A l^ote on Labour Movement in Bengal (1920-21)
THE OBJECT of the present note is to acquaint readers with an important source material for the study of the labour movement in Bengal (1920-21) :
Report of the Committee on Industrial Unrest in Bengal, 1921, published by the ^Government of Bengal in 1921. Few scholars working on the history of Indian labour movement are aware of the existence of this Report and fewer still have pointed out its significance as a source material, having referred to it only casually. Yet in no other published official document do we get such detailed information on the labour movement in Bengal at a very crucial moment in the history of our freedom movement (1920 and first half of 1921) in India.
It should be clearly mentioned here that this note only seeks to^highlight some of the facts presented in the Report and is not a study of the labour movement per se, during the period under discussion.
The significance of this Report lies in the fact that apart from its depiction of the various aspects of'labour unrest' of the period (as perceived by the Committee) like causes, demands, course and duration of movement in the different industries (including public transport and public utility services), the very decision to set up this Committee resulted from an awareness (on the part of the ruling class) of the grave situation brought about by the widespread labour movement and the urgent need to combat the 'forces of disruption at work'.
Previous labour enquiry committees were set up in an entirely different situation and for an altogether different purpose: the prime objective of these enquiry committees was to inquire into the causes of labour shortage complained of (from time to time) by various employers of labour. If other issues like wage rate, liv4ng conditions, modes of recruitment, etc., also came up before these committees, they were given only peripheral attention. The initiative to set up such committees came not so much from the government as from the employers, because earlier labour movements did not pose any serious threat to the ruling class or to the stability of the alien state power. While studying the report under jconsideration, the above background should be kept in view.
* Formerly with Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.