Labour Regulation in the Long Twentieth Century
In the period after the First World War, labour became a significant object of state regulation in India. This is not to say that there was no regulation in the period prior to this; but its character was markedly different. Regulations in the nineteenth century had a distinctly penal flavor. The Workmen’s Breach of Contract Act of 1859 and a series of legislations directed towards indentured plantation labour in India and abroad were prominent examples of the penal character of labour regulations. Trade unions when they existed were subject to criminal trespass laws.
The rapid expansion of industries and industrial labour in the years leading up to and during the First World War, the upsurge in labour protests in India, the Russian Revolution, the establishment of the ILO and the formation of the first All India Trade Union Congress, provide the immediate context for the shift in colonial state policy. The emergence of labour as a political category was now recognized in the Government of India Act of 1919 when a special representation for labour through nomination was introduced. At the same time, the question of the social reproduction of labour became a matter of concern for colonial state policy. These shifts were reflected in the slew of labour legislation in the 1920s and 1930s, for example, the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1923, the ending of penal labour regimes in 1925, the Trade Union Act of 1926 and the Trade Disputes Act of 1929, as an immediate response to the general strikes of 1928 in Bombay. No doubt these welfare oriented legislations covered only a small segment of industrial workers, nevertheless they marked a trend which culminated in the setting up of a formal sector labour regime in post-independent India, with the promulgation of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947, the Factories Act of 1948, the Minimum Wages Act of 1948, the Employees State Insurance Act of 1948, the Plantation Labour Act of 1951 and the Provident Fund Act of 1952. The expansion of the Public Sector in the Nehruvian era accelerated the process of industrialization leading to an increase of the labour force in modern industries and establishments.
A labour regime based on extensive juridification of the employer-employee relations emerged within the frame of an interventionist state in post-independent India. There was a consequent expansion of labour related legal disputes, industrial tribunal awards on wages, bonus, dearness allowance, and welfare related compensations. Even as the bulk of labour including those in agriculture and urban informal sector were excluded from this labour regime, it still played a crucial role in shaping expectations and framing the vision of a modern industrial India. In the last decades of the twentieth and the early decades of the twenty first centuries, the regulatory modalities were substantially transformed under the twin pressure of an increasing neo-liberal turn in economic policy making and financial and trade globalisation.
The present repository of documents aims to track these changes over the long twentieth century. It presently comprises of the following five collections that together provide a valuable resource for mapping histories of labour.
- The Labour Gazette brought out by the Bombay Labour Office from 1921 specialized in providing information on conditions of labour, industrial disputes and legislative changes in India and included international news about labour.
- The Labour Law Journal (1949- 2005) containing major judicial and labour court judgments, orders and pronouncements on labour disputes.
- ILO India, monthly reports, 1929-1970, a unique collection of reports sent out monthly from the ILO India Office tracking legislative and political changes in India.
- The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) Pamphlets Collection 1928-1990. This collection of printed pamphlets traces the origin and evolution of the organisation of the AITUC as the first All India Federation of Trade Unions. It also contains pamphlets containing the position of the AITUC on economic policy, major legislations concerned with labour and accounts of important events connected with the history of industrial relations in India.
- Commissions of Labour 1931-2002. This collection contains the reports, evidence and memorandums submitted to various official commissions in pre and post-independence India to enquire into conditions of labour, beginning with the Royal Commission on Labour in India (1929-31) and includes reports of the National Commissions on Labour 1969, 1991 and 2002.