Dr. Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar was not only a great jurist, eminent sociologist and economist, but he was also the saviour of the downtrodden as well as the working class. Babasaheb himself was also a labour leader. For many years he lived in the workers’ colony. That is why he had full knowledge of the problems of the workers. At the same time, being a considered economist himself, he also knew the ways to solve those situations. That is why the laws made by him and the reforms made for the workers in the Viceroy’s executive from 1942 to 1946 during the time of the Labor Minister are of very important and fundamental nature. In 1942, when Babasaheb became a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Committee, he had the Labour Department, which included Labour, Labour Laws, Coal Mines, Publications and Public Works.
Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s concern for the rights and welfare of the working class is reflected in the words that he said on September 9, 1943, while delivering a speech on industrialization in front of the plenary, Labor Council,
“Two things are bound to happen in a capitalist parliamentary democracy. Those who work must live in poverty and those who do not work accumulate immense wealth. On the one hand political equality and on the other economic inequality. Food, clothing and shelter, healthy life are not available, and independence does not matter, especially until they can earn their living with dignity. Every worker must be assured of security and a share in the national wealth. ”
His focus was on increasing the value of labour. Apart from this, Babasaheb while inaugurating a departmental meeting of Laboir Officers which was held in the Bombay Secretariat in the first week of December 1945 said,
“Three things are necessary to avoid industrial disputes: – (1) Proper organization, (2) Necessary reforms in law and (3) Fixation of minimum wages of workers. Workers should be recognizing their duties. Employers should also pay proper wages to the workers. At the same time, the government and the labour class should also try diligently to maintain cordial relations with each other.”
Babasaheb had lived in the workers’ colony for a long time. So, he was fully aware of the problems of the workers. Therefore, as the Labor Minister, he made many laws for the welfare of the workers, the Indian Trade Union Act, ESI Act, Industrial Disputes Act, Compensation, 8 Hours of Work, Minimum Wages Act and maternity benefits are the main ones.
Despite the opposition of the Viceroy, he banned women from working in deep mines. He was trying to implement the recommendations of the International Labor Organization sternly. The rights and facilities which the workers obtained with great difficulty in other countries, Dr. Ambedkar during his Labuor Minister’s tenure made laws and provided them to the workers. In fact, most of the labour laws that exist at present were made by Babasaheb only, for which the working class of India will always be indebted to him.
Babasaheb was also trying very hard for the welfare of the Safai workers and organizing them. Babasaheb first organized the Safai workers of the Bombay Municipal Corporation and formed their trade union. He wanted to establish a similar organization in other parts of the country as well and wanted to give it an all-India character. For this purpose, he constituted a two-member committee and asked it to go to different provinces and submit a report after studying the condition of the sanitation workers and applicable laws. It is clear from this how much Babasaheb was trying to get justice for the cleaning workers and to organize them on the lines of other trade unions.
Dr. Ambedkar advised the workers “It is not enough that you limit your struggle to getting a good salary and job, good facilities and bonus. You should also fight to seize political power.
With this aim, he formed the Independent Labor Party in 1936 and won 17 seats in the first election of 1937. Through this, he inspired the working class to get a share in political power.
At present, in the era of globalization and corporatization under the new economic policy, labour laws are being relaxed all over the world. In our country too, the Modi government has relaxed/cancelled many labour laws to attract foreign investment. Working hours are being increased. Wages are being linked to production. A contract system is being implemented in place of regular appointments of workers, which has already been implemented to a large extent. By abolishing 44 different laws, the Modi government has codified them into only 4. Due to this, the rights and protection given to the workers through labour laws will be limited to a great extent.
It should be noted that the entire political system has taken forward these anti-labour, anti-people policies. Capitalist parties will not fight this because they have a consensus on these policies and the leftist parties who oppose it also have very limited strength. In such a situation, there is a need to create a new democratic socialist politics.
The need of today is that the working class itself will have to advance mass politics to build a pro-people political system. This is not possible within the scope of the trade union only. While fighting for their rights, the working class will have to force the government to increase the expenditure on public welfare, strengthen public health, education and ensure people’s livelihood by reorganizing the economy. It will have to mobilize all those oppressed sections of the society including the farmers in favour of its mass politics. Therefore, the message of Dr. Ambedkar for the working class to get a share in political power becomes even more relevant.
SR Darapuri, National President, All India People’s Front