November 7, 1938, 21 years after the October Revolution and two years after he published his searing critique of Hinduism in The Annihilation of Caste, B.R. Ambedkar’s Independent Labour Party called for a one-day strike against the passage of the Bombay Industrial Dispute Bill. Among its other provisions, the law would make strikes a criminal offence. More than one lakh workers are said to have participated in the strike in Bombay alone.
Earlier in the year, Ambedkar had marched at the head of 25000 small peasants, landless poor, and agricultural labourers as they demanded the abolition of the khoti system.
Thus in 1938, in the space of a few months, Ambedkar led agitations that advocated for the interests of what we today call the informal poor and for the interests of industrial workers. Both of them were the results of years of political work, advocating against exploitative agrarian practices in the Konkan region, building effective bridges between social groups, and negotiating on behalf of Dalit workers with leftist trade unions. In this episode of the Nagrik podcast, we learn about Ambedkar’s advocacy around issues of labour in the 1920s and 30s, from our guests:
Sarvodaya Shivaputra, “Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar role in the Bombay Legislative Council (1927-1939)”, Swami Ramanand Teerth Marathwada University
Abha Trivendi, “Indian Labour Movement (1927-1929): A Critical Appraisal”, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress Vol. 70 (2009-2010)
Georges Kristoffel Lieten, “Strikers and Strike-Breakers: Bombay Textile Mills Strike, 1929”, Economic and Political Weekly (1982),
Sumeet Mhaskar, “How a Strike 40 Years Ago Dismantled Workers’ Claim Over Mumbai, Hastened its Gentrification”, The Wire (2022)
Shivangi Jaiswal, “Labour Ministers, State and the Prism of Law, 1942-52”
Santosh Suradkar, “The Anti-Khoti Movement in Konkan Region, c. 1920-1949”
Unnamati Syamasundar, “Independent Labour Party & the Legacy of Ambedkar as Organizer”, Round Table India (2018)
Antaripa Bharali and Ankit Kawade, “A Lesson From Ambedkar’s Unusual Choice of Symbol During 1937 Poll”, The Quint (2019)
Prabodhan Pol, “100 Years of Mooknayak, Ambedkar's First Newspaper that Changed Dalit Politics Forever”, The Wire
Kari Kumar, “Ambedkar and the Bombay Textile Workers”, Dalit History Month