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  • Drishti Hirani

History and Evolution of Trade Unions in India

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

The country's labor unions have taken the lead in organizing and educating the workforce, improving their human resource capabilities.


A trade union is an organization of professionals, craftsmen, and employees formed to safeguard their interests, working conditions, and wages and thwart anti-worker policies of management and government. India’s trade union movement and the history of trade unions in India have started from nada and are still evolving.

History of Trade Unions in India:

The history of trade unions in India primarily started in the concluding months of 1900. Not only is the history inspiring but reflects how poorly the laborers were treated and how now the scenario is entirely different. This was also the time when the Industrial Development movement was gaining importance parallelly to the trade union movement. It can be bifurcated into 6 timelines-

• Pre-1918

• 1918 to 1924

• 1925 to 1934

• 1935 to 1938

• 1939 to 1946

• Post-1947


Two of the first mills to set up in India were jute and cotton. After these mills started, a bulk of other industries were set up. More the number of industries, the more the number of workers employed. Ignoring how crucial the workers were, the payment made to them was disproportional to their importance. The revolution seen in this era was that even women and children started working and providing for the livelihood of the family. Various leaders and philanthropists recognized how poorly these workers were being treated and started their individual movements to improve conditions. N.M. Lokhande, a manufacturing worker, organized a labor convention in Bombay in 1884. Abolishing the dismal state and position of factory workers, social reformer Sorabjee Shahpur Jee Bengali spearheaded a movement in Bombay in 1855 that is credited with establishing the Indian labor movement. But everything moved along very slowly. In 1878, the Brahmo Samaj established the 'Working Men’s Mission' in Calcutta. It organized labor classes to educate the workers to prevent their exploitation.

1918 to 1924:

This era marked the beginning of the organization of these trade unions. The first organized Trade Union in India the Madras Labour Union was established in 1918. the establishment of the International Labour Organization in the year of 1919 required Indian representatives and Indian National Congress and AITUC were the ones to do that of which Lala Lajpat Rai was the President. Other organizations like the Bengal Trade Unionist Federation and the Central Labour Board, Mumbai were also formed at that time.

1925 to 1934:

This era was marked by increasing militancy and a revolutionary approach. It also saw multiple split-ups in the movement like the AITUC split up and further formed organizations like National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and the All-India Red Trade Union Congress (AIRTUC). Legislative measures such as the Trade Unions Act, of 1926 and the Trade Disputes Act, of 1929 propelled the growth of trade union associations, allowing rights in exchange of obligations.

1935 to 1938:

In this period, trade unions were seen uniting for the first time. This was because the society was facing the Great Economic Depression and workers were being paid in peanuts. In 1935, AIRTUC merged with AITUC.

1939 to 1946:

World War 2 further deteriorated the conditions of workers and during this time of lows, the trade unions grew their unity even more. They knew that they needed to stick together for their collective welfare. Legislations like the Industrial Employment Act, of 1946 and the Bombay Industrial Relations Act, of 1946 contributed to strengthening the trade union movement.

Post 1947:

INTUC was formed in May 1947 under the assistance of Sardar Vallabhai. Rapid growth in a number of trade unions was witnessed. Hind Mazdoor Sabha was formed in 1948. Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh was founded in 1955.


The country's labor unions have taken the lead in organizing and educating the workforce, improving their human resource capabilities. Their ongoing efforts have been crucial in fostering cohesion and, as a result, supporting the nation's economic progress. The evolution of trade unions is one of the most inspiring journeys. It shows how workers have gone from being treated as slaves to being a crucial part of our economy.


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