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Choice before Labour
Two paths are open before India today, either to introduced the Western principle of “Might is Right” or to uphold the Eastern principle that truth alone conquers, that truth knows no mishap, that the strong and the weak have alike a right to secure justice. The choice is to begin with the labouring class. Should the labourers obtain an increment in their wages by violence, even if that be possible? They cannot resort to anything like violence howsoever legitimate may be their claims. To use violence for securing rights may seem an easy path, but it proves to be thorny in the long run. Those who live by the sword die also by sword. The swimmer often dies by drowning. Look at Europe. No one seems to be happy there, for, not one is contended. The labourer does not trust the capitalist and the capitalist has no faith in labourer. Both have a sort of vigour and strength but even the bulls have it. They fight to the very bitter end. All motion is not progress. We have got no reason to believe that the people of Europe are progressing. Their possession of wealth does not argue the possession of any moral or spiritual qualities. King Duryodhana was a master of untold wealth, but with all that he was a pauper in comparison with Vidura and Sudama. Today the world adores Vidura and Sudama, whereas, Duryodhana’s name is remembered only as a byword for the evil qualities one should shun.
…In the struggle between capital and labour, it may be generally said that more often than not the capitalists are in the wrong box. But when labour comes fully to realize its strength, I know it can become more tyrannical than capital. The mill-owners will have to work on the terms dedicated by labour if the latter could command intelligence of the former. It is clear, however, that labour will never attain to that intelligence. If it does, labour will cease to be labour and become itself the master. The capitalists do not fight on the strength of money alone. They possess intelligence and tact.
The question before us is this: When the labourers, remaining what they are, develop a certain consciousness, what should be there course? It would be suicidal if the labourers rely upon their numbers or brute-force, i.e. violence. By so doing they will do harm to industries in the country. If on the other hand they take their stand on pure justice and suffer in their person to secure it, not only will they always succeed but they will reform their masters, develop industries and both master and men will be as members of one and the same family. A satisfactory solution of the condition of labour must include the following:
(1) The hours of labour must leave the workmen some hours of leisure;
(2) They must get facilities for their own education;
(3) Provision should be made for an adequate supply of milk, clothing and necessary education for their children;
(4) There should be sanitary dwelling for the workmen;
(5) They should be in a position to save enough to maintain themselves during their old age.
None of these conditions is satisfied today. For this both the parties are responsible. The masters care only for the service they get. What becomes of the labourer does not concern them. All their endeavours are generally confined to obtaining maximum service with minimum payment. The labourer on the other hand tries to hit upon all tricks whereby he can get maximum pay with minimum work. The result is that although the labourers get an increment there is no improvement in the work turned out. The relations between the two parties are not purified and the labourers do not make proper use of the increment they get.
A third party has sprung up between these two parties. It has become the labourers’ friend. There is need for such a party. Only to the extent to which this party has disinterested friendship for the labourers can it befriend them.
A time has come now when attempts will be made to use labour as a pawn in more ways than one. The occasion demands consideration at the hands of those that would take part in politics. What will they choose? Their own interest or the service of labour and the nation? Labour stands in sore need of friends. It cannot proceed without a lead. What sort of men give this lead will decide the condition of labour.
Strikes, cessation of work and hartal are wonderful things no doubt, but it is not difficult to abuse them. Workmen ought to organize themselves into strong labour unions, and on no account shall they strike work without the consent of these unions. Strike should not be risked without negotiation with the mill-owners. If the mill-owners resort to arbitration, the principle of Panchayat should be accepted. And once the Pancha are appointed, their decision must be accepted by both the parties alike, whether they like it or not.
Young India, 11-2-‘20
It is my universal experience that as a rule labour discharges its obligations more effectively and more conscientiously than the master who has corresponding obligations towards the labourers. It, therefore becomes necessary for labour to find out how far labour can impose its will on the masters. If we find that we are not adequately paid or housed, how are we to receive enough wages, and good accommodation? Who is to determine the standard of comfort required by the labourers? The best way, no doubt, is that you labourers understand your own rights, understand the method of enforcing your rights and enforce them. But for that you require a little previous training-education.
In my humble opinion labour can always vindicate itself if labour is sufficiently united and self-sacrificing. No matter how oppressive the capitalists may be, I am convinced that those who are connected with labour and guide the labour movement have themselves no idea of the resources that labour can command and which capital can never command. If labour would only understand and recognize that capital is perfectly helpless without labour, labour will immediately come to its own.
Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 1046
We have unfortunately come under the hypnotic suggestion and the hypnotic influence of capital, so that we have come to believe that capital is all in all on this earth. But a moment’s thought would show that labour has at its disposal capital which the capitalists will never possess….There is an English a very potent word, and you have it in French also, all the languages of the world have it-it is “No” and the secret that we have hit upon is that when capital wants labour to say “Yes” labour roars out “No” if it means “No”. And immediately labour comes to recognize that it has got the choice before it of saying “Yes”, when it wants to say “Yes” and “No”, when it wants to say “No”, labour is free of capital and capital has to woo labour. And it would not matter in the slightest degree that capital has guns and even poison gas at its disposal. Capital would still be perfectly helpless if labour would assert its dignity by making good its “No”. Then labour does not need to retaliate but labour stands defiant receiving the bullets and poison gas and still insists upon its “No”. The whole reason why labour so often fails is that instead of sterilizing capital as I have suggested, labour, (I am speaking as a labourer myself) wants to seize that capital and become capitalist, therefore, who is properly entrenched and organized, finding among the labourers also candidates for the same office, makes use of a portion of these to suppress labour. If we really were not under this hypnotic spell, everyone of us, men and women, would recognize this rock-bottom truth without the slightest difficulty.
Young India, 14-1-‘32