In Memory - Comrade Y V Chavan

28 August 1920, Kolhapur – 23 January 2018, Pune

NTUI President (2006-2009)

Com. Y.V. Chavan passed away around noon today.

The New Trade Union Initiative salutes his memory.

Com. Chavan was one of the senior most trade unionists of Maharashtra known throughout the country for his work.

Yashwantrao, as he was called by those closest to him, was born on 28 August 1920 to a Judge in the then Princely State of Kolhapur. His life remains representative of the personal sacrifices made by communists to advance the movement. He was active in the independence and communist movement from his teens. It’s when he came to study at Elphinstone College, Mumbai in 1939 that he began to directly address the working class question. While trying to evade arrest he was ‘underground’ at a friend’s house when he met Vimal Hemmady, his future wife who passed away in 2009. She too was a freedom fighter, active in the school teachers’ union and in the women’s’ movement. They are both survived by their only child, their son Madhav.

Recognising the aspiration and will of the working class for Com. Chavan was critical to advancing the Communist movement. He believed that aspiration of the working class in 1942 – during the Quit India Movement – was unequivocally against British imperialism and for independence and self-determination. Hence in his view, while there could under no circumstances be any compromise with fascism, the Communist Party of India’s support for the Soviet and therefore British efforts in the Second World War went against the dominant view in the working class and would weaken the communist movement. This difference meant his departure from the CPI. In January 1943 the Lal Nishan Group that he was a member of within the CPI created itself into the Lal Nishan Party. The Lal Nishan Party was to play a leading role in the Samyukt Maharashtra movement recognising that peoples’ culture and language must supersede identities of caste and religion and other forms of division and discrimination in society.

This foregoing understanding including of the need for democracy within the party was to remain with Com. Chavan throughout his life one which through the 1950s on also went on to influence his work on democracy within trade unions. Yet he remained a strong advocate of working class unity irrespective of party political affiliation. He steadfastly remained a member of the undivided All India Trade Union Congress until it was split in 1970 to form the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. At this point the vast majority of trade unions he was associated with became ‘independent’ of both the AITUC and the CITU.

In 1960 he replaced the AITUC stalwart Com. Vithal Choudhry as President of the Kamani Employees’ Union (KEU) reflecting the members’ urge for democratic control of their own union and through it the workplace. The events in the KEU marked a turn of the tide of sorts with both a new generation of leadership emerging as also more direct participation of workers in the leadership of trade unions in the Mumbai industrial belt.

In 1961, he led the formation of Sarva Shramik Sangh which soon became perhaps Mumbai’s largest general workers union at the time. He was active in the union until the early 1990s. He was long time President of the KEU, the Blue Star Workers’ Union and others – all unions that went on to be, with unions from across the country, the founding affiliates of the NTUI.

In his five decades of trade union work Com. Chavan led struggles across just about every area of work and employment. The unions he led, especially in the 1960s and the 1970s, broke new ground in institutionalising the framework for collective bargaining, setting norms for wage standards, annual bonus, work intensity and much more. In 1989 the KEU went on to lead the workers takeover of Kamani Tubes signalling a militant workers’ response to corporate graft and asset striping. In the 1980s he pushed his comrades to form unions among informal workers.

Com. Chavan’s most abiding commitment was to working class unity. It was in this spirit that he pressed the call for unity and solidarity action in support of the Mumbai textile mill workers strike in 1981, a call that reached every corner of the country and crossed every sectional divide. Ironically, having managed to evade arrest under the imperial government, he was arrested during the strike and on two earlier occasions – 1952 for leading an ‘illegal’ strike under the then Bombay Trade Dispute Rules and in 1962 for opposing the India-China war.

It is the understanding of unity and solidarity within the working class movement and the persistence with which he advanced it is what makes Com. Chavan a symbol for the movement not just of the past but in the present too. As we say farewell to him, we remember him but more than that we celebrate his life.

He inspired, and will continue to inspire. And that is why he was our President!

Com. Chavan Lal Salam!
Mazdoor Ekta Zindabad!
Inqilab Zindabad!

N. Vasudevan Gautam Mody
President General Secretary