Singaravelar was the First Labour Leader in India who participated in various labour agitations.
He was also the first person to celebrate Labour Day or May Day in India (infact in Asia) in 1923.
He founded the "Labour Kisan Party" which was started by him on 1st May 1923.
He was the Forerunner the Midday Meal Scheme for school children. He started this scheme after he was elected as a member of Madras Corporation in 1925.
He also published 2 Newspapers - "Labour Kisan Gazette" and "Thozhilalar" for the welfare of the labourers.
First Labour Leader In India :
Singaravelar was the first person to establish a labour union in India. Keeping the economic freedom in mind, he established the first labour union in India "Chennai Labour Union". This was the first labour union in India. The other unions organized by him were the M.S.M. Railway Workers Union. Nagapattinam Railway Employees Union and Coimbatore Labour Union.
When the Indian National Congress met in Gaya, he participated on behalf of the workers as a representative of a massive organization that was interested in the welfare of the world. He spoke in favour of labour legislation and felt that the labour movement in India must be a part of the congress movement. He pointed out in his speech that the country has failed to make use of the workers at achieving the goal of independence. He suggested that the Congress should lead the workers in a national level on the basis of the Non-violent Non Cooperation movement.
"It is not possible to shake the British Government without resorting to a strike at the national level. Therefore it is necessary approach the workers personally and make Trade Unions a part of the Congress" he added.
The Aim of the workers is independence; it means independence in politics, business and economics.
Forerunner of May Day Celebrations in India :
The first person to celebrate Labour Day or May Day in India (infact in Asia) was Singaravelar following his example; May Day is celebrated all over India.
Earlier, May Day was celebrated first in USA on May 1st, 1888 and a massive rally organized. All the speakers demanded that workers should not work more than eight hours a day. The Capitalists who heard this shot many workers. The day on which workers were killed by capitalists is being celebrated as Labour Day since then. This is the history and significance of May Day.
Singaravelar made arrangements to celebrate May Day in two places in 1923. One meeting was held at the beach opposite to the high court Which he presided over the meeting. The other meeting was held at the Triplicance beach. Singaravelar said that May Day is celebrated only by workers and hoped that the workers would get power after this great struggle and contribute to the development of the nation. He announced that as an important part of the celebrations, a party was being started for workers. He hoisted the red flag and inaugurated the "labour kisan party" and explained the principles and plans of the new party.
In 1927, May Day was celebrated in Singaravelar's residence. He offered a feast for workers and a meeting was organized. A resolution was passed at the meeting on behalf of the workers all over the country regarding the unity of the workers.
FOLLOWING SINGARAVELAR'S MODEL, May Day is celebrated all over India.
THE HINDU report on May Day celebrations:
"The labour kisan party has introduced May Day celebrations in Chennai. Comrade Singaravelar presided over the meeting. A resolution was passed stating that the government should declare May Day as a holiday. The president of the party explained the non violent principles of the party. There was a request for financial aid. It was emphasized that workers of the world must unite to achieve independence".
At the first May Day meeting, Annadurai declared May Day a holiday. From 1986 onwards, the government has been celebrating May Day. The former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M.Karunanidhi renamed Napier Park as May Day Park. As a result of this efforts, the former prime minister VP Singh declared that May Day would be a paid holiday. The inspiration for these acts by state and central governments was singaravelar.
In May 1933, Singaravelar presided over the May Day celebration and made a long speech that was published in "Kodiyaram" on May 7th 1933
The salient features of his speech are as follows
1. we believe in equality not in violence or destruction
2. we shall examine whether there is equality in the distribution of goods
3. Government by the workers is the basis of world peace.
4. The Labour Kisan party was launched to stress equality
5. We will participate in the government and establish through fair means the principles of equality.
6.land and water, facilities, ships, railways, mines will be common assets and be utilized for the welfare of the people.
7. we who believe in equality will take our place is parliament legislature and work
8. only when equality is established under the rule of workers, will the world live in peace
9. Equality will lead to prosperity.
Forerunner of Midday Meal Scheme :
In 1925, Singaravelar won the Election and became the member of the corporation. His first preference was for sanitation.
One of his greatest contribution was providing mid day meals for the children. He later helped the Kamaraj, then the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to continue this scheme.
He also insisted that tamil should be the administrative language of the government of Tamil Nadu.
Founder of Labour Kisan Party :
The Indian Labour Kisan Party was born on May 1st, 1923 with Singaravelar as its leader. The most important principles of the party were that it should be in the vanguard of the labour movement and strive for the independence of the workers in non-violent ways.
This new party was started namely to being together the different groups. It was announced that it would join the INC (Indian National Congress) and function as the Labour and Farmer wing of that party and help the congress to function as a true party.
Objectives of the Labour Kisan Party :
1. uplift workers and farmers.
2. bring about a regeneration in public services.
3. help in labour disputes.
4. Protect the right to form unions.
5. protect peasants from the oppression of landlords.
6. provide free irrigation factilities and medical aid.
7. arrange provident fund (PF) for workers.
8. Insist on eight hours per day work schedule.
Editor and Publisher of the News Paper - Labour Kisan Gazette and Thozhilalar :
Towards the end of December 1923, Singaravelar began editing the fortnightly joural "The Labour Kisan gazette". It served him well to popularize the objectives of the Labour Kisan party.
Objectives of Labour Kisan Gazette :
The objectives of the gazette were to work for the freedom of workers and farmers; it would firmly be rooted in the principles of communism.
The British government watched singaravelar carefully. An extract from his speech made at the gaya congress meet establish him as an outspoken critic of the capialists :
"Rich mean, beware! Influential men, beware! Remember our sorrow and hard work. The working class has given you all the good things in this world; but you have sidelined them. Remember that the Indian labourers have woken up. They are gaining an awareness of their rights step by step.
Thozhilalar Weekly :
Singaravelar also started the Tamil Weekly "Thozhilalar" which he continued to publish. He wrote in it about the struggle of workers in India and in other parts of the world. He explained the causes for labour revolutions and
provided the labourers an awareness to remain united.
Singaravelar and labour movement :
In the history of labour movements, the first labour union was established on 27th April 1918. Indian workers felt the need for labour union when V.O. Chidambaram was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment for taking part in the freedom struggle. The Chennai workers union was started as a result of this. The president of this union was Singaravelar.
From the time the union was launched, singaravelar organized several strikes along sarkari and sakkarai chettiar. The union was established in B & C Mills was banned by the British. Many other unions were set in Chennai and other places. They are 1) MSM workers union 2) Electricity workers union 3) Trainway workers union 4) petroleum employees union 5) printing workers union 6) aluminium workers union 7)European workers unions 8) barbers union 9) scavengers union 10) fishermen union 11) railway employees union 12) coimbatore weavers union 13) madurai weavers union.
All the unions were establised during the lifetime of singaravelar. When the labour demonstration began in south India, it spread like a wildfire to other parts of the country and labour unions were formed in Mumbai, kolkota, kanpur, nagpur etc. In Tamil Nadu labour unions were set up in Chennai, madurai, nagapattinam and coimbatore as the labour class increased in these cities.
Within a few weeks of the establishment of the Chennai labour union, opposition arose from all quaters. The capitalists who owned the factories, tried to destroy the unity of the workers.
Singaravelar addressed the workers of Choolai Cotton Mill in Chennai and strengthened the labour movement. Although the hatred of the capitalists towards the workers increased, the workers became more interested in labour unions as a result of the impetus provided by pioneers of the movement like Singaravelar and Thiru Vi Ka. There were four unions in Chennai then, which were famous for organizing strikes. They were 1) Chennai workers union 2) Tramway workers union 3) printing workers union 4) petroleum workers union.
B & C Workers Strike :
The workers of B & C Mills, faced problems from time to time. The British, who owned the mills, paid very low wages but extracted work for more than eight hours in a day. The workers were upset and angry. A power crazy British Manager was threatening the workers at gun point. The angry workers snatched the revolver and began firing. It was later deposited at a police station by the Union. At that time the police opened fire on a section of the workers, as a result of which two young men died on the spot and many were injured. This incident that lasted only for a few seconds was followed by the strike which was led by the humanitarian, Singaravelar. The strike became intense. The workers did not resume work. The management instigated a caste war to break the strike by filling vacancies with low caste workers. Hence the strike turned out to be a caste war between 2 groups. The clashes turned into fights, blasts and stabbings. The British governments took stern steps to control the situation. On 29th August 1921, guns roared in Perambur. Seven people died. Singaravelar participated in the funeral procession. The police threatened to shoot him. He offered his chest as a target and urged them to shoot him. The police were dumbfounded when some miscreants started trouble by throwing stones at the people as the procession moved slowly through Chindadripet buildings. There were clashes between the two groups and the procession was halted. The deputy commissioner reached the spot and controlled the MOB.
In 1921, there were two more shooting incidents, one on the 19th of September and the other on the 15th of October. Justice Ayling Commissions was set up to enquire on the august 24th strike. As it was biased, Singaravelar declared that the labour union would not cooperate with the commission. After six months, the strike came to an end.
Although the strike ended in a strife, it taught them a lesson. "Even if the objective of the strike is not achieved, strikes are like an armour to workers everywhere. It is better to fight bravely and rather than not fight at all"said Singaravelar.
Aluminium Factory workers Strike :
In july 1922, there was a strike in the aluminium factory in Chennai in which Singaravelar participated and paid special attention. He recommended that the congress should take up the cause of the workers in the TN Congress Committee meeting.
Tramway workers strike :
In December 1922, Tramway workers made a few demands and went on a strike, Singaravelar played a significant role in it. His ability to reason and explain the activities of the workers attracted the congressmen labour union leaders supporting the congress party who had similar ideas. The Indian communists who were living abroad realized that he was a politician who understood the role of workers in freedom movement. Singaravelar took part in the Addision Press workers strike as well in the same year and made significant contribution.
Workers Organization :
The All India Congress passed a resolution at the Gaya conference about workers organization, at the insistence of Singaravelar. It declared that :
"It is the opinion of this conference that all Indian Labourers should be united. To safeguard their rights and prevent their exploitation and for equal distribution of wealth among all, the various labour and kisan unions should be unified and for this purpose, a committee of six (including Singaravelar) has been constituted."
Corporation Cleaners Strike :
The corporation cleaners planned a strike on the 30th august 1924. Singaravelar presided over the strike and the meeting
Burma Oil Corporation Strike :
It was a strike that lasted for nearly 20 days and shook the city. The strike made four demands including a raise in the daily wages of the workers. The British government accepted the 3 demands and said that it would consider a rise in daily wages. The demands were accepted, and the workers resumed work.
When the strike was as its height, the British managers and police warned the workers, saying "oil is easily inflammable; do not be careless; Singaravelar and the workers retorted, the feelings of workers are also volatile".
Railway employees Strike :
In opposition to the plans of the British Government and high handed attitude of the management, the North-Western Railway, Bengal-Nagpur Railway, The East Indian Railway and South Indian Railway went on a strike.
The strike of the North Indian Railway lasted for a month in Bhopal (Feb 1927 ). Singaravelar met all the people concerned and gathered support for the strike. On the whole, about 30,000 workers went on a strike in Calcutta and Howrah. Singaravelar and a group of workers from Tamil Nadu took part in the strike. The striking workers consulted Singaravelar for give legal advice.
South Indian Railway Strike :
In 1927, the management at the South Indian Railways decided to shift the work shops in Nagapattinam, Pothanur and Trichy to Ponmalai near Trichy. It also took steps to retrench workers. It also suggested that there would be a test to help retrenchment. The Railway workers refused to take the test and demanded that is should be cancelled. The management refused to accept their demands. It sent all the workers out of the workshops and effected a closure. News of this event spread all over South India. Singaravelar who returned after the success of North Indian Railway strike took part in this strike too. Singaravelar and others were responsible for making emotions flow like a flood in several meetings in which thousands of workers participated. In June 1928, a large rally was held in Trichy. Sarkar led the procession. The workers demanded that lay-off and testing should be stopped. They warned the management if it did not agree, they would go on strike from July 14, 1928. Still the management did not give in. So on 19th July, the strike began many workers and leaders were arrested. The strike continued for 10 days. It was a historic strike that shook the whole of Southern India. All the railway employees - of both the highest and lowest cadre, joined the strike. The management was forced to cancel all the trains from 21st July.
It is no exaggeration to say that the South Indian Railway strike was written in blood. The high handed measures of the British Government crossed the limits of oppression. The tireless efforts of the union leaders were wasted. Finally the strike failed. The British government arrested Singaravelar, Sarkar and innumerable workers, the labour union offices were raided. Cases were registered against Singaravelar and Sarkar. Singaravelar was sentenced the 10 years imprisonment at the end of the trial. He spent the years at prison in Chennai, Trichy and Coimbatore. As a result of an appeal to the High Court, his sentence was reduced to 18 months and he was released at the end of 1930.
Singaravelar and Communist Principles :
The objective of Communism was that there should be equality. This was also Singaravelar'S idea. When Communism would be preached, the situation of some people diving in luxury while others live in poverty will change and there would be equal distribution of wealth. Communism is the only way to remove the ills of society.
It will be possible for the rich and the poor to work together and share equally the profits of combined labour. Achieving this for the common welfare of all people is the objective of Communism. It is necessary to ensure that all the materials necessary for the welfare of mankind are not individual property but are held in common for the welfare of all. This is the philosophy of Communism preached by Karl Marx.
Singaravelar explained Communism as follows "Communism means common holding of property. It is a way of handling things we find on Earth. It is one of the ways in which things are equally distributed.
Kanpur Communist Convention :
The Indian Communist Conventions was held in Kanpur in 1925 on the 26th and 27th of December. This was the first communist convention. Singaravelar delivered the presidential address and remarked: "The principles of communism should aid humanity aganist the ills that ail it. It says that labourers produce enough of all things necessary for all people to live in comfort. As result of their hard work, there is enough for everybody to live well. But as the raw materials necessary for production are in the nands of capitalists, workers are forced to starve. If the workers are to receive a fair share of the produced goods, the raw materials should belong to them. This is the meaning of Comminusm.
Each Communist should have the following objective :
No life without home rule; no home rule without workers; " we must be at the head of the freedom struggle of our country irrespective of the changes may take place in the government, we should ensure that the rights of the workers lights are safeguarded. It is the duty of communists to unify the uneducated masses and get them independence. The lesson that the communist party must learn from the mistakes of other parties is that the progress of the nation and progress of the workers depend on organized labour. You must also come to a decision about direct representation for workers in the legislature".
The British Government was terrified of the communist and made plans to suppress them including Singaravelar. It began to a arrest communists from may 1923, By vindicating him in the Kanpur plot case, the British Government arrested Singaravelar and dange on 4th March 1924 and released later him on bail. But the case continued. Finally, the decision of continuing (or) dismissing the case against him was taken in London by the Secretary for India, who occupied a higher position than the Governor General. As a result, he became famous all over the world as a Communist.
The objective of Communism is that there should be equality. This was also Singaravelar idea. When Communism is preached, the situation of some people diving in luxury while others live in property will change and everybody will be equally wealthy communism is the only way to remove the its of society and policies.
It will be possible for the men and the poor to work together and share equally the profits of combined labour. Achieving this for the common welfare of all people is the objective of Communism. It is necessary to ensure that all the materials necessary for the welfare of mankind are not individual property but are held in common for the welfare of all. This is the philosophy of Communism preached by Karl Marx.