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About HMS

Sixty Years of Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS)
(1948 - 2008)

- Umraomal Purohit, General Secretary


In December 2008, HMS completes sixty years since its foundation in Calcutta in the newly independent India in 1948. Of course for the labour movement, six decades are not too long a way and in that sense we have miles to go still. However, it is a matter of accomplishment for a national trade union center to have survived and grown without being a part of the political parties in a country like India where virtually every other central trade union organization is part of some political party or the other. From about 6 lakhs membership in 1948 to over 55 lakhs and still growing, is no mean achievement. But the times ahead are tough. As it is, nearly 90% of the workforce in the country is unorganized, working in low paid, over worked jobs in dismal working conditions. As we move ahead, we need to stop and think - how do we build upon what we have? How do we face the challenges of the 21st century?

India, as we know, is undergoing significant politico-economic changes, led by the forces of economic liberalisation and globalisation. These changes are posing serious challenges to the trade union movement. At stake are hard won trade union rights of the workers. The role of State in India is undergoing major changes. What then should be the role of trade unions in this changing scenario? The time has come to sift from experience and draw from it the lessons for the future. This process needs to begin from looking back at the history of our own organisation, factors responsible for its growth as well as our misjudgments that prevented us from growing as much as we should have. Most importantly, to assess how far the organisation has been able to follow up on its goals and the ideals for which it was established.

The birth of HMS:

It may be remembered that in 1947-48, apart from M. N. Roy inspired independent Indian Federation of Labour (IFL), there were 2 main central trade unions - the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) which was under the control of the Communist Party of India and the newly formed Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) which was set up at the behest of Congress nationalists and the Gandhians of Hindustan Mazdoor Sewak Sangh in the Indian National Congress, the ruling Party. The Socialists in the Congress who broke away from Congress party in 1948, formed Hind Mazdoor Panchayat (HMP).

This was a period of much turmoil as well as many hopes for the future of free India. This post 2nd World War period in India was marked by acute shortages, rising prices and spiraling unemployment. There was much turbulence in the industrial relations scene as workers were facing many hardships. As many as 16 million mandays were lost due to strikes in 1947 as discontent among the workers grew. The response of the two major central trade unions -AITUC and INTUC- was not acceptable to the socialists at that time. Mere militancy dictated by the needs of the communist party (as reflected by AITUC at that time) or sub-servience to the government (as reflected by INTUC) was not meeting the needs of the workers. The socialists felt that the trade union movement could not be tied down to the needs of the political parties but must follow policies only in the interests of the Indian workers. This necessitated both cooperation with the development efforts of the country as also constructive opposition to the anti-labour, anti-employment policies of the government and the employers. This thinking led to the formation of Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS).
HMS was founded in Calcutta during the trade union conference from 24th to 26th December 1948. The conference was attended by the representatives of Indian Federation of Labour (IFL, founded in 1941), Hind Mazdoor Panchayat (HMP, founded in mid 1948), unions from the Forward Block (Party set up by Sh. Subhash Chandra Bose) and leading independent trade unions at that time. Over 600 trade union leaders participated, representing 427 unions and a membership of over 600000 workers. There were leaders like Jay Prakash Narayan, Sibnath Banerjee, R.A. Khedgikar and Ms. Maniben Kara who represented the railway unions; Shri Dalvi and Sh Ramanujam attended on behalf of Post & Telegraph employees; Miners were represented by Basawan Singh and P.B. Sinha while Textile workers were represented by R.S. Ruikar, Anthony Pillai and P.S. Chinnadurai. There were also representatives of Government employees, Teachers, Commercial employees, Port & Docks, Printing & Paper, Tobacco, Plantations and Sugar. Although HMS as an organisation was new, the men and women who founded it were veterans of the Indian trade union movement, most of who had been instrumental in the formation and growth of AITUC earlier. The Founding Conference elected Com. R.S. Ruikar as the first President, Com. Ashok Mehta as the General Secretary and Com. G.G. Mehta and V.S. Mathur as Secretaries. Ms. Maniben Kara and Com. T.S. Ramanujam were elected as Vice-Presidents of HMS and Com. R.A. Khedgikar as the Treasurer. The members of the Working Committee included veteran leaders like - Jayaprakash Narayan, V.G. Dalvi, Ms. Aruna Asaf Ali, V.B. Karnik, Dinkar Desai, N.V. Phadke, M.V. Donde, Rajani Mukherjee, Haren Ghosh, Anthoni Pillai, P.S. Chinnadurai, Peter Alwares, A.M. Williams, Munshi Ahmed Din, Vinayak Kulkarni, Nibran Ch. Bora and Basawan Singh. 

The formation of HMS represented the emergence of a new force in Indian trade union movement - that of unionists who believed in free, independent and democratic trade unionism. It represented independence of trade unions from the control of Government, Employers and Political Parties. It also represented a new thinking that role of trade unions is not only to oppose anti-labour policies of the government and employers but also to play a positive role in the development of industry to share gains from growth and of preparing & training workers to discharge their responsibilities as citizens (see HMS Manifesto for details).

The Early Years (1948 - 1956)

The history of HMS reflects the politico-socio-economic currents in the country and the reactions of the different union leaders and constituent unions to these developments. Although HMS is philosophically and organizationally independent of the political parties, the diversity of political opinion often caused conflicts and pulls and pressures from different sides (especially from the Socialist and the Congress party), shaping in the process the history of HMS. In the 1950s, it was the developments (splits) in the Socialist Party that always had repercussions on HMS.

The decision of the Socialist Party in 1949 at the Patna Conference to widen its base and open its membership to different people and organizations which had faith in socialist principles and peaceful and democratic means for achieving the goals (democratic socialism) was not acceptable to a group led by Mrs. Aruna Asaf Ali, who left the party in 1951 and later joined the Communist Party. 


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