Shapurji Saklatvala, the Workers’ Welfare League of India, and transnational anti-colonial labour organising in the inter-war period

Spring 2020

This article focuses on the transnational organising of Shapurji Saklatvala, the communist MP for Battersea North during the 1920s. It examines his role in popularising the cause of Indian independence and the Indian labour movement within the heart of the metropole, demonstrating that he was capable of developing solidarity efforts through drawing together a border-spanning network of students, lawyers, journalists, and labour activists into his organisation, the Workers Welfare League of India. His independent practice, which relied more on Battersea’s radical milieu and his own personal connections than communist party members, is demonstrated to have prompted rivals within both the social-democratic and communist camps to approach anti-colonial activism on the subcontinent with greater vigour, and facilitated connections that were forged between the wider British and Indian labour movements. As the Third Period unfolded, Saklatvala’s organisation gained greater support within the Comintern, but conversely lost the autonomy which had defined its early years. The ecumenical network he had developed splintered owing to the proscription of key figures by the Comintern, and the Labour Party’s invigorated attempts to build alliances with labour activists on the subcontinent, ultimately undermining the basis of the Workers Welfare League and leading to its demise.

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