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Titans who built the Left edifice in State

By R.Vijaya Kumar

BANGALORE, APRIL 30. It was on this day 115 years ago that over half-a-million workers struck work in all important cities of the United States demanding an eight-hour working day.

Two days later, on May 3, at Haymarket Square in Chicago, the police perpetrated a bloody act on innocent workers killing 10 and injuring over 200 of them. May 1 was later proclaimed as International Workers' Solidarity Day, although it was first celebrated as an international workers' holiday in 1890, a year after a decision to this effect was taken at the Second International of the IWA (International Working Men's Association).

Thus May 1, 1886, went down in the annals of the international working class movements as the first major demonstration of its solidarity.

In India, May Day was celebrated for the first time in 1923 in Madras by M.Singaravelu Chettiar, described as the first Communist of South India.

At the national level, May Day began to be celebrated from 1927.

Though a semblance of trade union activity was going on in some places in the country, notably the west coast and parts of Bombay-Karnatak areas, it was in the Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) that the seeds of the first communist movement and trade union activity were sown in the erstwhile Mysore State.

The KGF has a unique place in the history of the Left trade union movement in Mysore State. Thanks to M.F.Lavelle, who obtained the exclusive rights for mining in Kolar District in 1873, the mining operations began in full swing in 1875. A little later, the rights were transferred to John Taylor & Sons.

By 1914, the production of gold from these mines was of the value of 21.66 lakh pounds. The workforce included 16,000 underground employees and 10,500 surface workers. What was a barren and desolate stretch of land turned into a thriving settlement of over 50,000 people in a short time.

The number of miners swelled in the next 15 years. By 1930, the KGF had the largest concentration of working class in the whole of Asia. Dr. Colin P.Simmons, a noted economist of the University of Salford in the U.K., described KGF workforce of that time as the first ``genuinely mass proletariat labour force.''

But the socio-economic conditions of the ``largest proletarian labour force'' were pathetic. With meagre wages and living in thatched huts, the miners led a miserable life, often leading to violent outbursts at the managements of the mining companies.

The violent incidents during 1928-29 resulted in the police firing on the workers, and the then Dewan, Sir Mirza Ismail, appointed M.A.Srinivasan as special officer to submit a report on the economic and social condition of the workers.

Srinivasan's report submitted in 1930 revealed the miserable plight of the workers.

It was at this time that a young man from Madras, full of enthusiasm and a deep dedication to the Communist ideals, set foot in the mining areas and sowed the seeds of Communist trade union movement among the workers.

He organised the first Leftist trade union in KGF comprising workers of 13 mining companies, including four major ones such as Mysore Kine, Champion Reef, Oorgaum and Nandidurg Mines, spread over an area of 13,725 acres.

An amiable man with a pleasant temperament, K.S.Vasan was able to build a strong workers' union. His simplicity endured him to the masses.

It was due to his struggle and sacrifice that the workers were able to get justice from the English company, John Taylor & Sons. Soon, V.M.Govindan from Kerala and M.C.Narasimhan from Bangalore joined K.S.Vasan and helped strengthen the trade union movement. Described as the ``Red triad,'' the Vasan-Govindan-Narasimhan combine succeeded in securing several rights and concessions, including wage revision and other amenities to the workers.

Red flags, banners, buntings and endless meetings and processions became the order of the day culminating in the 70-day strike in 1945 which shook the State.

The Communist-led trade union activities reached their pinnacle between 1945 and 1952, and the first general election held that year catapulted K.S.Vasan into the wider political arena which opened up new avenues for the labour leader to bargain for more concessions for the workers.

Being a Double-Member Constituency in the first and second general elections, in 1952 and 1957 respectively, KGF had the unique distinction of electing two MLAs, from the general and reserved seats. While in the first general election, K.S.Vasan (general) and P.M.Swamidorai (reserved) represented KGF, M.C.Narasimhan and C.M.Arumugham were elected for the general and reserved seats respectively in the second elections.

Things were not quiet elsewhere. In 1940, the Jana Jagruthi Sangha was actively involved among the workers in Bangalore City. The movement was led by C.B.Monnaiah and N.D.Shankar. The sangha became a union with the arrival of M.L.Upadhayaya and N.L.Upadhayaya from Bombay. It was thus that the Communist-led trade unions started their activities in and around Bangalore City.

Soon, a group of youths was formed to mobilise the working class. It was at this time that Kulukunda Shivaraya (Niranjana), S.Suryanarayana Rao, M.C.Narasimhan and M.S.Krishnan joined the movement. By 1950, the movement took a firm root, and trade unions began to sprout all over the State.

While the list of such dedicated men is endless, mention should be made of at least some of the well-known ones. They include Dinakar Desai (Uttara Kannada), B.V.Kakkilaya, Shanthan, Monappa Shetty and Simson Soama (Dakshina Kannada), Shankarappa, Suresh, Pampapathi, H.K.Ramachandrappa and V.R.Anantha Thirtha (Davangere); Somasundara Sharma, T.Venkatram, K.Venkatram and Seshadri (Mysore); and A.J.Mudhol and Mahadev (Hubli).

In Bangalore itself, thanks to the efforts of the Upadhayayas and Niranjana, almost all the giant public sector undertakings and several private units came under the sway of the Leftist trade unions.

Those who are still actively engaged in the trade union activities include Mr. S.Suryanarayana Rao, State Secretary (CPI- M), Mr. M.C.Venkataramu, State Secretary, CPI, Mr. H.V.Anantha Subba Rao, General Secretary, AITUC, Mr. M.C.Narasimhan, and Mr. G.N.Nagaraj.

Leaders who did not belong to the Left movement but who worked for the cause of the working class included K.T.Bashyam and Mr. K.Sriramulu, who later became a minister.

The credit for bringing a sea change in the socio-economic conditions of the employees of the Bangalore City Corporation (now Bangalore Mahanagara Palike) should go to Mr. I.P.D.Salappa, Mr. D.S.Sriramulu and Mr. K.V.Vasanth.

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