Indian Workers' Association
The Indian Workers' Association (IWA) is a political organisation in Great Britain which consists of Indian immigrants to Britain and their descendants. IWA branches are organised in some major cities such as Birmingham and London. As one of the oldest and most active groups of immigrants, the organisation has been working in the fields of politics, race relations, industrial relations and social welfare, as well as many cultural issues. At the forefront of the struggle within trade unions, it has campaigned tirelessly against racism and on civil liberties issues.
Pamphlets, memorandum and statements are frequently issued by the IWA and the press regularly interview IWA leaders. Azad Hind was its earliest publication written by V P Hansrani with assistance from Kartar Nagra. By doing such publications and statements, the IWA remains permanently in the public eye. Their activity includes anti-racism campaigning, industrial action, social work within immigrant communities, and film shows. Their members included Udham Singh, and they focused on agitating for Indian independence. After this was achieved, the groups became largely moribund. The organisation's journal (Lalkar) is now edited by Chairman of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist), Harpal Brar. However, Lalkar is now an independent journal. The IWA (GB) is continuing support for struggles amongst workers in the Asian community in the UK and revolutionary change in India.
The Indian Workers' Association (Hindustani Mazdoor Sabha) has its foundations in London in the 1930s and was formalised in Coventry by immigrant workers from India. It was formalised on 24 December 1939 at 46 Welgarth Avenue, Coventry and its first President was Chanan Kooner.
Shaheed Udham Singh, a member of the famous Ghadar Party also facilitated the founding of the Indian Workers Association by his activities in London. The aim of the IWA was to liberating India and worked with the India League in this endeavour. The IWA published bulletins in Urdu and Panjabi called Azad Hind to educate Indian migrants about colonial atrocities and the need for a free India. This publication was written and edited by Vidya Parkash Hansrani with assistance from Kartar Singh Nagra. After the execution of Udham Singh in 1940, up until the late 1950s, prominent activists of the IWA included - V P Hansrani, Ujagar Singh Rurka, Kartar Singh Nagra, Thakur Singh Basra, Charan Singh Chima, Mohammed Fazal Hussein, G. D. Ramaswamy, V. S. Sastrya, and Akbar Ali Khan. Many of who became chapter Presidents during this period.
The organisation has been fairly active in supporting working class struggles amongst Asians in Britain and struggles for genuine freedom for working people in India. The second generation of notable activists have included Jagmohan Joshi and Harpal Brar. Jagmohan Joshi, a leader of the IWA from the early 1960s until his death in 1979 is widely considered to have been a central figure in black political action in the 1960s and 1970s. Sivanandan refers to him as "the man who had initiated so many of the black working class and community movements of the early years and clarified for us all the lines of roll/class struggle". Remembering patriots of the Ghadar Party and supporting struggles for creation of a society in line with vision of Shaheed Udham Singh, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Shaheed Kartar Singh Sarabha and other Patriots of the Ghadar Party has been the focus of activity.
The background of the IWA is deeply concerned in the politics of the national liberation struggle against British imperialism and bourgeois landlord classes of India. The struggle of Indian workers is difficult to isolate from the revolutionary international events which made it possible to break the domination of imperialism and capitalism. The British colonialist exploited the wealth of India. Indian raw materials such as cotton were essential for the development of British Manufacturing Industry. Workers and peasants were exploited ruthlessly under the Feudal Zemindars system controlled by Britain, especially the tea gardens in Assam, Jute Plants in Bengal, workers in coal mines and the textile industry in Bombay. British policy prior to 1947 made the lives of ordinary Indian people desperately miserable.
The uprising of 1857 was a great national revolt against British colonialists and although the action was crushed by force, the idea of revolt against foreign rulers endured for the next ninety years. The revolt and fight for freedom was not for the benefit of people inside India alone. It was aimed at all Indian people wherever they were in the world. Whilst they were struggling for the freedom of India they also fought for improved working conditions for all workers. For this reason, they formed a Gadhar party in America and in Britain, two separate organisations, the India League and IWA.
In 1958, the Indian Workers' Association (GB) (IWA (GB)) was set up to provide a central national body coordinating the activities of the local groups. The Association aimed to improve conditions for immigrant workers, working alongside the mainstream British labour movement. The IWA was an organization founded and controlled primarily by Indians from the Punjab. DeWitt Johan wrote in his book, "wherever there are Punjabi immigrants in Britain, there is an Indian Workers' Association with an impressive membership".
An increasing number of activists, in particular from the Punjabi community, joined. The Communist Party of Great Britain also gained influence, as some of the immigrants had formerly been members of the Communist Party of India. However, the large group in Southall distanced itself from the national body, supporting Labour Party candidates, joined the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination and supported the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants. Piara Khabra became President of the Southall group, and later, Labour MP for Ealing Southall.
Split in the IWA (GB)
In 1961, the first split occurred in the IWA (G.B) at the national meeting in Birmingham. A difference of opinion between the IWA Southall leadership and the leadership of the IWA (G.B). This was the first time that the IWA of Southall withdrew from the national organisation. At that time Vishnu Sharma, a leader of the Southall IWA said "the Communist-dominated group which was completely in control of the IWA (G.B) was leading the organisation into a sectarian direction which he did not wish to follow. For this reason he decided to take Southall out of the national association". It is also said that the IWA of Southall is dominated by the Congress Party, which is possibly the main cause of the division. As proof some point to the fact that Tarsem Singh Toor, general Secretary of IWA Southall, who was assassinated in 1986, was at the same time Secretary of the Indian Overseas Congress. The IWA Southall’s invitation to the former Congress prime minister Indira Gandhi, to speak in Southall in 1979, and the opposition to this raised by Joshi’s IWA (GB) are also given as evidence to support this suggestion. However, the reason for the split with the IWA (GB) was fundamentally a class split. The Southall position was one of not wanting to align with the communist party but wishing to unite with all Indian people, considering that all have something significant in common by virtue of being Indian.
There was a dual system in Southall where a large section of membership came under the leadership of Vishnu Sharma and all the supporters of the midland IWA (GB) branches under the leadership of Jagmohan Joshi. However dual system broke down when a further split took place with the IWA (GB) in 1967. This split was related in a clear way to domestic Indian politics. One, led by Prem Singh, supported the Communist Party of India (Marxist), while the other, under Jagmohan Joshi, supported Naxalbari Movement. This second group began working with Black Power activists, but later disappeared. The Singh group thus became the only IWA (GB), joining the Black People's Alliance. The organisation later supported the Anti-Nazi League. This split was related in a clear way to domestic Indian politics. Indian communists worked in the IWA (GB), as well as working within the Association of Indian Communists. There were a number of differences between both organisations on a variety of issues regarding Britain, India and the wider international scene. The major difference concerned the Naxalbari Uprising in West Bengal in 1967. The uprising was not supported by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) was formed by those Indian Communists who did back the rising. Two members of the politburo of the CPI (M) came to Britain to take part in a number of meetings of the Association of Indian Communist and the IWA (GB). They could not influence the all members of IWA (GB) and Association of Indian Communists to stay with CPI (M). The outcome was split between Jagmohan Joshi and his group who backed the uprising and those who were behind the CPI (M).
The position of Joshi’s supporters regarding racism was that black workers, through their struggle against imperialism in their own country and their double exploitation in Britain, had become more politically aware. Black workers were therefore the group destined to lead the struggle and once they were involved in it white workers would join with them too. Singh’s opposition argued that black workers did not have any special role to play and the initiative for the struggle had to come from the white working class. Joshi’s group saw black workers as having a special role, believed in forging an alliance with other black groups. The other side were, however, against this kind of alliance as they considered it a kind of inverted racism which would distance them from ordinary white workers, who they felt were the most important allies of all. The difference in these two positions was fundamental and led to Joshi’s group becoming concerned with the black power issue and the other being more committed to a traditional class analysis. The black power dimension is a fairly controversial one and the IWA had to tread carefully in defining what it meant in order not to lose Indian members.
Joshi’s group also believed in defence committees (which the other group thought were suicidal) and were strongly opposed to affiliating with Commission for Racial Equality Committees or other government bodies and accepting state funding. Prem Singh’s group were more ambivalent on this issue.
In the 1990s they worked with the Shaheed Udham Singh Welfare Trust to campaign for the release of Last Words of Udham Singh, after he was sentenced to death for assassinating Michael O'Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India, at the time of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919 This campaign was successful in 1996.
The organisation is still quite active in supporting struggles for socialism in the UK and India. Despite differences between the different IWA (GB) organizations, they still play a very important and effective role in British society because their fundamental aims are to benefit the whole working class and the oppressed people of the whole world. The achievement of the IWA (G.B) have been many, both at national and international level. At national level, the IWA campaign stands against all kinds of racism and they offer a service to members on immigration, social services, housing benefits, language, policing and crime matters as well an encouraging the membership of unions. Where there are no unions, they have helped workers to form their own. At international level, they have always supported oppressed people and opposed of child labour, and continued campaigning against the death sentence in India and worldwide in addition to speaking out against the violation of human rights. Currently, IWA (G.B) is campaigning for the inquiry of the indolent of British Govt who gave advice to the Indian Govt to launch the attack on Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar in 1984. The Indian Workers Association (G.B) remains active to date where they stand against all forms of oppression and injustice.
Branches in the UK
In Leicester an IWA branch was set up around 1954. Until mid-1960 there were more Punjabi people than any other immigrant community in Leicester. However, with the arrival in 1968-69 of Gujarati people from East Africa, their numbers overtook those of the Punjabi community. Nevertheless Punjabi Indians continued to dominate the IWA both in Leicester and nationally. One of the reasons for the prominence of the Leicester IWA branch is the relatively large resident Indian community. According to the 1991 Census figures, the Indian population in Leicester was 60,297 of a total city population of 270,493, amounting to 22.3 per cent.
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