Today, let us understand Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s contribution to labour welfare in 10 examples. These are taken from a variety of sources, but primarily from BAWS volumes. The quoted portions are taken directly from the mentioned sources, while the additional commentary is made by me without the quotes.
Babasaheb & Labour- 1
What Babasaheb Ambedkar did to abolish the Khoti system, which was primarily prevalent in the Konkan region:
“Under the Khoti system the Khoti was obliged to collect revenues from the tenants and to pay a certain part of it to the Government. Once such payment was made the Khoti enjoyed unrestricted freedom to do whatever he liked to the tenants. The khoti generally misused the freedom and subjected the tenants to all kinds of exactions. The result was that the tenants were reduced to the state of abject poverty. This agitated the tenants. They demanded the abolition of the unjust system of Khoti. The relation between the Khots and the tenants were so strained that three Khots were murdered in the presidency, and therefore, Dr. Ambedkar held that, it was imperative to abolish it.
Thus, by introducing the Bill to abolish the Khoti system Ambedkar sought to put an end to the exploitation of the actual tillers of the land and establish a direct Government relationship between them.
In the Bill he also made the provision of paying reasonable compensation to the Khoti. Dr. Ambedkar’s bill on the abolition of the Khoti system, thus, proved to be a forerunner to the land reforms legislation in the post independence India” .
~ B.L. Mungekar
Babasaheb & Labour- 2
‘A labourer not only wants equality but he needs liberty also, it is really intolerable and detrimental where system proposes equality but denies liberty. The constitution in which equilibrium, of the both is established, it is the ideal constitution for the laborers.’
~ Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar
Babasaheb & Labour- 3
Babasaheb was the first to analyse in clear economic terms how British colonisation has been exploitative. His research thesis spoke of the same topic. Following are the words of Prof Edwin Cannan, his research supervisor, who disagreed with Babasaheb yet gave him due credit, in following words:
” … An old teacher like myself learns to tolerate the vagaries of originality, even when they resist severe examination such as that of which Mr. Ambedkar speak. His study of the Provincial Finances in British India is an authentic and original piece of research work, which for the first time raises the issues of British exploitation …”
Cavnan Edwin “Foreword” in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, on Economics, Vol. 6, p. 33, Govt. of Maharashtra, Education Department.
Babasaheb & Labour- 4
What did Babasaheb do for the right of workers to strike?
The ‘Industrial Disputes Bill’ sought to practically take away a worker’s right to strike. Babasaheb vehemently opposed this. Following are snippets from him:
“Now, Sir, it has been said that there is no such thing as the right to strike. My reply is that this statement can come from a man who really does not understand what a strike is. If members are prepared to accept my meaning of the word “strike” as being nothing more than a breach of contract, then I submit that a strike is simply another name for the right to freedom ; it is nothing else than the right to the freedom of one’s services on any terms that one wants to obtain.
And once you concede the right to freedom, you necessarily concede the right to strike, because, as I have said, the right to strike is simply another name for the right to freedom.”
“To penalise a strike, therefore, I contend, is nothing short of making the worker a slave. For what is slavery? As defined in the constitution of the United States, slavery is nothing else but involuntary servitude. And this is involuntary servitude. This is contrary to ethics ; this is contrary to jurisprudence.”
~ Volume 2, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches BAWS
Babasaheb & Labour- 5
Babasaheb’s writing on how crony-caste based industries operate in India, with the example of mills, and his proposed solution:
“We have mills in Bombay City managed by Parsis. There are mills there managed by Gujaratis. There are mills in Bombay which are managed by Jews or by Europeans. I visited all these mills in my younger days when some members of my family were working there. I used to carry their bread to the mills where they were working.
Recently also I visited some of the mills though not often times. The most surprising thing about all these mills is that they have been made the heaven for the cousins of the Managers. Hundreds of useless people are employed in higher grades simply because they are related to the managing agents in some way. You go to a Parsi mill, you will see hundreds of Parsis employed whether they are wanted or not. Go to a mill managed by Gujaratis. You will see hundreds of Gujaratis employed whether they are wanted or not. Go to a mill managed by Jews. You will see hundreds of Jews employed, whether they are wanted or not.
The best part of the earning of the workers are taken away by the managers in order to feed these people who are employed in the mills, whether they are efficient or not, or whether they are wanted or not. All these people who are controlling the industry float the capital and bloat it up by all sorts of paper transactions. When the worker says that he gets less wages, the man controlling the industry says. “It is my capital”.
All this is bogus capital, stock exchange capital, bolstered up by speculators. A good part of the earning of the industry is swallowed by these people. From the little balance that is left, the workers are asked to eke out their existence. If the Honourable Prime Minister wants to introduce equity, let him make the workers’ wages the first charge on the profits of industry.
I do not understand why the mill owners or, for the matter of that, any owner of any industry, should not be required by law to present his budget annually. Government is required to present its budget every year; annually we get a budget of Government in which Government say how many Ministers are employed, how many chaprasis are allowed to the Ministers, how many superintendents are there in departments, how many clerks, this, that and the other. This House is in a position to understand whether the establishment is excessive or not This House gets to know whether the money is spent properly or not. Why is it that a millowner or, for the matter of that, the owner of an industry, who gets his earning, not entirely by his capital but also by the sweat of another man, be not compelled to give the details of his management? This is a very fair demand to make. The advantage would be this. Once a budget of that kind is presented by the owner of an industry, the workers would be in a position to realise and scrutinise whether the balance that is left to be divisible among the labourers is fair or whether the employer has taken an undue portion of the total profit. What is the use of having a conciliation board and asking the employers to produce their account books when the employee is not placed in a position to scrutinise what is really the state of affairs ? If the procedure I suggest is adopted, I am sure about it that there will be less labour troubles, the conciliation would be more effective and there will be more industrial peace. If the Honourable the Prime Minister wants to treat labour and capital on a footing of equality in the sense in which I have suggested, namely, that there should be equity, then there is no basis for equity in the provisions of this Bill.”
~ BAWS Vol 2.., in his opposition to Industrial Disputes Bill
Babasaheb & Labour- 6
Babasaheb made two firm demands. He said that Employers and Owners must disclose the budget to every employee, so that the labourers and employees may judge if their compensation is fair or not.
Secondly, he demanded that Government should stop taking side of industry owners and employers whenever there is a strike. Because he concluded strike as a basic necessary condition of freedom.
This is how he ends his speech against that Bill:
“Government in any dispute is always on the side of employers. This is clear from the use of the police Government makes in strikes. The police force is maintained out of public fund, out of the taxes we all bear. It is intended for the benefit of all. Surely, no Government is entitled to use this police force merely because a strike by the workers results in a breach of peace. What is further necessary is to show that the breach of peace, has been caused by one particular section of the industry. If the breach of peace is caused by some unreasonable demand made by labour, you may be justified in using police force against them. If on the other hand the breach of peace is broken by something which has been done by the employer which does not stand to reason, and which is contrary to justice and equity, then Government have no right to use the police force against the workers.
Real equality between employers and employees can be brought about only by incorporating these two provisions. The employer must be compelled to disclose his budget and the Government must cease to use the police force against the workers merely because there is breach of peace. Without this there can be no equality between capital and labour as to bargaining power. Will you do it? If you do this, you will lose case with the employers. If you don’t, you cannot be the friend of labour.
The Bill as it is, I am sure about it, should not be passed. It only handicaps labour. Labour may not now know what this Bill does. But when the Bill comes into operation and the labourer stands face to face with the Bill he will say that this Bill is bad, bloody and a brutal Bill.
Sir, I cannot be a party to it.”
(Followed by applause too)
~ Volume 2 BAWS, his speech against the existing draft of the Industrial Disputes Bill
Babasaheb & Labour- 7
Please compare those who think labour exists independent of social context, and the following 3 instances where Babasaheb specifically used labour to analyse Indian society.
I. Many acads of social sciences today spend tons of time in caricaturing caste system as a behavioral problem. They do this by stripping it whole. Sometimes they club it in same category as superstition, falsely claiming that “caste is just an irrational belief”.
Here is Babasaheb explaining untouchability in terms of economic vested interests and exploitation of labour:
“Why does reason fail to bring about social justice? The answer is that reason works so long as it does not come into conflict with one’s vested interest. Where it comes into conflict with vested interests, it fails. Many Hindus have a vested interest in untouchability. That, vested interest may take the shape of feeling of social superiority or it may take the shape of economic exploitation such as forced labour or cheap labour, the fact remains that Hindus have a vested interest in untouchability. It is only natural that that vested interest should not yield to the dictates of reason. The Untouchables should therefore know that there are limits to what reason can do.” (Volume 4, BAWS)
II. Seeing labour, wealth, and education as necessary rights for everyone.
“Caste devitalizes a man. It is a process of sterilization. Education, wealth, labour are all necessary for every individual if he is to reach a free and full manhood. Mere education without wealth and labour is barren. Wealth without education and wealth is brutal. Each is necessary to every one. They are necessary for the growth of a man.” (Volume 3, BAWS)
III. In our attempts to glorify and re-emphasise importance of labour, we should ask why is labour (and thus, labourers) looked at with contempt in the first place:
“The second mischief it [caste system] does is to dissociate intelligence from work and create contempt for labour. The theory of the Caste is that a Brahmin who is permitted to cultivate his intellect is not permitted to labour, indeed is taught to look down upon labour. ” (BAWS, Volume 3)
Babasaheb & Labour- 8
“Nationalism, a Means to an End. Labour’s creed is internationalism. Labour is interested in nationalism only because the wheels of democracy—such as representative Parliaments, responsible Executive, constitutional conventions, etc.—work better in a community united by national sentiments. Nationalism to Labour is only a means to an end. It is not an end in itself to which Labour can agree to sacrifice what it regards as the most essential principles of life.”
~ from Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Broadcast
on All India Radio, Bombay in December, 1942.
Babasaheb & Labour- 9
The following excerpt was written by Babasaheb on a separate sheet of paper. It was published as Miscellaneous Notes in the 12th volume:
“In a society where there is exemption from restraint, a secured release from obstruction, in a society where every man is entitled not only to the means of being, but also of well-being, where no man is forced to labour so that another may abound in luxuries, where no man is deprived of his right to cultivate his faculties and powers so that there may be no competition with the favoured, where there is emphasis of reward, where there is goodwill towards all…”
Babasaheb & Labour- 10
In a heated and recorded discussion, part of the 15th Volume:
Shri H. P. Saksena (Uttar Pradesh) to Babasaheb: “God save your soul.”
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: “Do not pray for my soul. I have no soul. I am a Buddhist. Nobody need take the trouble of praying for my soul. I do not believe in God. I have no soul.”
after a while,
Shri B. B. Sharma: “Who is your God ?”
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: “To me the people are God.”
Gaurav Somwanshi is a social activist, writer, and independent researcher. He has written in ‘Hatred in the Belly’, along with many other articles in Round Table India.