Trade Union Movement in India
The growth and development of the labour movement, and for that part of the trade unions, in India, can be divided into following periods, each of them revealing different tendencies that mark it from others.
1. Social Welfare Period, from 1875 to 1918
The first period starts from 1875 and goes upto the end of the First World War. The development of industries led to large scale production on the one hand and social evils like exploitation of women and child labour and the deplorable working conditions, the government’s attitude of complete indifference in respect of protection of labour from such evils, on the other. Some of the worst features of industrialism marked the history of early factory system in India. In certain respects, conditions of labour in Indian factories were worse than in the early factories in England. There was no attempt at collective bargaining or at obtaining redress through concerted action. It was at this point that Indian humanitarians, like Sarobjee Shapurji Bengali (1875) and N.M. Lokhanday (1884), who themselves were factory workers, drew attention of the government towards the unhappy working conditions of the labourers and demanded an early legislation to protect their interests. Dr. Punekar has characterized this period as the social welfare period of early trade union movement. It was during this period that the Indian Factories Act was passed in 1881, and hen amended in 1891 and 1911, respectively. These Acts introduced some improvements in regard to shorter hours, and conditions of work for children and women labour. The entire period on the whole has been divided into two parts:
First, the Regulation Period (1875-1891), when the child and women labour in factories was regulated by legislation, such as the Factories Acts of 1881, and 1891.
Second, the Abolition Period (1891-1917) was when successful protest was made against the indentured system under which Indian labourers were sent out to British colonies to work as plantation labour.
This entire period has been termed as the period of temporary organizations and a period of labour movement rather than that of the trade union movement because during this period a number of loose organizations and social service agencies or welfare societies were set up.