Revolution in reform: Trade unionism in Lahore, c. 1920-70

Revolution in reform: Trade unionism in Lahore, c. 1920-70


Ahmad AzharFollow


Abstract / Description

Late-colonial Lahore witnessed the rise of organised workers’ politics with the unionisation of native Indian workers at the Mughalpura railway workshops in 1920. Various ideological tendencies—the Owenist, Labourite and Communist traditions—began to come together while power struggles gradually led to rifts within the trade-union. Revolution in Reform: Trade-Unionism in Lahore, c. 1920–70 explores these previously unrecognised ambivalences.

Ahmad Azhar questions previous research that have traditionally considered labour politics of inter-war Punjab as mere preludes to Partition. He studies crucial moments: the railway strike of 1920; Mughalpura’s quest for autonomy in the inter-war years; the relation of labour politics with ‘Swaraj’ and the Indian National Congress (1919–47); and the Meerut Conspiracy Case and the Royal Commission on Labour in India.

The author also reconstructs events of the time from the narrative of Mirza Ibrahim, a key worker–militant leader, to analyse the repression faced by workers in the Mughalpura movement under communist hegemony. Through hitherto unused ego documents (mostly in the vernacular) of leaders such as J. B. Miller, M. A. Khan, Bashir Ahmed Bakhtiar and Saif-ur-Rehman, the author brings alive the conflicting aspects of trade-union leadership in a politically charged period in the history of inter-war Punjab, and post-Partition Pakistan.

Table of Contents

List of Tables
List of Abbreviations
Publishers’ Acknowledgements

1. The Railway Strike of 1920: General Miller and the Army of the Poor
2. The Mughalpura Movement’s Quest for Autonomy in the Inter-War Years
3. ‘Swaraj’ or ‘Mistri Raj’? Labour Relations and Labour’s Politics in the Railway Workshops of Lahore (c.1919–47)
4. Fiction, Biographies and the Forgotten Testimonies of ‘Reformists’
5. The Meerut Conspiracy Case and the Royal Commission on Labour in India: ‘Reformism’, ‘Communism’ and the Loss of the Workers’ Dream
6. The Mughalpura Workers’ Movement under Communist Hegemony
7. The Abyss of Isolation: Marginalisation and Repression of Mughalpura’s Workers

Publication Date


Faculty / School

School of Economics and Social Sciences (SESS)


Department of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts

Was this content written or created while at IBA?



New Perspectives in South Asian History

Author Affiliation

Dr. Ahmad Azhar, is an Assistant Professor, Department of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts, School of Economics and Social Sciences (SESS) at Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. He was Assistant Professor, at Department of Social Sciences, Lahore School of Economics, Lahore, Pakistan at the time of this book's publication.

Rights Information

© Orient Blackswan Private Limited, 2019

Revolution in reform: Trade unionism in Lahore, c. 1920-70