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THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. V - THE VOICE OF TRUTH > Part II- Section VIII : Labour Relations > The rights and duties of labour


51. The rights and duties of labour

You must consider every labourer as equal with you and as your blood-brother. If you can reach that state, you will at once understand what a great power you can be for your good and for the good of the country. I would expect you to contribute to this cause of self-purification by giving up intoxicating drinks and drugs, carrion and beef-eating, gambling and the incurring of debts. And if you have in your midst Musalman labourers also, you must deal and live with them on terms of affection and absolute equality. You ought to take a personal interest in the work which you may be doing. Whilst you have a perfect right to demand from your employers good treatment, adequate wages and decent conveniences, it is expected of you that you will render poorer, honest service for the wages that you get. If you will only think a little, you will find that, by reason of your being employed as labourers in any individual concern, you become part-proprietors of that concern, precisely as are those who invest money in that concern. Labour, as a matter of fact, is as much money as metallic coin. If some put their money in any particular concern, you put your labour in it. Just as without money your labour would be useless, so also all the money in the world would be perfectly useless without labour. Therefore, you must take pride in working for the concern as if it were your own. Thus, while on the one hand you will be asserting your rights as part-proprietors, on the other, you will render full service by working honesty.

Harijan, 2-2-34, p. 6


I entertain great respect for the dignity of labour that I have thrown in my lot with the labourers and for many, many years now I have lived in their midst like them, laboring with my hands and with my feet. In laboring with your bodies you are simply following the law of your being, and there is not the slightest reason for you to feel dissatisfied with your lot. On the contrary, I would ask you to regard yourselves as trustees for the nation for which you are laboring. A nation may do without its millionaires and without capitalists, but a nation can never do without its labour. But there is one fundamental distinction between your labour and my labour. You are laboring for someone else. But I consider that I am laboring for myself. Then I am my own master. And in a natural state we should all find ourselves our own masters. But such a state of things cannot be reached in a day. It therefore becomes a very serious question for you to consider how you are to conduct yourselves as labourers serving others. Just as there is no shame in being a labourer for oneís self, so also is there no shame in laboring for others.

But it becomes necessary to find out the true relationship between master and servant. What are your duties and what are your rights? It is simple to understand that your right is to receive higher wages for your labour. And it is equally simple to know that your duty is to work to the best of your ability for the wage you receive. And 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 wages, and the standard of comfort required by the labourers? The best way, no doubt, is that you labourers understand you own rights, understand the method of enforcing your own rights and enforce them. But for that you require a little previous training - education. You have been brought to a central point from the various parts of the country and find yourselves congregated together. But you find that you are not getting enough, you are not properly housed. I therefore venture to suggest to those who are leading you and advising you that their first business is to guide you not by giving you a knowledge of letters but of human affairs and human relations. I make this suggestion respectfully and in all humility because mu survey of labour in India is so far as I have been able to undertake it and my long experience of conditions of labour in South Africa lead me to the conclusion that in a large majority of cases leaders consider that they have to give labour the knowledge of the three Rís. That undoubtedly is a necessity of the case. But it is to be preceded by a proper knowledge of your own rights and the way of enforcing them. And in conducting many a strike I have found that it is possible to give this fundamental education to the labourers within a few days.

Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, (4th Edn.), p. 1045