it contains on paper but in what will ultimately come out of it. Will the expenditure over the commission be justified? For one thing, that is a question which even the man in the street will ask. We Indians have seen so much of reports that only if some tangible good actually comes out of a particular commission, apart from the mere issuing of a report, we are inclined to be highly skeptical and suspicious about the results. I may even say that in the past the reports of some commissions have met with wholesale condemnation owing to the failure of the Government to implement even the good points in those reports.
The present report has laid considerable emphasis on the problem of welfare works for labour, and though I voted for the boycott of the Whitley Commission I have no hesitation in saying that if recommendations on this point are given effect to, there will be an improvement on the present position. Nevertheless, I am constrained to say that some of the larger and more important questions have not been dealt with properly. Labour today wants the right to work. It is the duty of the State to provide employment to the citizens and where the State fails to perform this duty it should accept the responsibility of maintaining them. In other words, the worker citizen cannot be at the mercy of the employer to be thrown out on the streets at his sweet will and made to starve. The industry of the country is today faced with a crisis owing to the application of the axe. I am not unmindful of the difficulties of the employers. It is something impossible for them to maintain their old staff and they are forced to resort to retrenchment. But even in such cases the State cannot absolve itself of all responsibility, and the employer should be told that if in his brighter days he has made his pile with the help of his poor workers, he cannot leave them to their fate when adversity overtakes them. Until this problem of retrenchment is satisfactorily solved, there can be no industrial peace in the country.
Just as every worker can claim the right to work, he can also claim the right to a living wage. Does the factory worker in India get a living wage today? Look at the jute factories and the textile mills. What portion of their enormous profits did they spend for the welfare of the poor and oppressed workers? I know that they will say that of late they are in a bad way. But granting that proposition, may we not ask what profits they have made, what dividends they have declared, and what reserves they have piled up during their past history? I should not in this connection forget the Indian Railways either. They are now busy applying the axe. But those who are resorting to drastic retrenchment have certainly some duty towards those who in the past enabled them to swell their profits and pile up their reserves. We can also refer to our tea planters. What are the profits that they have been making, and how have they been treating their labour? Is it not a fact that in some areas at least the poor workers are still subjected to conditions which have much in common with the old institution of slavery? What has, then, the Labour Commission recommended for securing to the Indian worker a living wage and decent treatment? They have referred to minimum wages in the jute and textile industry. But can we rest assured that the minimum wages mean a living wage?
It is not necessary for me to enter into a detailed examination of the different recommendations made by the Whitley Commission. I shall refer, however, to one point which, though apparently insignificant, is of vital interest to the growth of the trade union movement in India. The report says that "Section 22 of the Trade Unions Act should be amended so as to provide that ordinarily not less than two-thirds of the officers of a registered trade union shall be actually engaged or employed in an industry with which the union is concerned". The Commission should have known that in India outsiders or non-workers are usually elected as office-bearers of trade unions because employees who agree to work as office-bearers are usually victimized by the employers on some flimsy pretext or other. Therefore if employees are to be forced to become office-bearers themselves, there should be some arrangement for preventing their victimization at the hands of their employers. Otherwise, if the present policy of victimization continues, it will be impossible for the employees to become office-bearers.
To sum up, the major problems of unemployment, retrenchment and living wage for the workers have not been handled properly. The ameliorative programme drawn up by the Commission is attractive in many places, but who is giving effect to that programme? Can anything be expected from the present Government which is definitely anti-labour? The labour problem is, therefore, ultimately a political problem. Until India wins her freedom and establishes a democratic ---- if not socialistic ----- Government, no ameliorative programme for the benefit of labour can be given effect to. It is clear from the report that everything is practically left to the Government. The report does not say anything as to how labour can capture or influence the governmental machinery. But till this is done, no amount of reports can actually benefit labour. The Commission should have recommended adult franchise in connection with the new constitution. In addition to this, or as an alternative, the Commission could also have recommended a certain percentage of seats in the provincial and central legislatures to be reserved for the representatives of labour.
The trade union movement is destined to grow in strength and in volume in spite of the temporary setbacks that it may have received in the past. Various currents and cross-currents of thought sometimes make trade union workers feel bewildered as to the path or the modus operandi they should follow. There is, on the one hand, the Right Wing who stand for a reformist programme above everything else. On the other side there are our Communist friends who, if I have understood them aright, are adherents and followers of Moscow. Whether we agree with the views of either group or not, we cannot fail to understand them. Between these two groups is another group which stands for socialism ---- for full-blooded socialism ----- but which desires that India should evolve her own form of socialism as well as her own methods. To this group I humbly claim to belong.
I have no doubt in my own mind that the salvation of India, as of the world, depends on socialism. India should learn from and profit by the experience of other nations ------ but India should be able to evolve her own methods in keeping with her own needs and her own environment. In applying any theory to practice, you can never rule out geography or history. If you attempt it, you are bound to fail. India should, therefore, evolve her own form of socialism. When the whole world is engaged in socialistic experiments, why should we not do the same? It may be that the form of socialism which India will evolve will have something new and original about it which will be of benefit to the whole world.
14. Beginning from the mid-thirties, while in abroad, Subhas Chandra had to dissociate gradually from active trade union movement of the country for various reasons. But he continued to take active interest in the working class movement even after his return to India and taking over the charge of Congress Presidentship twice in 1938 and 1939. At a large gathering of various trade union workers held at Calcutta Town Hall on 29 June 1938, Subhas Chandra as the President of the National Congress categorically declared that the Congress would always stand by the side of the workers and he also expressed his support for their justified demands. Even earlier, in his presidential address at the Haripura Congress in February 1938, Subhas Chandra said that "the Congress workers should in large numbers participate in trade union work."
Again on 13 February 1939, when the Calcutta Tramways Workers went on a strike in protest against the retrenchment of their 45 colleagues, Subhas Chandra promptly came forward to support their cause and issued a statement protesting the unwarranted action of the British owners. During 1939-40, as the Founder President of his newly formed party ---- All India Forward Bloc, Subhas Chandra was briskly associated with colliery workers' movements in the Dhanbad-Jharia belt, as mentioned earlier.
To strengthen the international solidarity of the workers of the world, Subhas Chandra presided over a May Day meeting convened by the Indian National Congress at Shraddhananda Park, Calcutta in 1940. Even earlier, while in London, Subhas Chandra joined a meeting held at St. Pancras Hall, London on 11 January 1938, presided over by Rajani Palme Dutt, and categorically said that India's fate was linked with the fates of all enslaved people of the world. Hence he had the strong belief that India freed means humanity saved.
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