On 1 May, the world celebrated ‘May Day’ or ‘International Workers’ Day to commemorate the gains of the workers’ movements across the world. The fruits of this movement have led to the legal and constitutional codification of workers’ rights in many countries. The Indian Constitution, through Articles 41, 42, 43 and 43A provides a number of protections and welfare measures for Indian workers. Before the Constitution was enacted, a number of Historical Constitutions contained similar provisions. In this post, we look at one such Historical Constitution: Constitution of Free India: A Draft (1944).
The Draft was prepared by M.N. Roy, an Indian ‘revolutionary’ who played a key role in the communist movement in India. In a section titled ‘The Declaration of Rights and Fundamental Principles’, Roy lay down the rights of Indians which included those related to workers:
(m) An irreducible standard of living for all laboring in fields, factories, mines, transport, offices, and schools shall be guaranteed by minimum wages fixed by law.
(n) Adequately remunerative employment or relief is a right of citizenship.
(o) Nobody shall labour for more than eight hours a day, for six days a week, and every worker shall be entitled to one month’s leave with full pay every year, and women workers to three months maternity leave with full pay.
(t)the right of association for the purpose of safeguarding and amelioration of economic conditions and the political status of workers, employees, and peasants shall be guaranteed.
Why does the Draft emphasize that remunerative employment is a ‘right of citizenship’ – wouldn’t it be sufficient to just say workers have a right to remunerative employment? For Roy, remunerative employment – the cornerstone of workers’ rights – must be viewed as fundamental to citizenship in the same way that rights to free speech and equality are seen as inextricably linked to citizenship. This is a novel articulation of workers’ rights that is absent in other Historical Constitutions.
Another provision of Roy’s Draft is the inclusion of a worker’s right to association. Roy’s emphasis that this right is not restricted to protecting the economic status but also the ‘political status of workers’ is unique. Roy’s Constitution explicitly recognizes workers as a distinct political interest group who, in addition to the regular political rights of voting and standing for elections, also have the right to politically mobilize against private employers or the State or any engage in any other political activity.
These two features of Roy’s constitutional protections for workers make the Draft rather novel from the workers’ rights found in other Historical Constitutions like the Nehru Report 1928 and the Karachi Resolution 1931. The Draft indicates the centrality of workers’ rights in Roy’s constitutional vision drawing from his wide political work in the Indian labour and communist movements.