The 1980's crisis, Datta Samant and the Great strike

In the early 1980s, the owners deemed these mills unprofitable and declared that they were incapable of paying their workers' wages. Soon most of the mills were shut down. The land in which the mills were built had become more profitable, if implemented in construction of huge shopping complexes and residential colonies. The life of the 250,000 mill workers was at stake, while the government stood indifferent. Mill owners used this opportunity to grab the precious real estate.

Datta Samant, popularly known as Doctorsaheb, was a trade union leader. He was chosen by a large group of Mumbai mill workers to lead them in the conflict between the Bombay Mill Owners Association and the Labour Unions. Samat suggested that they wait for outcome of initial strike action, but workers were too agitated and wanted a massive strike.

The strike started- an estimated 200,000-300,000 mill workers walked out, forcing the entire industry of the city to be shut down for over a year. Samant demanded with wage hikes. Although Samant had links with the Congress, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi considered him a serious political threat. Samant's control of the mill workers made Gandhi and other Congress leaders fear that his influence would spread to the port and dock workers and make him the most powerful union leader in India's commercial capital.

Thus the government took a firm stance of rejecting the demands of these 250,000 workers, and refusing to budge despite the severe economic losses suffered by the city and the industry.