All-India Seamen's Federation

Other names: 


Date began: 
01 Jan 1937
Precise date began unknown: 
Date ended: 
01 Jan 1943
Precise date ended unknown: 

The All India Seamen’s Federation (AISF) was formed in 1937, bringing together the Indian Seamen’s Union, Indian Quartermaster’s Union, Bengal Mariner’s Union, Seamen’s Welfare League of India and Karachi Seamen’s Union to form one of the largest federations of lascar unions. It was instrumental in negotiating a settlement with the British Government and ship owners to resolve lascar strikes in 1939 and 1940. As part of that settlement, lascar pay and working conditions improved.

The negotiating skills of Surat Alley and Aftab Ali were key to breaking the deadlock between British ship owners and striking lascars in 1939. In 1939 the Board of Trade officially recognized the AISF, and the Government of India urged ship owners to follow suit. The AISF fought tirelessly for an increase in sailors’ wages and a war bonus. Surat Alley was the AISF’s representative in London and campaigned on its behalf. In 1941 he published an article in the East London Advertiser to dispel the myth that after the 1940 settlement lascars were adequately provided for. He concluded that the AISF had lobbied the Shipping Federation of Great Britain but the outcome was still disappointing, and the AISF renewed its efforts by negotiating with the Ministry for War Transport, arguing for fixed working hours, provisions for overtime, a welfare fund for aged retired sailors, compensation in the case of invalidity, and provisions for accommodation in port and on board, as well as canteens. These attempts were resisted by the Shipping Federation. At the same time as Alley redoubled his efforts in Britain, Ali continued negotiating in India.

Due to the rivalry between the many lascar unions, the AISF broke up in 1943. Surat Alley went on to form the All-India Union of Seamen Centred in Great Britain in 1943, which was under the auspices of the International Transport Workers' Federation and later became integrated into the Indian Seamen’s Union.

Key individuals: 

Atur Miah, Tahsil Miya, Firoz Khan Noon, Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi.

Secondary works: 

Broeze, Frank, The Muscles of Empire: Indian Seamen and the Raj, 1919-1939 (Bucharest: International Commision of Maritime History, 1980)

Tabili, Laura, 'We Ask for British Justice': Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/E/9/976, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras