Conditions and composition of factory labour in Tamil Nadu


Madras was pre-eminently an agricultural province. The urban element in the madras presidency was weak, being only one – eight of the total population. There was only three places in madras which became within the government of India‘s definition of a city, having a population exceeding 100,000. These cities were Madras, Madurai and Trichinopoly. Besides these three cities, there were 14 other towns treated as cities under the orders of the government of Madras. Madras was not an important industrial province. Industrial development in the Madras Presidency was slow and took the form usually of expansion in the field that was midway between manufacture and cottage industries, typical examples of which were rice hulling and cotton ginning.

According to the amended factory act of 1891, the definition of factory was extended to include all undertaking employing 50 persons or more and local governments were granted powers to apply it to premises employing 30 persons or more. During the year 1918-1919, there were 19 cotton mills in the presidency, or one more than in 1917-1918, four of which worked as in the previous year in the French settlement of Pondicherry and one in the cochin state. The year began with 486 factories on the register. There were thus 500 factories at the end of the year

Industrial development was quite uneven regionally. An analysis of the reports of the development department explains this fact. Tamil speaking areas were more developed than the Telugu speaking or Malayalam speaking areas. The textiles and connected industries were chiefly found in the south of the Madras Presidency. The spinning and weaving factories were in Madras itself. The mills for the ginning, cleaning and pressing of cotton were situated at Sellary, Coimbatore and Ramnad. The tea and coffee plantations and factories were found mainly in Nilgiris, Malabar and Coimbatore. Food industries, flour and rice mills, and sugar factories were scattered all over the province. There were some 70 factories scattered over the presidency confining themselves chiefly to preparing, fishing and marketing matches out of splints and veneers from the four factories of Malabar. The aluminium industry was carried on in the madras presidency on a factory scale. Mining was carried on in the Madras presidency and the principle minerals were manganese, mica, barytes, gold and silver. The government owned shops included the four public works department workshops at madras, Dowlaishwaram, Bezwada and Mettur.

Composition and conditions of factory labour:

The strength of the factory labour varied from industry to industry. During the year 1930, the total number of persons employed in the various cotton mill was 41,219 of whom 27,570 were men, 8,507 women and 5,142 children. The average number of persons employed per day in the four jute mills was 6,211. The number of hands engaged in the sugar factory was 2,312 in 1930. Madras drew very slightly on other provinces for her labour forces. A negligible fraction of the number of employed industrially came from other provinces. They were mainly recruited from among the backward castes. The muslims and Indian Christians contributed the negligible fraction. Among the hindus, the principle caste under taking industrial work were the Adi-Dravidas or Panchammas known as the depressed classes. The workers recruited from the different areas and castes did not settle down in the cities.

The memorandum submitted by the Government of Madras to the Royal Commission on labour in India indicated that agriculture labour and industrial labour were often so closely inter-related that a man might spend part of the year on agriculture labour and part on industrial labour and even a man employed continuously on industrial labour often lived in a village along with the agriculturalist or return to it whenever he could. The factory workers recruited from villages near the factories.

The method of recruitment was not systematized there was no scientific method of recruitment. The recruitment was done through the maistries and jobbers who had to be paid bribes from rs 15 to rs 30 by the workers. None could get employment in the mills without paying some bribe. Wages were not paid promptly. Wages of the factory workers varied from industry to industry and from one department to another in the same industry. In case of the railways the rates varied in the late 1920s . During the years of depression low wages rate were maintained. Living conditions of the factory workers were deplorable. In the slums there were no basic facilities.


Labour movement in Tamil Nadu by Krishna