History of Trade Union In India

Pre-Independence Era

1851 – 1st Cotton Mill was set in Calcutta
1877 – Record Strike at Empress Mills, Nagpur over wages
1882 to 1890 – 25 Strikes in Bombay and Madras Provinces


Initial association of Indian workers:

1890 – Starting point of Indian Labour Movement

1890 – Bombay Millhand’s Association – Formed by N M Lokhande (Narayan Meghaji Lokhande known as The Father of Trade Union Movement in India, Editor of Deenabandhu Journal)

Purpose – To invite attention of government and public towards the grievances of textile workers of Bombay and revision of Factories Act 1881 (Note – First Factories Act was started by British Government in 1881)

Some of the rights mill workers got because of N M Lokhande were:

• Mill workers should get a weekly holiday on Sunday.

• In the afternoon, workers should be entitled to half-hour recess.

• The mill should start working from 6:30 in the morning and close by sunset.

• The salaries of the workers should be given by the 15th of every month.

Other initial associations of Indian workers

1897 – Amalgamated Society of Railway servants of India and Burma
1905 – Printer’s Union, Calcutta
1907 – Bombay Postal Union
1910 – Kamgar Hitwardhak Sabha, Bombay

Origin of Trade Unions Act in India

1918 – 1st Registered Organized Trade UnionMadras Labour Union led by B P Wadia and V. Kalyanasundaram Mudaliar, in 1918. The strike was called by the workers of Buckingham and Carnatic Mills in Madras, against the managing company, Binny and Co.

1919 – ILO (International Labour Organisation) got established

1920 – 1st Trade Union Federation – All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) – 1920. Founding Presidents were Lala Lajpat Rai, N M Joshi and Joseph Baptista
AITUC was formed to secure a nominating body for representing Indian Labour at International Labour Conference

1920 – Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association founded by Anasuya Sarabhai who was a pioneer of the women’s labour movement in India and Shankerlal Banker

1922 – Central Labour Board, Bombay
1922 – Bengal Trade Union Federation
1922 – All India Railwaymen’s Federation ( AIRF)

1923 – First ever May Day/ Labour Day in India on May 1, 1923. Singaravelu [Chettiar], Madras launched the Labour-Kisan Party of Hindustan as a distinct political party of labour and for labour, with a ‘politico-economic policy for labour, free from mere reformism or opportunism

Known by various names like Kamgar Din (Hindi), Kamgar Divas (Marathi) and Uzhaipalar Dinam (Tamil), the ‘Antarrashtriya Shramik Diwas’


1925 – The first Provident Fund Act passed in 1925 for regulating the provident funds of some private concerns was limited in scope

1926 – Indian Trade Unions Act was formed by N M Joshi ( Father of Indian Trade union movement)

1928 – Fawcett Committee
A big strike of textile workers at Bombay took place from April to October 1928 due to which government of Bombay appointed Fawcett Committee to look into the standardized scheme against which the strike happened.

1928 – All India Workers and Peasants Party was formed
1929 – Split of AITUC, at the 10th Session of AITUC, Nagpur
1930 – ITUF (Indian Trade Union Federation) was formed from the split
1931 – RTUC (Red Trade Union Congress) was formed from split
Note – As on 1931, there were 3 central federations (AITUC, ITUF and RTUC)


1929 to 1933 – Meerut Trial (initiated in British India in March 1929 and decided in 1933.)

• 33 leaders were arrested for strikes

• S A Dange – 12 years of transportation

• Muzaffar Ahmed – Life transportation

• Ghate, Nimbkar, Usmani – 9 years of transportation


1932 – Platform for Unity (1st Unity Conference)
In order to regulate working hours, working conditions and amenities, unity among the federations was necessary
Hence Trade Union Unity Committee was set up by AIRF(All India Railwaymen’s Federation).

1933 – 2nd Unity Conference
National Federation of Labour (NFL) where ITUF (Indian Trade Union Federation) merged with NFL under the new name, National Trades Union Federation (NTUF)

1934 – RTUC (Red Trade Union Congress) merged with AITUC
Note – As on 1934, there were 2 central federations (AITUC and NTUF)

1934 – All Indian Textile workers conference, Bombay, Strikes across Bombay, Calcutta and Kanpur

1938 – GIRI Proposal – A set of proposal was made by V V Giri to bring unity between AITUC and NTUF

1938 – NTUF was affiliated as a separate unit of AITUC

1940 – NTUF got dissolved and merged with AITUC at Nagpur
(Note – Split of AITUC started at Nagpur and got united at Nagpur again)


1939 – Second World war started

Some sections of AITUC felt that supporting UK was not essential.
Others felt they should support UK in war. This thought was initiated by M N Roy

1941 – AITUC again got split and IFL (Indian Federation of Labour) with President as Jamna Das Mehta and General Secretary as M N Roy was formed.

Note – As on 1941, there were 2 central federations (AITUC and IFL)


Competition between AITUC and IFL helped India to grow. Price of goods increased, profits increased, cost of living increased but WAGES FELL.

Textile workers of Bombay reacted strongly to rising prices of goods and went on strike.

Dearness Allowance concept evolved in accordance with the price.

Bonus concept also evolved


1941 –Hitler Defeated Soviet Union

1942- Communists supported the war. They became powerful in the country.

Meanwhile Mahatma Gandhi launched Quit India movement through Indian National Congress.(INC)

1942 – Tripartite Machinery( joint meeting between association of employers and employees) started along with compulsory adjudication from Defense of India Rules 81

1942 – 1st Indian Labour Conference, Delhi  took place.

1942 – 1st Indian Labour Conference, Delhi  took place.

– 22 representatives from central and state decided to meet once for the conference

– Standing Labour Committee was set up to meet more than once in a year

1944 – IFL (Indian Federation of Labour)  formed by M N Roy was lost its credit since it was revealed that the organisation had received funding from the British authorities

1945 – II World War Ended

1946 – 1st Pay Commission was set up in May because of continuous strikes supported by the working class people, high number of work stoppages and loss of man hours due to continuous rise in price of goods.

1947 – Industrial Dispute Act evolved due to such unrest condition of the country.

1947 – Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) is the trade union wing of the Indian National Congress (INC), formed 3 days before the independence.(originated from Gandhi Seva Sangh – Hindustan Mazdoor Sevak Sangh)

INTUC was the initiative of Gulzari Lal Nanda with 1st President as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

1947 – India became independent

1948 – Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) founded in Howrah, West Bengal. Its founders included Basawon Singh (Sinha), Ashok Mehta, R.S. Ruikar, Maniben Kara, Shibnath Banerjee, R.A. Khedgikar, T.S. Ramanujam, V.S. Mathur, G.G. Mehta.

In December 1948 IFL merged into the Hind Mazdoor Sabha1949 – United Trade Union Congress(UTUC)

Note – As on 1949, there were 4 central federations (AITUC, INTUC, HMS and UTUC)


1948 – Factories Act, ESI Act, Minimum Wages Act, Coal Mines Provident Fund Act 1948 (scope of PF was tested)

1952 – Employees’ Provident Funds & Miscellaneous Provisions Act was passed with 6 industries initially which are Cigarettes, Electrical, mechanical or general engineering products, Iron and Steel, Paper and Textiles

1955 – Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh- BMS ( Bharatiya Janta Party – BJP)  was founded by Dattopantji Thengdi

1970 – Centre of Indian Trade Unions( CITU) politically affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) with 1st President as B T Ranadive

1972 – National Organization of Labour (NLO) was formed after a split from INTUC founded by Morarji Desai, Nijalingappa and Kamraj.

Later a group from United Trade Union Congress(UTUC) formed a separate group called United Trade Union Congress – Lenin Sarani ( UTUC –LS)

Two other central federations formed after that namely, National Front of Indian Trade Unions (NFITU) and Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC)


Thus now 10 Central Federations exists in India