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Trade Unions in India

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Before the commencement of problems of trade unions, we should know about trade unions and a brief history of trade unions. We will then delve into several problems faced by trade unions.

Trade Unions and its Brief History:

When a group of working population amalgamates to have a stable working condition with better facilities like proper wages, sanitation, healthcare, security, harmony, etc., or when the workers come together to speak for their basic rights and to maintain tranquillity in any workplace, the trade unions are formed. They are responsible for solving problems related to workers and do keep trying to solve them. Presently, more than 16000 trade unions are established in India with 10+ million workers.

Under Article 19 (1) (c) of the Indian constitution, you have the right to form a trade union in India. The first considered Trade Union was formed in April 1918 named as Madras Labour Union led by B.P. Waldia.

In 1918, the Textile labour association (Majur Mahajan sangh) was established in Ahmedabad and founded by Mahatma Gandhi along with Anasuya Sarabhai and Shankarlal Banker.

AIUTC (All India Trade Union Congress) was established on 31 October 1920 led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai in which Indian Labour Organisation (ILO) formed in 1919 became a driving force for AIUTC.

Trade Unions act 1926, formerly Indian Trade Unions act gives the definition of the word ‘Trade Union’ which means to regulate the relationship between:

  • Workmen and Employers
  • Workmen and Workmen
  • Employers and Employers

The relation can be temporary or permanent according to the terms and conditions set by both the parties which includes any association of two or more trade unions.

After the Trade Unions Act 1926 and Trade Disputes Act 1929 the growth of trade unions propelled. Many more unions such as Hind Mazdoor Sabha (1948), Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (1955) were formed after the introduction of Bombay Industrial Act (1946) and Industrial Employment Act (1946) as these acts resulted in strengthening the trade union movements. Although almost 6 decades have passed since post independence, the Trade unions are facing several problems internally and externally. Let’s talk about the problems faced by trade unions in India.

Internal Problems in Trade Unions:

Leadership: When it comes to leadership there is always a question in head, whether the leader should be an insider or an outsider. When workers from the inside lack in different skills (like Public speaking, language issues, under-confidence, lack of knowledge, illiteracy, economically weak etc.), the people from the outside are hired to lead the workers. Article 22 states that 50% of the incumbents can be from outside.

This creates a lot of chaos and disturbance in the working population because the outside leader is not among them which means that the leader is not able to understand the problems faced by workers. Leader will think more of his benefits instead of theirs. It leads to the lackadaisical growth of the union and will enfeeble the authority of unions. Generally, office-bearers are elected for leadership and no decision making power is given to workers which leads to an undemocratic leadership.

Uneven Growth of Unionism: The trade unions are mostly concentrated in organised sectors such as the textile industry. A few other industries where it is concentrated include coal mines, food industries, plantations, chemicals, utility services, commerce, transport and communications etc. The uneven growth can be seen in the example that in the plantation industry, unionism is 28 percent whereas in tobacco manufacturing it is 75 percent.

Also, Due to the concentration of certain industries in big centres and certain states, unionism is mainly concentrated in those certain few states and industrial centres only. The members of trade unions are usually workers from manual labour class. 

Multiplicity: There are a number of trade unions present in India which are the causes of disturbance between the labourers working in particular organisations. When we say multiplicity of trade unions, we mean that people compete with each other to get recognition by the authorities to form a union and forget about the main purpose of trade union which is to bring harmony among workers. This is somehow linked to political parties in a way that if there is a split in political parties, there will also be a split in trade unions. Workers follow the ideas of political parties but not the norms of trade unions. If some kind of chaos or ego clash happens in a union, it splits into two or many trade unions. This also affects the financial status of the union.

Heterogeneity: The perception of each worker depends on his/her race, caste, religion etc. which can be easily exploited by outsiders to disturb the harmony of the organisation and sometimes becomes a very serious issue. 

Illiteracy: Workers in the unions are generally illiterate and don’t have knowledge about various topics, so the employers or outside leaders can easily manipulate them to earn profit.

Finance: For any organisation to work, it should be financed properly. The union should have adequate funds to pay its expenses like allowances, salaries, telegrams, rents and miscellaneous expenses. In the last few years, trade unions have faced financial crises mainly due to less no. of members in organisations which leads to low membership subscription and hence becomes a cause for lower finances. The membership fee by the National commission on labour was suggested to be Rs.1 instead of 25 Paisa per month but the Government didn’t recommend it. Hence, low membership leads to low finance.

Inter-union rivalry: We have heard of Monopolistic markets, where a huge number of sellers compete with each other to get more profit. Likewise, if there are a large number of unions, they will definitely compete to earn a fair amount of benefit. The employers, politicians and outside leaders may even cause problems to let down the other union. Everyone wants to add more members to get more revenue for which they need to look better than other unions.

External Problems in Trade Unions:

Technology: Changes in technology are a serious issue for labourers because they don’t have skills or facilities to constantly learn about them. This leads to depletion in jobs and eventually reduces the number of members in the union.

Government support: After the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1991, Unionism has affected a lot which means the Government is also lacking somewhere to support the labour union.

Global competition: Globalisation of business means competition among workers which leads to a reduction of the working population in the country. By reducing the workforce and increment in wages, companies are earning more than usual.

Policies: The strategies made by the management focus on individuals, unit level bargaining and other things related to the benefits of organisation. This is responsible for weakening the unionism of labour and giving more importance to managerial policies instead of labour’s policies.

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Last Updated : 18 Oct, 2022
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