Late-colonial Lahore witnessed the rise of organised workers’ politics with the unionisation of native Indian workers at the Mughalpura railway workshops in 1920. Various ideological tendencies—bearing the imprimatur of the Owenist, Labourite and Communist traditions—began to come together around Mughalpura at this point. However, power struggles gradually led to rifts within the trade-union, rendering the terrain of workers’ politics in Punjab prone to cracks and shifts. Revolution in Reform: Trade-Unionism in Lahore, c. 1920–70 explores these previously unrecognised ambivalences.
Ahmad Azhar questions previous research that have traditionally considered labour politics of inter-war Punjab as mere preludes to Partition. He studies crucial moments: the railway strike of 1920; Mughalpura’s quest for autonomy in the inter-war years; the relation of labour politics with ‘Swaraj’ and the Indian National Congress (1919–47); and the Meerut Conspiracy Case and the Royal Commission on Labour in India.
The author also reconstructs events of the time from the narrative of Mirza Ibrahim, a key worker–militant leader, to analyse the repression faced by workers in the Mughalpura movement under communist hegemony. Through hitherto unused ego documents (mostly in the vernacular) of leaders such as J. B. Miller, M. A. Khan, Bashir Ahmed Bakhtiar and Saif-ur-Rehman, the author brings alive the conflicting aspects of trade-union leadership in a politically charged period in the history of inter-war Punjab, and post-Partition Pakistan.
This fascinating account will be valuable for students and scholars of History, Political Science and Sociology. It will also be of interest to policy-making institutions and think-tanks concerned with labour law and state politics.
Ahmad Azhar is Assistant Professor, Department of Social Sciences, Lahore School of Economics, Lahore, Pakistan.
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