Dr. Ambedkar and Labour
“Labour is not content with securing merely fair conditions of work. What labour wants is fair conditions of life.”
- Dr B R Ambedkar, “Why Indian Labour Is Determined to Win This War”, All India Radio broadcast.
In the year 2020, India was witness to the horrific ‘migrant worker crisis’—labourers pushed out of urban centres within the span of a few hours, due to overnight shutdowns mandated by the government. With limited public transport and no social support, many were forced to undertake a long, arduous and in some instances, fatal journey back home on foot—even as their travails were televised but not remedied. This crisis was followed by the Farmer’s movement—the largest labour movement in history rising against the privatisation of the agrarian chain.
Being witness to these struggles and drawing from personal experiences as a worker in the informal industry and his wife’s struggle with exploitative work conditions, Vikrant developed a series of works exploring Ambedkar’s contributions to the protection of labour—which includes special attention to the safety and welfare of female labour. Working as Labour Minister, Ambedkar instituted the Mines Maternity Benefit Bill in 1928 for women across the country. In 1942, at the Indian Labour Conference, he instituted the 8-hour workday, against the prevailing 14 hours. Crucially, Ambedkar formulated the 1943 Indian Trade Union Bill, leading to the recognition of workers unions. These laws have provided a scaffolding upon which workers continue to demand better conditions of not just work, but life.