5. Trade Union Movement in India: 1950 Onwards – Industrial Relations, Trade Unions, and Labour Legislation, 2nd Edition

Chapter 5

Trade Union Movement in India: 1950 Onwards

Chapter Objectives

This chapter will enable students to explain:

  1. The new political framework of the country under the Indian Constitution adopted in 1950, the requirements of planned economy and the broad implications of economic and industrial policies thence adopted
  2. The general growth of trade unions and their membership from 1950 onwards
  3. The formation of the central federations prior to 1950 and their subsequent growth in membership and political affiliations
  4. The extent and severity of industrial disputes in this period
  5. The impact of economic and industrial policies of the government on trade unionism in the country
  6. The nature of cooperation extended to the government by trade unions in the post-Independence period
  7. The points of strength and weaknesses of trade union movement in the country

Political Parties and Formation of Central Federation of Trade Unions

In the period immediately following Indian Independence and the adoption of the Constitution, the process of unionization took new turns. With the formation of new political parties at the national, regional and state levels, and emergence of inside and new types of outside leadership, the trade union movement in the country continued to be further fragmented. The two cases cited below explain some reasons behind the fragmentation of existing unions and formation of new ones. A new federation called the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) was formed in 1955 under the leadership of Dattopant Thengadi, an active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an organization of volunteers with an outlook of militant nationalism. Initially, it concerned itself with creating a body of indoctrinated workers that succeeded in bringing a large number of unions, especially of white-collar employees, within its fold. One of its avowed objectives had been to counteract communist influence over workers. The central federation subsequently became a trade union wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party which formed the government at the centre and in a few states at intervals. In 1989, the BMS had a membership greater than that of any other central federation.

The second case relates to the split within the Communist Party of India in 1965 and the subsequent split in the AITUC. The split within the CPI was the direct result of cleavage between the communist movements of Russia and China. Those who were not in favour of endorsing the Russian position broke away from the parent party and formed the Communist Party Marxist (CPM). The new party took away a large number of activists from the original party and established firm bases in West Bengal and Kerala. Thus far, the AITUC remained under the control of the original CPI. However, activists in the CPM started factional activities in the AITUC and its affiliated unions. They tried to capture the AITUC, but failing, formed a new central federation called the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) in 1970. B. T. Ranadive was its first president and P. Ramamurthy its first general secretary. The CITU has been instrumental in organizing a number of general strikes and bandhs at various levels in the country, especially since the government adoption of new economic policies in 1991.

Some of the major developments of the period having a bearing on trade unionism in the country have been:

  1. Adoption of the Indian Constitution declaring it a ‘sovereign democratic republic’ and incorporating a set of fundamental rights and directive principles relating to labour (see Chapter 15 for details).
  2. Substantial growth of the labour force and changes in its occupational and industrial distribution.
  3. Adoption of planning as an instrument of economic and social development.
  4. Adoption of specific industrial and economic policies from time to time.
  5. Holding of important offices in the government and political parties by trade union leaders.
  6. Enactment of a series of labour laws and adoption of a number of labour welfare measures by the government.
GROWTH OF LABOUR FORCE AND ITS OCCUPATIONAL DISTRIBUTION

The total working population in the country, which stood at about 160 million in 1951, 188.4 million in 1961 and 180.5 million in 1971, increased to 222.5 million in 1981, 285.9 million in 1991 and 402.2 million in 2001. In 1951–2001,1 the percentage of male workers to total population varied between 36.70 (1981) and 42.98 (1961), while that of female workers varied between 12.06 (1971) and 27.96 (1961).2 The percentage of population at work to total population in the industrially advanced Western countries is higher than that in India.3 However, in India such massive numbers are involved that the total number seems overwhelming. These figures show the enormous size of the labour force in the country.

The sector-wise distribution of working population in the country in 1951–2001 is shown in Table 5.1.

 

Table 5.1 Sector-wise or Occupational Distribution of Working Population in India (1951–2001) (Figures Expressed as Percentages)

 

Source: Relevant issues of Census of India; Government of India, Ministry of Labour. Various issues of Indian Labour Yearbook and Pocketbook of Labour Statistics, Labour Bureau’s Labour,1989.

Table 5.1 shows that the percentage of agricultural labourers to total workforce in the country has substantially increased between 1951 and 2001 (from 19.7 per cent to 27 per cent). According to the 2001 Census, the number of agricultural workers stood at more than 106 million. Of late, workers in this occupational category have started unionizing. The Trade Union Act, 1926 has been amended to give impetus to such a movement. However, a lot of ground has yet to be covered to bring even a moderate percentage of them within union fold.

The table also shows that there has been substantial increase in the percentage of workers in ‘others’ category that includes services. The percentage of this category of workers was 30.2 in 1981, and it increased to 37.6 in 2001. This sector has substantial potential for the spread of unionization. The proportion of workers in household and other industries, which includes manufacturing, has witnessed only moderate changes in the course of these years under study. Workers in the manufacturing sector have been organized from the beginning of unionization in the country. However, a substantial number of workers in the smaller units are still unorganized. A detailed picture of employment in broad industry divisions and in selected industries can be had from Tables 5.3 and 5.4.

Some Characteristics of the Indian Labour

A proper understanding of the problems relating to trade unionism in this country calls for a mention of some notable characteristics of Indian labour: (i) dominance of rural background, (ii) its migratory character, (iii) deep adherence to traditions, (iv) inadequate class consciousness, (v) lack of commitment to work, (vi) low levels of efficiency and (vii) limited mobility amongst the employed.

INDUSTRIAL POLICY RESOLUTIONS

Industrial Policy Resolution, 1948

The Government of India adopted its first Industrial Policy Resolution in 1948. It classified Indian industries in four categories and delineated the role of the government in the industrial development of the country in each category both as an authority and as an entrepreneur. The first category included industries that were to be the exclusive monopoly of the central government: manufacture of arms and ammunition, atomic energy, railway transport, post and telegraph. The second category comprised such industries, the further development of which was to be the responsibility of the state and public authorities. These included: iron and steel, aircraft manufacture, ship-building, manufacture of telephone, telegraph and wireless apparatus. The third category included a few basic consumer industries of national importance which were to be brought under the regulation and control of the state. The fourth category comprised the rest of the industrial field that was left open to private enterprises. The resolution also emphasized its intention to fix statutory minimum wages in sweated industries, and promotion of fair wage agreements in the more organized industries.

Industrial Policy Statements, 1973 and 1977

The Industrial Policy Statement, 1973, aimed at making a list of big business houses in order to ensure that small industries were not adversely affected as a result of competition among them. It adopted the policy of encouraging small- and medium-sized industries, and establishment of large-scale industries in rural and backward areas.

The policy statement of 1977 laid emphasis on effective development of cottage and small industries in rural areas and small towns. The policy led to the establishment of District Industries Centres and enlargement of the list of industries reserved exclusively for small-scale enterprises.

Economic and Industrial Policy of 1991

In July, 1991 the Government of India announced a new economic and industrial policy based on the acceptance of the principles of privatization, liberalization and globalization considered basic to India’s economic and industrial progress. The policy is in complete deviation from the earlier policy enunciations. The policy is intended to make Indian industry internationally competitive and to provide competitive stimulus for higher growth. The thrust of this initiative has been on increasing domestic and external competition through extensive application of market mechanism and facilitating forging of dynamic relationships with foreign investors and suppliers of technology. Some of the specific measures initiated have been: substantial reduction in the coverage of industries requiring licensing and those exclusively reserved for the public sector, disinvestments of equity of selected public sector undertakings, enhancing the limits of foreign equity participation in domestic industrial undertakings, liberalization of trade and exchange-rate policies, and rationalization of customs and excise duties. Separate measures in the form of specific packages have been announced for the upliftment of the small, tiny and cottage industries as well as export-oriented units and units located in the export-processing zones and technology parks. The areas reserved for public sector were confined to (i) arms, ammunition and allied items of defence equipment, defence aircraft and warships, (ii) atomic energy, (iii) coal and lignite, (iv) mineral oils, (v) specified minerals used for atomic energy and (vi) railway transport. The new policy also envisages doing away with compulsory licensing for most of the industries except 15 industries. The aim is to allow entrepreneurs to freely develop their industries, become more competitive, nationally and internationally, more efficient and modern.

The new policy has had widespread impact on the trade union and industrial relations scene and labour situation in the country. Most central and other federations of trade unions have been opposed to these policies from the very beginning. They have organized all-India industrial strikes/bandhs in protest against both the broad features of the policy as well as specific measures adopted. Thus, conflict with the government has grown since the adoption of the economic and industrial policy of 1991.

 

Registered Trade Union

A trade union registered under the Trade Unions Acts, 1926.

Trade Union Submitting Return

A registered trade union which submits annual return as required under the Trade Unions Act, 1926.

GROWTH OF TRADE UNIONS

The growth of trade unions and their membership that started in 1947 continued unabated in the following years, as evidenced in Table 5.2. It also shows that the number of employers’ organizations is negligible as compared to that of workers’ organizations.

 

Table 5.2 Number of Registered Trade Unions and Trade Unions Submitting Returns and Membership of Trade Unions Submitting Returns in India (1950–51 to 2005)

 

Source: Government of India, Ministry of Labour. Various issues of Indian Labour Year Book and Pocket Book of Labour Statistics for figures from 1950–51 to 1990; Labour Bureau, Trade Unions in India 2002, Statement 2.1 for figures from 1991 to 2002 (labourbureau.nic.in/TU%202k2%20statement%202); Pocket Book of Labour Statistics 2008 p.4 for figures from 2003 to 2005.

Note: Figures in brackets show the percentage of unions submitting returns.

Table 5.2 indicates that the number of registered trade unions in the country has been on the increase since 1950–51. In 2005, the number of registered trade unions was more than twenty times the number recorded in 1950–51. As a large number of trade unions do not get themselves registered under the Trade Unions Act, 1926, the real number may be estimated to be much larger. In practice, even the unregistered unions have successfully protected and promoted the interests of their members, and at the same time been free from the liabilities of registered unions. The fundamental right to form associations or unions (under Article 19 (1) of the Indian Constitution) has given an added impetus to the formation of unions in the country.

The table also shows that there has been preponderance of small-sized unions in the country. This is primarily because prior to the amendments introduced in 2001, the Trade Unions Act, 1926, enabled any seven persons, of whom three could be outsiders not actually employed in the establishment concerned, to form a trade union and get it registered under the Act. Despite the mushrooming growth of trade unions in the country, the percentage of workers organized into trade unions has been much less than that in Great Britain, the United States and other industrially advanced countries. However, a distressing fact about registered trade unions in the country, especially in recent years, has been the failure of most registered unions to submit annual returns. This is in sharp contrast to the position obtaining during the years immediately following the enactment of the Trade Unions Act in 1926. For example, during 1930–31 and 1939–40 between 82 per cent and 92 per cent of registered unions discharged their obligation of submitting returns under the Act. During 1940–41 and 1946–47 between 44 per cent and 74 per cent and during 1947–48 and 1949–50 between 55 per cent and 59 per cent of unions submitted returns (see Chapter 4). Thus, the situation from 1980 onwards may be taken as alarming, especially in view of the fact that these returns are the only authentic source of information about membership, finance, administration, leadership and activities of trade unions in the country.

 

CHART 5.A: Number of Registered Trade Unions and Trade Unions Submitting Returns (1951–2001), (See Table 5.2)

This situation calls for immediate and effective measures to ensure a prompt submission of returns, bring relevant aspects of trade unionism under the coverage of law and to create effective machinery for its enforcement. Alternately, other measures may be adopted for the collection and compilation information about trade unions, particularly in such areas as membership, finance, administration, leadership and activities. A suggestion in this regard has been made by both the first (1969) and second (2002) National Commissions on Labour (see Chapter 20). Legislation of a similar nature has been in operation in the United Kingdom (see Chapter 3). Table 5.2 further shows that during the period 1950–51 and 2005, average membership per union in the country has generally been below 800. It touched 1,000 only in 2005. The percentage of women in the trade union membership has been below 12 prior to 1990, but has improved during the period 1991–2005, varying between 10 (1991) and 27 (2002).

EXTENT OF UNIONIZATION IN DIFFERENT INDUSTRIES

The overall story of the growth of trade unions and their membership as shown in Table 5.2 does not give an idea of the details of the process of growth in various industries. Table 5.3 presents a picture of the trade union membership, employment and percentage of workers organized in broad industry divisions in 1983, 1993 and 2003. The figures of employment, trade union membership and percentage of workers organized in selected industries during 1952–2002 have been given in Table 5.4.

 

Table 5.3 Employment, Trade Union Membership and Percentage of Workers Organized in Major Industry Divisions (1983, 1993 and 2003)

 

Source: For figures of employment in agriculture in 1983, Indian Labour Year Book 2004, p.3, Table 1.02, and for other figures, Government of India, Ministry of Labour, Pocket Book of Labour Statistics, 1987, pp. 25–31, pp. 133–37; for figures of employment in agriculture in 1993, Indian Labour Year Book 2004, p. 3, Table 1.02 and for other figures Pocket Book of Labour Statistics 1995, pp. 39–42, pp. 123–26. Figures of employment in agriculture in 2003 relate to agricultural labourers as per 2001 Census and for other figures Pocket Book of Labour Statistics, 2007.

It may be noted that the figures of trade union membership in the tables pertain only to those that submitted returns under the Trade Unions Act, 1926. As such, the actual number of trade union members would be larger than that shown in the tables. The extent of gaps between two or more sets of figures in particular years would depend on the number and size of the unions which failed to submit returns in those years. Similarly, employment figures in most industrial establishments are based on information furnished by employers under specific labour laws, for example, the Factories Act, Mines Act, Plantation Labour Act, etc. As some employers fail to submit returns in particular years, the figures of employment in the concerned industries would in reality be larger than those mentioned in the tables. Moreover, industrial classifications in respect of figures for employment and trade union membership are modified at intervals. As such, consistent figures are not available for many industries. The collection, compilation and publication of data by the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour, took time, on account of which, there is problem of backlog in the availability of relevant data. In spite of these shortcomings, an idea of the degree of unionization in major industry-divisions and some industries in the organized sector can be had from Tables 5.3 and 5.4.

 

Table 5.4 Employment, Trade Union Membership and Percentage of Workers Organized in Selected Industries (1952–2002)

 

 

Source: Government of India, Ministry of Labour. Various issues of Indian Labour Year Book and Pocket Book of Labour Statistics.

*Figures for serial nos. 3 to 13 relate to 1996

**Annual Survey of Industries 2001–02 (http://labourbureau.nic.in|ASI%20%200K1%20Chap%202p.2htm)

*** All mines

****Figures relate to 2000

*****All textiles

 

Note: Figures of employment in 2002 is based on NIC 1998 which may not be the same as that of 1987 classification on which figures of 1993 and 1997 are based.

Table 5.3 shows that in all the years under study, the trade union membership was high in manufacturing; and transport, storage and communications; electricity, gas and water; and wholesale and retail trade. In these industry groups the percentages of workers organized have also been relatively higher. The percentages of workers organized have varied between 20 and 29 in case of manufacturing, between 15 and 50 the case of transport, storage and communications, between 17 and 30 in the case of electricity, gas and water, and between 25 and 58 in the case of wholesale and retail trade. In agriculture and allied activities, mining and quarrying, construction, although the number of workers employed has been very large, the percentage of workers organized into trade unions has been low. The extent of unionization has been lowest in agriculture and allied activities.The percentage in the community, social and personal services have been below 5, in construction between 10 and 31, in mining and quarrying between 7 and 14, and in financing, insurance, real estates and business services between 11 and 50.

Table 5.3 further shows that in 2003, there has been an appreciable increase in the extent of unionization in trade, restaurants and hotels, and financing, insurance and real estate categories, when it stood above 50 per cent. The percentage of workers organized in transport, storage and communication, and construction categories stood at above 30 in 2003. The increase in the percentage in the construction industry appears to be due partly to the establishment of big-sized projects where a large number of workers congregated at particular centres, and partly also to the formation of the central All India Council of Trade Unions (AICTU) in 1989, which has concentrated on unionizing the hitherto unorganized workers in the country. Similarly, in the financing, insurance and real estate category, there has been an appreciable growth of big-sized establishments under private ownership, which has given an opportunity to workers to join unions.

In the manufacturing industries, major concentration of trade union members has been in (i) food products, (ii) beverages, tobacco and related products, (iii) no-metallic mineral products and (iv) machinery and equipment other than transport. In transport, storage and communications group, trade union membership has been high in railways, road transport, water transport, and storage and warehousing services. In the financing, insurance and business services group, the number of workers organized into trade unions has been high in banking activities, deposit and insurance services. The number of workers organized into trade unions in the community, social and personal services has been high in public services in the union government including defence services, public services in state governments including police services, and tailoring establishments. In agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing, trade union membership has been concentrated in agricultural production and plantations. In the industry division of electricity, gas and water, the number of trade union members has been relatively high in the generation and transmission of electric energy and its distribution. In the construction group, the number of trade union members has been high in construction and maintenance of buildings, roads, bridges and tunnels.

Table 5.4 shows that during 1952–2002, the specific industries witnessing a high percentage of trade union membership comprised: (i) coal mining (between 26 per cent and 81 per cent), (ii) cotton textiles (between 24 per cent and 71 per cent), (iii) railways (between 39 per cent and 56 per cent), (iv) paper, printing and allied trades (between 20 per cent and 44 per cent), (v) basic metal industries (between 14 per cent and 75 percent (vi) machinery (between 13 per cent and 75 per cent) and non-metallic mineral products (between 16 per cent and 78 per cent). The proportion of workers organized into trade unions has been relatively low in plantations, jute textiles, posts and telegraphs and transport equipment. The labour bureau has started publishing figures pertaining to number of trade unions, their membership and average membership per union for a number of specific industries but as the national industrial classifications have been changed at intervals, it has become very difficult to obtain consistent figures relating to specific industries even for a moderately reasonable period of time.

STATE-WISE PICTURE OF TRADE UNIONS

An idea of the state-wise distribution of trade unions and their membership during 1956–2002 can be had from Table 5.5.

 

Table 5.5 Number of Trade Unions on Register, Number of Trade Unions Submitting Returns, Membership of Unions Submitting Returns by States (1956–2002)

 

 

Source: Government of India, Ministry of Labour, various issues of Indian Labour Year Book, Trade Unions in India; Ministry of Planning, Statistical Abstract of India, 1987; Labour Bureau, Trade Unions in India 2002, Statement 3.1 (www.labourbureau.gov.in/TU%202K2%20Statement%203.1htm)

R = Repeated figures of previous year(s)

Table 5.5 shows that in all the years under study the eight states of West Bengal, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar accounted for more than 75 per cent of the total number of registered trade unions in the country. These states had a concentration of 99 per cent of registered trade unions in 1956 and about 80 per cent in 1974. During the period under study, that is, 1956–2002, the states of West Bengal, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu had more than 50 per cent of the registered trade unions in the country. It is pertinent here to mention that these states are relatively industrially advanced and have a large concentration of industrial labour. The large geographical size (except that of Kerala), high degree of consciousness and availability of effective leadership may also be taken as contributing factors.

From the point of view of the number of registered trade unions, West Bengal continued to rank first from 1956 to 1991, but from 1993 onwards, Kerala ranked first relegating West Bengal to the second position except in 2002 when it became third, Tamil Nadu occupying the second position. Next to Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, other states having more than 1,000 registered unions in order of rank in 2002 were: Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, U.P., Bihar, Orissa, Delhi and Haryana.

Table 5.5 further shows that there has been a gradual increase in the number of registered unions during the course of years under study. When compared to the figures of 1956, the increase in 2002 was to the tune of over ten times in the states of Karnataka, Rajasthan and Orissa. During the same period, an increase of between 5 and 10 times was recorded in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. In other states, the increase varied between 2.5 and 5 times.

Although the number of registered trade unions in the country has constantly been on increase, the number of unions submitting returns has been rather erratic in a number of states. The position has particularly deteriorated since 1993 onwards. It has been shown earlier that during 1980–2002 between 80 and 90 per cent of the registered unions in the country failed to submit returns in contravention of the statutory requirements of the Trade Unions Act, 1926. During more recent years, the main defaulters have been the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, U.P. and West Bengal. In these states, the number of registered unions has also been large. As such, a relative picture of union membership in various states has not been available for a number of years.

Within the limitations mentioned above, a rough idea of the growth of trade union membership in particular states can be had from the available figures of Table 5.5. Table 5.5 shows that during 1966–94, the most spectacular increase of about 20 times was recorded in Karnataka, 12 times in Kerala and 7 times in Maharashtra. During 1956–74, the increase was to the tune of about three times in Andhra Pradesh, U.P., Bihar and West Bengal. In 1974, for which comparative data are available, Maharashtra ranked first with more than 13 lakh union members followed by Bihar (7.9 lakh), Tamil Nadu (7.4 lakh), U.P. (7.0 lakh), Kerala (4.1 lakh), West Bengal (3.7 lakh) and Karnataka (3.2 lakh). The states having union membership of over 5 lakh each in 1997 were Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Punjab, Assam and West Bengal in that order. In 2002, the membership of unions submitting returns was about 90 times the figures of 1996 in Himachal Pradesh, 80 times in Haryana, 11 times in Gujarat, 5 times in Assam and twice in Punjab and Tamil Nadu.

GROWTH OF TRADE UNION FEDERATIONS

A notable development of trade union movement in India since 1951 has been the formation and growth of federations of trade unions, particularly industrial federations. Such federations came to be set up for a number of industries/employments, for example, mines, iron and steel, cotton textiles, plantations, railways, defence establishments, engineering, cement, sugar, chemicals, banking, insurance, posts and telegraphs, ports and docks, road transport, air transport, newspapers, teaching, electricity and government services. Some of these federations have been set up at the national level, while others have been established at the state level. Even in the same industry/employment, parallel federations have come to operate. Many of these federations are affiliated to central trade unions such as INTUC, AITUC, BMS, CITU and so on. Many of them prefer to remain unaffiliated and function independently. Some of the factors that have given an impetus to the formation of trade union federations have been realization of the need for united action at higher levels, increasing centralization of decision-making concerning labour matters, formation of Central Wage Boards, establishment of joint bodies at the national and industry levels, establishment of employers’ organizations at higher levels, and realization by trade union leadership of the ineffectiveness of disjointed action. Some of more active industrial federations of trade unions in the country include Indian National Textile Workers’ Federation, Indian National Mine Workers’ Federation, Indian National Dock Workers’ Federation, All India Bank Employees’ Association and National Federation of Indian Railwaymen.

 

Trade Union Federation

A trade union to which a number of trade unions are affiliated. A trade union federation may be set-up at the central, industrial, state, regional or other levels.

Despite a phenomenal growth of trade union federations at the national and state levels, a real picture about them is not available, owing mainly to the non-submission of returns under the Trade Unions Act, 1926, by many of them. The available figures about these federations have been given in Tables 5.6 and 5.7. During 1951–2000, the number of federations submitting returns has varied between 6 (1994) and 86 (1984). These represent only a small proportion of the total number of registered federations. For example, in 1972, out of 131 registered federations of workers’ unions, only 47 submitted returns. In 1974, out of 178 registered federations of workers’ unions, only 77 submitted returns.4 These figures do not cover federations of employers’ unions registered under the Trade Unions Act, 1926. The position of submission of returns has deteriorated considerably during the course of time.

 

Table 5.6 Number of Trade Union Federations Submitting Returns, Number of affiliated Unions and Income and Expenditure of Federations Submitting Returns (1951–74)

 

Source: Government of India, Ministry of Labour. Various issues of Indian Labour Statistics and Indian Labour Year Book.

 

Table 5.7 Number of Trade Union Federations Submitting Returns and Their Income and Expenditure (1975–2000)

 

Source: Government of India, Ministry of Labour. Various issues of Indian Year Book.

In spite of the non-availability of figures relating to the exact number of trade union federations, the number of unions affiliated to them and their membership, it has been the day-to-day experience that these federations have come to occupy a notable place in the industrial relations of the country. In practice, the trade union federations affiliated to the central federations of trade unions function under the control and dominance of the central federations to which they are affiliated. There have also been examples of industrial federations changing their allegiance to the central federations.

In contrast to the finances of similar federations in other developed countries, for instance, Great Britain and the United States, the financial position of Indian trade union federations presents a gloomy picture. During the period 1951–2000 the total income of all the trade union federations taken together has varied between 1.5 lakh (1994) and 281.3 lakh (1995). The income per federation has mostly varied between 11,000 and 2 lakh. With such a meagre financial position, it is futile to expect even moderate welfare activities from them.

CENTRAL FEDERATIONS OF TRADE UNIONS

As explained in Chapter 4, by the end of 1949, there were four central federations of trade unions in the country, namely, AITUC, INTUC, HMS and UTUC. The AITUC was under the dominance of the Communists; the INTUC was under the influence of the Indian National Congress; the HMS was controlled by the socialists and the UTUC operated under the influence of the radicals. After the adoption of the Indian Constitution in 1950, the role of political parties became all the more important for contesting elections and forming government at the centre and in the states. Not only new political parties came to be formed, but also existing political parties witnessed splits for one reason or the other. The political parties tried their best to keep as many trade unions and workers as possible, under their influence and control. These developments had their repercussions on the trade union movement also. In addition to the four existing central federations of trade unions, that is, AITUC, INTUC, HMS and UTUC, new central federations came to be established and elements of split also started penetrating in the central federations.

 

Central Federations of Trade Unions

Also called central trade unions set up at the national level to which a number of industrial federations, other all-India trade unions and also unions at other levels are affiliated. Most of them are formally or informally affiliated to one political party or the other.

In 1955, Bharatiya Jan Sangh established the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) which subsequently came under the influence and domination of the Bharatiya Janata Party. A split in the Communist Party of India led to a split in the AITUC. The two parties, namely, the Communist Party of India and the newly formed Communist Party, Marxists (CPM), in spite of their political split, endeavoured to work together on the platform of the AITUC for a few years. However, in 1970, the unions under the influence of the CPM seceded from the AITUC and formed a central federation of their own, known as the Centre of Indian Trade Unions—CITU. The split in the Indian National Congress in 1969 also caused a split in the INTUC. In 1972, the trade unions under the influence of Morarji Desai, Nijalingappa and Kamraj seceded from the INTUC and established a central federation called National Organization of Labour (NLO). Sometimes later, a group in the UTUC formed United Trades Union Congress—Lenin Sarani (UTUC-LS). Later, two other central federations of trade unions, namely, National Front of Indian Trade Unions (NFITU) and Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC) also came to be set up. Thus, presently, 10 more notable central federations of trade unions, namely, AITUC, INTUC, HMS, UTUC, BMS, CITU, NLO, UTUC-LS, NFITU and TUCC are in operation in the country.

The number of trade unions affiliated to the earlier four central federations, that is, INTUC, AITUC, HMS and UTUC and their membership from 1949 to 1968 are given in Table 5.8. Similar figures relating to the top 10 central federations have been given in Table 5.9

 

Table 5.8 Number of Trade Unions Affiliated to INTUC, AITUC, HMS and UTUC and Their Membership (1949–68)

 

Source: Government of India, Ministry of Labour. Various issues of Indian Labour Year Book and Indian Labour Statistics.

      NA—Not Available.

Note: The figures up to 1953 have been compiled from the statistical information supplied by the organizations. The figures from 1954 onwards are as verified by the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central).

 

Table 5.9 Number of Trade Unions Affiliated to Central Federations ofTrade Unions and Their Membership (1980, 1989)

 

Source: Government of India, Ministry of Labour. Labour Bureau’s Labour (1989), pp. 128–36 and Office of Chief Labour Commissioner (Central).

Table 5.8 shows that the figures of both the number of affiliated trade unions and their membership in respect of all the central federations, particularly, HMS and UTUC, have fluctuated during the course of years under study. However, none of the central federations could increase the number of affiliated unions or their membership during the period 1953–62. On the contrary, the period 1953–62 witnessed a decline in both the number of affiliated trade unions and their membership as compared to the figures of the preceding period 1949–52. Only in 1966, the INTUC and the HMS could add a significant number in the membership. In particular, the position of the HMS, in terms of both the number of affiliated unions and their membership, considerably deteriorated from 1953 onwards. In 1962, the HMS had less than half the number of affiliated trade unions and members, when compared to the figures of 1952. The maximum decline took place in 1957, when its membership went down to less than one-fourth the figures of 1952. Similarly, in 1962, the membership of the unions affiliated to the UTUC was less than one-third of the membership recorded in 1952.The maximum loss incurred by the AITUC was in the year 1953 when it lost more than 5 lakh members and 400 affiliated trade unions. However, the AITUC continued to maintain its position from 1955 onwards.

 

CHART 5.B: Membership of Central Federations of Trade Unions in India –1980, (See Table 5.9)

 

CHART 5.C: Membership of Central Federations of Trade Unions in India–1989, (See Table 5.9)

Table 5.8 further shows that, except in 1957 and 1959, the INTUC accounted for the largest number of affiliated trade unions as well as their membership. The number of trade unions affiliated to the INTUC varied between 37 per cent (1949) and 46 per cent (1962) of the total number of trade unions affiliated to the central federations. As regards membership, the position of the INTUC improved from 1953 onwards reaching the height of nearly 60 per cent in 1966. The AITUC slightly improved its position from 1954 in terms of percentage of the affiliated unions. The percentage has varied between 26 (1953) and 43 (1957). In terms of membership, the position of the AITUC varied between 13 per cent (1953) and 31 per cent (1957). The position of the HMS, in terms of the percentage of both the number of unions affiliated to it and their membership considerably deteriorated during the period 1953–62, when compared to the figures of the preceding period 1949–52. In 1957, the HMS accounted for only 8 per cent of the total number of unions affiliated to the federations; the maximum of 24 per cent on record was in 1952. The membership of the unions affiliated to HMS varied between 12 per cent (1955) and 26 per cent (1952). The UTUC has ranked last (except in 1954 and 1955) in terms of the percentage both of the number of affiliated unions and their membership. In 1968, the position in terms of the membership of unions affiliated to them over the figures of 1966 improved in the case of all the central federations except the INTUC.

Box 5.1

JAWAHARLAL NEHRU ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS AND THE INTUC

Technically, the INTUC and the Indian National Congress are two separate organizations and neither is subordinate to the other. Still it goes without saying that the INTUC has been sponsored and nursed mostly by Congressmen and derives its strength from the moral and other support of the Congress. As such it is imperative that in all political matters all Congressmen working in the INTUC should treat the Congress as its supreme body and abide by its code of conduct.

 

Source: Times of India 20 December 1953 as quoted in Dufty, N. F. (1964) Industrial Relations in India: Bombay, Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd., p.58

The figures in Table 5.8 up to 1953 have been compiled from statistical information supplied by the organizations concerned. The figures from 1954 onwards are as verified by the Office of the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central). The work of verification continued to be, more or less, regular till 1962, but thereafter verification took place at irregular intervals, that is, 1966, 1968, 1981 and 1989.

The figures of Tables 5.8 and 5.9 show that the INTUC continued to be the most representative from the point of view of the number of affiliates as well as membership. However, in 1989, the BMS ranked first from the point of view of membership relegating the INTUC to the second position. In 1981, the central federations ranked in order from the point of view of number of affiliates were: INTUC, CITU, BMS, AITUC, HMS, NLO, UTUC, UTUC-LS, NFITU and TUCC. However, from the point of view of membership, next to INTUC (22.36 lakh) were BMS (12.11 lakh), HMS (7.63 lakh), UTUC-LS (6.21 lakh), AITUC (3.45 lakh), CITU (3.31 lakh), NLO (2.47 lakh), TUCC (1.23 lakh), NFITU (84,000) and UTUC (35,000). In 1980, the membership of UTUC was surprisingly low at 35,000 only, the lowest recorded since 1949. However, in 1996 its membership increased to 5.58 lakh. The figures of 1989 show substantial gains not only for the BMS (31 lakh) but also for the CITU (17.8 lakh) and the HMS (14.8 lakh). Earlier, the HMS did not have a membership of over 8.5 lakh in any year since 1949.The CITU had a membership of only 3.3 lakh in 1980. Table 5.9 also shows that the membership of the central federations more than doubled in 1989 when compared to the figures of 1980.

During the course of time, more and more central federations of trade unions came to be formed. For example, in 1989, All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) was formed mainly with a view to organizing the unorganized and unionizing the non-unionized workers.5 With the formation of new political parties and splits in the existing ones during more recent years, quite a few politically dominated central federations of trade unions have come to be set up in the country. Some of these include: Akhil Bharatiya Kamgar Sena, All India Federation of Trade Unions, All India Centre of Trade Unions, and Indian Federation of Trade Unions (see Box 5.2).

Box 5.2

CENTRAL TRADE UNIONS (CENTRAL FEDERATIONS OF TRADE UNIONS) RECOGNIZED BY THE MINISTRY OF LABOUR, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA ALONG WITH THEIR POLITICAL AFFILIATIONS (IN BRACKETS) (2008)

  1. Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) (Indian National Congress)

  2. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) (Bharatiya Janata Party)

  3. All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) (Communist Party of India)

  4. Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) (Communist Party of India—Marxist)

  5. Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) (Socialists)

  6. United Trades Union Congress (UTUC) (Revolutionary Socialist Party)

  7. Trade Union Coordination Committee (TUCC) (All India Forward Bloc)

  8. All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) (Communist Party of India–Marxist-Leninist—Liberation)

  9. All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTU) (Socialist Unity Centre of India)

  10. Labour Progressive Federation (LPF) (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

  11. SEWA

A notable feature of the central federations of trade unions in the country during more recent years, especially after the adoption of the new economic and industrial policy in 1991, has been formation of ad hoc sponsoring or coordinating committees or coming together on a common platform by a combination of these federations to launch protests against broad or specific moves of the government.

International Affiliation

The international affiliations of the central federations of trade unions continued to be the same as in the pre-1950 period. The INTUC and the HMS continued to be affiliated to the ICFTU, and the AITUC and CITU to the WFTU. Fraternal delegates have been exchanged between the central federations in India and trade unions in other countries according to their political affiliations.

INDUSTRIAL DISPUTES FROM 1950 TO 2006

Table 5.10 gives figures of the number of industrial disputes resulting in work-stoppages, workers involved and man-days lost in the country from 1950 to 2007.

Table 5.10 shows that the number of industrial disputes during 1950–65 was generally below 1,600 per year, but it considerably increased between 1966 and 1984, when, with a few exceptions, it varied between 2,000 and 3,400 per year. Since 1985, there has been a general decline in the number. The number of disputes decreased appreciably since 1999 onwards varying between 375 (2007) and 927 (1999). Between 1985 and 1999, it had generally varied between 1,000 and 1,900 per year.

 

Table 5.10 Number of Industrial Disputes Resulting in Work-stoppages, Workers Involved and Man Days Lost in India (1950–2001)

 

Source: Government of India, Ministry of Labour. Various issues of Indian Labour Year Book; Indian Labour Statistics; Pocket Book of Labour Statistics; and Labour bureau (http://labourburau.nic.in/idtab.htm; http://labourbureau.gov.in/PBLS%202k8%20Tab%205.1.htm).

The number of workers involved in the disputes was below 10 lakh in all the years between 1950 and 1963, but thereafter, there has been a substantial increase, the highest of 28.5 lakh recorded in 1974. Between 1964 and 1992, the number exceeded 10 lakh in all the years except 1965 and 1976. Since 1993, there has been a general decline, but in certain years such as 2004 and 2005, it exceeded 20 lakh. The increase in the number of workers involved in particular years since 1998 onwards has been due mainly to nationwide industrial strikes in certain organized industries such as banking, insurance, coal mines, air transport, posts and telegraphs and public sector undertakings (see subsequent section on all-India general strikes/bandhs). Another potent factor behind this increase has been the number of workers involved in lock-outs resorted to by the employers.

 

CHART 5.D: Workers Involved in Industrial Disputes in India (1951–2001), (See Table 5.10)

 

 

CHART 5.E: Man-days Lost in Industrial Disputes in India (1951–2001), (See Table 5.10)

Table 5.10 further shows that the number of man-days lost as a result of industrial disputes during 1951–65 has been relatively much lower when compared to the corresponding number during the years following 1965. During 1951–65, industrial disputes were confined mainly to particular establishments and the issues involved related to terms and conditions of employment. In many cases, industrial federations of trade unions or the central unions were not directly involved. At the same time, the number of industrial disputes was comparatively less. The incidence of strikes and lock-outs became wider and more frequent since the adoption of the policies of privatization and liberalization in 1991. A substantial increase in the number of man-days lost in particular years has been due to a number of factors such as formation of new federations and confederations of unions, involvement of industrial federations and central unions in industrial disputes, coming together of so far rival unions on a common platform, and issues of common interests on a wider scale. Another potent factor has been increasing frequency of lock-outs since the adoption of the new economic policy. Experience has shown that the country has been witnessing a larger number of man-days lost due to lock-outs than that resulting from strikes. Between 1998 and 2006, the number of man-days lost due to lock-outs was 162.3 million while it was 71.5 million due to strikes.6

An analysis of the pertinent aspects of industrial disputes and strikes has been made in some detail in Chapter 11.

The Indian trade unions, as the representative of the Indian working class, despite having welcomed and accepted planning and programmes of industrial development, could not remain silent in the face of mounting sufferings of the industrial workers. They had to protect the interests of their members who looked up to them as their mouth-piece and resorted to work-stoppages when other methods of obtaining a redressal of their grievances failed. Even the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, with all its restrictions on the right to strike and the availability of machineries for conciliation and adjudication, could not deter the working class from resorting to strike—the last weapon in the armoury of the workers. If an analysis is made, it would appear that most of these strikes have been illegal either under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, or the Essential Services Maintenance Act or relevant state laws, wherein operation. Even the penal clauses of the acts relating to the consequences of going on illegal strikes failed to prevent the workers and their trade unions from using the weapon of strike in their defence.

Box 5.3

LAL BAHADUR SHASTRI ON TRADE UNION MOVEMENT AND STRIKE

Workers should not resort to strikes or go-slow tactics to get their grievances redressed. The trade union movement in the country should be built in such a way as to ensure settlement of disputes by negotiations.

 

[Extract from the speech of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri at the Indian National Congress of 1965: Source: Zaidi, A.M. and S.G. Zaidi (eds.). (1983). The Encyclopedia of Indian National Congress, Vol. 19 (1965–67), p.72]

IMPACT OF INDUSTRIAL AND ECONOMIC POLICIES ON TRADE UNIONS

Impact of Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956: The Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956 was, more or less, in consonance with the policies of the central federations of trade unions. The central federations of trade unions have provided in their respective constitutions, the gradual extension of the state-ownership of industries and nationalization of key industries, as important objectives. The constitutions of some of them, for example, AITUC and UTUC also provided for the establishment of a ‘socialist society’. The adoption of planning as an instrument of economic growth has also been welcome by most of the central federations of trade unions.

Since 1950, the Indian trade union movement has been in a dilemma. It has been torn between the opposite roles of conflict and cooperation with the government. There has been a clash of loyalties. While the acceptance of planning and the needs of economic development have demanded active cooperation and support to the government by the trade unions, rising costs of living, the hardships and problems facing the workers have goaded them in the direction of conflict and industrial actions. Under these circumstances, it has been difficult for the unions to formulate a sound programme of action, tactics and strategy. An index of this problem and the way the Indian trade unions, in general, have sought to answer this question is the two-pillar policy as adopted by the 25th session of the AITUC held in Ernakulum in December 1957. S. A. Dange, the general secretary of the AITUC, spoke of this policy in the following words:

At the same time, we have to see that all this development taking place is not at the cost of the working people, Hence, we have to follow a two-pillar policy to help in the development of the economy and to defend the interests of the working masses in that economy.

The ‘two-pillar’ policy has been pursued by all the important central trade union federations, their affiliates and other trade unions, though they might not have accepted it in so many words. All of the trade unions have fought and opposed the employers and the government, though in varying degrees, whenever the interests of the workers have been adversely affected by their policies and programmes. At the same time, they have extended their hands in willing cooperation whenever such cooperation has been sought in the task of easing the tension in the field of industrial relations and in evolving the government’s labour policy. This will be evident from a study of the nature and extent of industrial disputes and the working of the various consultative machineries during the period under review.

However, the situation materially changed with the adoption of an altogether different economic and industrial policy in 1991.

Impact of Economic and Industrial Policy of 1991: The main features of the new economic and industrial policy of 1991, which is based on the elements of ‘privatization’, ‘liberalization’, ‘globalization’ and ‘competition’ have been explained at the beginning of the chapter. The central federations of trade unions, irrespective of their political affiliations, industrial federations and other trade unions have been vehemently opposing the policy ever since its adoption and have been raising protests at frequent intervals. However, the government has been asserting that the measures adopted in pursuance of the new policy are ‘reform measures’ necessary for the economic development of the country and in consonance with the existing global situation.

However, trade unions in the country, not convinced with the assertions made by the government, have been adopting war-path and have resorted to strikes and bandhs at regular intervals. As a matter of fact, never before in the history of Indian trade union movement, the country has witnessed waves of strikes and bandhs on broad or specific economic issues as it did during the so-called post-reform period. Within a short spell of about 20 years following the adoption of the new policy, there took place about a dozen countrywide general strikes or bandhs and a large number of nationwide industrial strikes at frequent intervals. These strikes/bandhs have been organized in protest against both the broader policy matters and specific measures adopted and often on issues raised by the employees of the industries concerned.

A distinctive feature of majority of countrywide general or industrial strikes organized during the period has been coming together of so far rival unions on a common platform. Another notable feature of these strikes/bandhs has been overt expression of resentment even by those central federations of trade unions which have been affiliates of the political parties in power. For example, the BMS joined hands with the leftist unions when the Bharatiya Janata Party to which BMS has been affiliated constituted the major partner of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government at the centre. Similarly, the leftist unions such as CITU, AITUC, HMS and UTUC also organized strikes/bandhs against the policies and measures of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government at the centre even though the political parties to which they have been affiliated constituted its partners and supported the government from outside. Besides, all-India strikes have also been organized by both affiliated and unaffiliated unions in particular industries such as banks, insurance, airlines, posts and telegraphs, telephones, ports and docks, electricity, transport services, and public sector undertakings.

GENERAL STRIKES SINCE 1991

It will be relevant here to make a brief mention of some more notable countrywide general and industrial strikes organized during the post-1991 period.

  1. General Strike of 29 November 1991: The all-India general strike of 29 November 1991 was the first countrywide general strike launched in protest against the new economic and industrial policy of the government adopted the same year. The trade unions vehemently opposed the new policy of privatization and the opening of the economy allegedly under pressure from International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO). The strike was organized on the initiative of the CITU which took a lead in the formation of a ‘sponsoring committee’ consisting of representatives of other central unions and industrial federations. The INTUC and BMS abstained from the strike. The strike had a partial response and there were incidents of clashes between the strikers and non-strikers.
  2. General Strike of 16 June 1992: The countrywide general strike of 16 June 1992 was organized by CITU, AITUC, HMS, UTUC and other leftist central unions along with some industrial federations in such sectors as banking and insurance. The strike was in protest against the government’s free market moves. More than a million workers were involved in the strike. The strike had a mixed response, but work in banking, insurance and transport was badly affected. The impact of the strike was rather widespread in some states, particularly West Bengal and Kerala. This strike also witnessed clashes between strikers and pro-government demonstrators and the police.
  3. General Strike/Bharat Bandh of 9 September 1993: The central federations of trade unions, except the BMS and INTUC, organized a one-day nationwide industrial strike along with Bharat Bandh on 9 September 1993 in protest against the government’s new industrial and economic policies and the measures contemplated in pursuance of these policies. ‘The strike had an impact of 38 per cent in the operations of Indian Airlines, 52 to 73 per cent in coal sector, 50 per cent in banking sector, and 20 per cent in insurance sector’.7 The strike also affected work in ports, oil installations, other public sector undertakings and transport.
  4. General Strike/Bandh of 14 July 1994: This countrywide strike and bandh was also organized mainly by leftist unions led by the CITU and AITUC. The strikers were protesting against the government remaining adamant with its policies and programmes of economic liberalism and a privatization even in face of the earlier stiff opposition and protests. The strike had ‘varying degrees of impact in different parts of the country and in different sectors of industry. In general, the essential services were not affected’.8
  5. General Strike/Bandh of 29 September 1994: This strike/bandh was also organized primarily by the leftist unions and was similar to that organized on 14 July of the same year. It had a little wider impact especially in air-transport, banking, insurance and major ports.
  6. Nationwide Strike of 11 December 1998: This nationwide strike was called by major central trade unions in support of a charter of demands. Strike notices pertaining to establishments under the central sphere were served to the respective Regional Labour Commissioners (Central) but efforts at conciliation failed and the strike took place. The strike in which about 5 million workers were involved had a partial impact in the public sector undertakings. The strike witnessed a mixed response in banks and insurance, but in West Bengal, Bihar and U.P. it was nearly total. The strike in coal mines of West Bengal and in the major ports of Calcutta, Mumbai and Cochin was more or less total. The strike had little impact in airlines, railways and State Bank of India.9
  7. General Strike of 16–18 April 2002: Beginning from 16 April 2002, a three-day countrywide industrial strike was organized by central federations of trade unions including BMS, CITU, AITUC, HMS, AICCTU, UTUC (LS), TUCC and UTUC and a number of industrial and government employees federations in protest against government’s policies of privatization, direct sale of shares of public sector undertakings and disinvestments, downsizing of establishments, retrenchment, anti-labour laws amendments and closure of public sector undertakings. The INTUC abstained. Strike notices as required under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, were served and conciliation proceedings that followed failed.

    The response to this nationwide strike was said to be ‘spontaneous’ and ‘substantial’.10 An estimated 10 million employees took part in the strike. The strike badly affected work in public sector undertakings, banks, insurance, and other financial institutions, coal, ports and state government departments. The strike had a notable impact in the states of West Bengal, Tripura, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, U.P., Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. There was a partial impact in other states.

  8. General Strike of 21 May 2003: A one-day countrywide general strike was called by all the major central trade unions except the INTUC and BMS and many other industrial federations and federations of central and state government employees’ unions. The issues involved inter alia included: privatization of profit-making public sector undertakings, allowing foreign direct investment in retail and pension, plans to amend labour laws detrimental to workers’ interests, abolition of vacant posts and ban on recruitment, curtailment of existing economic benefits available to workers and reversal of ‘disastrous anti-worker economic policy’.11

    The strike was said to be the ‘biggest nationwide strike witnessed since independence’.12 About 40 millions employees were involved in the strike.13

  9. General Strike of 24 February 2004: A countrywide general strike demanding a review of the Supreme Court ruling that government employees did not have a constitutional right to strike (see Chapter 11) and reversal of the government’s economic policies was organized on February 2004 by majority of central unions backed by industrial federations and federations of government employees. The INTUC, BMS and HMS abstained. It was contended that government’s economic policies had resulted in deepening poverty, growing unemployment, reckless privatization and closures of undertakings.

    An estimated 50 million people including government employees participated in the strike.14 The strike severely crippled work in government offices, airlines, posts and telegraphs, telephones, banks, insurance and other financial institutions. It also had a partial impact in mines, steel plants and oil installations. The strike was rather total in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and had created a bandh-like situation in some states, particularly Assam, Haryana, Orissa and Jharkhand.15

  10. General Strike of 29 September 2005: The countrywide general strike said to be mother of all strikes16 and ‘the biggest ever action launched by the working class in the globalisation era‘17 was organized jointly by the leftist central unions, confederations of Central Government Employees and Workers, All India State Government Employees’ Federation and national federations of unions in banks, insurance and other sectors. The INTUC and BMS did not participate. The strikers were demanding inter alia end to privatization of state-owned businesses, withdrawal of anti-labour laws amendment proposals and overturning of Supreme Court ruling relating to right to strike.

    About 60 millions workers from across the country reportedly took part in the strike. The strike had an appreciable impact in banks, insurance, public sector undertakings, posts and telegraphs, government departments, airports and many other establishments. The strike was rather total in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam and Kerala.

  11. General Strike of 14 December 2006: This countrywide general strike was also called jointly by majority of central trade unions including CITU, AITUC, HMS, TUCC, UTUC (LS) and UTUC along with national federations of trade unions of government employees and those in banks and insurance with a 14-point charter of demands. The demands related to privatization, deregulation, corporate tax-cuts, dismantling of public and social services, anti-labour laws, spiralling prices and low wages.

    About 10 million workers were involved in the strike.18 The strike had an impact in banks, insurance, railways, government departments, telecom, state public sector undertakings and teaching institutions.

  12. All India General Strike 20 August 2008: A nationwide general strike was organized on 20 August, against the economic and labour policies of the UPA government, particularly against price rise, deepening and widening poverty, rising unemployment, increasing violation of labour laws and outsourcing. The strike was sponsored by AITUC and CITU and supported by HMS, AICCTU, TUCC and all-India federations of banks, insurance, railways, defence, telecom, airline and airports employees. The impact of the strike was widespread in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and partial in Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam Manipur, UP, Punjab, Orissa and Karnataka.19

General Strike

Such a strike in which workers of a number or groups of industries and employments are involved. Such a strike can be at various levels such as nation, state, region or locality.

Bandhs

Stopping all economic and business activities including those in shops and establishments, offices, transport and even plying of private vehicles on roads. A call for bandh may be given for the country as a whole, or for a particular state or groups of states or for a specific locality or region. Generally, political parties are also involved in bandhs called by trade unions and many bandhs are called by political parties on their own and trade unions supporting them.

In spite of these frequent and massive agitations, the government continued with the implementation of the new economic and industrial policies in the name of ‘economic reforms’. As a matter of fact, the government could not afford to modify its policies and programmes on account of international compulsions, and imperativeness of liberalization and privatization and in the national interest. As such, the agitations launched by trade unions could not succeed in pressurizing the government to alter its stand. The general or particular strikes called by trade unions in protest against the government’s policies and programmes have generally ended in failure in many countries of the world, India being no exception. It appears that under the new economic situation, the weapon of strike, which has traditionally been the most important weapon in the armoury of trade unions, has lost much of its effectiveness, especially when it is directed against government’s broad policies and programmes. These strikes must be distinguished from the strikes launched against employers in industrial disputes where the fear of economic losses many compel the employers to come to a settlement. The new economic situations have compelled the government in many countries of the world to curtail the traditional privileges of trade unions and to teach them to adopt the attitude of ‘cooperation’ rather than ‘confrontation’ in the national interest. In India also, the government also expects that the trade unions in the country will cooperate with the government in the implementation of new economic and industrial policies in national interest and will avoid putting hurdles in the way. The existing scene suggests that the trade unions in the country have been on the defensive, especially in relation to their role against the government.

TRADE UNION COOPERATION AND CONSULTATIVE MACHINERY

Of the two pillars of the trade union policy pursued during recent years, one has been discussed earlier. The other pillar also needs further discussion. It has been said that the other pillar of the trade union policy has been to extend cooperation and help in the development of the economy, the adoption of labour policy and execution of programmes relating to labour. The pursuance of this policy has drawn both the government and the trade union movement closer. The government, employers and trade unions, conscious as they have been of this responsibility, have cooperated in the establishment of a number of tripartite and bipartite bodies of consultation at different levels.

For the purpose of convenience, these bodies may be classified under two heads: (a) non-statutory and (b) statutory. They may further be sub-divided on the basis of the levels at which they operate and their tenure, that is, whether permanent or temporary. A list of the more important of these bodies is given below. Some of these bodies, though they came into existence during the 1940s, have been strengthened further and more frequently utilized in the post-1950 period. Again, though most of these bodies are advisory and consultative in character, some of them, particularly the statutory ones, are vested with executive and administrative functions.

Non-statutory (Permanent)

  1. At the Central Level:
    1. Indian Labour Conference
    2. Standing Labour Committee
    3. Central Implementation and Evaluation Committee
    4. Central Committee on Labour Research
    5. Central Board for Workers’ Education
    6. Special Tripartite Committee
    7. Committee on Conventions
  2. At the State Level:
    1. State Labour Advisory Boards
    2. Standing Labour Committee
    3. Industrial Relations Committees in some states
  3. At the Industry Level:

    Industrial Committees for important industries, e.g., plantations, coal mining, textiles, cement, tanneries and leather goods manufactories, mines other than coal, jute, building and construction, chemicals, iron and steel, engineering and road transport.

  4. At the Plant Level:
    1. Joint Management Councils
    2. Shop Councils
    3. Joint Councils
    4. Production Committees
    5. Joint Committees
    6. Unit Councils

Non-statutory (ad hoc)

  1. Wage Boards
  2. Bonus Commission
  3. National Commissions on Labour

Statutory

  1. At the Central Level:
    1. Dock Workers’ Advisory Committee under the Dock Workers Regulation of Employment Act,1948
    2. Central Minimum Wages Advisory Board under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948
    3. Employees’ State Insurance Corporation, Standing Committee, Medical Benefit Council under the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948
    4. Labour Welfare Advisory Committees under the Mica Mines Labour Welfare Fund Act, 1946, and other Labour Welfare Fund Acts
  2. At the State Level:
    1. Minimum Wage Advisory Boards, Committees and Sub-committees under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948
    2. Regional Boards under the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948
    3. Labour Welfare Boards under Labour Welfare Fund Acts
  3. At the Plant Level:
    1. Works Committees under Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
    2. Safety Committee under the Factories Act, 1948

These bodies have provided the main forums of cooperation and consultation between the trade unions, employers and the government in evolving agreed labour policies and solving particular problems as and when they arise. Though some of these bodies pre-date 1950, all of them have become more active in the post-1950 period. What needs to be emphasized here is not so much the formal creation and existence of tripartite and bipartite bodies of consultation and cooperation, but the new orientation in the outlook of the trade unions and the government in the direction of mutual cooperation. This orientation would not have taken place but for the acceptance of the broad national goals in the field of economic development by the trade unions. Again, but for this reorientation, the industrial relations’ scene would have become much more turbulent under the stresses and strains generated by the attempt at squeezing, into a few decades, the process of economic development, which has taken centuries in the capitalist countries.

All the Five Year Plans have emphasized the need for workers’ cooperation. If anyone goes into the detailed working of the bodies mentioned earlier, he will be convinced that Indian working class represented by the trade unions has magnificently responded to this call. If there have been occasional voices and actions of protest, they have occurred mostly when the trade unions have been convinced that their hardships arise not so much on account of the broad national goals but because of the faulty and wrong policies pursued by the employers and the government in the process of attaining these goals.

This is a brief summary of the developments of the trade union front since 1950, but it contains the main events and the main trends.

MEASURES TO STRENGTHEN THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT IN INDIA

The foregoing discussions as well as the contents of Chapter 4, when studied along with the problems of trade unionism in the country as discussed in Chapters 69 reveal certain obvious weaknesses of the movement. These broadly include: precarious financial condition of unions, their small size, widespread multiplicity of unions, acute rivalry and factionalism, permeation of unscrupulous leadership in many unions, dominance of political parties over a number of unions and ineffectiveness of many unions in collective bargaining and in exerting effective pressure on the government for pro-labour measures. In the light of these shortcomings of the trade union movement and the experiences of countries having strong unions, the following measures may be suggested to strengthen trade unionism in the country:

  1. It is necessary to bring to halt to the widespread rivalries and factionalism which have been plaguing the movement for a long time. An effective solution of the problem calls for the adoption of well-defined legal measures relating to the determination of the representative character of unions, certification of bargaining agent, earmarking the roles of majority and minority unions, earmarking the unfair practices of both unions and employers, and regulating strikes and lock-outs. The ultimate aim should be the establishment of one union in one industry.
  2. The history of trade union movement in the country unambiguously reveals the contribution of renowned leaders to the growth and development of the movement. Although emphasis has increasingly been laid on developing inside leadership from amongst workers themselves, the role of responsible outside leaders having genuine interest to the cause of workers especially in the small-scale and scattered employments cannot be discarded altogether. While choosing their leaders, the workers must be careful not to be swayed away by strong arm tactics of musclemen or those relying on the exploitation of caste or religious sentiments also those engaged in narrow political manoeuvring.
  3. As the activities of trade unions in the country are severely crippled on account of their precarious financial conditions, it is also necessary to adopt the ‘check-off’ system, which should be confined to the recognized bargaining agents (see Chapter 6). The minimum membership fee as prescribed under law (see Chapter 20) should be suitably enhanced, and unions should have freedom to raise special funds in special situations such as strike. Besides, registered trade unions may also be assigned quite a number of tasks normally entrusted to NGOs such as rehabilitation of child labour, training of displaced workers, ongoing programmes of social welfare, and rural and urban development in their respective localities.
  4. In order to ensure unstinted attention to the affairs of trade unions on a regular basis, it is also desirable to dissociate those leaders who hold offices of profit in the government or political parties from trade union offices. A clause to this effect was inserted in the Trade Union Act, 1926, by an amendment of 2001 (see Chapter 20), but its effective implementation must be ensured.
  5. As explained in Chapter 6, the average size of Indian trade unions is very small. This is in sharp contrast to the average size of unions in the United States and United Kingdom (see Chapter 3), where bulk of union membership is concentrated in big-sized unions. The base of union organization in India, which is predominantly plant or unit of employment, can be enlarged by adoption of suitable industrial and trade union legislation, which should confer maximum privileges on unions formed at higher levels. The leaders of the movement should also seriously consider the advantages of wider bases of union organization.
  6. The trade union movement in the country can acquire additional strength if adequate attention is given to the suggestions made by the National Commission on Labour (1969) which says, ‘Apart from paying attention towards their members, unions should also undertake social responsibilities such as (i) promotion of national integration, (ii) influencing the socio-economic policies of the community with active participation in the formulation of these policies, and (iii) instilling in their members a sense of responsibility towards industry and community’.20
  7. A basic approach towards strengthening the trade union movement in the country should be the enlargement of membership. This calls for development of organizational skills among union leaders, improvement of services rendered to members, launching of meaningful struggles and denouncing of rivalry and factionalism for petty gains.

After the review of the origin and growth of the Indian trade union movement, it is now necessary to discuss some of the main problems and issues confronting it today. These problems have been discussed in the next four chapters under the headings: (i) Size and Finance, (ii) Structure and Government, (iii) Relationship with Political Parties and Leadership and (iv) Rivalry and Recognition.

SUMMARY
  1. The period 1950 onwards has witnessed a number of significant events profoundly influencing the nature and direction of the trade union movement of the country. Of these, the more outstanding have been: coming into force of the Indian Constitution with its enunciation of quite a number of rights and privileges for the workers, adoption of industrial and economic policies from time-to-time with their direct or indirect bearing on trade unions’ policies and programmes, mushroom growth of political parties with their close relationships with trade unions, enactment of a variety of labour laws, appointment of commissions on labour, and creation and expansion of both non-statutory and statutory tripartite bodies at various levels.
  2. The period experienced an unprecedented upsurge in the formation of trade unions which continued to spread to numerous hitherto unorganized sectors, strengthening of the existing ones and enlargement of their coverage. The number of registered trade unions in 1950–51 was a little less than 4,000, but it increased to over 78,000 in 2005 recording about twenty times increase. The membership of unions submitting returns was 1.7 million in 1950–51, but it increased to more than 8 million in 2005. The figures of the membership of trade unions in the country, especially during later years of the period, has been awfully misleading as even less than 15 per cent of the registered trade unions have cared to submit returns since 1991. As the returns submitted by the registered trade unions under the Trade Unions Act, 1926, are the only authentic source of availability of membership figures, non-submission of returns by an overwhelmingly large number of unions has proved a stumbling block in the availability of these figures. An effective and immediate measure is essential to determine the exact figures about trade unions in the country.
  3. A notable feature of the trade union movement during the period has been the trend towards the formation of federations of trade unions in various industries and employments, particularly railways, banking, insurance, posts and telegraphs, mines, iron and steel, cotton textiles, plantations, electricity, cement and chemicals. The period also witnessed the formation of federations of unions of government employees, teachers, transport workers and many other categories of employees. The main factors that led to the formation of such federations included: a trend towards the centralization of decision-making, need for launching struggles on a wider scale having large coverage of employees, and the ineffectiveness of primary unions in negotiations and pressuring the government and employers for the cause of their members.
  4. The formation of an increasing number of central federations of trade unions has also been an important feature of the trade union movement during the period. Quite a few new federations were formed mainly on account of splits in the existing central federations, that is, AITUC, INTUC, HMS and UTUC and also for providing a labour wing of the new political parties that emerged during the period. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) was formed by Bharatiya Jan Sangh in 1955 and it became affiliated to the subsequent Bharatiya Janata Party. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions was formed in 1970 at the instance of the CPM. In 1972, National Labour Organization was established by a few dissident leaders by breaking away from the INTUC. The existing important central federations of trade unions in the country are: AITUC, INTUC, HMS, UTUC, BMS, CITU, NLO, UTUC-LS, NFITU, TUCC, AICCTU, ABKS and AIFTU. All these central federations are affiliated to one political party or the other. These central federations have been vying with each other in enlarging their influence and establishing unions of their liking, which has encouraged the multiplicity of unions at various levels. They have been launching protests and agitation against the government’s policies and programmes detrimental to the interests of the workers. They have been involving themselves in the settlement of industrial disputes having a wide coverage and pressuring the employers to concede to the demands of workers withindustry wide and even country wide strikes at intervals. In general, the strikes launched against the government’s new economic and industrial policies have proved to be failures.
  5. The measures for strengthening trade unionism in the country include: putting union-rivalry and factionalism to an end, taking help of dedicated and renowned outside leaders, enlargement of the base of union organization, introduction of the ‘check-off’ system, enactment of a comprehensive trade union and industrial relations legislation, and dissociating persons holding positions of profit in government and political parties from the offices in trade unions.
  6. Although the trade unions in the country have been launching protests, agitations and even strikes and bandhs against the government against its anti-labour policies and programmes and against employers in industrial disputes, they have also been actively participating in the tripartite bodies at various levels. In both non-statutory and statutory bodies, the trade union representatives try to resolve labour issues along with the representatives of government and employers. These bodies are of two types, that is, non-statutory and statutory and have been set up at various levels. The non-statutory bodies include: Indian Labour Conference, Standing Labour Committee, Industrial Committees and ad hoc Wage Boards and Labour Commissions and Central Board for Workers’ Education at the central level and State Labour Advisory Boards and Standing Labour Committees at the state level. The statutory bodiesinclude: Central Minimum Wage Advisory Board, ESI Corporation, Board of Trustees of Provident Funds at the central level, and Minimum Wage Advisory Board, Minimum Wage Committees and Labour Welfare Boards at the state level. In these bodies, the trade union representatives place the workers’ viewpoint and try to get the issues resolved in a spirit of cooperation and consensus.
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
  1. Briefly describe the development of trade unionism in India from 1950 onwards.
  2. Describe the extent of unionization in different broad industry-divisions in the country.
  3. Describe the growth of trade union federations in India from 1950 onwards and explain the factors giving an impetus to the formation of such federations.
  4. Explain the growth of central federations of trade unions in the country along with a description of their political affiliations.
  5. Briefly describe the extent of industrial disputes resulting in work-stoppages in the country from 1950 onwards along with a mention of their trend and workers involved in them and the resulting man-days lost.
  6. Citing suitable examples, give a brief description of all-India general strikes/bandhs organized in protest against the government’s economic and industrial policy of 1991.
  7. Briefly describe the consultative machineries in operation in the country.
KEY TERMS

 

Registered trade union

Trade union submitting returns

Trade union federation

Central federations of trade unions

General strike

Bandhs

Case Study 1

Why is there competition amongst central trade union federations?

In 1950, there were four central federations of trade unions in the country, namely, AITUC, INTUC, HMS and UTUC. Subsequently, a few other central federations including BMS and CITU were formed. These central federations were affiliated to one political party or the other. A number of industrial federations and state level unions have been affiliated to these federations depending on their allegiance. In 1990, an industrial federation ‘A’ which was affiliated to INTUC seceded from it in 1992 and decided to join another central federation. Other central federations tried to persuade the union to join their respective federations which ultimately resulted in its affiliation to BMS. Some office-bearers of the union did not like it and formed group ‘B’ claiming to be the real office-bearers of the union and approached CITU for affiliation and got it. A dispute arose as to which central federation the union was actually affiliated. This was ultimately decided in favour of the union ‘A’.

Questions

Was it lawful for union A to secede from INTUC?

Why did other central federations try to persuade union A to get itself affiliated to their respective federations?

Was it possible for some office-bearers of union ‘A’ to form group ‘B’ and claim itself as the real office-bearers of the union?

Could BMS and CITU claim the affiliation of the union in their own federations?

Case Study 2

Why do rival central federations join hands?

In 2002, when the coalition government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power at the centre, a three-day countrywide strike was organized by most of the central federations of trade unions in protest against the government’s policy of privatization, direct sales of the public sector undertakings and disinvestments, downsizing of establishments, retrenchment and closures of public sector undertakings. The central federations sponsoring the strike included the BMS affiliated to the ruling BJP and CITU, AITUC, HMS, AICCTU, UTUC-LS and a number of unaffiliated federations. The strike badly affected working in public sector undertakings, banks, insurance, coal, ports and docks and state government departments. The strike call had a very wide response in the states of West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura, Bihar, Jharkhand, U.P. and Chhatisgarh. The government did not pay much heed to the strike and went ahead with the implementation of its economic policies and programmes.

Questions

Why did the BMS affiliated to the ruling BJP participate in the strike?

What led to the coming together of hitherto rival central federations to come on a single platform for the strike?

Why was there little response to the strike call in the manufacturing sector?

Why did not the strike have any impact on the government’s decision to go ahead with its programmes for economic and industrial reforms?