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A love of labour

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C. Gouridasan Nair

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The history of modern Kerala is as much the history of its culture and society as the movement of the working class and its struggles for better living conditions for the toiling masses. It is at once an inspiring saga of struggles and successes and a history of fractious trade unionism, domination of trade unions by power structures much beyond the control of the working populace, of remarkable gains and shameful surrenders.

Anybody trying to document the history of the working class in Kerala must have the detachment of a seer to look with empathy and a great sense of amazement the wonderful course that the trade union movement in Kerala has taken over the last nearly a century. K. Ramachandran Nair, Professor of Economics, has come out with a veritable magnum opus of our times titled `The History of Trade Union Movement in Kerala' running into 650-pages of magazine size.

The book, published by the Kerala Institute of Labour and Employment (KILE) that functions under the State Labour Department, is a historical narrative of the trade union movement in Kerala drawing exhaustively on the reminiscences of trade union leaders, many of who are no more. Prof. Nair interviewed 195 trade union leaders, the result being both a goldmine of information on the vicissitudes of the working class movement as also precious archival material containing the voices that roused an entire generation to the path of struggles for their rights. Clearly, this is the first attempt of its kind in the country, something that has an added significance at a time when any talk about labour and its concerns draws critical smirks from the evangelists of neo-liberalism.

In a very real sense, Prof. Nair began working on this project in the early 1960s, almost four decades before the Labour Department asked him to take up the job, as a researcher under his mentor Prof. V.R. Pillai. Subsequently, he drew inspiration from stalwarts of the labour scene such as R. Sugathan, P.N. Krishna Pillai and K.V. Surendranath. He was also inspired by the five-volume `Viplavasmaranakal' (Reminiscences of Revolution) by Puthuppally Raghavan that has documented the happenings on the working class front till 1964. My book, Prof. Nair says, may open up controversies. "Some statements in the documented narrative may create likes and dislikes, since some veterans in the movement had really opened their heart to the author when audio-recording their reminiscences," Prof. Nair says in his preface to the book that traces in near-exhaustive detail the political awakening of Kerala since the 1890s, the birth of trade unions in different parts of what later became Kerala, the formation and fortunes of unions in various industries and the situation as it obtains today, a veritable love of labour.

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