The colonial administration passed a Factory Act in 1881, producing the first official definition of ‘factory’ in modern Indian history—as a workplace using steam power and regularly employing over 100 workers. In 1891, the Act was amended: factories were redefined as workplaces employing over 50 workers; the upper age limit of legal ‘protection’ was raised; weekly holidays were established; and women mill-workers were brought within its ambit.
Sarkar analyses the two versions of the Act and reveals the tensions inherent within the project of protective labour regulation. Combining legal and social history, he identifies an emergent ‘factory question’. The cotton mill industry of Bombay, long considered as one of the birthplaces of modern Indian capitalism, is the principal focal point of his investigation.
Factory law, though experienced as a minor official initiative, connected with some of the most potent ideological debates of the age. Trouble at the Mill explores a shifting set of themes and raises questions rarely thematized by labour historians—the ideologies of factory reform, the politics of factory commissions, the routines of factory inspection, and the earliest waves of strike action in the cotton textile industry in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.