Ahmedabad Mill Strike of 1918: Modern Indian History Notes

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Ahmedabad Mill Strike

The Ahmedabad Textile Mill Labour Satyagraha in 1918 had a key part in shaping the labour movement during India’s struggle for independence. Taking place in February-March of that year in Ahmedabad, the protest was primarily driven by textile mill workers seeking an improvement in their working conditions. Additionally, the movement gained momentum when Mahatma Gandhi actively joined and advocated for the rights of the workers through negotiations.

Furthermore, this satyagraha in Ahmedabad marked one of Gandhi’s early experiments with non-violent methods in India, with the ‘hunger strike’ emerging as a powerful tool to achieve desired outcomes.

Geeta Sarabhai Mayor and her father, Ambalal Sarabhai, while out for a morning walk in the spacious grounds of their residential complex called "The Retreat".
Geeta Sarabhai Mayor and her father, Ambalal Sarabhai, while out for a morning walk on the spacious grounds of their residential complex called “The Retreat”.

What is the Background of the Ahmedabad Mill Strike?

During the early 20th century, the industrial establishments in British India, particularly textile mills, witnessed deplorable working conditions and the exploitation of labour. Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat, had become a significant hub for textile production. It happened so because of its strategic location near ports, railways, and British enterprises. Moreover, the ownership of the textile mills in Ahmedabad was shared among Indian industrialists such as Ambalal Sarabhai and British mill owners. Despite this economic growth, the labour force in the mills endured severe and unfavourable working conditions.

  • Revocation of the Plague Bonus: When the 1917 plague struck, mill owners said that they would give a ‘Plague Bonus’ so that the workers would not relocate. However, after the plague, owners sought to nullify the bonus, even though the cost of living was increasing.
  • Inadequate Wages and Extended Working Hours: Textile mill labourers only received minimal remuneration. Additionally, the workdays extended from 12 to 15 hours, hence subjecting the workers to harsh conditions. Women and children were compelled to engage in forced labour further contributing to the arduous workload.
  • Exploitative Practices of Mill Owners During Wartime: Mill owners got significant gains from the surge during the wartime textile demand preceding Indian independence. They ruthlessly exploited workers to maximise production outputs. In addition, basic rights such as leave, minimum wage, accident compensation, and other essential facilities were systematically withheld. 

Also Read: Salt Satyagraha

What are the Events that led to the Ahmedabad Mill Strike?

The Events that led to the Ahmedabad Mill Strike are as follows:

Workers’ Hardships and the Appeal for a Work Strike

  • In 1918, the labourers employed in the textile mills of Ahmedabad were discontented with their dismal working conditions. As they knew about the substantial profits reaped by mill owners. 
  • Consequently, influential figures in flourishing unions, such as Anasuya Sarabhai advocated for workers’ rights. 
  • However, their pleas for improved wages and regulated working hours went unheard as authorities easily turned a blind eye.
  • In the early months of 1918, during a large gathering of mill workers, there was a collective decision was made to initiate a nonviolent strike. 
  • Additionally, the workers committed to halting their work until the owners guaranteed fair and satisfactory working conditions.
Source: Wikipedia; Anasuya Sarabhai

Gandhi’s Arrival and the Call for a Strike

  • In February 1918, Gandhi received an invitation to take charge of the growing labour unrest in Ahmedabad. 
  • Consequently, organising a gathering on the 22nd of February, Gandhi had an important part in formulating a set of demands to address the workers’ concerns.
  • The proposed demands encompassed a variety of issues, such as a 35% raise in wages, a reduction of the workday to 8 hours, the establishment of a weekly holiday, fair compensation for overtime work, the elimination of fines, improvements in living conditions, and the reinstatement of dismissed workers. 
  • Subsequently, these demands were formally conveyed to the mill owners for consideration.
Source: National Herald; Ahmedabad’s textile mill owners and workers both rallied around Gandhi on his return from South Africa

What was Gandhi’s Role in the Ahmedabad Mill Strike?

Upon completing the Champaran Movement, Gandhi received a pressing request from the textile mill labourers in Ahmedabad.

Mass Mobilization and Solidarity

  • In the face of the mill owners’ unresponsive stance to the 22nd of February midnight deadline, Gandhi called for a non-violent general strike.
  • Following the call, the next morning saw more than 1,00,000 textile labourers and their families partaking in a peaceful walkout outside the mills as per the plan. 
  • Thus, the strike became a symbol of unity, effectively bridging communal distrust.

Efficient Communication Tactics 

  • Additionally, there were communication tactics such as peace marches. The use of “Ek tek” slogans and the distribution of leaflets had an essential role in organising disciplined and nonviolent mass movements. 
  • The workers maintained control throughout the Satyagraha by exhibiting resilience through nonviolent means.

Partial acknowledgement from British authorities

  • Despite their initial resistance, the mill owners ultimately decided to engage in negotiations with Gandhi as the mediator. 
  • The final agreement addressed around 35% of the initial demands, hence including a 20% increase in wages.
  • Even though it was viewed as insufficient by some, Gandhi saw the ceasefire as a planned triumph of nonviolent influence. 

Also Read: Bardoli Satyagraha

What were the Consequences of the Ahmedabad Mill Strike?

The consequences of the Ahmedabad Mill Strike were as follows:

  • Heeding the agreed-upon terms, the employees returned to their duties awaiting the next discussions. 
  • The mill owners implemented retaliatory measures including the termination of strike leaders and the reduction of wages. Consequently, this mistreatment triggered a renewed wave of protests.
  • In light of the growing unrest, the owners eventually conceded to rehiring the terminated workers and reinstating the previous wage rates. 
  • The situation slowly returned to normal, nonetheless with lingering unresolved issues.

Also Read: Kheda Satyagraha 

What was the Significance of the Ahmedabad Mill Strike?

The 1918 Ahmedabad Mill Strike holds great historical significance in India’s quest for independence, despite its rather modest scale. Its relevancy can be summed up in the following manner:

  • Strengthened the Labour Movement in India: There was the emergence of powerful trade unions such as the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association
  • Introduction of the working class into the national movement: Similar to how the Champaran Satyagraha symbolised the participation of the peasant class, the Ahmedabad strike had a great role in the integration of the working class into the broader national movement.
  • Utilizing Fasting as a Way to Unite People and Attain Satyagraha: Gandhi employed fasting as a tool to secure negotiated settlements without violence, hence demonstrating its effectiveness in shaping the trajectory of the Indian national movement. 
  • Advocacy for the Utilization of Arbitration in Resolving Disputes: The strike served as a demonstration of the effectiveness of arbitration in settling disputes through consensual agreements.
  • Development of Skill: Furthermore, skill enhancement was a notable outcome of the strike, as workers acquired proficiency in various tasks such as construction and weaving while at Gandhi ashram.

Thus, the 1918 Ahmedabad Mill Strike served as a tangible demonstration of the effective implementation of Gandhian principles such as nonviolence, and mass mobilisation, hence empowering positive employee-employer relationships, and adopting a constructive program-based approach to enhance the well-being of workers. Additionally, this event had an important part in strengthening solidarity within the working class against exploitation and establishing crucial connections between labour and national movements, injecting new vigour into India’s pursuit of freedom.


What is the date of the Ahmedabad Mill Strike?

The date of the Ahmedabad mill strike is the 15th of March, 1918. 

What happened first Kheda Satyagraha or the Ahmedabad Mill Strike?

The Kheda Satyagraha happened first on the 11th of March, 1918 after 4 days the Ahmedabad Mill Strike took place on the 15th of March, 1918. 

Who invited Gandhiji to the Ahmedabad Mill Strike?

Anasuya Ben Sarabia and his younger brother Ambalal Sarabhai invited Gandhiji to the Ahmedabad Mill Strike. 

Was the Ahmedabad Mill Strike successful?

Yes, the Ahmedabad Mill Strike was successful as the workers were granted their rightful wage hike which they were demanding. 

What are the 3 Satyagraha Movements?

The 3 Satyagraha Movements are the Champaran Satyagraha, the Kheda Satyagraha and the Ahmedabad Satyagraha. 

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