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The Worker’s Movement That Achieved Independence 17 Years Before India

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Mayday or international worker’s day is celebrated worldwide on the first of May every year. It came about from the struggles of workers and unions to establish the 8-hour working day. Under the banner of Marxists and socialists, workers all over the world demonstrated for 8-hour working days, and the 1st of May is observed as International Worker’s day to commemorate their struggle.

May Day celebrations in Kandla Port, Gujarat, 2013. (Image Credit: Flickr)

On this day of remembering the strength of united workers, I wanted to talk about a movement during independence that many might not even know about.

The Indian independence movement has often been myopically restricted to Gandhi and Nehru, but the role of the worker, both in movements led by these leaders and in their own union movements, should stand as symbols of resistance to colonial oppression that we should know about.

One such event is the formation of the Solapur Commune in the city of Solapur, Maharashtra. In 1930, the working class of the city rose against British rule and took control of the city and its administration. This became a working-class commune for the people rid of the imperialist British government.

The workers of the city were able to keep the commune alive for a few days before massive repression and draconian martial law was imposed. 4 leaders of this movement, Mallappa Dhanshetty, Shrikisan Sharda, Qurban Husain, and Jagannath Shinde were hanged on January 12th, 1931.

A Timeline

6th May 1930 – After Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest two days prior, the city of Solapur witnessed a hartal to protest Gandhi’s arrest.

7th May 1930 – Workers in two of the mills in Solapur stopped work to strike, the police who went there to ‘control’ the situation were stoned. Crowds attacked the toddy shops in the city on the same day and attempted to burn their contents. However, they were dispersed by the police.

8th May 1930- More workers had ventured out to cut down and burn toddy trees, and the district magistrate along with armed constables went there to find the toddy burning. They arrested 9 men and were taking them towards the city in police lorries but were stopped by a crowd of an estimated 5000 people, who managed to make the police flee.

The crowd then marched towards Manglwar Peth police station, broke into the station, and forced all the policemen in the city of Solapur to flee. 2 policemen were killed in the uprising.

The city of Solapur now had no remnants of British administration. The workers of the city had achieved independence 17 years before the Independence of India.

Solapur was brought under martial law on 12th April, having witnessed independence for 4 days before repression from the British.

Legacy And Impact Of The Workers On The Independence Movement

Solapur was not the first worker’s movement against the British, and it was not the last. But the very fact that all signs of British administration, control, and power could be removed played a huge role in the pre-independence movements in Maharashtra.

From 1943 to 1946, British rule was almost overthrown in the districts of Satara and Sangli in Western Maharashtra, and ‘parallel governments were run by the people. However, the worker’s movement that was the final nail in the coffin for the British came from the Indian Naval Mutiny of 1946.

The revolt of the Indian Naval Ratings started as a hunger strike in Mumbai and spread to several other ports. In Mumbai, the revolting Indian Navy against the British approached both the Congress and the Muslim League for help, but both refused. However, the Communist Party extended active support, where thousands of workers were mobilized to fight in the revolt.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A statue commemorating the uprising in the Naval Uprising Memorial in Colaba, Mumbai.

The working class erected barricaded all were the city of Mumbai to stop British armoured cars dispatched to quell the revolt. According to BT Ranadive, 400 workers and members of the communist party died while supporting the Indian Navy’s revolt.

Much like this, countless workers have lost their lives fighting against British imperialism and neo-imperialism. Their names are not mentioned in our textbooks, and their struggles are not spoken about when we talk about independence. The workers of India have shown that when in unity, they can fight against all forms of oppression, be it in the past, the present, or the future.

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