Last Updated 18 May 2021

Great Bombay Textile Strike

Category Labor Relations
Essay type Research
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The Great Bombay Textile Strike was a textile strike called on 18 January 1982 by the mill workers of Bombay (currently Mumbai) under trade union leader Dutta Samant. The purpose of the strike was to obtain bonus and wage increases. Nearly 250,000 workers and more than 50 textile mills went on strike in Bombay.

History of Mills in Bombay

Built in 1887, Swadeshi was Bombay's first textile mill, the first of the factories that spread over Girangaon, popularly nicknamed as Bombay's "village of mills", in the next decades. By 1982, when Datta Samant led the textile strike, over 240,000 people worked in Girangaon. Protests In late 1981, Dutta Samant was chosen by a large group of Bombay mill workers to lead them in a precarious conflict between the Bombay Mill owners Association and the unions, thus rejecting the INTUC-affiliated Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh which had represented the mill workers for decades. Samant planned a massive strike forcing the entire industry of the city to be shut down for over a year.  It was estimated that nearly 250,000 workers went on strike and more than 50 textile mills were shut in Bombay. In August 1982, the city police briefly went on strike, apparently in sympathy with the workers resulting into the army and Border Security Force to be called in to control the unrest. Samant demanded that, along with wage hikes, the government scrap the Bombay Industrial Act of 1947 and that the RMMS would not longer be the only official union of the city industry.

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While fighting for greater pay and better conditions for workers, Samant and his allies also sought to capitalize and establish their power on the trade union scene in Mumbai. Although Samant had links with the Congress and Maharashtra politician Abdul Rehman Antulay, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi considered him a serious political threat. Samant's control of the mill workers made Gandhi and other Congress leaders fear that his influence would spread to the port and dock workers and make him the most powerful union leader in India's commercial capital.

Thus the government took a firm stance of rejecting Samant's demands and refusing to budge despite the severe economic losses suffered by the city and the industry. As the strike progressed through the months, Samant's militancy in the face of government obstinacy led to the failure of any attempts at negotiation. Disunity and dissatisfaction over the strike soon became apparent, and many textile mill owners began moving their plants outside the city. After a prolonged and destabilizing confrontation, the strike collapsed with no concessions having been obtained for the workers.

The closure of textile mills across the city left tens of thousands of mill workers unemployed and, in the succeeding years, most of the industry moved away from Bombay after decades of being plagued by rising costs and union militancy. Although Samant remained popular with a large block of union activists, his clout and control over Bombay trade unions disappeared.

Consequences

The majority of the over 80 mills in Central Mumbai closed during and after the strike, leaving more than 150,000 workers unemployed.  Textile industry in Mumbai has largely disappeared, reducing labor migration after the strikes.

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