In December 2008, HMS completes sixty years since its foundation in
Calcutta in the newly
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
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
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). India
HMS was founded in
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, Calcutta
Bora and Basawan Singh. Vinayak
Kulkarni, Nibran Ch.
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.