A Nuanced History of Madras’ Working Class

First published in the Economic and Political Weekly.

The Making of the Madras Working Class by Dilip Veeraraghavan (New Delhi: Left Word ), 2013; pp 358, Rs 750.

Abhishek Shaw (abhishek@epw.in). Chandrika Radhakrishnan (vchandrikar@gmail.com) is an independent researcher and editor of Thozhilalar Koodam (Workers’ Space, www.tnlabour.in), a blog dedicated to reporting and documenting labour issues.

The little-known history of the first organised labour unions of India, formed between 1918 and 1939, and the role they played in the formation of a working-class consciousness and the struggle for Independence are vividly described in The Making of the Madras Working Class by Dilip Veeraraghavan. This book was first written as a dissertation titled “The Rise and Growth of the Labour Movement in the City of Madras and Its Environs, 1918-1939” by Veeraraghavan, who submitted it to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras in 1987.

Published posthumously (in 2009), it is a meticulous historical account of the period and is an inspiration to students of history, as well as visually disabled students.

The book takes us back to a period in India’s history which has largely been associated with the Indian National Congress and the struggle for freedom. Veeraraghavan, however, narrates a detailed and nuanced history of the working people of Madras, with insights into the processes of negotiations between workers, labour unions, nationalist leaders, factory owners and the colonial state. The accounts in the book are relevant to the workers’ movements even today. Read on here…

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