Post Colonial Labour and Working Class Histories

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Guest blogger this week is Megha Sharma, a PHD Scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in India who came to study in late summer 2018

I visited UK from 20th august to 15th September, 2018 for my archival work funded by the Charles Wallace India Trust. My thesis titled ‘Juridicality of Labour in India 1947-80’ looks at the growth of labour relations and policies formulated to deal with post-independence challenges. Specifically focusing on the establishment of industrial tribunals and labour courts to counter the rising number of strikes. Tribunals aimed to introduce a new way of dispute resolution and changed the discourse of labour relations. Workers resisted these states’ led mechanisms of labour management. Their expectations and demands were represented to a certain extent through the union representatives in the official circles. But it is through the court proceedings that we can get a greater insight into the ways that workers used such institutions. In the court cases the workers acted independently, and through unions, to negotiate their terms and nature of work. By using examples of case proceedings from Delhi I will bring out how workers were able to access the courts/tribunals. And their implications on changing dynamics of labour relations.

My work was based in the trade union and labour archives I consulted in the London Metropolitan University’s Special Trade Union Collection. I prerequisited my material and it was ready for consultation when I visited the reading room. They have online and hard bound catalogues for reference which are very easy to use. They let you order as many files as you wish or need in the day. You can reserve and keep the files on the table to use next time. The staff over there were very friendly and helpful with everything from planning the visit there to directions for reaching the archives. My weeks over there were wonderful and very comfortable to carry on my research.
Among the collections I accessed there was Marjorie Nicholson’s special collection who was a British trade unionist interested in the Indian labour movement. I researched the material she found in India during her visits. As well as her notes to these resources inclusive of secondary and primary records. This made the collection extremely insightful and relevant for my thesis. The archives also included field notes from her conversations with trade unionist and Indian policy makers detailing the scope and growth of trade union in India. It gives a quick recapitulation of the entire Indian working movement along with the future plans as remembered and shared by eminent trade union leaders.

A critical phase of the labour relations was when the British administrators and trade unionists tried to help their counterparts in India. The British model of trade unionism was taught in India with the hope that the model could be emulated to an Indian setting. There is a very thin archive on this theme in India making it difficult to develop my chapter further. The TUC Library’s archives filled this critical gap in my research and gave new insights into how communications between the two countries were progressing. And their implications on the labour relations. There were rare reports of the British administrators’ visit to India to understand and survey the conditions of trade unionism.

There is also a rich collection of the trade union pamphlets and research bulletins by various political parties; such as the Indian Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, All India Trade Union Congress and Indian Federation of Labour. These parties regularly came out with bulletins of information regarding their past activities and engagement with workers across different establishments of production. Along with economic and development plans for the future. All of these pamphlets and booklets were neatly arranged in the TUC Library for scholars to access and read. The rich selection of material gives a comprehensive view from below i.e. of workers; to counter these narratives there were equally well-preserved records from the research institutes of Labour in India. These were set up by the Government of India to monitor and regulate the capital and labour relations. Detailed cases studies conducted by Indian Labour commissioners to figure out the best model of labour and management relations that could be adapted to India. Most of these institutes and parties are no longer functioning which has made it impossible to find their records anywhere in India. In the TUC Library, the workers’ world comes to life when you sit reading their publications. Including workers’ descriptions of their conditions of work, aspirations for their future generations and hope from the current government.

These journals are critical for understanding the life and times of workers, and how they were able to negotiate their demands and expectations with government and their employers.

For any researcher dealing with the issues of labour, development and specifically trade unionism this Library offers an integral repository. By allowing quick access to the material as well as preserving material spreading over several years covering various events of political and industrial significance.

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