The trade union movement in India forms a study of the working class, their demands, response of their owners and redressal measures of the government. In spite of the drain of wealth from India and British apathetic attitude, the factories grew on this soil. The cotton mills in Bombay, the jute mills and tea industry grew up. The poor Indian mass got employment in these factories as workers.
Low wages, long working hours, unhygienic conditions, exploitation at the hands of native and foreign capitalists made their condition more miserable. The first Factory Act of 1881 and the Acts of 1891, 1909, 1911 etc. could not end the plights of the working class people.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 exerted tremendous influence over the working class people of the world. By the efforts of the leaders like N.M. Joshi, Lala Lajpat Rai and Joseph, the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was established in 1920.
Nationalist leaders like C.R. Das and V. V. Giri also joined their hands with this union. With the emergence of socialistic and communist ideas, the left wing within the Indian National Congress became active and leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru also presided over the sessions of AITUC.
With the recognition of the trade unions by the Trade Union Act of 1926, the trade union movements in India gained momentum. The fourth Congress of the Communist International sent a message to the AITUC to overthrow capitalism and imperialism. The left wing within the AITUC also became very active. The revolutionary of Muscovite group wanted to affiliate the AITUC with the Red Labour Union framed at Moscow.
In the power struggle, the liberal leader N.M. Joshi left the AITUC and formed another organisation named’ Indian Trade Union Federation.
Under the Leftist direction, the AITUC launched vigorous programmes against the capitalist class. It foreshadowed a socialist State in India with socialisation and nationalisation of the means of production. It organised meetings for protecting the freedom of speech, association, participation in national struggle etc. The Communist Party also flared up the flame. Though the government passed several Acts to satisfy the workers, still they carried on their programmes of strike and protest.
The trade union activities were so rampant that in 1928 Viceroy Lord Irwin arrested the prominent leaders and brought them to Meerut for trial. After trial, S.A. Dange, Muzaffar Ahmed, Joglekar, Spratt etc. were given transportation or rigorous imprisonment. It aroused worldwide sympathy for the union leaders. However, it hurled a terrible blow on the trade union activities in India. Now the Leftists and Rightists joined their hands and defended the case.
During the Non-Cooperation Movement, the British Government suppressed the trade union leaders with iron hand. The Socialist Party formed in 1934 wanted to cement coherence between the moderate and the radical trade unions. During the popular governments between 1937-1938 the trade unions increased to 296. During Quit India Movement, the Trade Union Movement went on as usual. The nationalist leaders failed to capture the AITUC but the Communists had their hold over it. After independence, the trade unions are performing their rule as usual.