Ahmadabad was the second largest city of Bombay Presidency. It was a long established commercial centre. Under the British, the cotton industry grew in the city and Ahmadabad became a modern Industrial town of the 20th century.
The mill workers of Ahmedabad worked under difficult conditions, sometimes being forced to do continuous 36 hour shifts. In 1917 a deadly plague had spread in Ahmedabad. This created a panic and sent prices of basic commodities soaring. Many workers started leaving the city for their villages.
The Mill Owners wanted to withdraw the bonus, whereas the workers demanded a 50% wage hike. The Mill Owners were willing to give only 20% wage hike.
Mill workers approached Ansuyaben Sarabhai for help. Anasuyaben had decided to take up the cause of the city’s mill workers even though this meant taking up cudgels against her own brother and family friends. She later approached Gandhiji for help.
Gandhi Inquired the Demands of Mill Worker and found them Justiciable. He advised worker to go on strike and demand 35% increase in wages. The mill owners meanwhile refused to budge. Days passed. The mill owners were adamant.
On feeling weakness and lack of moral in workers, he himself went on a “Fast unto death” to strengthen the worker moral.
Gandhi did not want anybody else to fast. His fast was not against the mill owners, but against the lack of co-ordination and unity among the workers. One morning he called the workers and said, ‘Unless the strikers rally and continue the strike till a settlement is reached. I will not touch any food.’ The workers were shocked.
This caused great consternation and worry amongst the people around him as well as the mill owners. The fast lasted for only three days. It influenced the mill owners so much that they came to an agreement with the workers. They finally agreed to a 35% pay raise after an arbitration and Gandhi broke his fast on 18th March 1918.
Many leaders, like Vallabhbhai Patel, Shankarlal Banker, Mahadev Desai and others, took an active part in this struggle. Hardly was the mill workers’ strike over, when Gandhi had to plunge into the Kheda Satyagraha struggle.