Social Scientist. v 5, no. 60 (July 1977) p. 62.


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Toiling for the Jute Barons

MOST STUDIES on the birth, growth and present condition of the jute industry in India give priority not to the industry, but to the interests of half a dozen multimillionaires and monopolist industrialists almost all of whom were, within the living memory of most men familiar with jute, traders and merchants — moneymakers with no holds barred, and with no industrial background. This note is different, being an account from the point of view of the worker—the prime, indispensable mover of the industry—given on the basis of association with organized jute workers.

The former Union Minister for Commerce, D P Ghattopadhyay once portrayed the workers as the most helpless of all the factors in the jute business. Addressing the bosses, he said that the entrepreneurs and traders in jute can, if they so desire, stop dealing in the commodity and divert their capital to other lucrative channels. So can the jute growers, if growing jute means growing indebtedness. But jute millworkers—what is there for them to turn to?

This, however, represented the truth only in the context of the Emergency (declared in India on 26 June 1975 and lasted till 19 March 1977) when the workers were debarred from the exercise of their democratic and trade union rights. The history of trade unionism in the jute industry is sufficient evidence that, organized and correctly led, united jute workers are not only not dumb creatures to be treared with Christian charity, but are in fact powerful fighters, initiators of sweeping changes in worker-employer relations, pathbreakers and harbingers of trade union struggles in other industries.

There have been many inquiry committees set up by the Government of Bengal to go into the question of jute. While recording valuable information about the jute trade, they drew a blank from the Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA), the employers' combine. Then a close preserve of British big business, it refused to provide any information of significance about what went on inside the mills which were, and still remain, virtual fortresses. In the light of this, the following statement by the Rege Inquiry Committee is refreshingly candid: ^No scientific principles were



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