Struggle of Mumbais' Textile Mill Workers for Rehabilitation
Uday Bhat

In 1982 Mumbai's Textiles Mill workers waged a historic and long battle under the leadership of militant leader Dr. Datta Samant. 28 years later, the mill workers are back on the path of struggle on the demand of rehabilitation.
Mumbai Textile workers have a rich legacy of struggle dating back to the early years of the previous century. In 1908, the British rulers had sentenced Lokmanya Tilak for six years in jail. Mumbai's textile mill workers protested against it, and went on strike for 6 days, one day of strike in protest against every year of the six-year sentence. Mumbai textile workers' movement played a pivotal role not only in the history of the trade union movement but also in the emergence of the Communist Party and some other workers' parties.
Even in the naval revolt of 1946, Mumbai textile workers supported whole-heartedly. The role of Mumbai textile workers in "Sayunkta Maharashtra Movement along with Mumbai" is also a historic one. They were the backbone of this movement, and many textile workers got martyred in this movement.
The 1982 historic struggle of Mumbai textile workers was brutally crushed by the then ruling Congress Party in collaboration with mill owners which resulted into forced unemployment. 80 thousand to 1 lakh workers were sacked ruthlessly by mill owners to crush this struggle. Those mill workers who re-joined mill after strike were humiliated, forced to work in inhuman conditions including heavy workload to ensure huge profits for mill owners. In later years the mill owners in the name of modernization forced the textile mill workers to leave jobs.
In 1991 Mr. Sharad Pawar declared that Mumbai would be built on the lines of Hong Kong and Singapore. Immediately after that the Development Control Regulation (D C Rule) was revised and accordingly mill owners adopted a new strategy. They closed the mills and started redeveloping the mill-land for huge profits. Even profit-making mills like Bombay Dyeing, Mafatlal, Morarjee, Birla's Century, Thakarsey group and Piramal group mills were all closed down. The mill owners started re-development on their mills land for constructing residential complexes, hotels, malls and commercial complexes.
By this time the Shivsena-BJP alliance had risen as a force and their agenda of "Hindutva" had hogged the limelight. This alliance, which was then in power in BMC (Bombay Municipal Corporation), openly supported the Congress' policy of demolishing the textile mills. With mills closed, mill workers began to leave Mumbai. The assassination of Dr. Datta Samant by hired killers of big capital marked a huge setback for the textile workers' movement and the entire working class at this crucial juncture. After the death of Datta Samant the process of transformation of Mumbai as Hong Kong and Singapore proceeded in full swing resulting in large-scale shutting down of industries. Textile, engineering, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, chemical, rubber, all industries disappeared and the builder lobby took charge of Mumbai and Thane. Once a predominately production centre, Mumbai now has become a major trading centre.
According to the revised DC Rule for modernization and re-development of Mills estates, if any mill owner wants to sell or develop his mill's land then he has to fulfill the following terms:
1. Out of total land 1/3rd land is to be developed directly by him,
2. 1/3rd land should be handed over to BMC,
3. 1/3rd land should be handed over to MHADA (Maharashtra Housing), and half portion of MHADA's land should be given to textile mill workers for housing purpose.
From 1991 to 2005 mill owners sold their mill's land and made huge profits, without giving a piece of land to textile mill workers for housing complex. The textile mill workers became a forgotten history for the Govt. as well as mill owners. In recent past, "Sarva Shramik Sanghtana" has made a powerful intervention demanding rehabilitation of textile mill workers by providing free housing for all textile mill workers in textile land. Sarva Shramik Sanghtana was an associate of Datta Samant-led Textile workers movement. First of all it united the city's scattered textile workers on the demands of employment created on land of mills by development of Industries and residential complexes, Yellow Ration Cards, ESIC Scheme Benefits and most importantly Rehabilitation of workers by providing FREE HOUSE. On these demands, thousands of textile mill workers came on the roads and streets. Agitations and Morchas were taken out in front of the houses of MPS and MLAs. Forms of struggle like "Rasta Roko" and "Jail Bharo" were also resorted to. This movement was not restricted to Mumbai, it covered various other parts of Maharashtra too.
Most of the textile mill workers had left Mumbai after losing their jobs and settled down at their native places. The scattered textile mill workers got united under the banner of Sarva Sharmik Sanghatana and through their struggle they compelled the government and textile mill owners to provide some of the land for their housing complexes. Sarva Shramik Sanghtana spread this movement throughout Maharashtra from Mumbai to western parts and Konkan region. This struggle led to the construction of 15 thousand houses for textile mill workers. Even Rs. 2 Lakh subsidy has also been announced for the workers by the Govt. But this announcement has not satisfied workers, their demand for free houses for all textile mill workers is yet to be met. The Sanghatana is not going to stop the fight unless and until the demand for rehabilitation and free houses for all textile mill workers is fulfilled.
Now they are planning for agitation along with their families to strengthen this struggle. This struggle is not restricted to textile mill workers alone; rather the Sanghatana has directed it against the anti-worker policies of the government by involving the entire working class in it. Even in rural areas the mill workers have united small farmers against government policies. In the recently held Assembly Elections in Maharashtra, the Sanghtana fought in two constituencies in Mumbai and Kolhapur, with the aim of spreading this new political message among the textile workers. This has influenced some other segments of the working class too.
The state and the capitalists together had almost crushed the textile mill workers, but once again the workers have begun to rise under the banner of the "Sarva Shramik Sanghatana" holding high the Red Flag. Through this struggle they are once again setting up an example for the future working class generations.