Everything you need to know about trade union in India. Trade union movement in our country has a century-long history.

The first quarter of the present century saw the birth of the trade union movement, but the seeds of the movement were sown much earlier.

The AII India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was set-up in 1920 with the objectives of representing workers’ interests, to co-ordinate the activities of all labour organizations in the country, and to spread the message about the need for union movement.

A trade union can be described as the representative body comprised of the employees working in an organization formed on a continuous basis for the purpose of securing diverse range of benefits and well-being of the employees as well as that for the organization.


Trade unions are formed to protect and promote the interests of their members. Their primary function is to protect the interests of workers against discrimination and unfair employment practices.

Learn about:-

1. Introduction to Trade Union in India 2. Structure of Indian Trade Unions 3. Recognition 4. Functions

5. Changing Role 6. Weaknesses 7. Suggestions 8. Recent Trends.

Trade Union in India: Introduction, Structure, Functions, Role, Weaknesses, Suggestions and Recent Trends



  1. Introduction to Trade Union in India
  2. Structure of Indian Trade Unions
  3. Recognition of a Trade Union
  4. Functions of Trade Union in India
  5. Changing Role of Trade Unions in India
  6. Weaknesses of Trade Union in India
  7. Suggestions to Tone up Trade Union in India
  8. Recent Trends in Trade Union Movement in India

Trade Union in India – Introduction

Trade union movement in our country has a century-long history. The first quarter of the present century saw the birth of the trade union movement, but the seeds of the movement were sown much earlier. The AII India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was set-up in 1920 with the objectives of representing workers’ interests, to co-ordinate the activities of all labour organizations in the country, and to spread the message about the need for union movement.

Then a landmark in the history of labour movement was the enactment of the Trade Unions Act, 1926 unlike 1920s, the 1930s were not favorable to the trade union movement. By 1924, there were 167 trade unions with a quarter million members.

Then the aftermath of Independence was not good for unions. The hopes of workers to secure better facilities and wages from the national government were not realized. There was large-scale unrest and strikes and lock-outs multiplied.


The disunity in the trade union ranks was aggravated by the starting of three central labour organizations, namely, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) in 1947, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) in 1948, and the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) in 1949. As years went by, more unions and central organizations came into being. The movement became deeply entrenched.

As of today, there are 50,000 registered unions and most of them are affiliated to one or the other central trade union. It may be observed that the union movement is now more widespread, has taken deep roots, and is better organized. Thus, the origin and growth of trade union movement in India is riddled with fragmented politicisation.

Development of modern industry, especially in the Western countries, can be traced back to the 18th century. Industrial development in India on Western lines however commenced from the middle of the 19th century. The first organized Trade Union in India named as the Madras Labour Union was formed in the year 1918.

Since then a large number of unions sprang up in almost all the industrial centers of the country. Similarly, entrepreneurs also formed their organizations to protect their interests. In 1926, the Trade Unions Act was passed by the Indian Government. The Act gave legal status to the Registered Trade Unions.


The Registrars of Trade Unions in different states were empowered to register the Trade Unions in their respective states. These registered Trade Unions (Workers and Employers) are required to submit annual statutory return to the Registrar regarding their membership, General Funds, Sources of Income and Items of Expenditure and details of their assets and liabilities, which in turn submit consolidated return of their state in the prescribed proforma to Labour Bureau.

Trade Unions Act, 1926:

Trade Unions Act, 1926 provides for the registration of the Trade Unions with the Registrars of Trade Unions of their territory. Any seven or more members of a trade union by submitting their names to the registrar of trade unions and otherwise complying with the provisions of the Act with respect to registration may apply for the registration of the Trade Union under the Trade Unions Act. The Act gives protection to registered trade unions in certain cases against civil and criminal action.

Why do Employees Join Trade Unions?


Earlier, workers used to join unions to protect themselves against exploitation by the management or by force. Also, several union leaders in the past were goons who were forcing unwilling workers to join unions. Refusal to join led to the use of muscle power.

With a general increase in literacy, awareness, and economic status on the part of the workers, violence is becoming irrelevant. Consequently, in the present times, employees joining unions under force are not witnessed.

Workers join trade unions to achieve their objectives which they cannot not achieve individually.

Specifically, workers join trade unions due to the following reasons:


(i) To attain economic security. To secure permanent employment with higher salary and benefits.

(ii) To improve their bargaining power and balance it with the power of the management.

(iii) To ventilate the workers’ grievances to the management.

(iv) To inform workers’ views, aims, ideas, and dissatisfaction/ frustrations to the management,

(v) To secure protection from unexpected economic needs like illness, accidents, injury, etc.

(vi) To satisfy their social needs,

(vii) To satisfy their psychological needs,

(viii) To satisfy their needs for belongingness.

(ix)To secure power.

Trade Union in IndiaStructure

The basic unit of trade union organisation in India is an establishment or a plant. Most unions in the country are of the industrial type. Craft unions in the country have been formed only in a few isolated cases. General unions in the country are confined mainly to particular localities. The hierarchy of trade union organisation in the country in an ascending order is primary unions (industrial craft, or general) at the bottom, state or regional level industrial federations and industry-level federations in the middle and central federations of trade unions/central trade unions organisations at the apex.

a. Primary Unions:

Primary unions are the basic units of organisation in the country.

These are broadly of three types:

i. Industrial,

ii. Craft and

iii. General.

i. Primary Unions of the Industrial Type:

Majority of trade unions in India are industrial unions formed at the plant or establishment level. Most of them get themselves registered under the Trade Unions Act, 1926. Many of them become affiliated to some regional, state or industry level federations, and through them or independently, to a central federation of trade unions. However, a vast bulk of them prefers to maintain their independent existence.

It is the primary level industrial unions which play the most significant role in negotiations with the employers and in reaching agreements/settlements covered under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947. Even where a collective agreement is reached at the industry or other higher levels, it has to be formally re-contracted in the form of settlement with the plant level union to ensure its legal enforceability.

ii. Primary Unions of the Craft Type:

Craft unions of the type having wide coverage, as have been in existence in the USA or the UK, are a rare phenomenon in India. Craft unions have been formed only in a few industries or employments such as railways and heavy engineering industries where crane and railway engine drivers have set up their own unions. The Indian Pilots’ Guild is an example of craft union at the industry level. The government’s policy in the country has been to discourage the formation of craft unions.

Of late, a number of unions based on particular occupations such as those of salesmen, teachers, physicians, engineers and so on have increasingly come into existence. Employees of some locally concentrated occupations such as auto, bus and truck drivers, scavengers and binders have also formed their unions in different parts of the country. Most of these unions are not registered under the Trade Unions Act, 1926 and generally do not come under the coverage of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947.

iii. Primary Unions of the General Type:

Local workers engaged in a variety of establishments, shops, crafts and other employments and facing common basic problems have also combined to form general unions in different towns and cities of the country. Such unions have been formed mainly at the local level and under common leadership.

In many cases, employers of these establishments or employments also combine to form a united platform to deal with these unions. In India, there is absence of general unions at higher levels of the types prevalent in the USA and the UK. These unions often organise strikes and demonstrations for pressurising not only their employers but also the government and local authorities in pursuance of their demands.

b. Industrial Federations:

In certain organised and developed industries such as iron and steel, cotton textiles, railways, banking, insurance, plantations, cement and engineering, and ports and docks, federations of trade unions have, come to be set up at the industry level. Examples of such unions are as follows – Indian National Iron and Steel Workers’ Federation, All India Railway men’s Federation, All India Bank Employees’ Federation and Indian National Textile Workers’ Federation.

The number of industrial federations submitting returns under the Trade Unions Act, 1926 was 29 in 2007, while a number of registered federations fail to submit returns in time, and some of them do not submit returns at all. A few industrial federations have also been set up at the regional and state levels. Examples of such unions are as follows – Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh in Maharashtra and Chini Mills Workers’ Federations of Bihar and U.P. Most of the industrial federations are affiliated to one central federation or the other, but some of them have preferred to remain independent.

Establishment of central wage boards for quite a few organised industries during the 1960s gave a boost to the formation of such federations in the country. Formation of industrial federations has contributed to the growth of industry-wide negotiations, but in a limited manner.

Agreements reached at the industry level are usually endorsed and re-contracted at the plant/establishment level in the form of settlements in order to secure their legal enforceability. Besides, when the question of representation of unions at an industry level tripartite forum arises, the government generally consults the central federation having the largest membership in that industry and not the relevant industrial federation. Industrial federations generally have loose control over their affiliates.

c. Central Federations of Trade Unions/Central Trade Union Organisations:

Central federations of trade unions/central trade union organisation are at the apex of union organisation in the country. The first central federation of trade unions, namely the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), was formed in 1920 on the initiative of eminent Congress leaders active in the nationalist movement. However, as the federation subsequently came under full control of the communists, the leaders of the Indian National Congress established the Indian National Trade Union Congress in 1947.

Subsequently, quite a few central federations of trade unions came to be set up at intervals. These included Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS, 1948), United Trades Union Congress (UTUC, 1948), Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS, 1955), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU, 1970), National Labour Organisation (NLO, 1972), followed by UTUC-LS, NFITUC, TUCC, AICCTU and AIUTUC during years to follow. Most of these central federations are affiliated to a national-level political party of their preference.

Most of the central federations, except the AITUC and INTUC, were formed as a result of formation of new political parties, and splits and mergers among them. The federating unions often change their allegiance from one central federation to another.

The central federations do not ordinarily directly intervene in industrial relations matters concerning their affiliates. They are concerned primarily with the broad national and important issues affecting the interests of labour. They recommend the names of their representatives/nominees at the Indian Labour Conference, Standing Labour Committee, and other tripartite forums at the national and industrial levels established statutorily or otherwise such as ESI Corporation, Minimum Wage Advisory Board, EPF Board of Trusties, Central Board for Workers’ Education, Industrial Committees, and Board of Directors of certain PSUs.

The central government also nominates workers’ representatives as delegates to the International Labour Conference from amongst these central federations. With the advent of globalisation and initiation of governmental measures of economic reforms, even the rival central federations often come together to organise general strikes and bandhs for the withdrawal of alleged anti-labour policies and programmes.

Trade Union in India – Recognition According to Annexure I of Code of Discipline in Indian Industry

There is multiplicity of trade unions in many organizations and each of these claims to be the sole representative of workers. Therefore, the management is in dilemma as to which union should be recognized as representative of workers for the purpose of collective bargaining and other types of consultation. The Trade unions Act does not have any provisions in this regard.

However, Annexure I of Code of Discipline in Indian Industry has prescribed the criteria for recognition of a trade union which are as follows:

1. Where there is more than one union, a union claiming recognition should have been functioning for at least one year after registration. Where there is only one union, this condition would not apply.

2. The membership of a union should be at least 15 per cent of the workers in the establishment concerned. Only those should be counted as members who have paid their subscriptions for at least three months during the period of six months immediately preceding the reckoning.

3. A union may claim to be recognized as a representative union for an industry in a local area if it has a membership of at last 25 per cent of the workers of that industry in that area.

4. When a union has been recognized, there should be no change in its position for a period of two years.

5. Where there are several unions in an industry or establishment, the one with the largest membership should be recognized.

6. A representative union for an industry in an area should have the right to represent the workers in all the establishments in the industry; but if a union of workers in a particular establishment has a membership of 50 per cent or more of the workers of that establishment, it should have the right to deal with matters of purely local interest; for example, the handling of grievance pertaining to its own members.

All the other workers, who are not members of that union, may operate either through the representative union for the industry or seek redressal directly.

7. In case of trade union federations which are not affiliated to any of the four central organizations of labour, the questions of recognition would have to be dealt with separately.

8. Only unions which observe the Code of Discipline would be entitled to recognition.

Rights of Recognized Unions:

The question of the rights of unions recognized under the Code of Discipline vis-a-vis unrecognized unions was discussed at the 20th Session of the Indian Labour Conference (August 1962). While a decision on the rights of unrecognized unions was deferred for future consideration, it was agreed that those which were granted recognition under the Code of Discipline should enjoy the following rights-

1. To raise an issue and enter into collective agreements with employers on general questions concerning the terms of employment and the conditions of service of workers in an establishment or, in the case of representative union, in an industry in a local area;

2. To collect membership fees or subscriptions payable by members to the union on the premises of the undertakings;

3. To put up, or cause to be put up, a notice board on the premises of the undertaking in which its members are employed and affix, or cause to be affixed, thereon notices relating to meetings, statements of accounts of its income and expenditure and other announcements which are not abusive, indecent or subversive of discipline or otherwise contrary to the Code;

4. For the purpose of prevention or settlement of an industrial dispute:

(a) To hold discussions with the employees who are members of the union at a suitable place or paces in the premises of an office/factory/establishment as mutually agreed upon;

(b) To meet and discuss with an employer, or any person appointed by him for the purpose, the grievances of its members employed in the undertaking;

(c) To inspect, by prior arrangement in an undertaking, any place where a member of the union is employed;

5. To nominate its representatives on the Grievances Committee constituted under the grievances procedure in an establishment.

6. To nominate its representatives on joint management councils; and

7. To nominate its representatives on non-statutory bipartite committees, for example, production committees, welfare committees, canteen committees, house allotment committees, etc. set up by management.

The rights referred to above would be without prejudice to the privileges enjoyed by the recognized unions at present, either by agreement or by usage.

Trade Union in India – Functions 

The functions of trade union can broadly be di­vided into two categories – protective or militant and positive or ministrant. The protective func­tions aim at securing certain benefits from the em­ployer through collective bargaining, strikes, go- slow tactics or work-to-rule. ‘Gheraos’ may also be included in this category. The positive functions include the support given to members during strikes, temporary unemployment and some bene­fits such as educational facilities, recreational and other services.

The functions of trade unions are again classi­fied into intramural and extramural. The former regulate hours of work, provision of rest houses, continuity of employment, safety, sanitation and other welfare facilities within the factory pre­mises whereas the extramural look after the wel­fare of the workers in respect of their education, recreation, housing etc. It seems that the functions of trade unions are both militant and fraternal in nature.

Trade Unions secure better wages for their workers and a part of the increased prosperity of industry for their members in the form of bonus. They ensure stable employment for workers and attain better conditions for the workers. Unions train up their workers to facilitate understanding of technological advances.

It is no mean function for a trade union to foster a sense of self-respect and dignity among its members. Trade unions pro­mote national integration, influence the socio­economic policies of the community through active participation in their formulation at various lev­els. Thus, they instil in members a sense of respon­sibility towards industry and the community.

The functions of trade unions are not identical in all the countries. In advanced countries problems confronting labour are different than those of de­veloping countries. As such, trade unions, too, are to change their functions to suit the needs of the workers of that country.

In the capitalist system, it is a truism that trade unions are friends, philosophers and guides of the workers. No system – rather, nothing – in this world is an unmixed blessing; trade unions are no exception but, on the whole, the role they play is commendable.

Trade Unions in India – Changing Role

The role of trade unionism in India has been significantly changing over the years. One example that could be cited is that of the case in Mumbai, where almost all the textile mills in the city closed because of the unreasonable demands made by trade unions under Datta Samant.

India has the advantages of- (a) growing both long staple and short staple cotton and (b) a huge domestic market. But battling militant trade unions, on the one hand, while coping with price controls imposed by unimaginative governments and textile quotas imposed by foreign governments, on the other, proved too much for our textile industry.

The textile industry did not have the necessary financial and managerial resources, and it failed to modernize and remain competitive in terms of quality and cost. So ultimately it declined and became terminally ill.

Trade unions are a legitimate system for organizing workers and to voice their rights and grievances. Without them companies would become either too paternalistic or too dictatorial. Responsible unions help to create a middle path in the relationship between management and labour while maintaining the responsibilities of the former and the dignity of the latter.

Fortunately today, workers have become better informed and aware of the economic forces that impact their industry. The media has helped to create much greater economic awareness. So it is not so easy to mislead them. Managements too have become more sensitive and skilled in handling relationships with employees.

This is true of even family-owned and managed businesses. TVS in the South is a prime example of how a large family-managed industrial group has successfully managed its relationship with employees through enlightened management. There are more such examples in other parts of the country.

As the skill levels and educational qualifications of employees advance, the role and significance of trade unions tend to diminish. This is because- (a) employees are able to represent their own case and (b) managements are more sensitive to the needs of individual employees, whose intellectual skills become almost uniquely valuable.

This is already happening in the sunrise industries based on brainpower such as IT and telecommunications. Another phenomenon in these modern industries is that employees have greater opportunity and tendency to move from one company to another, not only because of better terms of employment but also because of their yearning to learn new skills.

This phenomenon is facilitated by the fact that there are plenty of employment opportunities in IT and it is a young industry. That is why one does not notice any union flags in the Silicon Valley of India/Bangalore’s Electronic City.

The privatization or corporatization of many public services such as electricity and water supply has accelerated this shift. Hopefully the same shift in the character and role of trade unions will happen in India — even in places like Kerala and West Bengal, as employment starts to move to more intellect-based activities and public sector industries are privatized. Responsible trade union leaders with a long-term vision will adapt their policies to suit the new realities.

Trade Union in India – 11 Major Weaknesses: Limited Membership, Domination of Political Parties, Small Size of Trade Unions, Lack of Unity & a Few More

Trade unionism suffers from certain weaknesses in general. To be a worthy and effective institution for furtherance of the cause of labour, conditions must be favourable. A trade union can only be a friend and a guide of workers if the work environ­ment and other conditions so warrant.

Trade Unions become weak and suffer if they fail to secure wide membership support without which sound financial position cannot be ensured. A prolonged fight against the employer may en­tail huge funds, the lack of which may render a trade union ineffective. As we find today, trade unions are mostly engaged in the propagation of the political ideologies of a particular political party. This sort of activity weakens a trade union as, to these trade unions, economic and industrial issues are pushed to the back-ground.

Many trade union leaders feel that militancy is the main stay of a trade union and waging a war against the employer is the function of the trade union. If this policy is pursued, a trade union is sure to be weak.

We have discussed above weaknesses of trade unions in general. We discuss below the weaknesses of trade unions in India.

The history of the development of trade unions in India goes back to the outbreak of the First World War. The grave economic difficulties creat­ed by the war gave birth to trade unionism. No doubt, there were sporadic labour movements prior to this formal growth of trade unions.

Indian trade unions have been led by very eminent leaders of the country. Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, G. S. Deshpande, B.T. Ranadive, N.M, Joshi and many more eminent personalities of the country have contributed to the growth of trade union movement in our country.

But Indian trade unions have some weaknesses.

They are:

1. Limited Membership:

Many workers do not enroll themselves as mem­bers of any trade union. Membership is mostly con­fined to urban area and there also it does not cover all the workers of the organisation. Even in the or­ganised sector, membership is not satisfactory to the desirable extent. Trade unionism, it is rightly said, has only touched a fringe of the working class in India.

2. Domination of Political Parties:

Political parties today dominate the trade un­ions in India. To achieve their narrow and selfish political motives, the real character of trade un­ions cannot be adhered to. Political rivalry strikes the true spirit of trade unionism and, unfortunate­ly, the workers suffer.

3. Small Size of Trade Unions:

The size of trade unions in India is not satisfac­tory; it is rather small and thus it does not possess, in many organisations, the strength necessary to bargain with the employers. With limited mem­bership and small size, they do not have the re­quired man-power and financial strength to con­tinue their struggle against the oppression of the employer.

4. Lack of Unity:

The trade unions not only have limited member­ship and small size but also there is multiplicity of unions working in a particular industrial under­taking. This leads to division among workers; uni­ty which is the core of trade unionism, suffers seri­ously.

5. Attitude of Employers:

Taking advantage of the political rivalries, small size and lack of unity of the trade unions ex­isting in an organisation, the employers take apa­thetic and unbecoming attitude towards workers. They regard establishment of trade unions as “an act of treachery, disloyalty and ingratitude”. Taking advantage of the ignorance, poverty, illit­eracy and weakness of the worker, the employers try to disrupt the unity among them.

6. Outside Leadership:

Leadership of trade unions rests not with the worker but with the outside leaders for whom it is very difficult to feel the pangs of sufferings of the workers. Most of these leaders are professional persons like lawyers and social and political lead­ers who do not really feel for the workers, nor do they actually understand their problems.

It does not need any elucidation to say that anyone who did not suffer from any of the difficulties to which a worker is put, will not appreciate the dif­ficulty of the worker to the desirable extent. This is a serious weakness of Indian Trade Unionism.

7. Faulty Method of Labour Recruitment:

The method of labour recruitment that is usual­ly followed in India, weakens trade unions. Majori­ty of the workers are recruited through intermedi­aries and they remain at the mercy of these intermediaries. The intermediaries themselves bargain with the employers to the detriment of the interest of the workers.

The workers mostly come from villages and, being unable to adjust themselves with the new environment of the urban areas, many of them leave. So, this type of re­cruitment stands in the way of the growth of strong and continuous labour organisations.

8. Lack of Interests on the Part of the Workers:

Workers themselves do not take active interest in the activities of trade unions. This phenomenon is attributable to the migratory character of the workers, their illiteracy, poverty etc. The impli­cation of strengthening trade unions in their inter­ests are not intelligible to many of them; they are simply interested in earning daily wages to send them to their village-families and live contended with the meagre surplus they keep with them.

Their standard of living is too low. They do not think about ‘higher level’ living. All these pecu­liar characteristics of Indian workers are obsta­cles to the growth of healthy unions.

9. Inadequacy of Finances:

Another weakness of the trade unions in India is the inadequacy of finances. Funds are limited be­cause of low membership fee, many are defaulters; so when needs arise, unions cannot fight for want of funds. A continuous fight against management to bargain something needs funds since the workers may have to go on strike during which period they will have to be maintained out of the funds of the trade unions.

10. Lack of a Common Goal:

Trade unions in India today suffer from the lack of a common goal. Since the workers are controlled by the labour wings of different political parties, oneness of mind among the workers cannot be ex­pected. Workers are themselves divided, the ri­valry among the trade unions is more severe than their hatred and opposition against the employer. This is a situation highly deplorable which caus­es a trade union to be weak.

11. Absence of Craft Unions:

This is a unique feature of the trade unions in In­dia. There is no craft-wise trade union. All work­ers of different crafts belong to the same trade un­ion and this naturally stands in the way of their coming close to one another. There always remains a distance between workers specialised in differ­ent crafts. Thus, the trade unions with such mem­bers become weak.

Besides the above causes, we may mention that changing work environment, composition of labour, social and economic status of labour, change in la­bour management relations, change in government attitude and also change in public attitude are factors that have bearing on the strength or other­wise of trade unions in India.

The trade unions in India with leaders from out­side the industrial workers are very often accused of striking deals with the employers against the interest of the workers. It is alleged that when workers, after a sustained struggle, come to a bar­gaining point with the employers, the leaders be­have in such a manner and arrive at agreement with the employers on such terms which are not always conducive to the interests of the workers.

Politics is dominating the unionism and though membership strength is now on the increase, fight with the employers for the interest of the wo­rkers is found to be lacking in sincerity and com­passion for the workers. Personal ambitions of leadership and multiplicity of trade unions are two major obstacles facing Indian Trade Unionism.

In the back-ground of socio-economic and politi­cal changes, the entire attitude of trade unions should be changed. From militancy, unions should better develop fraternal aspect, they should real­ise that workers’ interests can be best served and protected on mutual understanding and better re­lationship between labour and capital.

In public enterprises, trade unions should have the sense of belonging for the undertakings and in private en­terprises, too, a change in the attitude of many trade unions affiliated to various political parties can go a long way in solving problems of workers. Trade unions are not meant for trade unions sake only.

They are for betterment of workers’ lot. It is the feeling of conciliation and not of confrontation that can better solve problems of industrial rela­tions. There are examples in the functioning of trade unions in foreign countries where we find the objectives of the unions are achieved without con­flicts and problems are solved across the table.

Industrial peace is of urgent necessity now in In­dia and Trade Unions have a big role to play. The present economic crisis in India has all the more necessitated the trade unions to come forward with national outlook to help the governments in the rehabilitation of the economy of the country.

Strikes and lockouts leading to the closure of a large number of industrial units are a definite re­flection on trade unions. Definitely there are prob­lems leading to the closure of the industrial units but solutions are also there for the employers and the employees to find out with the active inter­vention of the government concerned.

The weak­nesses of trade unions in India can be removed with earnestness, sincerity, selflessness and with a bet­ter co-ordinating and understanding among all the parties involved – the workers unions, the employ­er and the governments.

The National Labour Commission on Labour recommended certain actions for strengthening trade unions. They are – (1) Elimination of party politics (2) Building up of internal leadership (3) Encouragement to collective bargaining schemes (4) Improvement of the system of recognition of the unions (5) Extension of security to union and encouragement thereof, and (6) Conferment of powers to labour courts to settle labour disputes.

Trade Union in India – Suggestions to Tone Up

Suggestion # 1. United Labour Front:

Bitter experiences in our country in the trade union scenario indicate that multiplicity of unions, inter-union rivalry, disunity among the labour force, etc., are responsible for weakness of trade union movement of our nation. Therefore, there is a dire necessity to minimise the number of unions.

United labour front with one policy, objective, programming and method can weed out most of the problems of trade unions. Workers should join hands to form a single union to represent their demands. All unions with political affiliation should come together to work under one policy and programme. Unity can achieve more things.

Suggestion # 2. Nurturing Leadership inside the Union:

Trade unions should extricate themselves from the clutches of political leaders. Leaders should emerge from within the rank and files of workers themselves. They should have leadership qualities like patience, tolerance, empathy, perseverance, emotional equanimity, etc. Trade unions can nurture leadership qualities in their workers by having a tie up with management institutions like Asian Trade Union College, IIM, etc.

Suggestion # 3. Workers’ Education:

Members need to be enlightened on their rights, duties and obligations. Trade unions should inculcate a sense of discipline and responsibility to perform the job efficiently. Further, workers need to be educated on various welfare schemes, recent trends in the industry, recent judgements relevant to workers, participative philosophy, health matters, relaxation, need to renew skills, etc. The educated and enlightened workforce would help the trade union movement grow on healthy lines.

Suggestion # 4. Amendment to the Law:

In order to address the problem of multiplicity of unions, poor financial resources of the union, inter union rivalry, etc., the Trade Union Act, 1926, may be amended so that the only those unions which command 10 per cent of membership alone are empowered to start union. The membership fees may be increased for 25 paise to 1 per cent of the monthly wages of the worker. The act should prohibit dual membership. Legal provision should be made for recognition of unions by the employer.

Suggestion # 5. Well Being Measures:

Trade unions may focus on providing well-being measures like providing day care centres, right schools, reimbursing fees of members pursuing education through correspondence mode, running libraries, cooperative societies, gymnasiums, etc., INTUC, Textile Labour Association and Hindustan Mazdoor Seva Sangh are example in their regard.

Suggestion # 4. Extending Union Activities:

Trade union activities should be so extended as to create a sense of belonging among the various members. Workers should be encouraged in assisting one another in time of need and distress, playing together, involving themselves in constructive activities like reading in libraries, performing cultural shows, participating in social functions, etc. These activities can be performed by a trade union. These activities will also help the union to develop on a sound footing.

Trade unions should not be mere fighting organisations of workers, but should be co­operating bodies to promote the cause of workers. Trade unions should co-operate in all such measures directed to raise productivity, improving working conditions, provide training facilities to newcomers from villages, etc. In short, trade unions should work as partners with management in promoting labour welfare and industrial productivity programmes.

Trade Union in India – Recent Trends in Trade Union Movement in India

The Trade Union Movement in India has been facing several problems. A major trend witnessed these days is the change in the attitude of unions towards management, industry, government, and the economy. Unions are becoming increasingly matured, responsive, and realistic in their thinking and action.

Gone are the days of cat-call strikes, bandhs, gheraoes, and violence. Depoliticisation of unions is another trend witnessed these days. The experience of politically free unions is pleasant; reinforcing the belief that farther the unions are from politics, more advantageous it is for them. Therefore, the trade unions are at cross-roads.

Their membership is declining, their political support is waning, public sympathy is receding, and their relevance itself is at stake. Today, there are companies which are non-unionized. Nearly 9% of the companies are without unions.

The growth of trade unions during the last four decades has been phenomenal; the number of registered unions increased from less than four thousand in 1951 to over 25,000 presently. The membership of the unions, similarly, has shot up from about 17 lakhs in 1951 to about 62 lakhs presently.

This increase has been brought about by a variety of factors such as a changed outlook towards labour organisation, a new spirit of awakening in the country, etc. The desire of political parties to help labour, as much as to seek help from it, was also a contributory factor.

However, this increase in the number of unions and their membership does not reflect their real strength; considering that the average membership has shown a gradual decline, the increase in the number of trade unions would seem to suggest rather a splitting of unions or their inability to absorb workers in new units. It further indicates a trend towards ‘small unions.’

i. Central Organisations of Workers:

There are ten central organisations of trade unions.

These, along with their membership strength and the number of unions affiliated to them, are:

(1) Indian National Trade Union Congress (22.36 lakh, 1604 unions),

(2) Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (12.11,1,333),

(3) Hind Mazdoor Sabha (7.63, 426),

(4) United Trade Union Congress (Lenin-Sarani) (6.21, 134),

(5) All India Trade Union Congress (3.44, 1,080),

(6) Centre of India Trade Unions (3.31, 1474),

(7) National Labour Organisation (2.46, 172)

(8) National Front of Indian Trade Unions (0.84, 80),

(9) United Trade Union Congress (1.65,175), and

(10) Trade Union Coordination Centre (0.65, 123).

The Government has recognised these central organisations of workers for the purpose of representation at national and international conferences and for occasional consultations.

ii. Trade Union Structure:

While the broad pattern of trade union organisation has been small, unit-wise unions loosely federated at the area of national level, variations in structure and pattern do exist.

The formation of plant level unions, covering different departments, was the trend in the early stages, when the bulk of labour consisted of manual workers with little difference in skills and with equal need for protection and improvement in conditions of work, organisation on a plant basis covering all workmen was a necessity.

Their welding together into larger industry-wise/are a wise unions has been a later development. In a few cases, however, the process was reversed in the sense that the formation of an industry-wise union or a union for the working class at a centre led the workers in a unit in the industry at a particular centre getting organised. In some specialised employments, craft unions have also been built up.

The advantages of organising industry-wise unions are:

(i) The facility that they afford for collective bargaining,

(ii) Introduction of a measure of uniformity in the principles governing all aspects of working conditions, and

(iii) Reconciliation of sectional claims of different levels of workers within an industry.

iii. Trade Union Finance:

The primary source of income of the unions is the membership dues. The quantum of these dues often depends upon the functions undertaken by a union and the financial needs arising therefrom. Apart from regular contributions from members, there are other sources of funds such as donations, sale proceeds of periodicals and special collections.

The available data on the income and expenditure of unions over the years leaves one in no doubt that, with a few exceptions, the financial position of the unions is generally weak. As a consequence, many unions are unstable, often winding up their activities even before they settle down to sustained work. Though the unions lose registration because of non-compliance with statutory provisions, the non-compliance itself is closely linked with lack of funds.