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A letter sent to Ambedkar by Railway workers of Perambur when he was the Member in charge of Labour in the viceroy’s Executive council. (Picture: Kadhiravan via Facebook)

India celebrated May 1, International Labour Day by remembering Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution and also one of the pioneers in bringing working class reforms in the country. A champion of Dalit rights, Ambedkar put into effect a lot of labour rules when he served on the Defence Advisory Committee and the Viceroy’s Executive Council as Minister for Labour. It was he who brought in the eight hours of work rule in the 7th session of Indian Labour Conference in 1942.

In a letter written by the railway workers of Perambur when Ambedkar was the member in charge of Labour in the Viceroy’s Executive Council, the workers described him ‘a leader of a great community to properly guide the present and future struggles against capitalist exploitation of all sorts of communities and classes existing on false and stupid religious basis.’

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He introduced various measures while in power to raise the standard of living of the workers. He raised the wages of coal mine workers to double the pre-war rates even while facing joint efforts from the British and Indian mine owning class to discredit him as a labour member.

B. R. Ambedkar, a staunch opposer of Brahmanic hegemony and persecution of Dalits and other backward castes in India is known as the ‘Father of Modern India’. ‘Channel Babasaheb Ambedkar’ Community Media has brought out a list of contributions made by Dr. Ambedkar. Apart from the working hours, he also framed many laws for Women Labourers in India. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar believed that caste is not merely the division of Labor but division of labourers based upon the graded inequality.

In his own words, India’s labour problem is different because of the caste system that is in place. ‘In no other country is the division of Labour accompanied by this gradation of labourers. There is also a third point of criticism against this view of the Caste System. This division of Labor is not spontaneous; it is not based on natural aptitudes. Social and individual efficiency requires us to develop the capacity of an individual to the point of competency to choose and to make his own career. This principle is violated in the Caste System in so far as it involves an attempt to appoint tasks to individuals in advance, selected not on the basis of trained original capacities, but on that of the social status of the parents,’ he said.

On May 1, India remembered this visionary who laid the foundation of workers’ fight for their rights and dignity. May 1 is celebrated as International Workers’ Day, also called May Day. It celebrates the achievements of workers and has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.

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