(8th September, 1947)
On the 8th of September Indian trade union workers who are visiting Moscow at present, visited the offices of “Trud” newspaper: the Chairman of the All-India Trade Union Congress S.A. Dange and a member of the Progressive Writers’ Association of India, employee of the Indian Trade Union press, Ramesh Sanghvi.
In his conversation with the workers of ‘Trud’ S.A. Dange said: “In June this year I as a member of the Executive Committee of the World Federation of Trade Unions participated in the plenary meetings of the Executive Committee and the General Council of the WFTU in Prague. After this session I have visited Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and then I together with R. Sanghvi had a long journey around the USSR. We visited Leningrad, Stalingrad, Magnitogorsk, Sverdlovsk, Tashkent, visited numerous factories of various industries, cultural institutions, talked to workers, intellectuals and trade union activists and so on.”
“As you know,”- continued S.A. Dange, – “the reactionary press from all the world is using in its propaganda Churchill’s words about “the iron curtain” that allegedly separates Eastern Europe from the rest of the world. The Indian bourgeois media also supports this thesis of Churchill. The suppliers of all sorts of false information are using the fact that in the whole of India there is not even one activist who can claim that he has visited such countries of Eastern Europe as Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria. Yugoslavia. I decided to visit these countries in order to be able to tell my people the truth about them.
S. Dange speaks about the major democratic changes in the political and economical life of Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. “Peoples of these countries are fulfilling plans of economical development with great inspiration, and I have no doubts that in five years after the fulfilment of the Yugoslav five year plan this country will become unrecognisable. Already now, just in the two years since the end of the war, you can see the results of great work completed there. I visited industrial factories, the construction of a youth railroad and everywhere I witnessed that workers are working knowing that the results of their work will benefit the whole people. I visited the agricultural regions of Vojevodina and heard how peasants speak with calm confidence that the land from now on belongs to them, that the times of slavery and oppression have gone forever. Major democratic changes also took place in the lives of the peoples of Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria.”
Speaking about his trip around the Soviet Union, S. Dange declared that he has seen with his own eyes the superiority of the socialist organisation of production over the capitalist one. He said: “I am a textile worker myself by profession and I know the Indian textile industry really well. It has 10 millions spindles and takes the 3rd place in the world by its production capacities. I also know well the textile industry of France and England. But I have never seen anywhere any factory that could be compared with the Tashkent textile factory in its level of modernisation, organisation and culture of work, hygiene and working conditions. Here I saw an example of a truly socialist organisation of production.”
Sharing his impressions of Magnitogorsk, Stalingrad and other Soviet cities that he has visited, the chairman of the All-India Trade Union Congress said that he was especially impressed by the great creative energy of the Soviet people, its unity, cohesion and high consciousness of their social duty.
Further, S.A. Dange spoke about the activities of the Indian trade unions. The Indian trade union movement was created only after the 1st World War and from that time on it developed and enlarged continuously, despite the repressions of the British authorities.
In the last 27 years the number of trade union members rose from 10 thousand to 1,250 thousands. The best organised detachments of the six million Indian working class are the railroad workers and textile workers. The most important achievement of the trade union movement is the fact that the workers have learnt how to defend their rights collectively. In the last years workers of all industries took part in strikes, including those who are not officially members of the trade unions. For example, in 1940 the Bombay trade union of textile workers had just 3000 members, but in the strikes that took place that year in the textile factories of Bombay, more than 250,000 workers took part. After the end of the war, in 1946-1947, the whole country was taken over by a wave of strikes of such strength that has not been seen since 1929. In the coal mining industry alone more than 100 strikes took place in the last 18 months. These were the first strikes of Indian miners in the last 50 years.
As usual, the strikes were suppressed by the British authorities with great brutality. The central government and authorities of various provinces and the princely states accepted anti-worker laws which forbid strikes in several industries. Around 500 workers were killed, while defending their trade union rights, around 5000 people were thrown into prisons and concentration camps. Still, in several cases the workers managed to achieve their demands. In some large industries the entrepreneurs, frightened by the growing activity of workers, were forced to raise their wages by 5-20%. In some cases the 8 hours working day was implemented.
Nevertheless, in general the situation of the Indian working class remains a very harsh one. They do not have social insurance for cases of unemployment or sickness. There are an enormous number of unemployed in the country. Because of rising prices the real wages, despite some successful strikes, are remaining in reality on the same, very low level. The wages of Bombay textile workers who are one of the best paid workers in India are still 4-5 times lower than the wages of English workers of the same qualifications. Indian coal miners receive 13 times less in wages than English coalminers whose wages, as we know, are also far from sufficient. In some industries, in artisanal crafts and in agriculture in particular, the labour of 5-6 years old children is still being used, and they work literally for pennies. Everywhere, even in such cities as Bombay and Calcutta where there are many splendid buildings erected for the rich, workers live in truly horrid conditions. In rooms of 12 square metres some 20 or more people live, including several families. The great majority of working people have no chance to receive even an elementary education. According to official statistics, around 87% of India’s population is illiterate.
“The fast growth of the organised workers’ movement that we are witnessing in the last couple of years,”- said S.A. Dange, -” is the cornerstone of the successful workers’ fight for their rights. But there is still a lack of unity inside the Indian trade union movement that hinders our success. The majority of trade union members – 800,000 out of 1,250,000 – are united in the All-India Trade Union Congress of which I am the Chairman and which was founded in 1920. Apart from that, a so-called Indian Labour Federation was created in 1941. It tried to split the workers and to distract them from struggle for their main needs. This organisation was in all possible ways encouraged by the British authorities. At present, due to the sharp weakening of position of the British in India, the Indian Labour Federation is practically falling apart. Apart from that, recently one more trade union was created in our country: the National Trade Union Congress. The split in the workers movement would be very dangerous for the workers. That is why the All-India Trade Union Congress will do all it can in order to maintain the unity of the trade union movement and to obtain for Indian workers living conditions worthy of a human being.
Answering the question about how the upcoming split of India into 2 states: Hindustan and Pakistan will affect the trade union movement, S. Dange pointed out that 80% of all industrial workers of India are based in Hindustan and only 20% in Pakistan. Even though the split of India into 2 states will create many extra difficulties, Indian trade unions already have the experience of fighting for the unity of the workers movement, despite the state borders and other artificial barriers. It is enough to mention that in India until recently there existed not only the central government but also 11 provincial governments, as well as, according to official statistics, 584 princely states, including those whose size was no more than 10 square miles. As for religious conflict between Muslims and Hindus, this conflict takes place among the backward layers of the population and does not affect the Indian working class. Muslims and Hindus are members of the same trade unions everywhere and fight for their rights together.
At the end of the meeting S.A. Dange and R. Sanghvi informed that after returning to their motherland they are planning to publish a book about their journey to the USSR and Eastern Europe, to make reports and to give lectures as well as to give some press conferences for the representatives of the Indian media.
Trud, 10th of September, 1947, No. 213 (8086), page 4.
Translated from the Russian by Irina Malenko.Click here to return to the September 2014 index.