1. Trade Unionism – Industrial Relations, Trade Unions, and Labour Legislation, 2nd Edition

Chapter 1

Trade Unionism

Chapter Objectives

This chapter will enable students to explain:

  1. The meaning and concept of ‘trade union’
  2. The factors that led to the emergence and growth of trade unions
  3. The major theories of trade unions
  4. The legal and other handicaps of early trade unions
  5. The objectives of, and methods used by, trade unions
  6. The various activities of trade unions
  7. The determinants of the rate of growth of trade unions

The Birth of a Trade Union

The Tata Steel Company was set up on 27 February 1908 on the direction and initiative of Jamshedji Tata, and the active involvement of his eldest son Dorabji Tata and cousin Shapoorji Shaktalwala. The first ingot was produced on 16 February 1912. A number of workers from different parts of the country, particularly Chattisgarh, Shahabad and Saran districts of Bihar came to work at the plant. Around 10,000 workers were employed by the company between 1912 and 1918, and approximately 23,000 between 1924 and 1934.

Consciousness about the importance of organized struggle started emerging in the First World War period. While the company made huge profits, the wages of the workers remained low and stagnant. The prices of essential commodities had increased over the years and this added to the hardships faced by the workers. Most workers at the plant were illiterate and therefore not able to raise an effective voice against the management. But they soon came to learn about workers’ organizations in other places—the success of the Russian Revolution, the establishment of the ILO and the spread of communism among workers of the European countries. In January 1920, some of the more active leaders framed a plan to fight the management. They prepared a charter of demands that included a raise in wages, leave with wages, compensation in the event of fatal injury, housing accommodation and the framing of service rules. Thakkar Bapa, Superintendent of the Grain Store, placed the charter of demands before the management.

When there was no response from the management in over three months, the workers decided to adopt agitational methods. Canvassing and picketing at the gates of the factory began, and workers decided to go on strike from February 1920. In the absence of any formal organization among them, the strike was led mainly by foremen, apprentices, and a few dedicated workers.

By that time, a number of eminent Congress leaders of the nationalist movement had also actively associated themselves with the labour movement of the country. Workers at the Tata factory now approached Byomkesh Chakravarty for help. They also informed Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and C. R. Das. Byomkesh Chakravarty sent his close friend Surendra Nath Haldar, a renowned barrister at the Calcutta High Court, to help the workers.

On 25 February, a general meeting was organized in which more than 10,000 workers participated. The then deputy commissioner of the district, J. E. Scott, addressed the meeting in the capacity of government representative. In view of the massive response from the workers, the middle and lower level management started paying heed to the workers’ demands, but the leaders of the striking workers were now insistent that they would only negotiate with the general manager of the plant, T. W. Tutwiller. They also started raising funds to ensure the success of the strike. The management, in turn, had managed to deploy a large number of police to protect the company’s property and maintain law and order. Despite this suppression, increasing number of workers started participating in the struggle.

On 26 February, Surendra Nath Haldar, along with his associates, reached Jamshedpur. The next day, he addressed a large meeting of workers before meeting Scott. The same day, Tutwiller reached Jamshedpur. A tripartite meeting was subsequently convened, but did not result in any decisive measures either way.

On 28 February, the administration deployed additional armed forces near the factory premises and in vulnerable areas of the town. This added to the resentment of the workers. That day, another tripartite meeting was convened, in which the management spoke about the concessions it was willing to offer. However, Haldar insisted on a written statement, which the management refused. Thus, the negotiations failed again. In view of the gravity of the situation, Haldar sent a telegram to Mahatma Gandhi with a request that he intervene. Gandhiji sent Lala Lajpat Rai and Shaukat Ali to Jamshedpur, but these leaders also spoke to the management without obtaining any concrete result. Meanwhile, Scott requested Haldar to prepare a fresh charter of demands. On 1 March, the new charter was presented to Tutwiller, for forwarding it to the Board of Directors at Bombay.

On 3 March, the management, the local administration and police officials held secret meetings to discuss the volatile situation in the city. On 5 March, a tripartite meeting was again organized, in which Byomkesh Chakravarty played the role of the anchor. The same afternoon, a general meeting of the workers was convened in which he apprised the workers of the inflexible stand of the management. He also proposed the establishment of a trade union for taking up their cause in an organized and effective manner. The Jamshedpur Labour Association was thus formed, amidst the clapping of more than 25,000 people. The union was renamed Tata Workers’ Union in 1937.

The union has had the privilege of being presided over by such eminent persons as S. N. Haldar, Deenbandhu C. F. Andrews, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Prof. Abdul Bari and Michael John. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Motilal Nehru, C. R. Das and many other national leaders have actively associated themselves with the union in one way or the other. The initial period of the union witnessed widespread victimization of the workers: lathi-charge, police firing and other suppressive measures. But it ultimately secured for itself a prestigious and powerful status, and has since succeeded in entering into a number of notable collective agreements with the management.


Numerous authors and books have discussed the origin, growth, structure and functions of trade unions without formulating a formal definition of the term. Of all the definitions of a trade union, the one by Sidney and Beatrice Webbs is the most outstanding and oft-quoted. The Webbs say, ‘A Trade Union, as we understand the term, is a continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives’.1 Clyde E. Dankert formulates a comprehensive general definition, ‘A Trade Union is a continuing organization of employees established for the purpose of protecting or improving, through collective action, the economic and social status of its members’.2 According to G. D. H. Cole, ‘A Trade Union means an association of workers in one or more professions carried on mainly for the purpose of protecting and advancing the members’ economic interest in connection with their daily work’.3 In J. Cunnison’s view, ‘The special features of a trade union are that it is a monopolistic combination of wage-earners who as individual producers are complementary to one another but who stand to the employers in relation to dependence for the sale of their labour, and even for its production; and that the general purpose of the association is, in view of that dependence, to strengthen their power to bargain with the employers’.4


Trade Union

A continuous association of workers/employees for the protection and promotion of the economic, social and other rights, and interests of its members.

A comparison of the definitions shows that whereas the Webbs and Cunnison have used the expression ‘wage-earners’, Cole and Dankert have preferred ‘workers’ and ‘employees’, respectively. Whereas the Webbs and Cole have used the expression ‘association’, Dankert has used the word ‘organization’ and Cunnison ‘combination’. The definitions of Dankert and Cunnison mention collective action or collective bargaining as a method of trade union, but the Webbs’ and Cole’s definitions are silent about such methods. The purposes behind establishing trade unions have been dealt with in all the definitions, but the authors have opted for different words. As there are numerous differences in the structure, objectives, methods, types and conditions of membership of organizations going by the common name of trade union, it is difficult to evolve a definition that covers all unions in all their distinguishing features. Ultimately, a union is ‘what it does’5 and unionism is ‘what it is’.6


Authors and students of the trade union movement may differ with regard to the proper functions, objectives, roles and methods of trade unions, but they all agree that the trade union movement is the result of modern industrialization. Though attempts have been made to trace the ancestry of trade unions to the period between 1000 and 1450 AD in England and its neighbouring countries, they have not been convincing.

Institutions grow to meet the needs of a particular time and place. Trade unions have grown in response to the peculiar needs and problems that wage-earners have had to face in the course of industrialization under the capitalist economic system. What are the features of the process of industrialization that necessitated trade unions?

Separation Between Capital and Labour

Nascent trade unions can be traced back to the second half of eighteenth-century England. During this period, the economic system of England was undergoing rapid changes. An economic order, commonly known as capitalism, emerged. New industries based on iron and coal came into existence; they underwent rapid technological changes, and large-scale production replaced the small workshops of the past. In pre-industrial society, the worker-producer had owned his tools, provided his own raw materials, worked in his own home and kept the final product mostly for his own consumption and occasionally for sale in the market. The worker was his own master, his own provider of capital and his own seller. But under the new economic system, which demanded a large accumulated capital and congregation of a large number of workmen at one place, capital and labour came to be supplied by two different groups.

The capitalist mode of industrialization involved separation between the ownership of capital and labour, both of which were necessary for the production of goods and services. As a matter of fact, the modern factory system was preceded by the creation of a class of landless labourers—the proletariat—which had no other means of livelihood except the use of its labour power. The capitalists, with large aggregates of capital at their disposal, came to the labour market to buy labour power and to put it to productive use. As buyers, the capitalist employers were interested in paying the lowest possible price and, as suppliers of labour, the labourers were interested in securing the highest possible price. Thus, the two classes with divergent interests came in contact, giving rise to a conflicting relationship.

The capitalist economic order is based upon the notion that the pursuit of self-interest by every individual leads to the establishment of an economic and social order that serves best the interests of all concerned. It is an order that is supposed to accommodate all pervading conflicting interests.

Capitalists and the entrepreneurs are motivated by the goal of profit maximization. This drive of profit-making led to excesses in the early phases of wide-scale industrialization. Overlong hours of work, unsanitary working and living conditions, overcrowding, employment of young children, infliction of corporal punishment for the maintenance of industrial discipline, competitive lowering of wages and unemployment were the main features of industrialization under early capitalism. The working of an unbridled competitive economy resulted in widespread poverty and misery. Workers tried to protect their economic interests and status by submitting petitions to kings, courts and parliaments for the implementation of protective regulations, but they were unsuccessful.

Philosophy of Laissez-faire

The dominant philosophy of laissez-faire and economic liberalism prevented the state from coming to the rescue of the suffering industrial workers. In the eyes of the law, the workers and the employers were equal and had equal claims to legal protection. Their relationship was supposedly based upon contracts freely and voluntarily entered into. The disgruntled, dissatisfied and oppressed workers were, allegedly, free persons: free to choose their employers, occupations and place of work, and free not to work under terms and conditions they did not like. The terms and conditions were further supposed to be determined by bargaining between the individual workman and his employer on an equal footing. In reality, however, the employer dictated the terms and conditions of employment. The state remained silent, and its policy of non-intervention in the economic life of the community further heightened the degree of exploitation and suffering of the working class.



A French term widely prevalent in European countries during the second half of the eighteenth century and the greater part of the nineteenth century, emphasizing development of private businesses without governmental control.

Lack of Bargaining Power on the Part of Workers

Contrary to the position and status of industrial workers in the eyes of the law, an individual workman was a tool in the hands of the employers. Being economically dependent on the employer, he had neither the bargaining skill nor the trade acumen to have his demands met. The freedoms of the labour market were illusory. In the battle of unequals, it was the employer that had the upper hand. He unilaterally determined the wage-rates, hours of work and other conditions of employment. The worker had the choice of either accepting the job or remaining unemployed. It is no surprise that workers chose the former option. During periods of mass unemployment, replacing defiant workers was by no means a difficult task for employers.

Individual Dispensability but Collective Indispensability

However, there remained one ray of light and hope for the working class. The individual workman was dispensable to the employer, but workmen, collectively, were indispensable. The employer could easily get rid of the services of a few workmen, but he could not dispense with the services of all his workmen and readily replace them. This realization of their collective indispensability was a watershed in the history of the working class. In it lay the roots of collective bargaining that later resulted in trade unionism. Thus ‘labour’s organizations and concerted efforts owe their inception and growth to one of the most basic of the problems of social life, the struggle for possession of material things, and to some of the most powerful of human motivations’.7


It was under these conditions that workers’ organizations first started. Workers, serving under a common employer, and faced with common problems and common tasks, developed common sentiments. They developed group interpretations and reactions to the external environment, their social and economic situations, and tried to organize themselves into associations that could meet the employers on an equal platform.

There were hurdles to be crossed before the inchoate labour organizations could develop into full-fledged and stable trade unions. There were internal dissentions, persistent and determined opposition from the employers, merciless persecution and suppression by the state, and full-throated condemnation of trade unionism by the advocates of free competition and laissez-faire. The incipient labour organizations survived the many-pronged attacks against them and succeeded in overcoming formidable obstacles. They have finally come to occupy an integral and prominent place in the economic and social life of today. This shows that trade unions have acquired sufficient strength to meet the changing needs of time and new challenges.

The foregoing few pages give a brief outline of the processes of economic, social and political changes that led to the emergence of the trade union movement. Of these processes of change, the state’s attitude of utter indifference towards the sufferings and privations of the working masses under the capitalist system stands out prominently. It was this indifference that induced and forced workers to rely on their own strength when they felt helpless and desperate in the face of deepening capitalist exploitation.

There have been varied opinions regarding the cause of labour movement. Some have opined that the machine is the cause and the labour movement the result,8 while others felt that trade unionism appeared as a group interpretation of the social situation in which workers found themselves, and as a remedial programme in the form of aims, policies and methods.9 Another opinion is that trade unionism arose from job consciousness and the scarcity of job opportunities.10 It could also be contended that labour organizations, perhaps, would not have emerged but for the attitude of the state which exhibited, in the early periods of modern industrialization, a callous disregard to the sufferings and the needs of the toiling masses. It is possible to argue that had the state shown even a modicum of responsibility for the protection and welfare of the working class, labour organizations might not have come into existence, or might not have taken the form they do today.


The foregoing has broadly touched some of the basic approaches explaining the emergence of trade unions. It will be relevant here to discuss in some detail a few of the oft-quoted theories of trade unionism put forward by eminent figures in the field.

Webbs’ Theory

Sidney and Beatrice Webbs have been pioneers in studying, both extensively and intensively, various facets of trade unionism. Their books The History of Trade Unionism (1894) and Industrial Democracy (1897) are often regarded as ‘Bibles of Trade Unionism’. Lenin was so impressed by their work Industrial Democracy that he himself translated it from English into Russian. These books contain significant ideas and statements pertaining to assumptions, purposes, objectives and methods of trade unions, many of which hold good even today. Some of the oftest-quoted of their views and assertions are as follows:

  1. A trade union is a continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives.11 Trade unions spring not from any particular institution, but from every opportunity for meeting together of wage-earners of the same occupation.12
  2. Trade unions get born simultaneously with capitalism because capitalism requires the kind of labourers who are free in a double sense: free from owning the means of production and free to sell their labour power as they want. Trade unionism can occur both under capitalism, when there is private ownership of the means of production and under socialism, when there is social ownership of the means of production.13
  3. The fundamental objective of a trade union is ‘the deliberate regulation of the conditions of employment in such a way as to ward off from the manual-working producers the evil effects of industrial competition’.14 The objective of work, is no mere increase of wages or reduction of hours. It comprises nothing less than an idea for the reconstruction of society, by eliminating from it the capitalist profit-maker who lives merely by owning.
  4. The special function of a trade union is in the democratic administration of the industry. For short-term aims, the workers should be organized functionally into trade unions, and for the long-term aim, into political parties.
  5. The labour organization utilizes the methods of mutual insurance, collective bargaining and legal enactment.
  6. It is the primary duty of trade unions in a democratic state to maintain and progressively raise the ‘national minimum’ for the entire wage-earning class. The national minimum wage represents the ‘living wage’ which is supposed to secure a minimum standard of education, sanitation, leisure and wages for every grade of worker in every industry. Uniform minimum standards of common rule should be established for each firm. The device of common rule envisages the gradual improvement of these minimum standards of wages and conditions. It is the duty of labour organization to strive perpetually to raise the level of the common rule.


  1. The Webbs have not paid adequate attention to the specific factors and forces contributing to the emergence of labour organizations.
  2. Their writings do not specify the conditions providing stimulus to the development of trade unions and determining the pattern of their growth.15.
  3. As regards the ultimate goals of trade unions, the Webbs have laid emphasis on their being instruments of democratization of both the work community and society as a whole. They have thus not foreseen other goals which the trade unions also adopt and which have been emphasized by other theorists.

The Marxian Theory

Karl Marx has explained the emergence and growth of trade unionism as a result of the rise of two opposed classes—the capitalist, termed by him as the bourgeoisie, and free labourers, whom he called the proletariat. His theory of trade unionism is based on the conflict inherent between the two classes.


The Bourgeoisie

Used primarily in Marxism, it refers to the part of society, including employers and people who run large companies, that owns most of the wealth.

The Proletariat

Used mainly in Marxism, it refers to the class of people who do unskilled job in industry and own little or no property.

Although Marx’s ideas about the origin, growth and role of trade unions in such a system is found in most of his writings, these are particularly found in his work The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), The Communist Manifesto (1848), The Inaugural Address of the First International Workingmen’s Association (1864) and his correspondence with Friedrich Engels and others.

After the industrial revolution, when machines started being used for production of commodities, concentration of free labourers under one roof took place on a large scale. At that time, the labourers received merely subsistence wages which too were nibbled at by the bourgeoisie. In order to resist this, the proletariat had no alternative but to make a common stand. This gave birth to trade union. Initially, they had to combine to stop competition among themselves for obtaining more wages. Later, when the sense of unity strengthened and solidarity took strong roots among them, they started industrial struggle against the bourgeoisie which ultimately took the shape of political struggle.

Box 1.1

Without organization, workers competed with each other for available employment. The trade union developed originally out of the spontaneous attempts of the workers to do away with this competition, or at least to restrict it for the purpose of obtaining at least such contracted conditions as would raise them above the status of bare slaves.


Karl Marx

Marx says, that the struggle was first carried on by individual labourers, then by work-people of a factory, then by the operatives of one trade and one locality against the individual bourgeois who directly exploited them. At this stage, the labourers were still an unorganized mass scattered over different parts of the country, with their solidarity broken up by mutual competition.16

In the next stage, along with the development of industry and growth in labourers’ numbers, they started clubbing together and formed permanent associations. According to Marx, the real fruit of their battle lay not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding unions of workers. The formation of permanent associations was necessary for centralizing the numerous local struggles and transforming them into a collective struggle. Marx accepted that competitions among labourers for immediate gains would occasionally weaken their solidarity, but he was confident that their organization would ultimately become symbolic of class and would become stronger, firmer and mightier. Thus, in Marx’s view the birth of trade unions has been the result of struggle between the two classes, that is, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Marx holds that in its confrontation with the proletariat, the bourgeoisie mobilizes not only economic might but political might as well. According to him, in a class society, the state is dominated by the people owning the means of production. In order to counteract this dominance of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat has also to launch a political struggle against the state. Thus, the political action of trade unions is indispensable. ‘If the trade unions by the very nature of their economic demands are propelled to take to political action, the political activities themselves become the means to invigorate the trade union movement. One is dependent on the other’.

In participation in political movement, the workers must make a conglomeration of such people as are exploited by the capitalist system. The alliance of industrial workers with agricultural workers and other suppressed and exploited people is needed to add new strength to the working class movement. ‘By considering themselves champions and representatives of the whole working class, and acting accordingly, the trade unions must succeed in rallying round themselves all workers still outside their rank’.17

The capture of political power would be their next immediate task. ‘The consolidation of workers’ forces attained in the economic struggle will also have to serve as a lever in the hands of this class for the struggle against the political power of its exploiters. In view of the fact that the owners of the land and capital always utilized their political privileges to guard and perpetuate their economic monopolies and to enslave labour, the conquest of political power comes to be the great task of the proletariat’.18


  1. It is rather futile to expect a display of complete solidarity and unity from different categories of workers with varying degrees of skill and levels of employment. The goals of skilled workers and craftsmen might not be identical with the goals of unskilled workers. As such, the conditions as envisaged by Marx as conducive to the formations of unions are not replicable across time or cultures.
  2. The relation between labour and capital does not always contain elements of conflict. Rather, it is the element of cooperation that makes possible the smooth running of industrial and other enterprises. Of late, trade unions in almost all countries of the world have associated themselves with tripartite deliberations and have cooperated with both the state machinery and the employers in the formulation and execution of governmental labour policy.
  3. Marx’s assumption that the state always sides with the capitalist class is also not always tenable. In all democracies, the state has protected the interests of labour when needed, and has been adopting measures to regulate relations between employers and trade unions, keeping in view the interests of the community or the nation.
  4. In many countries, trade unions have refrained from political struggle for ameliorating the conditions of labour. Many trade unions have come to rely on economic and industrial action to protect the interests of labour. Their direct participation in politics is not a usual phenomenon.

Perlman’s Job Consciousness Theory

Selig Perlman’s theory of trade union movement, also know as ‘Job Consciousness Theory’, is primarily based on his examination of labour movements in the United States, Great Britain, Germany and Russia.

According to Perlman, the trade union is the outcome of the pessimistic outlook of a ‘manualist’ worker. This outlook emerges when the worker becomes conscious of the scarcity of job opportunities. In order to protect his limited job opportunity, he starts uniting with fellow ‘manualists’. Perlman contends that job scarcity has been true not only for workers under the medieval guild system of European countries, but also of modern industrial labour. ‘Just as to the guildsman opportunity was visibly limited to the local market, so to the industrial wage-earner it is limited to the number of jobs available, almost always fewer than the number of job seekers’.19

After studying the American situation, Perlman says that during periods of expansion of the economy, the American worker had the consciousness of abundance, but this phenomenon existed only for a few years. ‘The optimism of the period of plenty was superseded by the pessimism of scarcity’. The moment such a situation emerged, trade unions also emerged. However, as a result of the continuing inertia of abundance and a prevailing class fluidity, American workers did not acquire the ‘class consciousness’ that workers of Europe did. European workers also developed the sense of scarcity of job opportunities and formed trade unions to protect the limited opportunities they had. However, the feeling of future job scarcity led them to develop a certain class consciousness. Perlman holds, ‘Unionism … first became a stabilized movement in America only when the abundance consciousness of the pioneer days had been replaced in the mind of labour by a scarcity consciousness—the consciousness of job scarcity’.20 Perlman holds that labour movement in any country is shaped by three basic factors: (i) the resistance power of capitalism, determined by its own historical development, (ii) the degree of dominance over the labour movements by the intellectuals’ mentality which overestimates labour’s will to radical change and (iii) the degree of maturity of a trade union’s mentality. Perlman held that the goal of ‘organic’ labour crystallized out as ‘communism of opportunity’ and the intellectuals divided, into types distinguishable as ‘ethical’, ‘efficiency expert’ and ‘determinist-revolutionary’.

According to Perlman, genuine trade unionists are ‘bread and butter’ trade unionists and genuine trade unions are inherently ‘bread and butter’ trade unions. If they go beyond that it is because some outside influence wants them to do so. In the American setup, the trade unions have demonstrated how free they are from those outside influences. The American trade unions have not become class conscious political trade unions like the European ones. Perlman holds that capitalism is ‘a social organization presided over by a class with an effective will to power, thus, implying its ability to defend its power against all comers.’


  1. Perlman’s proposition that trade unions emerged mainly from ‘job consciousness’ is not tenable in all situations. In a number of countries, workers are faced with the problem of job scarcity and job insecurity, but they do not take recourse to trade unionism. This is particularly true of small and scattered industries or employments.
  2. Perlman has underestimated the influence of outsiders, particularly intellectuals, on the trade union movement. In a number of countries, ideologists have exercised potent influence on the growth of trade union movement. The influence of Marxism, guild socialism and syndicalism on trade unions is well known. In India, it has been mainly due to the efforts of eminent social and political leaders including N. M. Lokhande, B. P. Wadia, N. M. Joshi, Subhash Chandra Bose, V. V. Giri, Mahatma Gandhi, S. A. Dange and several others that trade unions came to be formed and were nurtured.
  3. It is also misleading to say that genuine trade unionists are ‘bread and butter’ trade unionists and genuine trade unions are inherently ‘bread and butter’ trade unions. It is difficult to adopt a norm for identifying unions which are genuine and which are not. Trade unions everywhere in the world have been espousing the political and social cause of their members. Many trade unions have been instrumental in the establishment of pro-labour political parties or exerting pressure on the state to achieve pro-labour legislative measures.
  4. Trade unions have been instrumental in the overthrow of capitalism and establishment of socialism in countries like Russia and China. Perlman’s theory does not explain such a phenomenon.

Hoxie’s Socio-psychological Theory

Robert F. Hoxie presents a socio-psychological approach to trade unionism in his book Trade Unionism in the United States (1920). According to him, trade unions grew out of the ‘social psychological’ environment of the workers. He says that ‘workers who are similarly situated economically and socially, closely associated and not too divergent in temperament and training, will tend to develop a common interpretation of the social situation and a common solution of the problem of living. This may come about gradually and spontaneously, or it may be apparently sudden outcome of some crisis in the lives of the men concerned’.21

Hoxie has adopted a pluralistic approach to trade unionism. He holds that trade unionism is the outcome of a group psychology that emerges out of social and environmental conditions and the temperamental characteristics of the members. Hoxie classifies trade unions on the basis of the functions performed by them. According to him, there are four types of trade unionism: (i) business unionism, (ii) friendly or uplift unionism, (iii) revolutionary unionism and (iv) predatory unionism. His followers added a fifth, dependent unionism, to the list.

  1. Business Unionism: This type of unionism, most clearly recognized as the functional type, is essentially trade conscious as opposed to class conscious. It is conservative in outlook and accepts the capitalistic organization and wage system. It generally tries to limit its membership through apprenticeship, high initiation fees and inclusion of more skilled workers in a craft or industry. With the establishment of the American Federation of Labour, this type of unionism became more distinct.
  2. Friendly or Uplift Unionism: Such unionism aims mainly at elevating the moral, intellectual and social life of workers. Such a type prefers to rely on political action, mutual insurance activities and cooperative enterprises. The Knights of Labor (1881–86) of the United States, symbolizing middle-class uprising, represented this type of unionism.
  3. Revolutionary Unionism: Revolutionary unionism is ‘extremely radical both in view point and the action. It is distinctly class conscious rather than trade conscious’.22 Hoxie has further subdivided this into (i) socialistic unionism and (ii) quasi-anarchistic unionism.
  4. Predatory Unionism: This is characterized by ‘ruthless pursuit of the thing in hand by whatever means seen most appropriate at the time, regardless of ethical and legal codes or effect’.23
  5. Dependent Unionism: This may be of two types: (i) company unionism and (ii) union label unionism. Company unionism is dominated by the employer and is dependent on him. Union label unionism depends upon the union label being imprinted on the products made by the union members so that consumers, particularly workers, may opt for union-label products in preference to those not so labelled.

Box 1.2

The union emerges when group sentiments have been crystallised. It appears as a ‘group interpretation of the social situation in which workers find themselves, and a remedial programme in the form of aims, policies and methods. . . .’


Robert F. Hoxie, Trade Unionism in the United States

Hoxie conceives of the trade union movement as a product of the American environment. He sees it as pragmatically adjusting its goals and tactics to the growth of capitalism, and the nature of the prevailing political system.


  1. Hoxie’s proposition is based primarily on the American experience. He has not taken into account the social psychological aspects of labour as exist in other countries.
  2. Hoxie has paid little attention to the political factors and impact of contemporary ideologies on the emergence of trade unions.
  3. Hoxie’s theory is based on the acceptance of the capitalist system under which trade unions have to operate. It fails to give much weight to workers who aim at replacing capitalism by other economic systems.
  4. The theory does not clearly explain the role of outsiders in the formation of trade unions. The Indian experience demonstrates that many eminent personalities associated with the national struggle for independence have been instrumental in setting up trade unions.

Tannenbaum’s Technological Theory

Frank Tannenbaum has developed a technological theory of trade unionism in his 1921 book A Philosophy of Labor. According to him, ‘Labour movement is the result and machine is the major cause’. He holds that any mode of production that uses machines, whether it be in a factory or mine or industry, is responsible for giving birth to trade unions. The mechanical mode of production involves gathering of work-people, and such a congregation gives rise to the trade union. ‘What the trade union organizer does is just to formally announce to the world the already existing fact.’24

In Tannenbaum’s view, mechanization led to the breaking of society which had hitherto given to the workers ‘security, justice, freedom and faith’.25 The workers were led to look after themselves individually, and thus, the advent of machines resulted in ‘social atomization’. When the socially ‘atomized’ workers started congregating under one roof, they wanted to restore their past position. Tannenbaum says, ‘What the workers had in common was their employer, the industry they worked in, the hours they laboured, the bench or the machine they worked at, the wage rate they received, the foreman who ruled over them, the materials they worked, the whistle that called them from beds in the morning or brought to halt to their labours’.26 They depended on one another’s cooperation. Thus, a sense of identity became inevitable. These conditions gave them a common unity based on craft, job, shop or industry, and led to the establishment of ‘self-conscious’ groups. ‘Thus social atomization resulting from the individual money wage was in time to be defeated by the fusing of men together functionally and this functional coalescence became the firm foundation upon which the trade union movement grew, and which, in fact made it inevitable’.27

Box 1.3

‘The labour movement is the result and the machine is the major cause’. The machine threatens the security of the individual worker and the wage earner reacts in self-defense through union to attempt to control the machine.


Frank Tannenbaum, A Philosophy of Labor

Tannenbaum holds, ‘The trade union movement is an unconscious rebellion against atomization of industrial society. It suggests that the men, skilled and unskilled who do the labour of the world want to return to … older way of life’.28 Tannenbaum further asserts that trade unionism is ‘conservative and counter-revolutionary’.29 He also says that the aim of trade unionism is participation in all the affairs of the management.


  1. It is difficult to conceive that trade unions emerged with a view to reverting back to the conditions of the pre-machine era. Experience has shown that a large number of trade unions were formed also with a view to facing the challenges resulting from new social, political and economic changes.
  2. Tannenbaum’s theory does not explain the emergence of trade unions in a number of professions that do not entail the use of machines—offices, trade and commerce and financial institutions, for instance.
  3. It is erroneous to say that trade union movement is ‘conservative’ and ‘counter-revolutionary’. Many trade unions have been established with progressive and revolutionary aims, especially those under the influence of Marxism and Syndicalism.
  4. Tannenbaum holds that machines have produced ‘social atomization’ of workers. But in fact, workers have displayed solidarity even prior to widespread use of machinery.
  5. It is not always true that trade unions adopt a participative attitude towards the management. Many employers are reluctant to associate trade unions in management of their enterprises in any manner.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Approach

Mahatma Gandhi has not been a trade unionist in the technical sense. However, his views on labour issues and trade unionism are of immense importance. His views have direct or indirect relevance to many other facets of life of the people and the nation.

Soon after his return from South Africa, Gandhiji actively associated himself with the labour movement in Ahmedabad, especially with the Textile Labour Association founded by Ansyuaben Sarabhai and Shankarlal Banker in 1920. Subsequently, he also played a notable role in taking up the cause of labour in some other parts of the country. Gandhiji’s main ideas relating to labour issues, trade unionism and industrial relations are contained in many of his writings like Young India and Harijan. R. J. Soman’s Peaceful Industrial Relations: Their Science and Technique (1957) and Mahadeva Desai’s The Righteous Struggle (1951) which are important sources of information about his views on the subject. Gandhiji’s approach, based on his ideals of truth and non-violence, when applied to the labour field, could imply work-stoppages and strikes. Gandhiji was greatly influenced by the writings of Leo Tolstoy and John Ruskin, and himself firmly believed in the dignity of labour. He thence clarified his own stand on matters relating to the importance of labour, use of machinery in production, role of trade unions, relationship between labour and capital, and settlement of disputes.

Gandhiji recognizes the importance of labour in society and in the process of production, and considers it the source of all wealth. He does not denounce the use of machinery altogether. He approves of the use of such machinery ‘which does not deprive masses of men of the opportunity to labour but which helps the individual and adds to his efficiency and which a man can handle at will without being its slave’.30

Gandhiji holds that trade unions should ‘aim to raise the moral and intellectual height of labour and thus by sheer merit make labour master of the means of production instead of being slave that it is’.31 According to him, trade unions should cover all aspects of workers’ lives both inside the factory and at home. In the event of differences between workers and employers, there should be voluntary conciliation between the parties in the first instance. If conciliation fails, the next step is to refer the matter to an impartial third party for arbitration, the award of which should be binding on both. If the employer does not abide by the award, the workers have the option of resorting to non-violent non-cooperation with the employer, which also implies the resort to strike. But Gandhiji specifies certain conditions before a strike is called. These include: (i) The cause of strike must be just. (ii) There should be unanimity among the workers in favour of the strike. (iii) Strikers must not resort to violence. (iv) They should not intimidate or coerce workers who do not wish to participate in the strike. (v) They should refrain from securing financial help from third parties. (vi) They should display solidarity among themselves as long as the strike lasts. (vii) Workers should not go on strike without the consent of the union to which they belong.

Gandhiji is not in favour of strike in public utility services and sympathetic strike. He holds that there is community of interest between capital and labour and develops trusteeship approach towards the relation between them. In his view, capital is the trustee for the good of the workers. He says, ‘I have always said that my ideal is that capital and labour should supplement and help each other. They should be a great family living in unity and harmony; capital not only looking to the material welfare of the labourers, but to their moral welfare also—capitalists being trustees for the welfare of the labouring classes under them’.32

When workers are considered equals with the shareholders, they have the right to information regarding the transactions of the mills. There can be no confidence on the part of labour, if material information is withheld from them. Gandhiji sums up his trusteeship theory in the following words. ‘My theory of trusteeship is no makeshift, certainly no camouflage. I am confident that it will survive all other theories. It has the sanction of philosophy and religion behind it. That possessors of wealth have not acted up to the theory does not prove its falsity; it proves the weakness of the wealthy. No other theory is compatible with non-violence’.33 For concretizing the trusteeship theory, Mahatma Gandhi has suggested three steps: (i) persuasion, (ii) state legislation and (iii) dispossession and nationalization. He advises individual workers to practise self-control, self-discipline and self-imposed simplicity. Only then, according to him, could they work for a social order based on mutual confidence.


  1. Gandhiji’s emphasis on truth and non-violence’ in the determination of both ends and means in matters relating to labour and capital, as in other spheres of life, appears to be impractical in actual situations, as the application of these principles requires a very high, and less than usual, degree of morality on the part of both workers and their employers.
  2. His trusteeship approach to employer–workers relationship is, no doubt, plausible, but it is very difficult to conceive it in actual practice. The industrial relations situation in India, as elsewhere, reflects that the basic goals of capital and labour in a capitalist society are diametrically opposed. Under such a system, expecting labour as partner of enterprise might be futile.
  3. Gandhiji’s views do not clearly explain the factors and forces that contributed to the emergence of trade unions. He has concentrated more on the examination of labour problems, and methods of solving them, and the roles the employers and trade unions may be expected to play.
  4. The Gandhian approach is not a theory of trade unionism in the true sense. His approach covers a wide range of subjects concerning labour and capital such as rights and obligations of workers and employers, settlement of industrial disputes and employer–employee relationships.

Some Other Theories

John R. Commons, also called Sydney Webb of the United States, has been a pioneer in writing on the American labour movement. He postulates what may be called a class struggle theory. According to him, the labour movement is ‘always a reaction and a protest against capitalism’. He holds that trade unionism comes into being simultaneously with the birth of capitalism. Initially trade unionism emerged during merchant capitalism but became stable and gathered momentum with the advent of industrial revolution and industrial capitalism. The American workers, however, did not become class-conscious on account of an entirely different environment characterized by existence of free land and expanding frontiers. The American workers continued to be more interested in their jobs and became ‘job conscious.’ According to him, ‘As long as the wage-earning class accepts the existing order and merely attempts to secure better wage bargains, its goal must eventually be some form of trade “agreement” which recognizes the equal bargaining rights of the organized employees. Its union is not “class conscious” in the revolutionary sense of separation from but partnership with, the employing class’.34

G. D. H. Cole, a Fabian socialist like the Webbs, presents a theory of trade unionism which is similar to that of the Webbs. Cole’s theory is also a class struggle theory. He asserts that class struggle is irrefutable under capitalism. It is only by means of class-struggle that one can escape from it.

He realized the inconvenience caused to public by strike action, but asserted its necessity for launching a struggle against capitalism. ‘A public that acquiesces in exploitation has no rights against workers who are up in arms against it. As long as social inequalities persist, industrial disputes will go along with it… strikes happen because of inequalities and injustice’.35 According to him, trade unionism exists to carry on class struggle.

Other scholars who have dealt with the subject include: Vladimir I. Lenin, Harold J. Laski and John T. Dunlop.36

A perusal of the various theories explained in the preceding pages reveals differences in the approaches of the scholars. These differences can be explained in terms of their perceptions of the economic, social and political conditions prevailing in different countries at particular periods of time. Besides, their own lineage and ideology have also influenced them. Generally speaking, a theory of trade unionism should give due attention to the factors and forces responsible for the emergence of trade unions, examine the pattern of their growth and development, and the reasons on account of which workers join unions. Most of the theories do not give a convincing explanation of all the aspects mentioned above.


The early workers’ organizations had to deal with the wrath of the state, which came down hard on trade unions. ‘Combinations of workmen to better their conditions were declared illegal as early as the fourteenth century, and every century thereafter, the law put down such combinations’.37 In England, France, Germany and the United States, combinations of workmen were declared illegal. Participants in strikes were punished with imprisonment and fines. Trade unions were treated as criminal conspiracies, cause for restraint of trade, and violation of contract agreements. (For details of anti-trade union laws, see Chapter 20.)

The British Parliament brought into force the Combination Acts in 1799 and 1800, prohibiting the workmen from combining. It would not be out of place to quote here from a judgement of 1816 sentencing nine Stockport hatters to two years’ imprisonment for conspiracy. The Judge, Sir William Garrow, said, ‘In this happy country where the law puts the meanest subject on a level with the highest personages of the realm, all are alike protected, and there can be no need to associate.… A person, who like Mr. Jackson has employed from 100 to 130 hands, common gratitude would teach us to look upon him as a benefactor to the community.’38 A few more judgements are quoted to illustrate the legal restraints faced by the early trade unions in different countries. In the United States, the courts, while interpreting the common law and its application to labour organizations, applied to them the same charge of criminal conspiracy and restraint of trade. In the Philadelphia Cordwainers Case of 1806, the court, with untroubled simplicity, declared that ‘a combination of workmen to raise their wages may be considered from a twofold point of view; one is to benefit themselves, the other to injure those who do not join their society. The rule of law condemns both’.39 This was not a rare judgement in the United States. This viewpoint was reiterated with or without modification in many judgements. In India, as late as 1921 in the Buckingham & Carnatic Mills case, the Madras Labour Union led by B. P. Wadia was indicted as having been engaged in a criminal conspiracy and damages were awarded against the union.

In spite of these efforts at suppression, trade unions continued to grow, sometimes working underground and sometimes openly, and the hand of the law failed to break the resistance of the workers to the excesses of capitalist factory systems. Under incessant pressures from the workers and their organizations, the law gradually came to be modified. The history of the trade union movement everywhere is a history of blood, tears and toil. As Harry A. Millis and Royal E. Montgomery remark, ‘British policy and law relating to labour combinations have undergone an interesting development—from stout opposition and attempts at outright suppression to limited acceptance and toleration, then to general acceptance and comparatively few restrictions’.’40 Trade unions in most countries have passed through these three stages: (i) outright suppression, (ii) limited tolerance and (iii) general recognition. However, trade unions in the world today are not at the same stage of development everywhere. In some countries, especially in those under erstwhile colonial rule, trade unions had to struggle to go past the first stage. In many underdeveloped countries free from colonial yoke, they are in the second stage. In full-fledged industrially advanced capitalist democracies, they are in the third stage. In communist countries, trade unions occupy an altogether different position and status.


A discussion of the objectives of trade union movement cannot be better begun than with a quotation from Samuel Gompers, the founder-president of the American Federation of Labour. In his words, ‘Trade unions… were born of the necessity of workers to protect and defend themselves from encroachment, injustice and wrong… to protect the workers in their inalienable right to higher and better life; to protect their lives, their limbs, health, their homes, their firesides, their liberties as men, as workers, as citizens; to overcome and conquer prejudice and antagonism; to secure them the right to life, and the opportunity to maintain that life, the right to be full sharers in the abundance which is the result of their brain and brawn, and the civilization of which they are the founders and the mainstay’.41 The primary function of trade unions is to protect workers against the excesses committed by the employers and to meet the economic, social and political needs of the workers.

The aims, philosophies and programmes of the trade union movement are all related to one supreme goal: the protection and promotion of the interests of the working class. However, as this goal is sought to be achieved by multitudes of trade unions working under different economic, political and industrial environments, different methods have emerged. These variations must be viewed in the light of the needs of the particular situation, the changing times and different levels of workers’ consciousness. It has now become customary to differentiate between trade unions on the basis of their objectives, methods, policies and programmes of action, but we should remember that all these differences are united by the common goal stated above.

The generic goal of protecting and promoting workers’ interests consists of such specific objectives as: (i) improvement of economic status of workers, (ii) shorter working day, (iii) improvement of working and living conditions, (iv) income security (pension, provident fund, compensation for work-injuries and unemployment, protection against layoff, retrenchment and victimization), (v) better health, safety and welfare standards, (vi) respect and humane treatment from colleagues and supervisors, (vii) greater voice in industrial administration and management, and (viii) improvement of political status.

The objectives listed are not in any decided order of priority. The same union over a period of time may shift the emphasis from one objective to another. The early unions everywhere emphasized the wage issue more than any other. Later on, hours of work, and still later, income security came to occupy greater prominence. Which objective occupies greater priority in which unions and when, is a function of the time and place in which the union finds itself.

Box 1.4

It is of special interest to the employed that the conditions under which their labour is given should be good; these include conditions as to sanitation, safety, health, and hours of labour. It is to their special interest that the remuneration for their labour should be satisfactory, and that they should have security of tenure in their employment. And it is to their special interest that they should have some voice in determining these conditions. Possibility of conflicts between employers and employed arises in connection with the distribution of the product; and the demand for an increased share in the direction of industry and control of the conditions on the part of labour involves some interference with the freedom and power of the employer, which has been in general strongly resisted at every stage.


J. Cunnison, Labour Organization

Selig Perlman says that trade unions have a home-grown philosophy based on workers’ experience and psychology.42 Growing out of workers’ day-to-day experiences, unions have the sole objectives of protecting the jobs of the workers and securing day-to-day improvements in their working and living conditions. Such trade unions are neither concerned with fundamental reconstruction of the economic system, nor with wider political or intellectual ideologies. It is the outside intellectuals, whether Marxists, or efficiency experts or ethicals who seek to impose political ideologies on the trade union movement.43 There is some truth in the idea that trade unions, left to themselves, would devote their attention to workers’ sectional and temporary advantages. As voluntary associations, trade unions remain under constant pressure of the immediate and proximate needs of their members, and distant and long-term objectives may not have the same urgency.

But it is equally true that trade unions may, on their own, develop interests in political ideologies and issues as they learn out that temporary palliatives provide no cure. Walter Gordon Merritt, surveying the ultimate destiny of the American labour movement, says, ‘A real test may come when the economic forces inherent in the free enterprise system compel the union leader to return with an empty game bag, either because of a depression or because the system cannot increase labour costs. Will labour then be satisfied to continue to accept the benefits that free enterprise has left to offer, or will new leaders, understanding the art of demagoguery and mindful of the emotions that have been nourished in the hearts of union members, possess the field with dreams of a promised land?’44 As such, attachment to socialist ideas becomes as much a part of the agenda of unionism as concern with job security. It is in this context that Merritt, while talking of the ultimate goal of unionism, quotes Gompers: ‘what does labour want? It wants the earth and the fullness thereof’.

The trade union movement in many countries had developed political ideologies for replacement of the capitalist economic system by socialism. It has been contended, however, that the objective of changing an economic system should really be sought by political parties. Trade unions should involve themselves in only the day-to-day working conditions of their members, as any involvement on the part of the trade unions with political objectives would exercise a divisive influence on the rank and file. While advocates of this viewpoint support the workers’ right as citizens to become members of political parties standing for socialism and in that capacity to work for the overthrow of capitalism, they deny that trade unions should be actively associated with movements for fundamental changes in the economic system.

On the other hand, socialists and Marxists argue that in the struggle for the establishment of socialism, trade unions cannot and should not remain neutral. Being the primary organs of the working class whose deliverance lies in socialism, trade unions should actively engage in political education of their members in favour of socialism.


How do trade unions seek to achieve their goals? When they were illegal, they defied the law either openly or surreptitiously; they resorted to illegal strikes and even physical violence when they considered it necessary. When they came to be recognized, they tried to influence the course of legislation to protect the interests of their members. They developed organizations for mutual help and protection. The classic description of trade union methods by the Webbs as consisting of (i) mutual insurance, (ii) collective bargaining and (iii) legal enactment, still holds good—though it must be remembered that what the Webbs call legal enactment is only a part of the broader political action undertaken by the unions.

Mutual Insurance

From their very inception, trade unions have spent a part of their income providing insurance and other welfare benefits for improving the conditions of their members, and promoting goodwill among them. The nature and extent of the benefits provided have expanded over the years. Where unions are rich, they are in a better position to provide insurance and other benefits to their members. On the other hand, the poorer unions cannot provide much. Funds for mutual insurance may come from membership subscriptions, special levies and donations.


Mutual Insurance

A term originally used by Sydney and Beatrice Webbs denoting provision of insurance against certain risks, and other welfare amenities provided by trade unions to their members.

British trade unions have a strong tradition of providing mutual insurance for the benefit of their members. Even prior to the 1880s, many trade unions in Great Britain provided insurance to their members against such risks as sickness, accident, disablement, old age, death, as also against unemployment. However, the nature and scale of benefits provided varied considerably, depending on the financial position of trade unions and the extent of incidence of particular risks. It was principally the craft unions which took to mutual insurance first, and an appreciable number of trade unions voluntarily registered themselves with the Registrar of Friendly Societies.

Of the friendly benefits, the most generally provided was funeral benefit. In addition to covering funeral expenses, such benefits covered a grant to the deceased member’s widow, his young children and parents. In some cases, sickness and accident benefits were combined. Many trade unions also provided for medicine and medical attendance. Accident benefit could be in lump sum or in the form of periodic payment during incapacity. Only a few trade unions could provide for superannuation benefit. Unemployment benefit could consist of an out-of-work allowance, the tramp benefit and emigration benefit. Tramp benefit was paid in the form of daily or weekly allowance to members travelling in search of work.

Although from the 1880s the British trade unions started paying greater importance to collective bargaining and subsequently to political action, mutual insurance continued to be emphasized by many trade unions, particularly the craft ones. However, mutual insurance has increasingly been overshadowed by the provision of social security and welfare measures introduced at the instance of the state. Now that a comprehensive social security system in the form of national insurance, supplementary benefits and health services has been established in Great Britain, trade unions do not have to worry over the provision of friendly benefits for their members. Nonetheless, several trade unions still supplement the benefits available under government schemes. Besides, British trade unions have also come to spend a substantial amount over relatively newer issues, like workers’ education, recreational and educational activities, housing, banking, cooperatives and payments during strikes. American trade unions have also had a similar history.

Indian trade unions have lagged far behind their counterparts in Great Britain and the United States, owing mainly to their poor financial position. Only a few trade unions in India have been able to develop welfare activities, not to speak of mutual insurance. The Textile Labour Association, Ahmedabad, the Tata Workers’ Union, Jamshedpur, and the Madras Labour Union deserve mention as successful providers of welfare activities.

Collective Bargaining

Under this method, trade union representatives bargain with the employer over the terms and conditions of employment and enter into agreement with him. The agreement thus arrived is known as a collective agreement.

The method of collective bargaining came to be emphasized after trade unions secured recognition under the law and became free from the legal impediments they had had to suffer at their early stages. At that stage, collective action on the part of workers could be considered illegal, and individual workmen could be indicted on charges of breach of contract. A worker could then bargain with his employer only as an individual, and his decision to accept or refuse the conditions offered by the employer was made with reference to his own strength or weakness as a bargainer. However, when trade unions gained sound footing, they widely adopted the method of collective bargaining.


Collective Bargaining

A method adopted by trade unions in which the unions’ representatives/members collectively bargain with employer/employers for improving the terms and conditions of employment of their members. The word ‘collective’ refers to the workers’ side.

Evolution of collective bargaining has not been uniform everywhere, and considerable variations can be seen in its area, subject matters covered, and nature of collective agreements reached. In countries where trade unions are in a highly developed stage, as in the United States and Great Britain, collective bargaining is extensively used.

The bargaining units vary greatly in size or make-up. In many cases, trade unions enter into collective agreements with the employers at the local level, that is, at the factory, mine or shop level. Even within a factory or similar industrial establishment, different craft unions may bargain separately with the employer. In other cases, a combination of trade unions operating in a particular region or even country may bargain with an employer or a group of employers. With the formation of trade unions at the national level, there has been a strong trend toward industry or nation-wide collective bargaining. In many cases, bargaining takes place with a single employer; in many others, employers may unite or cooperate for bargaining purposes. During recent years, there has been a marked growth of multi-unit bargaining.

A wide variety of subjects has come to be included in collective agreements. The most frequently covered items include: wages, hours of work, physical working conditions, apprenticeship, incentive payments, welfare amenities, promotions, bonuses, gratuity, superannuation and economic benefit plans. An important consequence of collective bargaining has been that trade unions are enabled thereby to participate in important decision-making processes regarding wages, hours of work, working conditions, etc. It has, therefore, succeeded in introducing an element of industrial democracy in the field of industrial and labour management.

In general, trade unions and employers engage in collective bargaining voluntarily. However, in some cases, they are under legal obligation to do so. Thus, in the United States, both trade unions and employers are obligated under the Labour Management Relation Act, 1947, to engage in negotiations with each other. In many countries, again, certain issues having a bearing on collective bargaining have come to be regulated by law, for example, determination of the representative character of a trade union and its recognition for the purpose of bargaining, certification of collective agreements, control of certain unfair practices, and union security clauses and so on. These legal limitations are, for the most part, intended to ensure a healthy growth of collective bargaining rather than to impair it. The trade unions and the employers continue to enjoy considerable freedom at every stage of bargaining.

Collective agreements may be written or unwritten. Whether written or unwritten, they may be looked upon as legislative acts. In many cases, they are of a greater importance to the workers than many of the labour laws passed by legislature. Like the general laws, collective agreements also involve the question of interpretation which is usually solved by the provision of grievance machinery. Traditionally, collective agreements had been looked upon as private agreements not enforceable in a court of law, but in some countries, they have become legally enforceable documents.

The main sanction behind a collective agreement is the economic strength of the parties. In case of reluctance of a party to abide by and fulfil its commitments under the agreement, the other party can resort to economic pressures. But many countries do not allow this. Collective agreements now cover the terms and conditions of employment of such a large number of workers spread over so many kinds of industries and employments that to permit the parties to resort to strikes and lock-outs for implementations of collective agreements would be patently wasteful and uneconomic. Therefore, a trend has developed to treat collective agreements as solemn contracts to be enforced by courts of law in case either party so desires. The Labour Management Relations Act, 1947, of the United States has inserted a provision making collective agreements enforceable in a court of law. Similarly, the British Industrial Relations Act, 1971, made collective agreements enforceable by law at the behest of either party. Under the existing trade union, labour and employment relations laws of the UK too, certain provisions of collective agreements constitute statutorily binding terms (for details see Chapter 3). In India, under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, if a collective agreement is registered with the appropriate government, it becomes a settlement whose violation is a penal offence. Nonetheless, collective agreements are still not treated as contracts enforceable in a court of law under any other civil law in India today.

A notable feature of collective bargaining in some countries, particularly those having planned economies, is that it has come to take into consideration the interests of the wider community. In such countries, many important issues having a bearing on employment conditions are decided by tripartite forums consisting of representatives of trade unions, employers and the public.

Collective bargaining involves mutual negotiations and failure of such negotiations may lead to the use of coercive measures such as strike, picketing, boycott, lock-out, and so on. Many, who support collective bargaining as a method of settling industrial disputes under the impression that this ensures their peaceful and prompt settlement, forget that settlement of disputes by free mutual discussions and collective bargaining includes the right of the parties to resort to economic pressure if necessary. Any restriction on the right to strike weakens the process of collective bargaining. In the words of George W. Taylor, ‘No one should have any doubt about the unlikelihood that collective bargaining can be maintained in the absence of right to strike and lock-out’.45

Political Action/Legal Enactment

The main features of trade unions’ political action are: exerting pressure for protective or other pro-labour legislation and welfare amenities at the instance of the state, setting up of labour parties or developing allegiance to such a political party, and securing control over industry. Unlike mutual insurance and collective bargaining, which are designed to benefit only the trade union members or employees of a particular plant, industry, or craft, political action is intended to benefit all workers in general. Trade union practices with respect to political action vary widely.

Exerting pressure for securing protective or other pro-labour legislation has been the most extensively used political action. In the early stages or their growth, trade unions worked to secure protective labour laws for regulating such conditions of employment as hours of work, weekly rest, safety regulations, employment of children and women, compensation against work-injuries, protection of wages and so forth. The series of protective labour laws that came to be adopted in Great Britain during the nineteenth century was essentially the outcome of the efforts of organized labour. In the United States as well, the early trade unions demanded and secured protective labour laws, particularly those relating to hours of work. Pressures for new labour legislations and improvement over the existing ones are still made by trade unions in many parts of the world. Similarly, the trade unions also seek to obtain welfare amenities under laws of the state. In several countries, trade unions have been able to secure such statutory welfare amenities as housing, recreational and educational facilities, medical and health facilities and so on.


Political Action/Legal Enactment

A trade union method comprising exerting pressure on governments for pro-labour legislation and labour welfare amenities, setting up of labour parties or developing allegiance to pro-labour political parties and seeking control of industries.

In some countries, trade unions have also formed independent labour parties or come into relationship with other political parties of their choice. In Great Britain, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) was instrumental in establishing the Labour Party. Similar labour parties have come into existence in many other countries, particularly those which have recently become independent. In India, trade unions have, in most cases, pledged allegiance to one political party or another. Thus, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) has close relationships with the Indian National Congress, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) with the Communist Party and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) with the Bharatiya Janata Party. In the past, the American trade unions had a pragmatic approach towards political action. Their main political programme was to vote for a pro-labour candidate in the presidential elections and try for the defeat of the one who was not pro-labour. However, the American trade unions are now fast discarding their orthodox attitude towards politics and increasingly emphasizing political action for the benefit of the workers.

All over the world, trade unions are developing political wings and links both for the purpose of securing reforms within the capitalist economic structure and for a fundamental reconstruction of the economic system. The links between the trade unions, on one side, and the guild socialists, syndicalists, socialists and communists, on the other, are well known. The state control and ownership of the means of production has all along been one of the important planks of trade unions in many countries.

There are unions which believe in the essentials of capitalism, free competition and free enterprise and seek to promote and protect workers’ interests within this economic framework. There are others which think that, so long as the capitalist system survives, there can be no permanent remedy to workers’ ills. They believe that workers may secure temporary relief from time to time, but a certain exploitation is an integral part of the capitalist economic order. But even such unions, though they be working for the replacement of capitalism by a different economic order, do not neglect the day-to-day interests of the workers. They continue to take part in everyday struggle, engage in collective bargaining and secure improvements in working and living conditions of workers. Some rely on the use of their own economic power such as collective bargaining; and others rely on the power of the state to secure favourable labour legislation. Some believe in the gradual transformation of the capitalist system through peaceful and parliamentary methods, others believe in the overthrow of capitalism through general strikes and revolutions. There have been, and are, unions which are extremely violent in their methods. And there are unions which have believed in capitalism, grown sceptical of the efficacy of capitalism and later become openly hostile to it. The methods adopted by the trade unions to achieve their objectives are conditioned, not surprisingly, by their attitude to the economic systems within which they operate.


The history of the trade union movement in different countries does not indicate unequivocally which methods and goals may be called legitimate and which illegitimate. There was a time when trade unions in the United States distrusted the government and had no faith in labour legislation. At that time they sought to rely primarily on collective bargaining and focused on building up their own economic strength. Today, the American trade unions are no less reliant on labour laws than on collective bargaining. Similarly, there was a time when involvement in politics was decried by leading trade unionists. Today, the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) is as much concerned with the political education of its members as with strengthening the instrument of collective bargaining. Trade unions in India, especially those affiliated to the INTUC, believe in compulsory adjudication and rely on their political strength. Syndicalist trade unions believe in the efficacy of general strikes, whereas unions under guild-socialism believe in replacing private ownership by workers’ ownership of industries.

Many trade unions today, openly profess the replacement of capitalism by socialist order as one of their objectives. The aims and objectives of the AITUC include the establishment of a socialist state in India and socialization and nationalization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Their methods include legislation, education, propaganda, mass meetings, negotiations, demonstrations and, in the last resort, strikes. Similarly, the aims and objects of the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) include the establishment of a socialist society, the establishment of workers’ and peasants’ state in India and the nationalization of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

Under this diversity of objectives and methods of trade unions, there is no objective standard by which the legitimacy or otherwise of trade union methods may be judged. Trade unionism is essentially a pragmatic movement that constantly reshapes its organizational structure, reformulates its policies and re-examines its methods, keeping constantly in view the welfare of the workers. Particular goals and methods of trade unions are conditioned by the following factors:

  1. The degree of group and class consciousness among workers.
  2. The nature of political organization of the particular society.
  3. The nature of economic organization of the society and its stage of economic development.
  4. The nature and type of trade union leadership.

The foregoing analysis of generic trade union methods can be better understood if they are further analysed in terms of the specific activities in which they result.

Economic Activities

Activities that result in the exercise of economic pressure on the employer—for example, collective bargaining, demonstration, strike, boycott, picketing and so on.

Political Activities

  1. Political education of the workers.
  2. Establishing political parties, and extending help to candidates of other political parties who are sympathetic to the cause of labour.
  3. Lobbying to influence the course of labour and other legislation.
  4. Participating in, and representing the workers at, advisory bodies.
  5. Developing militancy and revolutionary urge amongst workers.
  6. Protesting against government measures detrimental to the interests of workers.

Social Activities

  1. Initiating and developing Workers’ Educations Scheme.
  2. Organizing welfare activities such as mutual insurance, monetary and other help during periods of strikes and economic distress.
  3. Running cooperatives.
  4. Providing housing facilities.
  5. Participating in community development and community protection activities.
  6. Engaging in cultural activities.
  7. Cooperating with governmental agencies in social welfare programmes.

International Activities

  1. Participating in the activities of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
  2. Associating with the international federations of trade unions such as the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the International Trade Union Secretariats.
  3. Sending monetary and other help to workers of other countries in their time of need.

Analysis of the factors leading to trade unionism has emphasized such factors as:

  1. Separation between ownership of capital and labour.
  2. Emergence of the factory system and the economic distress and hardships resulting therefrom.
  3. Growth of group attitude and class sentiments among workers as a result of their congregation at particular places, working in common groups and facing common problems.
  4. Realization of the fact of individual dispensability and collective indispensability of workers to the employers.

These factors provide a general explanation for trade unionism, but there are specific factors working in different countries which accelerate or retard trade unionism. Also, the rate of growth of trade unions has not been uniform everywhere. There have been periods in the history of every country when the number of trade unions and their membership have increased by leaps and bounds, whereas during other periods, they have fast declined and, at still other times, they have either remained stable or recorded very slow growth. How does one explain this? It is the task of this section to examine and evaluate the factors that condition the rate of union growth.

The following factors are considered important determinants of the rate of growth:

  1. Industrial commitment of the labour force.
  2. Changes in the composition of labour force.
  3. Variations in the business activity.
  4. Change in the technology.
  5. Trade union leadership.
  6. Structure of union organization.
  7. Union security provisions in collective agreements and laws.
  8. Attitude of employers towards unionism.
  9. Political climate and legal framework.
  10. Role of political parties.
  11. Value system and public opinion.
  12. Proximity influence.

These factors exert conflicting as well as complementary influences on the rate of unionization. Besides, they may not have the same influence everywhere, For example, the role of political parties may be important in India, but not as much in the United Staes. Likewise, variations in economic activities may exercise an influence favourable to trade union growth, but the legal framework may operate in the opposite direction. Ultimately, it is a composite influence that determines the rate of union growth.

Industrial Commitment of Labour Force

The crystallization of the working class wholly dependent upon industrial employment as its source of livelihood is an important contributing factor. The Indian experience is typical in this regard. So long as the individual workers in India maintained their connection with agriculture in the villages and continued to be migratory in character, the rate of unionization was slow. Workers who look upon industrial employment as a temporary stopgap arrangement are not strongly influenced by trade union ideas. An important reason for slow unionization among American workers in the early years of industrialization was the availability of abundant opportunities for individual advancement. During those days, many Americans looked upon their wage-earning status as temporary. They expected to become self-employed or even employers through hard work and judicious investments. ‘In a period or in situations in which individual employees expect to become foremen and then owners of their own business, permanent and stable organization is virtually impossible’.46

Changes in the Composition of Labour Force

If the proportion of skilled workers in the labour force increases, unionization becomes easier. Experience of western countries has shown that the skilled workmen took to unionization first. Similarly, if employment expands fast in industries susceptible to unionization, the rate of union growth becomes faster. But in a labour force in which women and children constitute a significant proportion, unionization would be slow.


Labour Force

The labour force comprises the total number of people working or seeking work in a particular area.

Variations in the Business Activity

History records that the number and membership of trade unions increase during cyclical upswings in business activity and fall during the downward swings. It is well known that during periods of war when economic activities expand, employment increases, and cost of living rises while wages lag behind, there is a relatively greater swing towards unionization. Here again, the Indian experience is relevant. It was the First World War that gave birth to unionization, and later, trade unions recorded an unprecedented growth in membership during the Second World War. The membership of registered trade unions in India increased to approximately 9 lakhs in 1944–45 from the nearly 4 lakhs recorded in 1938. In the seven years from 1931 to 1938, however, the membership of registered trade unions had only increased from 2 lakhs to 4 lakhs (see Chapter 4 for details).

Change in Technology

Changes in technology lead to changes in products, methods of production, skills and composition of labour force. As technology advances, different sectors of economy become closely interdependent and quicker means of communication develop. Further, technological changes may lead to disappearance of many traditional jobs—certain skills become obsolete, thus creating both job and income insecurities. The advent of the computer has resulted in shrinkage of job opportunities in many sectors of employment and has created the problem of redundancy in these sectors. If skills become obsolete and management gets rid of a number of employees at a stroke, there might not be enough employees to form unions. Under such conditions, the need for developing and strengthening organizations becomes more pressing. Thus, periods of rapid technological change are often periods of rapid trade union activities.

Trade Union Leadership

It is usual to describe economic and social forces as the sole determinants of union growth, but the character and nature of trade union leadership also has a powerful influence. Without doubt, economic and social factors create the necessary conditions for union growth, but it is for the union leaders to exploit them. A militant and aggressive leadership may not only fully exploit the favourable factors but also overcome conditions and impediments adverse to trade union growth. Leaders act as the catalytic agent. The appearance of certain types of leaders lends vigour to a union that might otherwise have remained dormant. The history of labour movement abounds in examples of such leaders as have moulded the course of labour movements: Mahatma Gandhi, N. M. Joshi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, S. A. Dange, V. V. Giri, to name some.

Structure of Union Organization

The structure of union organization also influences trade union growth, though not in a decisive manner. Unions based upon crafts and skills are generally less interested in the organization of the mass of unskilled workers. So long as the craft structure of trade unionism exists, the pace of union growth is not likely to accelerate. There may be leaders of trade unions who are more interested in maintaining the monopoly of power arising out of the compact and strategic nature of the skills they control. Indeed, with the advent of mass-production industries and the numerical predominance of semi-skilled workers, craft as a base of unionization may have a retarding influence. It is in this context that the role of industrial unions in accelerating the pace of union growth has to be appreciated. The structure of a trade union movement has to adapt itself to the changing needs of the labour force. Otherwise, it will only hamper the pace of growth.

Union Security Provisions in Collective Agreements and Laws

It has become customary these days for collective agreements to contain union security provisions for the closed shop, union shop, agency shop, maintenance of membership shop, and so on (see Chapter 2 for details). It is the institutional interest of the unions that demands insertion of union security clauses having the effect of making union membership more or less compulsory on workmen. The workers become union members automatically upon joining employment. Thus, union membership expands automatically with the expansion in employment.


Union Security Clauses

These refer to ‘closed shop’, ‘union shop’ and ‘maintenance of membership’ clauses in collective agreements.

Attitude of Employers Towards Unionism

Since its very inception, trade unionism has faced stiff opposition from employers. Employers everywhere have utilized all legal and political avenues, economic pressures and administrative devices to prevent the growth of unionization among their employers. Employers have since had to modify their stand and today they have come to tolerate trade unions. It is not surprising that when employers become moderate in their opposition, the pace of unionization is accelerated. Similarly, the stiffer the employers’ opposition, slower is the pace of unionization.

Political and the Legal Framework

The prevailing political climate and legal framework of the country exercise a decisive influence over the pattern and the rate of union growth. The hostile political atmosphere that the early trade unions had to face in all the capitalist countries is a story that needs no repeating. A dictatorship of the fascist or the Nazi type generally seeks to eliminate trade unions or to subvert them. During the 1930s, in Italy and Germany under Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, trade unions were among the first to suffer. Where the political climate is generally conservative and the employers’ influence predominant, circumstances are not propitious for the growth of trade unions. On the contrary, a sympathetic political administration can do a lot to further the growth and the influence of trade unions.

A review of the history of trade unions in Great Britain will show clearly the influence of political climate on the growth of trade unions. A Liberal or Labour government, by its practices and policies, tended to help trade unions, whereas a Conservative administration had a restrictive influence. Similarly, the series of legislations enacted during the 1930s in the United States are an illustration of how a government can promote the growth of trade unions. With his sympathetic appreciation of the problems of the working class and the role of trade unions in the political and economic life of the community, Theodore Roosevelt initiated a number of legislative and administrative measures which gave a boost to the American trade unions. The National Industrial Recovery Act, 1933, the NIR codes worked out in it, and the National Labor Relations Act, 1935 (also known as the Wagner Act) helped the growth of trade unions by guaranteeing workers the right to collective bargaining and preventing employers from interfering with the unionization of workers. In India, the establishment of a national government after independence created a favourable climate for the growth of trade unions, and since then, Indian trade unions have recorded phenomenal growth in number, membership and influence.

The political climate is reflected in the legal framework obtaining at a particular time in a particular region. It has been shown earlier how laws, codes and administrative practices of government in almost every country mercilessly sought to suppress the trade unions in their formative years. Subsequently, however, laws favourable to workers guaranteeing them the right to organize, and declaring illegal anti-union practices of employers have been enacted in all democratic countries. The legal framework existing in India prior to the Indian Trade Unions Act, 1926, did little for the growth and spread of trade unionism in India. The contribution of the Act in this regard, through the protection it afforded to the members of registered trade unions, cannot be minimized.

The nature of governmental economic policy is also an influencing factor. A policy of encouragement to the public sector, greater control over employers’ freedom to take decisions relating to industrial and labour matters and providing greater job security to workers have proved favourable to union growth. On the other hand, emphasis on privatization, liberalization and globalization, as has been the case in India, allows greater freedom to employers, and is likely to put trade unions on the defensive.

Role of Political Parties

Political parties, through their ideologies, contribute to the changing political climate and legal framework. In order to maintain their influence and power, where power depends on the outcome of elections based upon universal adult franchise, some political parties develop political programme sympathetic to labour and trade unions. Some political parties have been founded with the specific goal of promoting the cause of labour. In some countries, labour, socialist and communist parties compete with each other in organizing workers into trade unions. With the advent of communist parties in the field of politics, this competition has become all the more acute. The communist ideology believes that the working class constitutes the progressive and revolutionary section of society. They, concentrate, therefore, on the working class, for their purpose of establishing a communist society.

In colonial countries struggling for independence, political parties, in the vanguard of the struggle for freedom, sought to organize workers to enlist their support and sympathy for national liberation. Thus, trade union movements can become a part of a broad national movement for political independence. It is this that accounted for both the speedy growth of trade unions and their domination by political parties in countries fighting for freedom from colonial rule.

In industrially advanced countries, though early trade unions grew unaided by political parties, later on, either the unions founded their own political parties, or subscribed to those devoted to the cause of labour. In these countries, trade unions and progressive political parties have developed a system of mutual interdependence. But in the developing societies, the left-wing political parties continue to play a dominant role in organizing workers. One may not approve of the injection of politics in the trade unionism, but one cannot overlook the contribution of certain political parties towards the spread and growth of trade unions. The Indian experience typifies the role of political parties in accelerating the growth of trade unions.

Value System and Public Opinion

In societies where the dominant value system puts a premium on individualism, or which attribute the hardships and sufferings of life to supernatural forces, trade unionism is an uphill task. It was such an emphasis on individualism and individual competition that hampered the growth of trade unions in the early days of the newly emerging capitalist systems in the western countries. Those against the trade union movement could place arguments justifying the futility of trade unions in improving working conditions and, indeed demonstrating the retardation afforded by trade unions to economic progress and try to mould public opinion accordingly.

In societies such as the Indian, dominated as they can be by a hierarchical social system, an authoritarian family pattern and religious belief in the doctrine of Karma, protest movements against economic inequality presents formidable difficulties. So long as people believe that poverty and suffering are deserved punishments for misdeeds committed, for instance, in their previous births, it is difficult for them to raise a voice against the economic institutions that are in practical terms responsible for their troubles. Trade unionism, essentially a protest movement, teaches workers to protest against the authority and tyranny of the employer. It can take a long time for workers to be convinced that their sufferings are not the result of punishments inflicted by God, but of less than perfect economic systems. In the early days of Indian industrial growth, it was difficult to induce workers drawn from villages where zamindars, landlords, money-lenders and the priestly class exercised complete control over the economic and social life, to think of challenging the might of their employers. Gradually, things changed. As democratic ideals spread and the traditional strongholds of authority and power vanished, a climate more favourable to unionization was created.

Apart from the role of this value system in retarding or helping the growth of trade unions, the prevailing public opinion, not necessarily related to the value system, also has an influencing role. If the prevailing public opinion takes unkindly to the activities of trade unions, they suffer in terms of both their growth and their influence. Public opinion influences the policy of governments, political parties, as well as the outcome of particular strikes. That is why both unions and employers seek to mould public opinion to their own point of view. Trade unions have developed programmes of educating not only their members and other workers but also to educate non-workers about the benefits of trade unionism.

Proximity Influence

Unionization also grows by what may be called demonstration or proximity effects. News relating to gains secured by some unions spread like wildfire and workers in plants and factories in the vicinity may themselves start organizing themselves into strong and effective unions. New strides in communication technology accelerate this process. In larger cities, if organizations succeed in a big plant, smaller plants are likely to follow suit. It is this factor that operates in several big cities. The spread of trade unionism from manual to white-collar workers is also partly the result of demonstration effects.


Proximity Influence

Influence generated by developments in geographically proximate regions and localities.

The foregoing presents a summary of the factors that influence the pace of the growth of trade unionism. These determinants of union growth are to be distinguished from the basic economic and political factors that create the necessary conditions for the origin of the trade union movement. The basic economic and political conditions discussed at the beginning of this chapter and the determinants of the pace of growth taken together explain the development of trade unionism.

  1. A trade union is a continuous association of workers/employees, formed for the purpose of protecting and promoting economic and social interests of its members. Although employers’ associations are also registered as trade unions under trade union laws of countries like India, employers’ associations are generally excluded from the connotation of the term.
  2. The origins of trade unions lie in the beginning of industrialization in England in the middle of the eighteenth century. The main factors that then led workers to organize comprised: separation between capital and labour, emphasis on the doctrine of laissez-faire, lack of bargaining power of workers and the realization by workers of their individual dispensability but collective indispensability.
  3. Quite a few theories have been developed explaining the emergence and growth of trade unionism: Perlman’s ‘job consciousness’ theory, Webbs’s and Coles’s ‘class struggle’ theory, Marx’s ‘class-consciousness’ theory, Hoxie’s ‘socio-psychological’ theory, Tannenbaum’s ‘technological’ theory and the Gandhian approach, to name a few.
  4. Early trade unions faced severe legal handicaps. Under the common law, trade unions were indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy, restraint of trade and inducing breach of contract. In many cases, courts of law punished union members and those participating in strikes with fines and imprisonment. Special statutes such as Combination Acts of England and France prohibited workers from combining.
  5. Despite suppressive measures, trade unions continued to grow. The factors encouraging their growth included concerted efforts of workers, growth of collectivist and socialist ideas, extension of adult franchise to workers, change in the stance adopted by the state, and change in the attitude of employers. The main stages through which trade unions have passed are: (i) outright suppression, (ii) limited acceptance and (iii) general recognition.
  6. The supreme goal of trade unions all over the world has been the protection and promotion of the interests of their members. Interests of workers and union members can be varied, and are conditioned by the prevailing economic, industrial, political and social climate. The objectives of trade unions may be classified into two categories: the long-term and the short-term. The long-term objectives may comprise replacement of capitalism by socialism, control of political power and public ownership of industries. The short-term objectives are numerous, such as improvement of terms and conditions of employment and physical working conditions, enhancement of economic status of members, provision of job security, social security and welfare facilities, and protection against victimization and discrimination.
  7. The methods generally adopted by trade unions to achieve their objectives are (i) mutual insurance/welfare programmes, (ii) collective bargaining, (iii) political action/legal enactment and (iv) industrial action. From the very beginning, trade unions have spent a part of their income on the economic benefits and welfare of their members. The nature and scale of these benefits depend on the income of particular unions. In collective bargaining, union leaders or workers’ representatives collectively bargain with the employer for improving the terms and conditions of employment. Political action includes exerting pressure on the government for pro-labour legislation and provision of labour welfare measures, setting up of political parties or developing allegiance to pro-labour parties.
  8. The rate of growth of trade unions in different countries or at different intervals of time in the same country has not been uniform. The rate of union growth depends mainly on (i) industrial commitment of labour force, (ii) changes in the composition of labour force, (iii) variations in business activities, (iv) change in technology, (v) trade union leadership, (vi) structure of union organization, (vii) union security provisions in collective agreements and laws, (viii) attitude of employers towards unionism, (ix) political climate and legal framework, (x) role of political parties, (xi) value system and public opinion and (xii) proximity influence. These factors operate differently under different industrial, economic, political and social conditions.
  1. Define ‘trade union’ and explain the objectives of trade unions.
  2. Explain the factors responsible for the origin and emergence of trade unions.
  3. In what ways is Perlman’s theory of labour movement different from that of Marx?
  4. Describe the legal and other handicaps of early trade unions.
  5. Discuss the methods adopted by trade unions to achieve their objectives. Which of these will you suggest for Indian trade unions to-day?
  6. Describe the activities of modern trade unions. Do these require any change in the modern context?
  7. Explain the factors that determine the rate of growth of trade unions.


Trade union

Union Security Clauses

Mutual Insurance

The bourgeoisie

The proletariat


Collective bargaining

Labour force

Political action

Proximity influence

Case Study 1

Can workers’ be punished for concerted activities?

In the later half of the eighteenth century, Mr King Jackson, the owner of a cotton textile mill of England, had employed 2000 workers on wages and terms of employment mutually agreed upon by him and all the workers individually. After a gap of two years, a group of 100 workers led by Tom Harry formed a combination and demanded an upward revision of wages. Mr. Jackson turned down the demand on the plea that he was unable to bear the financial burden involved and the stand of the group was in breach of the earlier contract. Confronted with this refusal, Harry and a few militant leaders of his group resorted to work-stoppage, and even damaged the machines of the mill. They also instigated other workers to join in. Mr. Jackson started dispensing with the services of those workers who had participated in work-stoppages and caused damage to property of the mill, but it was very difficult for him to get suitable replacements. Ultimately, he decided to go to court for justice. The court sentenced quite a number of activists to long-term imprisonment and imposed fines on many others. The court also ordered payment of compensation to Mr Jackson by those workers who had damaged the machines.


What action of the group of workers was punishable on the charge of criminal conspiracy?

What action of the group of workers could be considered in restraint of trade?

What action of the workers could amount to a breach of contract?

On what ground did the court award compensation to Mr Jackson?

On what charges could Mr Harry be punished under the law then in operation in England?

Case Study 2

What methods should a trade union adopt to achieve its objectives?

An iron and steel factory at Bokaro employs about 30,000 workers, of whom, about 25,000 are members of the Bokaro Iron & Steel Workers’ Union, the only registered trade union operating in the factory. The existing trade union and industrial relations law of the country recognizes the right of the workers to organize into trade unions and confers upon registered trade unions the usual civil and criminal immunities. The law does not obstruct trade unions from bargaining collectively with their employers, nor does it prohibit their political activities. The management of the factory is not hostile to the union or its leadership. The union also does not face problems in the collection of subscription fees from its members.

The union has been serious about solving the problems facing its members: low wages, hazardous working conditions, long hours of work, inadequate welfare amenities, unsatisfactory social security provisions, absence of educational and recreational facilities in their housing colonies, inadequate housing accommodation, absence of workers’ education and job insecurity. The union has become very active and taken specific measures for solving these problems. It largely succeeds in achieving its objectives.


In what areas the method of mutual insurance  welfare programme will be more appropriate?

On what subjects would the method of collective bargaining be more appropriate?

For the solution of which problems should the union engage in political action?

What are the economic problems facing the members of the union?