It can be divided into two periods
First period 1875-1918
Second period 1918-1947
The first period (1875-1918) started in 1875 and lasted up to the First World War.
During the period the trade union movement was essentially humanitarian.
Some friendly societies were formed to look into the welfare of workers.
These unions were sporadic in nature.
The first Indian trade union, Bombay Mill Hands Association was formed in 1890, with an immediate aim of agitation for a revision of first Indian Factories Act 1881.
The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants of India & Burma registered under the Indian Companies Act of 1882 was created in 1897.
The Printers Union, Calcutta and Bombay postal union were formed in 1905 and 1907 respectively.
The kamgar hitvardhak shbha was set up in 1909.
Active leaders in this period were S.S.Bengali and N.M.Lokhande who fought for workers.
Second period 1918-1947
This period marked the beginning and growth of organized and continuous trade unions.
Madras became the centre of organized labour activity.
P. Vadiya founded the Madras Labour Union in 1919.
Trade unions like Ahemdabad textile workers union, N.W Railway employees union, Indian colliery employees union, the jamshedpur labour association, the Bombay port trust employees union, and the E.B. Railway Indian employees association were formed.
By 1924 there were 1671 trade unions in India.
The All India trade union congress was formed in 1920.
The period between 1924 and 1935 is characterized as the period of left-wing trade unionism.
Narayan Meghaji Lokhande –
Narayan Meghaji Lokhande was a prominent colleague of Mahatma Jyotirao Phule.
Lokhande is acclaimed as the Father of Trade Union Movement in India.
From 1880 onwards, he took over the management of Deenbandhu which was published from Bombay.
Along with Lokhande, Jyotirao Phule also addressed the meetings of the textile workers in Bombay.
It is significant that before Jyotirao Phule and his colleagues Bhalekar and Lokhande tried to organise the peasants and the workers, no such attempt was made by any organisation to redress their grievances.
Mahatma Phule started the first Indian Workers organization – ‘Bombay Mill Hands Association‘, with the help of Shri. Narayan Meghaji Lokhande.
ALL INDIA TRADE UNION CONGRESS – 1920 (AITUC)
It was founded on 31 October 1920 in Bombay by N. M. Joshi, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Joseph Baptista.
Till the eve of Independence, AITUC remained as the representative of the working class with all shades of political forces, ranging from the communists to the liberals, under its umbrella.
The federation underwent two major splits over ideological issues during this period.
The first split occurred in 1929 when liberals such as Giri, Joshi and others broke away to form a separate federation over the issue of representation in the Royal Commission on Labour in India.
The communists and the supporters of the Indian National Congress in the AITUC wanted to boycott the Commission but the liberals (known as the Rightists) wanted to support it.
The Rightists broke away and formed the Indian Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).
In the following year, the communists broke away to form the Red Flag Trade Union Congress.
However, they re-joined the AITUC within two years and the IFTU decided to merge with the parent body in 1939.