– S. R. Darapuri IPS (Retd), President, Mazdoor Kisan Manch
Dr. Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar was not only a great legalist, eminent sociologist and economist, but he was the saviour of the Dalits as well as the working class. Babasaheb himself was also a labour leader. For many years he lived in the labour colony. Therefore, he was fully aware of the problems of the workers. Also, being a respected economist himself, he also knew how to solve those problems. That is why the laws made for workers and reforms made during the time of Labour Minister in the Viceroy’s Executive Council from 1942 to 1946 are very important and fundamental in nature. In 1942, when Babasaheb became a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, he had Labour Department in which there were Labour, Labour Laws, Coal Mines, Publications and Public Works Departments.
Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s concern for the rights and well-being of the working class is reflected by the words he spoke on September 9, 1943 in front of Plenary, Labour Council on industrialization saying, “Two things in the capitalist parliamentary democracy system are very clear. Those who work have to live in poverty and those who do not work, accumulate immense wealth. On the one the hand political equality and on the other hand economic disparity. Freedom does not matter. In addition to it the government and the working class should try to have cordial relations.
Inaugurating a departmental meeting of Labour Officers held in the first week of December 1945 at the Bombay Secretariat, Babasaheb said, “Three things are necessary to avert industrial disputes: (1) Proper organization, (2) Necessary reforms in the law and (3) Determination of minimum wages of workers. Industrial peace should be based not on the strength of power but on the elements of justice policy. Workers should know their duties. The owners should also pay fair wages to the labourers. At the same time, the government and the labour society should also try diligently to keep their mutual relations amicable. “
Babasaheb was fully aware of the problems of the workers. Therefore, as the Minister of Labour, he made many laws or made amendments for the welfare of workers, among which prominent are Indian Trade Union Act, ESI Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Compensation Act, 8 hours of work and maternity benefits etc. are prominent. Despite the British opposition, he banned women from working in deep mines. He was trying to implement the recommendations of the International Labour Organization strongly. The rights and facilities were obtained by the labourers in other countries with much difficultly Dr. Ambedkar made laws and provided them to the labourers during his tenure as Labour Minister. In fact, most of the labour laws presently were made by Babasaheb for which the working class of India will always be indebted to them.
Babasaheb was also very keen on the welfare of the Safai Karamcharis (Cleaning Labourers) and for organizing them, whereas Gandhiji used to teach them to remain Bhangis and considered their strike as unethical. Modi says that in this work they get spiritual pleasure. Babsaheb first organized the Safai Karamcharis of Bombay Municipal Corporation and organized their trade union. He also wanted to establish a similar organization in other parts of the country and wanted to give it a pan-India look. For this purpose, he also formed a two-member committee and asked it to go to various provinces and study the status of the cleaning labourers and the applicable laws and report. It is clear from this that how much Babasaheb was trying to provide justice to the cleaning labourers and organize them on the lines of other trade unions.
Babasaheb himself had been a Labour leader. Most of the untouchables were small-scale labourers in fields, factories, mills etc. Babasaheb had lived in the same labour settlements during his struggle. He also understood their problems and suffering very well. He used to say to labourers, “It is not enough that you limit your struggle to get good facilities, bonus and good salary only. You must also struggle to seize power. “It was with this intention that he created the Independent Labour (Swatant Mazdoor Party) in 1936 and also won 17 seats in the first election of 1937. Through this, he inspired the working class to get a share of political power.
Presently under the new economic policy, labour laws are being relaxed all over the world in the era of globalization and corporatization. In our country too, Modi government has relaxed many labour laws to attract foreign investment. Working hours are being increased. Salary is being linked to production. Contract System is being implemented in place of regular appointments of labourers, which has already been implemented to a large extent. The Modi government has ended 44 different laws and codified it in only 4. With this, the rights and protection given to the workers by the labour laws will be limited to a great extent.
During the current Corona Crisis, the lock-down implemented arbitrarily and without any deliberation and planning has completely exposed the poverty and fragile conditions of the workers. During this, how many labourers have fallen victim to hunger and how many who had left for their homes on the way died on the way, had to stay hungry and had to suffer the brutality of the police. During this time the government neither made proper arrangements for food and drink nor gave them proper financial support. The so-called quarantine camps have indeed proved to be torture houses. Now the issue of sending these poor migrant labourers to home is going on, the central government is not ready to arrange to run special trains to transport them and has put the responsibility of making all the arrangements in the neck of the state governments. There is a possibility of an even bigger crisis and disorder getting worse.
It is also contemplated that what will happen to the migrant labourers who will return to their villages and the employment of the labourers who are already there? There is no plan for how their livelihood will work. You already know that there were already attacks on the workers, which this crisis of Corona epidemic has increased further. On the whole, the current economic crisis is very deep, which is the result of continuous economic-industrial policies. It may be noted that these anti-worker, anti-people policies have been pushed forward by the entire political system. The capitalist parties will not fight it because they have a general consensus on these policies and the leftist parties who oppose it are very limited in their strength. In such a situation, there is a need to create a new democratic socialist politics.
You still see that the migrant labourers are in worse condition. Therefore, this may be the message of this May Day that only the working class will have to advance mass politics to build a people-friendly political system. This is simply not possible in the realm of trade union. The working class has to force the government to increase expenditure on public welfare while fighting for its rights. Restructuring the economy, strengthening public health services, education and ensuring people’s livelihood has to be ensured. Only then can crisis situations like the Corona epidemic be countered. It will have to mobilize all those oppressed sections of society, including farmers, in favour of this mass politics. Therefore, Dr. Ambedkar’s message to the working class to get a share in political power becomes even more relevant today.