Trade unions in India, as in most other countries, have been the natural outcome of the modern factory system. The development of trade unionism in India has a chequered history and a stormy career.
Early Period
Efforts towards organising the workers for their welfare were made, during the early period of industrial development by social workers, philanthropists and other religious leaders mostly on humanitarian grounds. The first Factories Act, 1881, was passed on the basis of the recommendations of the Bombay Factory Commission, 1875. Due to the limitations of the Act, the workers in Bombay Textile Industry under the leadership of N M Lokhande demanded reduced of hours of work, weekly rest days, mid-day recess and compensation for injuries. Bombay Mill owners’ Association conceded the demand for weekly holiday. Consequently, Lokhande established the first Workers’ Union in India in 1890 in the name of Bombay Millhands Association. A labour journal called “Dinabandu” was also published.
Some of the important unions established during the period are: Amalgamated society of Railway Servants of India and Burma (1897), the Printers Union, Calcutta (1905) and
the Bombay Postal Union (1907), the Kamgar Hitavardhak Sabha (1910) and the Social
Service League (1910). But these unions were treated as ad hoc bodies and could not
serve the purpose of trade unions.
A Modest Beginning
The beginning of the Labour movement in the modern sense started after the outbreak of World War I in the country. Economic, political and social conditions of the day influenced the growth of trade union movement in India. Establishment of International Labour Organisation in 1919 helped the formation of trade unions in the country. Madras Labour Union was formed on systematic lines in 1919. A number of trade unions were established between 1919 and 1923. Categorywise unions like Spinners’ Union and Weavers’ Union came into existence in Ahmedabad under the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi. These unions were later federated into an industrial union known as Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association. This union has been formed on systematic lines and has been functioning on sound lines based on the Gandhian Philosophy of mutual trust, collaboration and non-violence.

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