In December 2000 when I first shifted to Hyderabad, the Confederation of Indian Trade Unions held its conference here. I met many trade unionists from all over the country and a few from other countries too. At one of these meetings I was asked about the history of the trade union movement in Hyderabad and realised that I knew next to nothing, despite my grandfather, Alam Khundmiri, having being one of those who initiated such work here in the 1930s and 1940s when the Nizam ruled over these lands.
Over the next few months I went about identifying some of the trade unionists who had lived and worked in Nizam’s Hyderabad, met them and interviewed some. What emerged was an amazing story of trade union activity in that period, much of it forgotten by present-day activists. The information I had collected was entirely oral history but I was told there would be documents available in the State Archives as well as scattered over different trade union offices and activists all over Telangana. I decided to try to get some funding for this research, even wrote out a brief note for this and tabulated much of the information about trade unions that I had heard from the old comrades.
Unfortunately, I did not get any money but did end up getting a job with The Hindu. Over the years, moving houses, changing computers and shifting jobs I had lost the notes and write-up on the trade union movement in Nizam’s Hyderabad. A few days back I discovered them in soft copy hidden under a false file name. Why would I ever do that, I do not know but what I present to you is a small but riveting glimpse into trade union activity in one of the most repressive environments of that time. It is well to remember that much of this activity also contributed to the strength of the Telangana peasants’ armed struggle in 1946-48.
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The Hyderabad State ruled by the Nizam was one of the first Native States of pre-independent India to witness industrialisation of some sort. It was also perhaps the first Native State to witness the formation of openly communist groups, the first of which was named Comrades Association and formed in 1938. Most of the time activists of these groups had to remain underground and all suspected communist activity was quickly banned and persecuted. But many of these early communists managed to establish contacts with workers in the different industries and services of the State and formed Trade Unions in many of them.
Those industries and services that had Trade Unions before the merger of the Hyderabad State with the Indian Union are listed in the table below.
The various trade unions of the city were organised into one body – the All Hyderabad Trade Union Congress which was affiliated to the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). The revolutionary poet, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, was its first president and Raj Bahadur Gour was its first general secretary. They, along with Linga Reddy, Lakshmi Das, Sanamurthy, Parsa Satyanarayana, T.V. Vitthal, Syed Kasim, Devraj, Jawad Rizwi, Alam Khundmiri and others, formed the core of the communist led trade union movement in Hyderabad State. After the “Police Action”, which led to the integration of Nizam’s territories with the rest of India, the Communist Party of India (CPI) went underground for some time and so did almost all the trade union leaders mentioned above.
It was at this time that the communists lost control of many of these unions, which eventually came under the sway of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), both of which were formed in the Hyderabad State areas after the Police Action. It appears that in the pre-independence era, only the AITUC was active.
There was no law about industrial disputes and their resolution in Hyderabad State. There was only something of an Industrial Disputes Order by the Nizam, which specifically prohibited trade unions. Whenever trade union leaders went to meet the labour officer, he would refuse to recognise their right to represent the workers. This made it near impossible to organise negotiations with the employers or the government. This non-recognition of trade unions also seems to have been the primary cause for the absence of any other workers’ organisation, apart from the communist led ones. On the other hand, this policy did not allow the State or the owners to play one trade union against the other, which became very common after Independence, when INTUC and HMS affiliated trade unions emerged in almost all the industries listed in the table below.
Trade union activity was very difficult during the Nizam’s time. Frequent arrests, torture, externment from Nizam’s territories and various other forms of unofficial harassment were common and it was almost impossible to organise strikes. The most frequent methods of mobilising and showing workers opinions were mass representations to the authorities and owners, and sometimes there were public gatherings, rallies and demonstrations. These were, almost without exception, dealt with severely by the Nizam’s police which sought to crush any open collective activity by the workers. Therefore, the trade union activists gave a lot of importance to individual meetings with workers, political education through meetings in small groups and other campaigns which were often semi-secret. Not many written documents were kept and those that existed were often confiscated and destroyed in the frequent arrests, searches and confiscations by the police.
This information and that contained in the table below is based on preliminary interviews conducted with Raj Bahadur Gour, Jawad Rizwi, Parsa Satyanarayana and Ali Akhtar in January and February, 2001.
Objectives of the Project
The proposed project attempts three things. One, the recording of oral histories and other testimonies of the Trade Union movement in the erstwhile Hyderabad State from persons who were Trade Union activists, officers of the Labour Department and other government agencies of the period and ordinary workers in these industries. Two, indexing all the sources in the Andhra Pradesh State Archives relating to the history of the working class in Hyderabad State. Three, identifying, indexing and wherever possible, copying documents available with Trade Unions listed above relating to activities of the pre-independence period.
— — List of Industries with Trade Unions in Hyderabad State — —
|Name of Industry||Owner||Manufactures/ Services||Trade Union Status|
|Azamjahi Cotton Mills, Warangal.||Nizam’s Trust||Textiles||Led initially by Ramanathan, who was jailed subsequently|
|Mehboobshahi Textile Mills, Gulbarga||Nizam’s Trust||Textiles||Formed by Sreenivas Giri|
|Osmanshahi Cotton Mills, Nanded,||Nizam’s Trust||Textiles||Formed by Nagapurkar|
|Spinning and Weaving Company, Hyderabad||Private Sector||Textiles||Some organisation but no details|
|Purani Girni,||some baniya of Secundrabad||Textiles||Some organisation but no details|
|Cotton Textile Mill (name unknown), Aurangabad||Private Sector||Textiles||Some organisation but no details|
|Ramgopal Mills, Hyderabad||Private Sector||Textiles||Some organisation but no details|
|Artificial Silk factory/ mill in Sirpur Kagaznagar,||Private Sector||Textiles||Some organisation but no details|
|DBR Textile Mills, Hyderabad||Diwan Bahadur Ram Gopal||Textiles||Some organisation but no details|
|Associated Cement Company, Shahabad||Private Sector||Cement||Some organisation but no details|
|Allwyn Engineering Works, Hyderabad||Allauddin Tajir||Small tools, engineering products later small arms under Nizam’s orders.||Very active, formed by Alam Khundmiri, later went to INTUC|
|Singareni Mines||Hyderabad State||Coal||Formed by T.V. Vitthal, Parsa Satyanarayana, later led by Raj Bahadur Gour|
|Ramagundam Mines||Hyderabad State||Coal||Formed by T.V. Vitthal, Parsa Satyanarayana, later led by Raj Bahadur Gour|
|Bellampally Mines||Hyderabad State||Coal||Formed by T.V. Vitthal, Parsa Satyanarayana, later led by Raj Bahadur Gour|
|Vazir Sultan Tobacco Company, Hyderabad||Vazir Sultan||Charminar brand of cigarettes||Very active, strong organisation, forefront of Trade Union movt. Later went into the control of Somayajulu, HMS.|
|Golcunda Cigarette Company, Hyderabad||Abdul Sattar||Golcunda Brand of cigarettes||Weak and ill organised. Dependent on VST union.|
|Railroad||Hyderabad State||Trains in Nizam’s territories||Registered in Secundrabad, British territory, heavily persecuted in Hyderabad State. Organised the workers of the Nizam railways|
|Government Press||Hyderabad State||Government Printing Jobs||Formed by Lakshmi Narayan, independent Trade Unionist, but many AITUC activists too participated in this union.|
|Electricity Supply Department||Hyderabad State||Electricity||Formed by Makhdoom Mohiuddin, went into the hands of socialists (B.S. Mahadev Singh, Govindachari) when the CPI went underground.|
|Water Works||Hyderabad State||Water Supply||Formed by Makhdoom Mohiuddin, went into the hands of socialists (B.S. Mahadev Singh, Govindachari) when the CPI went underground.|
|Nizam State Roadways||Hyderabad State also some private interests||Road Transport||Led by Syed Kasim since formation, died down when AITUC went underground.|
|Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad||Hyderabad State||City Administration, Garbage Collection, Sewage||Formed by Lakshmi Das, mainly organised the lower ranks of MCH employees, like waste collectors, sewage workers, and other ‘menial’ jobs|
|Hyderabad Steel Company||Small scale Private,||Iron and Steel rollers, other products||Small union, not well organised.|
|Leather Industries||Private Sector||Various leather products for consumer use||Workers were organised not by individual workshops but by the area, since almost all these units were located in Musheerabad, Hyderabad city.|
|Deccan Button Factory||Salamatullah||Buttons, later converted into a gun factory under orders of the Nizam||Weak union, workers were organised not by individual workshops but by the area, since many small button manufacturing units were located in Musheerabad, Hyderabad city.|
|Beedi Manufacture||Private Sector||Beedis||Workers were organised not by individual workshops but by the area, since almost all these units were located in Musheerabad, Hyderabad city.|
|Road Construction||Hyderabad State with private contractors||Road Construction||Formed by Lakshmi Das and Devraj, pretty successful boasted of a membership of more than 5000|
|Building Construction||Private Contractors, etc.||Houses and other Buildings||Union same as above|
|Hotel and Restaurants||Private Sector||Boarding and Lodging||Weak disorganised, never able to mobilise many workers|