Monday, April 30, 2018

Lest We Forget

Neglected but not forgotten
A century ago, on April 27th, 1918, India’s first labour union was born right here in the city of Chennai, then known as Madras, when workers of Buckingham and Carnatic Mills formed the Madras Labour Union. The trade union was a historic act of resistance against exploitation. It eventually led to enactment of the Trade Union Act in 1926. Much has changed since the days of the Madras Labour Union. 

 It is important to note that it still offers the trade union movement important lessons for today especially regarding the need for a larger and more inclusive working class solidarity. The struggles are evidence that union could not have been formed without the support of the larger community and how this process not pushed workers to build a strong movement to fight for their collective rights but also transformed individuals to shift their political engagement to build working class movements.

 Just like today, even then, the management refused to recognize the union. Various forms of intimidation from lockouts to police harassment and even shootings were used to break the workers’ unity and the company was forced to increase welfare measures to prevent workers from joining the union. In the age of regionalism and nationalism, it is all the more important to highlight that activists came from very different regions and backgrounds to work together and build working class solidarity.

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