Over the years, trade unions have emerged as an essential feature of industry in every country. The main reason for their emergence is the failing system and capitalistic society.

In all early stage of industrialisation, there was lack of legal protection for workers. The workers felt exploited at the hand of the employers. They joined hands to protect their interest through collective action.

A trade union is an organised expression of needs, attitude and expectations of the workers.

To an average person, a trade union signifies an organisation of worker engaged in securing certain economic benefits for its members.


According to Sec. 2 (b) of the Trade Union Act, 1926, “A trade union is any combination of persons, whether temporary or permanent, primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workers and workers, and for imposing restrictive condition on the conduct of any trade or business and includes the federation of two or more trade unions.”

Trade unions play an important role in preventing the exploitation of employees in the hands of management.

Over the years, the relationship between management and workers has changed from master and servant to employer and employee. The hire and fire policy of the management can be dispensed with the intervention of trade unions, who fight for the rights of workers.

Learn about:-


1. What is Trade Union? 2. Definitions of Trade Union 3. Concept 4. Objectives 5. Characteristics 6. Importance

7. Structure 8. Factors Affecting 9. Functions 10. Registration 11. Reasons for Joining Union 12. Forms 13. Duties and Responsibility

14. New Role 15. Rights and Responsibilities 16. Techniques 17. Theories 18. Problems 19. Measures for Strengthening.

Trade Union: Definition, Concept, Objectives, Importance, Structure, Functions, Role, Theories, Problems and Other Details


  1. What is Trade Union?
  2. Definitions of Trade Union
  3. Concept of Trade Union
  4. Objectives of Trade Union
  5. Characteristics of Trade Union
  6. Importance of Trade Unions
  7. Structure of Trade Unions
  8. Factors Affecting Growth of Trade Unions
  9. Functions of Trade Unions
  10. Registration of Trade Unions
  11. Reasons for Joining Union
  12. Forms of Trade Union
  13. Duties and Responsibility of a Trade Union
  14. New Role of Trade Unions
  15. Rights and Responsibilities of Trade Unions
  16. Techniques to Achieve the Objectives of Trade Unions
  17. Theories of Trade Unions
  18. Problems of Trade Union
  19. Measures for Strengthening Trade Unions

Trade Unions – What is Trade Union?

Over the years, the contractual relationship between employer and employee has undergone several changes. The employer can no longer hire and fire employees. He cannot promote/demote someone based on personal preferences. He has to act within the boundaries set by collective agreements, unions, past practices and court decisions.


Thus one-sided exploitative acts have no place in the industrial relations scene- especially when we look at labour management relations (relationship between employers – employee, employee-employee, employer-union, etc.) in large undertakings. Today the relationship between employer and employee is contractual and reciprocal. The rights and obligations of employers (frame rules for’ work, discipline employees who defy command etc.) are well documented in various pieces of labour legislation.

Over the years, trade unions have emerged as an essential feature of industry in every country. The main reason for their emergence is the failing system and capitalistic society. In all early stage of industrialisation, there was lack of legal protection for workers. The workers felt exploited at the hand of the employers. They joined hands to protect their interest through collective action.

A trade union is an organised expression of needs, attitude and expectations of the workers. To an average person, a trade union signifies an organisation of worker engaged in securing certain economic benefits for its members.


In modern context, however, trade unions activities are not confined to mere securing the economic benefits. The preview of activities now includes even the political and welfare activities undertaken by it for the benefits of its members.

The term ‘trade union’ has been defined variously by different authors. Some view that there are only associations of employees or persons working in industry and wage earners engaged in one or more professions, undertaking or business, while others view that these also include employers organizations and friendly societies.

Trade union movement gained worldwide popularity in the 20th century. Trade union is the outcome of the modern industrial system which focuses on large scale production and employs large number of workers who are unorganised and lack bargaining power. Trade union movement began against the exploitation of workers by certain managements under the capitalist system. A trade union is an association of workers formed with the object of improving the conditions of workers. It is formed for protecting the interest of workers.

Trade union is a complex institution. It has many facets-social, economic, political and psychological. Trade unions have been defined differently by different writers and thinkers. There is a large diversity of opinions in regard to the role of trade unions, yet all agree to the fundamental purpose of trade unionism, viz., the pursuit of the economic interests of the members.


According to Sec. 2 (b) of the Trade Union Act, 1926, “A trade union is any combination of persons, whether temporary or permanent, primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workers and workers, and for imposing restrictive condition on the conduct of any trade or business and includes the federation of two or more trade unions.”

Thus a trade union is basically an organisation of employees formed primarily for the purpose of the pursuit of the common interests of its members. Trade union can be considered as a device, which enables a group to bargain with another group on equal footing.

Thus trade union is an instrument of defence against exploitation and provide a forum for collecting the forces of working class. The trade unions have become popular primarily due to the desire on the part of workers to better their economic conditions and the realization that individual bargaining was utterly useless for protecting and promoting their economic interests.

Trade Union – Definitions: By Lester, Edwin B. Flippo, V.V. Giri, Sydney and Beatrice Webb, G.D.H. Cole, Dale Yode and S.D.Punekar

A few important definitions of a trade union are as follow:


According to Lester, “A trade union is an association of employees designed primarily to maintain or improve the condition of employment of its members”.

According to Edwin B. Flippo, “A labour union or trade union is an organisation of workers formed to promote, protect and improve through collective action, the social, economic and political interest of its members”.

According to V.V. Giri, “Trade union is such an organisation which is created voluntarily on the basis of collective strength to secure the interests of workers”.

Sydney and Beatrice Webb defined a trade union as – “a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives”.

According to G.D.H. Cole, a trade union means “an association of workers in one or more professions-as association carried on mainly for the purpose of protecting and advancing the members’ economic interests in connection with their daily work.”

Dale Yoder defined a trade union as – “a continuing long-term association of employees, formed and maintained for the specific purpose of advancing and protecting the interest of the members in their working relationship”.

According to S.D.Punekar, “a union is a continuous association of persons in the industry – whether employer or independent workers – formed primarily for the purpose of the pursuit of the interests of its members of the trade they represent”.

To summarise, it can be said that a trade union is an organisation of employees formed on a continuous basis for the purpose of securing diverse range of benefits.

An analysis of the above definition reveals that a trade union must be:

1. A combination of workers or employers,

2. Such a combination could be permanent or temporary,

3. Could include federation of two or more unions, and

4. To regulate relations among workmen, between workmen and employers, or among employers themselves.

Trade Unions – Concept

A union is “what it does” or unionism is “what it is”. Trade unions have emerged due to ‘group psychology’-a trade union constituting a common interpretation and set of beliefs concerned with problems confronting the workers and a generalised programme of amelioration. Trade union is an organising centre. It provides the locus for collecting the forces of the working classes.

Trade unions are the focal points for the functional organisation of the working class towards a change in the structure of society. Trade unions are developed out of the spontaneous attempts on the part of workers to do away with the competition, to strengthen their bargaining position and to raise their working conditions.

A trade union is an association of employees for the primary purpose of effecting their employers’ decisions about their better working conditions of employment. The basic objective of a trade union is, therefore, to represent the interest of its members. It seeks to get benefits for them. Trade unions can also be regarded as an institution for overcoming managerial dictatorship to strengthen individual worker and to provide him an opportunity for regulating and improving the conditions under which he has to work.

Trade unions play an important role in preventing the exploitation of employees in the hands of management. Over the years, the relationship between management and workers has changed from master and servant to employer and employee. The hire and fire policy of the management can be dispensed with the intervention of trade unions, who fight for the rights of workers.

Without the formation of trade unions, employees can get the rights at their individual level, because their bargaining position tends to be weak and they stand at the lower ebb in the organisation. With the unionism, they can collectively press for their genuine demands, and improve their position in the society.

Trade Union – 11 Main Objectives

The main objective of any trade union is to protect the interest of workers in the organisation. However the workers interest is a broad term in which various subjects, wages and salaries, working condition, recruitment, training, discipline, welfare are included. Thus a trade union is meant to conduct negotiations on behalf of the individual workers in respect of several items.

However, a trade union specifically concentrates their attention to achieve the following objectives:

1. Employee Compensation – The subject which draws the major attention of the trade unions is the wages and salaries of the workers. The item relates to the policy matter of the enterprise. However, differences may arise in the process of their implementation. In case of unorganised sector, trade union plays a crucial role in bargaining the pay scale.

2. Discipline – Trade unions not only conduct negotiations in respect of the items with which their working conditions may be improved but also protect the worker from the clutches of management whenever worker become the victims of management’s unilateral act and disciplinary policies. This victimisation may take the form of penal transfers, suspensions, dismissals etc.

3. Working Conditions – Trade union with a view to safeguard the health of workers demand the management to provide all the basic facilities such as lighting and ventilation, sanitation, rest room, safety equipment while discharging hazardous duties, drinking water, refreshment, minimum working hours and other welfare measures.

4. Rationalisation of Personnel Policies – The economic security of an employee is determined not only by the level of wages and duration of his employment but also by the management policies is respect of recruitment, selection, promotions, transfer, training etc. If such decisions are governed by statutory rules and rational policies, there is greater assurance of fair treatment and equal justice; otherwise there is no security for workers.

5. Harmonious Relations – A trade union should also strive for harmonious relation between the employees and employer. Trade union, being the representative of all the workers, may carry out continuous negotiations with the management with a view to promote industrial peace.

6. Welfare – Trade unions are meant for the welfare of workers. Trade unions work as a guide, consulting authority and cooperate in overcoming the personnel problem of workers. It may bring to the notice of management, through collective bargaining, meeting the difficulties of workers in respect of sanitation, hospital, school, colleges for their children.

7. Gaining Legislative Enactment – To provide legal sanctions to its demands, the unions attempt to get these framed in the form of acts so that they become permanent features of contract between the employers and the workers. For this purpose, the unions may take recourse to political action in term of supporting same political party or forming their own political party.

8. Negotiating Machinery – Negotiations include the proposal made by one party and the counter proposal of other party. This process continuous until the parties reaches an agreement. Thus negotiations are based on “give and take” principle. Trade union being a party for negotiations protects the interests of worker through collective bargaining. Thus, trade union works as the negotiating machinery.

9. Safeguarding Organisational Health and Interest of Industry – Organisational health can be diagnosed by method evolved for grievance redressal and techniques adopted to reduce the rate of absenteeism and labour turnover and to improve the employee relation. Trade unions by their effective working may achieve employee satisfaction.

10. Recognition and Participation – Another objective is that the unions seek to achieve its winning recognition for workers that they are equal partner with management in the task of production. The unions try to secure for workers a say in the management and industrial democracy thereby bringing about a new social order.

11. Miscellaneous Services – Modern trade unions also engage in providing educational and medical other facilities for the development and welfare of their members, if they have sufficient funds at their disposal.

Trade Union – 6 Important Characteristics

The important characteristics of trade union are:

1. Association – A trade union is an association or combination of employees. It has a large number of worker members from one or more occupations.

2. Voluntary – Membership of a trade union is a voluntary. Generally, there is no legal or other pressure to join a trade union and a person can join or leave the union on his free will.

3. Permanent – A trade union is a continuing or permanent rather than a temporary or casual combination. It has to be long term body as otherwise it cannot achieve its objectives.

4. Community of Interest – Member of a trade union has common interests and problems, which motivate them to unite. A union seeks to regulate relation between employers and workers.

5. Collective Action – Trade unions always act through united action of members to protect and promote their economic and other interests.

6. Sub-System – A trade union is a sub-system of social system. Therefore, its character undergoes change with change in economic, social, legal and political conditions in the country. Unions functions collectively to protect and promote the interests of its members within a given socio-economic system together in a body.

Today trade union is essential to formulate in each and every organisation to promote the interest of workers or labourers.

Some Other Characteristics of Trade Unions:

These are:

1. Trade unions are voluntary associations of either employees or employers or independent workers.

2. Trade unions are generally permanent combinations and not temporary or casual.

3. Trade unions are formed by the collective actions of their members to strengthen their bargaining power.

4. The basic objective of any trade union is to protect and promote economic, social and vocational interest of their members.

5. The origin and growth of trade unions have been influenced by a number of socio-economic and political ideologies.

6. Trade unions are adaptable to the changing socio- economic-legal-political environment.

7. Trade unions are designed to eliminate the exploitation of the workers through workers’ participation in management.

Trade Union – Importance

Workers form an association in order to protect and safeguard their economic interests. They put up their united resistance against exploitation by the industrialists. In earlier times, when industry was on a small scale, conditions of employment and any grievances were easily discussed individually or in small groups and quickly settled. Modern industry is very different and complex. Workers of a modern industry need better status and more job security. They need to have the protection of trade unions.

Labour of today is more mobile than in former times. The machinery and capital has become more expensive; and there is usually a great gulf fixed between the owners of the capital and the workmen who operate the machines. Such conditions have led almost inevitable to the formation of trade unions. To reconcile the conflicting industrial interests and to secure workable arguments between the management and the workers, the trade unions become important.

The importance of trade unions can be judged from the following points:

1. To Encourage the Co-Operative Feeling:

In a modern sophisticated industrial compounds, there is extreme departmentation and division of work, which has led to the growth of individualism. All jobs are highly specialised and workers are ceasing to be personal, rather their relations have become increasingly impersonal and formal. There is no untying bond between the workers. So there arises the need for unionism to promote friendliness, fellowship and brotherhood.

Trade unions provide a platform for the workers to come together and know each other. They provide opportunities for entertainment, play and relaxation for the workers. Thus the co­operative and intimacy feeling of the workers get promoted by the trade unions.

2. To Remove the Grievances of Employees:

In big industrial houses, there may not be any direct contact between the employer and the employees. A single unit may employ more than hundred workers and the line between employers and the employees gets broken. Under these circumstances, the workers are not in a position to express their grievances before their employers nor do the employers have any means to know the difficulties faced by the employees. So trade unions play an important role in arranging face to face meeting between employees and employers. Better industrial relations are established through the medium of trade unions.

3. To Secure Better Working Conditions for Employees:

Big industrialists running their businesses on commercial considerations may not pay any attention to the working conditions of the employees of the business. They would like to get maximum work from the employees without providing for their safety, health and welfare conditions.

Uniting of workers under trade unions help the workers to get all the reasonable comforts for their members and if necessary agitate to compel the employers to provide all the facilities. Pressure can be maintained in healthy conditions and hours of work can be arranged conveniently without resorting to strikes or disruption of work.

4. To Protect the Interests of Employees:

Trade unions safeguard the interests of the employees against the exploitation in the hands of employers. When the employees are united, the management cannot deny the chances of their promotion; all dues of the employees like hike in wages, earned leave, bonus etc., are paid by the employers. The trade unions see to it that the employees under their aegis are not shunted out summarily and they receive all the benefits due to them.

5. To Work for the Progress of Employees:

The trade unions attempt to improve the economic conditions of the employees and remove their hardships and handicaps. They represent the care of their members for the increase in wages and also try to get adequate bonus for them. Overtime wages are also secured by the trade unions.

6. To Provide for Employees Welfare:

In India, the economic conditions of the industrial workers are not too good. The labour class is backward and illiterate. They live in slums and eat coarse food. Trade unions try to get housing facilities for the employees. They also arrange for the education of the children of workers. Thus trade unions promote the social and economic welfare of the workers and try to protect them from evil habits.

Trade Union – Structure of Trade Unions on the Basis of Purpose and Membership Structure

As per the National Commission on labour in India (1969), “The pattern and structure of unions and the basis on which they are organised do not admit of any simple generalisation. The unions in different countries have developed on different lines, depending on the social and economic compulsions of industrialisation, political and historical factors, and the institutional framework of the respective societies. For instance, in the UK where unions grow out of the guild system, the occupation/trade become the basis of workers getting together for collective action.

The Australian experience is similar. In the USA, the workers are members of local unions, most of which are affiliated to national unions covering all occupations or an industry. In the USSR, trade unions are organised on an industry basis, all persons employed in a factory or establishment belong to one union, and at the higher levels, each industry union comprises unions of one branch of the national economy.

The French, Italian and Belgian unions are divided not only on industry/plant basis, but also have strong religious denominations. In Japan, enterprise is the basis of union structure. About 85 per cent of the unions covering 80 per cent of the total membership in Japan are confined to a single unit/establishment or enterprise.”

Trade unions have emerged for the protection of common interests of the workers. Different types of trade unions have been formed to protect and defend the workers from injustice and encroachments. A wide variety of unions have emerged across the globe.

Structure # 1. On the Basis of Purpose:

As per the purpose for the formation of trade unions, they can be either reformist unions or revolutionary unions.

i. Reformist Unions:

These unions aim to retain the present structure of the capitalist society. They want to maintain the usual employer-employee relationship by eliminating the competitive system of production. They seek to dignify labour by availing the right of importance and recognition by the society. They never wish to destroy the existing social, economic or political structure of the state. They simply seek to modify the current structure as per their requirements.

For example, they may wish to improve their working conditions by enforcing health, safety and welfare measures or may aim to have their share in the increased productivity and so forth. They believe in achieving their objectives without much modification in the current economic, social or political structure of the state.

In the U.S.A, the unions affiliated with American Federation of Labour (A.F.L) and Congress for Industrial Organisation (C.I.O) are basically reformist unions.

Types of Reformist Unions:

R.F. Hoxie has divided reformist unions into two categories:

(a) Business Unionism, and

(b) Uplift unionism.

(a) Business Unionism:

Smooth and cordial business relationships are enjoyed between the employers and the employees under business unionism. All their problems and conflicts are solved by collective bargaining and peaceful means of demonstration. Employees seek to achieve economic objectives i.e., demanding higher wages and better working conditions by resorting to collective bargaining. Business unionism favour voluntary arbitration and avoids strikes, lockouts and political actions.

(b) Uplift Unionism:

Uplift unionism also known as friendly or ideal unionism aims to enhance the social, intellectual and moral values of the workers. Such unionism puts more emphasis on insurance benefits, health, education and welfare measures. It advocates cooperative enterprises, profit sharing and other idealistic norms.

ii. Revolutionary Unions:

Revolutionary unionism generally seek to achieve their objectives by destroying the existing capitalist structure and replacing it with socialist or communist system. They believe in abolishment of the wage system and private property. They also strive to put an end to the competitive society and existence of individual rights. They try to destroy the existing economic system by revolutionary measures.

Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) is the most common example of revolutionary trade union in the U.S.A.

The revolutionary union can be divided into four categories:

(i) Anarchist Unions – Such unions aim at destroying the present economic system by resorting to revolutionary measures. They seek to abolish the wage system and private property.

(ii) Political Unions – Political unions seek to re-distribute the wealth by giving effective share to the workers. They also enact new rules to eliminate the capitalist structure of the State. Political unions basically get their powers through political action only.

(iii) Predatory Unions – Predatory unions seek their objectives without sticking to any approach. They may adopt business unionism, uplift unionism or revolutionary unionism for the pursuance of their goals. They believe in delivering the goods regardless of any legal or ethical code of conduct.

(iv) Guerrilla Unions – They believe in exploitation, violence and non-cooperation. They are generally not democratic. The leaders of guerrilla unions are ruthless and irresponsible. They do not believe in cooperation with their employers.

Structure # 2. On the Basis of Membership Structure:

As per the variations in the composition of members, trade unions may be divided into four types:

i. Craft unions,

ii. Industrial unions,

iii. Staff unions, and

iv. General unions.

i. Craft Unions:

When the workers engaged in a single occupation or craft form a union, it is called craft union. Craft union cover all workers engaged in the same craft, irrespective of the industries in which they are employed. For example, all the workers working in cotton textile industry may form a craft union.

Sometimes workers working in allied crafts also come together to form a craft union. All craft unions link together those workers who possess similar skills, craft training, apprenticeship and specialisation. Craft unions are mostly formed by skilled workers, non-manual employees or professional workers.

Few examples of craft unions are the International Wood Carvers Association, the Indian Pilot’s Guild, the Kanpur Suti Mill Mazdoor Sabha and the Ahmedabad Weavers’ Union. Others are the trade unions of employees in the banking industry, doctors, engineers, journalists, mechanics etc.

ii. Industrial and Staff Unions:

Unions organised on the basis of an industry rather than a craft is called industrial union. All workers skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled-working in a particular industry regardless of the differences in craft, skill, position or sex form together an industrial union. They have the common bond i.e., the industry in which all the workers are employers. The membership of industrial union is large and it encourages the feeling of solidarity among them. Industrial unions may be formed at plant level, region level or industry level.

Majority of trade unions in India are industrial unions. Examples of such unions are the Textile Labour Association of Ahmedabad; the Engineering Mazdoor Sabha, Bombay; the Labour Mines Mazdoor Sangh, Udaipur; Indian National Textile Workers’ Federation, Tata Workers’ Union and Colliery Mazdoor Sangh.

iii. Staff Unions:

A combination of both craft union and industrial union is called staff union. It pre-supposes unity and solidarity among the workers of different trades. Staff union is mostly formed by the workers of tertiary sector like health service, tour and travel industry, education etc. All categories of workers like clerks, supervisors, computerists, technicians, operators, draft men, managers etc., and join the staff union. They tend to adopt more sophisticated bargaining as compared to other types of union.

iv. General Unions:

General unions comprises workers of various industries and of varied skills. Membership for general union is open for all classes of workers. Workers of different industries and different occupations form general trade unions. The Jamshedpur Labour Union is an example of general trade union, whose membership comprises workers of different crafts and industries of Jamshedpur. Another example is Transport and General Workers Union which is one of the strongest general trade union in Great Britain.

Trade Union – 12 Major Factors Affecting the Growth of Trade Union

The Trade Union Movement has gathered momentum in the post-independence period. The factors governing its rapid growth are- International influences, the pressure of trade union rivalries which are often the result of political or ideological differences, the government’s industrial relations policies which have provided for compulsory adjudication and conferred special privileges on registered Trade Unions, and the desire of the workers for unity so that their interest may be safeguarded particularly when managements resort to discharges, dismissals, retrenchment, lockouts, lay-offs, etc.

It may be pointed out here that many trade unions have come up because of the stresses and strains of industrial development. They are, therefore, the direct offshoots of the industrial situation in the country. In the early stages of their development, trade unions were looked upon as trouble­makers and renegades in the context of the prevailing norms of society.

Now they are considered to be an essential part of the industrial scene, and are an important socio-economic institution in the country. To begin with, trade unions were agitation, threatening and unreasonable organizations. They have now developed — at least most of them have so developed — into persuasive and peaceful organizations.

The growth of trade unionism has not yet been on sound footings. There is no doubt that the trade union movement has grown over a period of time but it needs to be stronger. It is unfortunate that it is primarily ‘internal factors’ pertaining to workers which are largely responsible for the slow develop­ment of trade unionism in our country.

Such factors are as follows:

1. Lack of unity and awareness among workers

2. Small size of trade unions

3. Multiplicity of trade unions

4. Impact of outside leadership

5. Lack of appropriate leaders

6. Politicisation of trade unions

7. Lack of education among workers

8. Migratory character of labour

9. Intra-union and inter-union rivalry

10. Poor financial position

11. Lack of democratisation in the functioning of trade unions

12. Feeling of caste, religion, region, language and so on

Employers are also responsible for lack of sound development of trade unionism in India.

Such factors are as follows:

1. Divide and rule policy of some employers

2. Non-recognition of unions

3. Negative approach towards trade unionism

4. Creation of company unions.

The government is also responsible to some extent. For example, the Trade Unions Act, 1926, allowed any seven employees of an organisation to form their trade union and, if they so liked, get it registered under the Act. This led to multiplicity of trade unions defeating the very purpose of trade unionism.

It is good that now this condition has been revised to 10 per cent of the total number of workers or 100, whichever is less. Besides, the government has not put enough disincentives to discourage unions to go for adjudica­tion. The government should encourage arbitration machinery for resolving industrial disputes instead of adjudication machinery.

The political parties in the country have done a great disservice as each major political party has created its own central federation which grants affiliation to trade unions at organisa­tion level. This has given rise to multiplicity of trade unions, thus striking at the very backbone of the trade union movement.

In case the workers themselves, the employers, the government and various political parties operating in the country take a genuine and united stand on creating a sound, positive and meaningful trade / unionism in the country, it will be in the interest of all concerned.

Trade Union – 16 Main Functions

Trade Unions perform several functions to achieve their objectives.

The main functions of a trade unions are as follow:

1. Protections – Trade unions safeguard workers against all sorts of exploitations by the employer and political parties. A union provides protection from unfair labour practices and atrocities of management. It also tries to revise the status of workers in industry and society.

2. Proper Standard of Living – Unions attempt to secure for workers fair wages, proper working conditions and welfare facilities like health, housing, recreation and social security so as to ensure desirable living standards for them.

3. Grievance Redressal – A trade union takes up the individual and collective grievance of workers with employer.

4. Collective Bargaining – A trade union negotiates and bargains with the management to settle terms and conditions of employment.

5. Participation – Trade unions works for achieving a better say of workers in the management of matters which directly influence the interests of workers. In this way, unions attempt establish democracy in industry.

6. Protects – Unions, organise demonstrations strikes and other forms of protest to press the demand of worker. During a strike the union may provide financial and other help to members when the employer stops wages.

7. Education – Many trade unions make arrangements for the education of worker and their family members. Unions make worker conscious of their rights and duties and aware of the need for technological changes.

8. Welfare and Recreation – Some union provides recreation, sports and other welfare facilities for their members.

9. Legislations – Trade union lobby with political parties and political readers to secure legislative protection for workers from the government.

10. Representation – Trade union represents working class in various national and international forums such as Indian labour conference and international labour organisation.

11. Advice – A trade union may provide advice and information to management on human resource policies and practices. Unions also impress upon workers the need to exercise restraints in the use of their rights. Unions assist employers in maintaining discipline and in increasing productivity.

12. Communication – A trade union serves as a link between employers and workers so as to develop mutual understanding and cooperation between the two sides. Unions can also instill among workers a sense of responsibility towards industry and society. They can play a vital role in tackling social evils and in promoting national integration.

13. Intra-Mural Function – These functions are termed as militant functions too because unions may resort to strikes and other pressure tactics to get their demand implemented. Intramural functions include wage rises, proper working conditions, sanitation, safety, continuity in employment and so on. The unions try to resolve these issues through collective bargaining. If discussions and meetings do not help in resolving these issues then unions use strikes and other pressures as tool in getting these demands accepted.

14. Extra-Mural Functions – Trade unions also undertake functions which are required for the welfare of their members. These functions include provisions of educational, recreational and housing facilities.

The unions raise funds in the form of subscription from members and spend them for the welfare of workers.

In case of untimely deaths, unions provide financial help to the member of the decreased family. Extramural functions are very important as they inculcate the spirit of co-operation against members.

15. Political Functions – The trade unions indulge in political activities in order to help in improving the economic conditions of worker through legislative and administrative measures. The union holds political meetings to put pressure on the govt. to bring new legislations which will improve the plight of working class. The unions may also collect funds for political functions.

16. Social Functions – These functions include carrying out social service activities, discharging social responsibility through various section of the society like educating the customers.

Trade Unions – Registration

A trade union can be registered, if it complies with the provisions of the law, but that does not mean that it must necessarily be recognised by the employer.

“Labour is not the only party that will benefit from a sound devel­opment of the trade union movement. While the advantages to be gained from repression are temporary and precarious, those secured from healthy organisation are lasting. Some employers have already suffered severely from the lack or responsible trade unions of their workers and this suffering extends to community as a whole”, ob­served the Royal Commission on Labour. This shows how useful a good trade union can be to the management.

The Trade Union Act gives legal status to registered trade unions. It provides for the recognition of registered unions by the employers. It also specifies the rights, privileges and obligations of such unions. It has given a general impetus to the workers.

The employers can recognise registered trade unions of workers by agreements. Progressive employers, who look forward to under­standing and co-operation of the workers, encourage the workers to form their unions and recognise the same.

In case where the employers are reluctant to recognise the unions, unions can move the labour courts seeking orders for recognition.

Labour Court can pass orders compelling the employers to recognise trade unions, provided all ordinary members of the union are workmen employed in the same industry concerned, the union is representative of all workers, the rules do not preclude any workmen from the membership of the union, rules provide for the procedure to be followed for calling a strike and the union adheres to all the rules of a registered trade union.

Trade Unions – Why Workers Join Trade Union?

Trade union as an organization originated from ordinary workers perception of weakness and to protect themselves from whimsical actions including lay-off and termination of employment relations by an economically powerful employer. Conceptually an employment contract is an outcome of negotiation between an employee and an employer.

An employee presents his/her ability to do certain jobs to an employer and the potential employer presents its capacity to provide an attractive career and income earning opportunities to the job seeker. In principle this exchange is expected to be a fair exchange of genuine information. But because of asymmetry of information regarding an employee and an employer’s actual strengths and weaknesses there is room for wrong decision by both parties.

Purposeful misinformation and miscommunication if not opportunism and exploitation are not uncommon. And, in the final reckoning most often it is the financially weak party who gets a raw deal.

In the face of widespread exploitation, and mistreatment of workers by the employers and an ordinary worker’s inability to protect his/her interest, that has brought the trade union as a volun­tary organization of employees acts as a mediator between the employer and the worker.

The basic objectives of forming this organization are the following:

1. To protect workers jobs by fighting the might of an employer collectively.

2. To improve social and economic status of workers by presenting their needs collectively.

3. To improve working conditions of workers.

4. To ensure more humane treatment from managers and supervisors.

1. Job Protection:

Job protection is one of the most important reasons why employees go for a trade union. Employers quite often resort to unfair labour practices by asking one or more employees to go home without showing them any reason or giving them any prior notice or preparation time. Some employers even do not follow the statutory notice period of one month before firing an employee.

Though, such an employment practice is illegal but knowing that an ordinary employee could hardly challenge their decision in a court of law and even if he/she succeeds in bringing the matter to the notice of judicial authorities yet they may take so long to pronounce a verdict that few employers find reasons to worry on judicial intervention.

In fact the super-slow legal process of the country is quite tempting for certain types of employers to go for those processes that provide plenty of opportunity to make short run kill even though these are gross violation of extant legal regulations of employment relations practice. Such blatant violation of individual right to dignity and fair treatment in workplace could be stopped or at least could be moderated to a great extent by forming a collective body of employees.

Members of such employee organizations not only pitch in their respective contributions to fight the financial might of an employer in a court of law but could also extend a helping hand to manage the economic hardship that may befall on an individual colleague due to sudden loss of employment and income.

2. Improve Social and Economic Conditions:

Individuals join business organizations to earn a living. They do so by trading their skills and ex­pertise. For most employees with limited or zero income from any other tangible assets, their own employments are their principal sources of income. A good employment with a big and well-known company is a matter of prestige and social status.

Thus, expectation for continued employment and growth is a natural aspiration and wish for most employees. But in reality these expectations are not always met well in every organization. The average wage rates of workers of different organi­zations vary widely. Some are quite high while others pay very low wages even though both may be operating in the same industry. Sometimes the benefits packages of an employer are very poor compared to another employer in the same industry.

Sometimes such inequity in compensation prevails because historically the employer paid low wages and there was no one in the organiza­tion that could raise any objection to its practices. Due to poor mobility of employees across orga­nization, an employer could continue with the practice of not paying the employees’ their worth for so long.

Since employees as individuals could never raise their voice against the compensation policies of an employer, the only way they could correct such unfair practices and abuse of power was to form a collective body and bring the required facts about wage and benefit rates in similar other organizations to the attention of the authority.

3. Improve Working Conditions:

In order to employ a good number of employees within any premise, an employer is supposed to provide certain minimum facilities for their healthy living. A workplace that requires its employees to work with dangerous substances without any protective gear, or a place with inadequate ventilation or light is considered unsafe for employment. Indian Factories Act 1948 provides adequate legal pro­tection to employees working in a factory or close building.

Yet, there are plenty of factories where employees work in unhealthy working conditions and pay heavy price by way of becoming sick or meeting early death. The problem is how to make an employer to comply with legally prescribed requirements for a healthy and safe workplace. The state machinery is grossly inadequate to monitor millions of factories across the country.

An employee who cannot survive even a day without employ­ment will not be in the position to demand better lighting for his/her workstation because he/she is losing his/her eyesight due to poor lighting. Similarly, a worker who is suffering from incurable respiratory problem because of poor ventilation in the factory could hardly bring the matter to the attention of the authorities.

Individual employee action by way of changing employer is expected to bring in some improvement in employer behaviour but in conditions of high unemployment or in conditions of low inter-organizational mobility, such individual employee centric action is not very effective. It is only through a collective action of all employees that such workplace problems could be brought to the attention of the management.

4. For Getting More Humane Treatment from Supervisors:

Supervisory behaviours towards workers have been a source of considerable grievance and complain in many organizations. Supervisors are the first line of interface between the high powered senior management and the low-wage workers of manufacturing organizations. Supervisors are expected to meet the top management’s demands for output as well as worker’s demand for guidance and support on how to work with machines and tools.

Many supervisors fail to meet both these demands adequately either due to inadequate technical training before their posting and/or poor behavioural preparation before taking responsibility of supervising and overseeing works of other people whose educational and economic backgrounds are very different from theirs. A worker may lose his/her job or promotion if the supervisor gives a bad report for him/her.

And, an ordinary worker is hardly in a position to correct a supervisor’s conduct or misconduct by confronting him/her. Supervisory behaviours towards workers have been found to improve when the supervisors are aware that their inadequate or wrong guidance could be brought to the attention of the management. Some organizations create grievance machinery by which an individual worker could bring in his/her complaint to the attentions of higher authority.

However, even the mere presence of a grievance machinery may not be sufficient to correct the unacceptable behaviour of a supervisor. Individual employee may be afraid of making use of a grievance machinery to file complaint against his/her own supervisor with whom he/she has to work again. The presence of a collective body of workers could provide the much needed protection against victimization of individual employees, in case he/she files a complaint against a supervisor.

Trade Union – 3 Different Forms

Ordinarily, workers are free to join or not join a union or cease the membership of the union if they so like, but there are also arrangements, mostly under collective agreements, under which the workers covered under such agreements are compulsorily required to become the members of the union. This compulsion is based on the premise that the workers, who enjoy various sorts of benefits as a result of the union’s efforts, have also the obligation to contribute to the union fund on a continuing basis in order to enable it to meet the expenses involved in its efforts.

As such, some specific arrangements have been made under which workers are compulsorily required to become members of the union and continue its membership, contribute to the union fund or share a part of the financial burden in other ways. Such compulsion is usually in the form of closed shop, union shop, agency shop or maintenance of membership shop.

Form # 1. Closed Shop:

“Closed shop” is an industrial or business establishment in which the union security clause in collective agreement provides that a job-seeker must become the member of the union at the time of his employment and continue to do so in order to retain his job. In case the worker ceases to be the member of the union or the union expels him, his employment will have to be terminated.

Closed shop agreements were widely prevalent in the USA following the enactment of the Wagner Act (National Labour Relations Act) in 1935. The Act conferred upon trade unions a number of rights including right to bargain collectively with employer and required the employers to refrain from certain unfair labour practices. As a result, trade unions acquired considerable strength and succeeded in contracting a number of closed shop collective agreements.

However, closed shop agreements were declared unlawful under the Taft-Hartley Act (Labour Management Relations Act) enacted in 1947. Closed shop agreements also came to be prohibited in the UK and other European countries. In India, closed shop agreements never existed.

Form # 2. Union Shop/Agency Shop:

“Union shop” is a business or industrial establishment in which there is a union security clause in the collective agreement to the effect that the employer agrees to hire either a union-member or non­union member, but all non-union members must become union members within a specified period of time or else lose their jobs. The nature of union shop, however, varies depending on the level of protection mutually agreed upon.

Union shop agreements were permissible under the Taft-Harley Act, but were subsequently modified giving more freedom to the members, depending on the level of protection mutually agreed upon.

The existing law in the USA permits a union to require the employees to either join the union or pay an agency fee under “agency shop agreement.” Under the agency shop agreement, the employer may hire union or non-union employees who need not join the union in order to remain employed, but they will have to pay union dues in the form of agency fee. “The agency fee is only that portion of union dues that is attributable to the cost of representing employees in collective bargaining and in providing services to all represented employees, but not, with certain exceptions, to the union political activities or organising employees of other employers.”

In the UK, agency shop was permissible under Industrial Relations Act, 1971, but in a different form. Under Section 11 of the Act, the union and the employer could contract an agreement laying down that membership of the union would be a part of the terms and conditions of employment.

If a worker objected to joining the union, he would have to agree to pay an appropriate contribution to the union in lieu of membership or agree to pay an equivalent contribution to a charity. All forms of closed shop and agency shop agreements in the country were declared unlawful under the Employment Act, 1990 and Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act, 1992.

Form # 3. Maintenance of Membership Shop:

A “maintenance of membership shop” agreement provides that the employer is free to hire persons without any consideration of their membership or non-membership of a union, but if a worker joins a union, he will have to continue its membership in order to retain his job. A person not willing to join a union is free to do so, but once he joins the union subsequently, he will have to maintain the membership of the union.

Trade Union – Top 35 Duties and Responsibility of a Trade Union

Trade Unions must not only think of their rights and privileges, but also of their duties and responsibilities, which can be summarized as follows:

1. Ordinary subscribing membership of the union must be purely voluntary. There should be no victimization or intimidation of employ­ees who are not members of the union.

2. Unions must not be run on a communal basis.

3. It should be the aim of the union to do its utmost to promote cordial and harmonious relations between the employees and man­agement.

4. Union must at all times follow peaceful and legitimate methods in all its activities. Use of violence must be totally discouraged.

5. It is the primary duty of the workers and their organisations to co-operate in securing discipline, character and integrity among work­ers and to contribute their best in securing greater production.

6. It is the union’s function to take all possible steps for the pro­motion of industrial peace and progress.

7. It is the union’s duty to concern itself about the working condi­tions and welfare of its members.

8. The Act provides that 50% of the union office bearers can be from outside the ordinary membership of the union. However, as far as possible, it is desirable to have a union manned by the workers from within the industry. They should have a correct understanding of the factory conditions.

9. Principle of “one union only for one industry” should be encour­aged.

10. Trade union activities must be carried on outside the premises of the industry.

11. Taking part in illegal strike, advising or actively supporting or instigating an irregular strike and submitting returns containing false statements are unfair practices on the part of trade unions.

12. No notice of cessation of work must be given by the union unless the grievances of the workers have been submitted in writing to the management and such process of negotiation, conciliation and arbitration or other methods of amicable settlement have been gone through.

13. Unions must refuse to negotiate on behalf of workers who strike work without permission of the union until they return to work unconditionally.

14. Ordinarily a minimum notice of 14 days must be given by the union before calling for a strike.

15. Union must not directly or indirectly encourage or countenance the suppression of internal discipline inside the company.

16. Unions must not fall into the hands of political parties. Individu­ally, union members can have their own political views and activities. They can be members of political parties. But they should not drag their union into party politics and exploit the trade union for their political activities.

17. Trade unions have a great responsibility in educating their members and cultivating in them habits of thrift and good citizenship. If the workers are properly educated and trained, fifty percent of the industrial disputes and labour unrests can be avoided.

18. Unions must train its members to accept responsibilities and respect contracts.

19. Trade unions can do a lot in understanding the social condi­tions of the workers and improving the same.

20. Welfare work offers excellent field for union to co-operate with the management. Welfare activities can also be directly sponsored and conducted by the unions. The Ahmedabad Textile Labour Associ­ation is doing splendid work in the welfare field.

21. Accounts of the union must be audited at least once a year.

22. It would be advisable for the union to maintain records of every case taken up by them for settlement with the management and stag­es with dates through which the dispute has passed.

23. Trade unions must not be shy to accept responsibilities. It is their responsibility to protect members’ interests in all respects.

24. The prime task of a trade union is to organise its members with a view to protect themselves from exploitation. Union works for the recognition of the rights and privileges of the workers.

25. Trade unions can function effectively as the opposition party in the democratic government of industry.

26. In order that trade union leaders are in a position to negotiate wage scales and to bargain better results, they must have a thorough knowledge of the industry, working conditions and conditions of ser­vice.

27. An important role of the trade union is to prevent strikes and settle disputes by conciliation. The policy of fighting to redress griev­ances, strife and conflict must be abandoned.

28. Trade unions can inspire the workers with ideas of community living. It can foster in them dignity of labour and preserve their self- respect and give them a feeling of security.

29. Trade unions can help in securing just and humane conditions of work. They can negotiate and secure privileges such as sick pay, pensions, gratuities, disablement benefits, etc.

30. Unions should lead the workers to achieve better living condi­tions and help them to know things by themselves.

31. It is the duty of the unions to educate the workers with infor­mation about conditions and social life of the workers elsewhere.

32. Adult literacy classes can be conducted by unions. The workers must be given the basic information about labour laws. Safety educa­tion is one of union’s functions.

33. Community centres can be run by unions.

34. Unions can play an important part in educating the workers on the proper and planned use of their earnings.

35. Unions must impress upon the workers the motto of “more work and more pay and a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wages”.

Trade Union – New Role of Trade Union

The new role of trade unions lie in the protection of not only the interest of workers but also taking care of the organisation interest. They need to take up many developmental activities. They have to develop positive work culture, to resolve the conflicting issues by collective bargaining instead of coercive measures.

They need to adopt the role of educator, counsellor, facilitator and motivator instead of coercive bargainer or grievance handler. They must function as participative management and partner to explore the new opportunities provided by liberalisation and globalisation. The quote Dr. N.R. Sheth, (Industrial Journal of Industrial Relations, Oct 2001),

“Unions are at crossroads. They are on divergent path. One wonders they would like to map the new path early. They have to define their social responsibilities in relation to unemployed, contract workers. They may like to explore ways for development of new leadership for new trade unionism appropriate for the global society in the years ahead.”

Trade unions must take lead to become educator and information provider to the workers by explaining them the objectives, the mission and the plans of the organisation. They must provide counselling and vocational guidance to the workers on their career opportunities, investment of their money, extra-curricular activities, children education etc.

Trade unions should provide friendly advices to the workers on their social problems like absenteeism, taking alcohol, indebtedness etc. The role of trade unions should be redefined as developmental institution rather than protest institution in the organisation. Leaders of trade unions must build human resource management philosophy for the development of employees.

In this regard, it will be appropriate to quote Dr. N.R. Sheth (Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, Oct 2001) –

“HRM-HRD provides a comprehensive leverage to management to feel responsive to the whole spectrum of workers’ interests—psychological, social, economic and organisational. Accordingly, unions are welcome as far as they exist; they should function essentially as partners in the pursuit of progress of the enterprise where their constituents work. The management emphasis is on development of workers as human resources or capital. The key areas are – sense of participation and ownership, training, communication, information, understanding, security, compensation, multi-skilling, reaching out to workers’ families, emotional intelligence, trust-building and the like. Unions should be adequately informed and involved in achieving excellent performance. Bipartite negotiations should lead to achievement of organisational goals. All unions’ leaders have accepted a positive role of unions in HRM-HRD and achievement of performance objectives. The emerging role of trade unions pulls unions progressively closer to the managerial functions of HRM-HRD. There seems to be a broad range of agreement between managers and unions leaders on the direction of change in this regard.”

Trade Union – Rights and Responsibilities in Relation to their Members, Employer and Government

The areas of an individual’s rights and responsibilities depend on his relation with those around him. One belongs to a family. His first and strongest relation, in the normal circumstance, is therefore with members of his family. Then comes his work place, the society around him, the state, his professional and religious group, etc.

In his relation with his family, he has certain rights and responsibilities. Maybe he is a husband and a father. He fulfills his responsibilities and in turn exercises his rights. Similar is the case with other groups as well. The differences are in the manner in which they are established and exercised and also the degree.

Trade unions, unlike a yogi, do not live in isolation. Like family people, they interact with others around. They interact with their members as individuals do with their family members and other social groups. They interact with definite motives, in establishment of a relationship. And such a relationship in turn establishes rights and responsibilities.

The primary objective of trade unions is the welfare of their members. This is achieved by protection and promotion of workers’ interest. In this objective fulfillment, the unions interact with employer(s), Government, apex bodies, sister organizations, rivals, etc. In this interaction, the unions develop certain relationships, both positive and negative. The State at times interferes and regulates the relationship. The union rights and responsibilities flow from such relationships and State regulations.

The major areas of the union rights and responsibilities can be classified as:

I. In relation to members

II. In relation to employers

III. In relation to Government

I. Rights and Responsibilities in Relation to their Members:

1. To prescribe membership qualification, admission fee and membership fee. This is normally taken care of in the constitution of the unions.

2. To admit or refuse to admit workers who have applied for membership. The union is not bound to accept any or all those who apply for membership. It reserves the right to exercise its discretion in admission of members.

3. To make working rules and procedure for day-to-day work.

4. To take functional and administrative decisions in day-to-day work of the union.

5. To collect and administer the union fund.

6. To demand loyalty and support from members. The strength of any union depends on its membership, which supports the union in its work.

7. To discipline the members in their relations with the unions and personal life. The unions can take disciplinary action against those members who violate the union rules.

8. To act as legal representative of their members in matters of unions’ own affairs and those related to labour-management relations.

Responsibilities towards Members:

1. To conduct election of office bearers and organizational meetings as provided in the constitution of the union.

2. To function democratically. This means to function according to the majority’s wishes and as per the constitution of the union.

3. To collect union revenues, and meet expenditure as per sanctioned budget.

4. To refrain from compelling any members to contribute towards the political fund, if kept.

5. To exercise no discrimination between those who subscribe to the political fund and those who do not in their trade union rights.

6. To account to the members of the union fund.

7. To keep open the records of the union for the benefit of the members if they choose to see them.

8. To strive for objective fulfillment of the union. This may be to protect the workers from victimization, low wage payment, irregular wage payment, etc., to promote working and service conditions, i.e. gradually improve the physical environment of the working place, shorter hours of work, longer leave, more wages and fringe benefits, bonus, etc. This in short is collective bargaining.

9. To take up individual and collective grievances of members with the management for removal of the same within the agreed working and service conditions. While individual aggrieved workers can singly take up such cases with the management at the initial stage of grievance procedure, the union has a responsibility to involve itself at higher stages, if the grievances are not solved to the satisfaction of the aggrieved workmen.

10. To act as the legal representative of the workmen and to enter into agreement with others in defence or promotion of members’ interest. Keep the members intimated of union activities by circular, meetings, etc.

II. Responsibilities towards the Employer:

1. To intimate to the employer the union’s address, names of office bearers and affiliation, if any, and membership strength.

2. To supply to the employer a copy of the constitution.

3. To intimate to the employer the amendments in the constitution of the union and changes in office bearers, affiliation, etc.

4. To intimate to the employer the name of protected workmen.

5. To make commitment on behalf of workers and enter into agreement with the employer.

6. To try all means for peaceful settlement of disputes before resorting to direct action.

7. To take ballot or otherwise know the mind of the members before resorting to strike.

8. To give notice of strike before going on strike. This is a legal requirement in public utility service.

9. To advise the essential services like firefighting squad, watch and ward, etc. to be on duty even when a general strike is held.

10. To honour the agreements, awards, conventions and established practices.

11. To represent the grievances of workers to the proper authority designated and in time.

12. To co-operate with the employer in the formation and working of-

(i) Works Committee

(ii) Production Committee

(iii) Grievance Committee

(iv) Joint Management Council

(v) Canteen Committee

(vi) Welfare Committee

13. To co-operate with management in maintaining discipline in plant life.

14. To co-operate with management to increase productivity.

III. Rights and Responsibilities in Relation to Government:

Labour is a Concurrent subject. This means that both the Central and State Governments have jurisdiction in the subject. However, in certain industries the Central Government enjoys the exclusive right. Oil and oilfields, civil aviation, railways, port and docks, banks, mines and quarries are some examples.

Certain other industries fall under the State Government jurisdiction. But here again certain areas are carved out for the Central Government. Provident Funds, Employees State Insurance Scheme, Wage Boards are examples.

They are so for administrative convenience as well as for uniformity. The rights and responsibilities of trade unions in relation to Government therefore are meant both for Central and State Governments. The rights are conferred and the responsibilities imposed more by legislations and by administrative orders.

The Rights are:

1. To register trade unions. By registration a union becomes a corporate body.

2. To sue and to be sued in the registered name. A union acquires this right only on registration.

3. Immunity from criminal conspiracy. The trade union on registration becomes immune from any charges of criminal conspiracy as well as civil suit.

4. To acquire movable and immovable property.

5. To have outsiders also as office bearers of unions.

6. To receive a copy of draft standing orders submitted by the employer to the certifying authority.

7. To suggest modifications to draft standing orders.

8. To appeal against the provisions of certified standing orders.

9. To suggest amendment to standing orders on expiry of six months from its certification.

10. To represent the workmen before Labour Courts, Industrial Tribunal and appellate judicial authorities.

11. To represent the union by an officer of a federation of unions.

12. To declare protected workmen.

13. To represent for recognition of union.

14. For enforceability of agreements and awards, Wage Board recommendations and tripartite conclusions.

15. Interference of Government industrial relations machinery in case of public utility services.

16. To request the Government for adjudication of industrial disputes.

17. To cross-examine the employer’s witnesses in industrial adjudication.

Trade Union – Top 8 Techniques Adopted to Achieve the Objectives of Trade Unions

The objectives of trade unions are achieved by adopting the following techniques:

1. Collective bargaining – Collective bargaining is a tool used to arrive at agreements concerning the better conditions of work and wages of the working class. The terms and conditions of employment can be better negotiated by collective bargaining. This helps in achieving the objectives of trade unions.

2. Grievance handling – Grievance handling is a machinery to deal with industrial conflicts. Grievances or complaints of the workers are dealt with by correcting the situation. A continuous process of conciliation is adopted to facilitate settlement of controversies and assuring the employees that their cases will be given a fair hearing.

3. Negotiations – Trade unions enter into various negotiations with the management to secure better wages, comfortable hours of work, personal and job security, medical benefits, retirement benefits, better terms and conditions of employment, improved working conditions etc.

4. Union security – Trade unions make agency shop arrangements to exert control over the hiring, supervision and the discharge of workers.

5. Recognition of a Trade union – Trade union, being the only bargaining agent, to protect the interest of its workers. Trade unions must be recognised by the management as well as favoured by the majority of the workers. Only a well recognised trade union can successfully achieve its objectives.

6. Arbitration – Unsettled or unresolved disputes can be settled by an outside agency called arbitrators. After giving a hearing to both the sides i.e., the management and the working class, the arbitrators give their fair verdict.

7. Mutual insurance – To meet the financial needs of the workers during temporary unemployment or during strikes and lockouts, mutual insurance is resorted to. Contribution to mutual insurance is made by each member as well as by trade unions.

8. Political pressure – By getting few seats in the Parliament and State Legislature, trade unions are capable of bringing changes in labour laws to the advantages of the working class.

Trade Unions  8 Important Theories

Unions have been influenced in one way or the other by the social, economic and political movements in the country. A wide variety of ideologies, theories or approaches have been proposed to project the growth of trade unions. The importance of trade unions has been differently emphasized by different scholars.

A brief explanation of such theories/ideologies has been detailed below:

Theory # 1. Industrial Democracy Approach of Webbs:

As per the views of Syndey Webb and Beatrice Webb, the trade unionism is the extension of the principle of democracy in the sphere of industry. They sought a solution for industrial conflicts by equality and collective agreements. They did not consider trade unionism as an instrument of revolution to overthrow the capitalist order.

They merely attempted to eliminate industrial autocracy and replace it with industrial democracy. They considered trade unions as a mean by which workers can cope with the stronger political and economic power of employers and can introduce democracy in the industrial relationships.

Webb regarded trade unions as – “institutions for overcoming managerial dictatorship, to strengthen individual labourers and to give them some voice in the determination of the conditions under which they have to work.” They observe, “Trade unionism is not an instrument for the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist order, but, on the contrary, is a means of equalizing the bargaining power of labour and capital and thus, encouraging the adoption of common rules which are practical and humane.”

Webbs referred common rules as obligation on the part of employers to improve the economic status of the workers by paying a minimum level of wages and to provide minimum working conditions, in terms of hours, sanitation, safety etc. Further to bring continual improvement in the common rules, Webbs relied upon mutual insurance and union-financial programmes.

Theory # 2. Social-Psychological Approach of Robert Hoxie:

Prof. Robert F. Hoxie, an American labour economist, believed that trade unions have emerged due to group psychology- social- psychological environment of the workers; and not purely because of economic reasons. According to him, “Unionism affects not only production, but also the established rights (employer’s right to run his business as he pleases, worker’s right to work, where, when, for whom and for what he pleases), ethical standards (class loyalty against individualism minimising, property rights, setting up life as against property) distribution (profits and wages), law and order in the matter of legal theory and exercise general power over social welfare (a strike in a strategic industry).”

Hoxie further observes that, “Workers who are economically and socially associated and not too divergent in temperament and training, will tend to develop a common interpretation of the social situation and a common solution of the problem of living. This may come about gradually and spontaneously or it may be an apparently sudden outcome of some crisis in the lives of men concerned.”

In other words, workers are not very much divergent in temperament and training but are similarly situated at economic and social levels. They have common interpretation of their social situation and have common solution to their problems of living. So they unite into a union.

Thus unionism is a result of group psychology which grows out of environmental conditions and the temperamental attributes of its members. Robert developed the idea of functional types of trade unions and found the essence of unionism to be a social philosophy-an interpretation of the social facts and relationships which bear upon the particular group of workers.

Theory # 3. Capitalism Approach of Frank Tannenbaum:

Tannenbaum traces the rise of unions to the Industrial Revolution and the workers’ reaction to the philosophy of individualism. He observed that, “Workers are engaging in an unconscious rebellion against the authorization of industrial society.” He believed that the fundamental cause of exploitation of workers is the use of machines. The machine threatens the security of the individual workers and they react in self-defense, through the union, to attempt to control the machine.

Thus according to Tannenbaum, trade unions are the by­products of an industrial society in which automation (machines) has destroyed the old way of life and robbed the worker of his identity, purpose and creativity. Trade unions are a spontaneous reaction in the growth of capitalism. Unions represent their urge to re-establish and re-gain their social lives. It is not merely an economic organisation, it is also a social and ethical system and its ends are moral and not economic, because it strives to re-establish the values in which man had found his dignity. Unions have become exceedingly powerful organizations.

By organising workers within its jurisdiction, a union attempts to gain monopoly of the labour supply to trade or industry. It may then prevent non-union workers and even uncooperative union members from performing the tasks covered by its jurisdiction. With their monopoly power, unions are in a position to impose wage bargains on employers who must accept these or else they have to face the danger of extinction. By driving out of business those firms which cannot afford to pay the wage, the union has tended to strengthen the very power of monopoly to which it is presumably opposed.

The union, originally created by the workers to make their bargaining more effective, has now become so powerful that it has reduced both the workers (members) and the employer to a subordinate position.

“Tannenbaum” further observes that “the quarrel between labour unions and management has always been a family quarrel. The two protagonists are different aspects of the same institution.” He is of the opinion that, “Unions cannot be offered to stand still on the question of absorbing the functions of management because every activity of management affects the well-being of the workers, and the primary purpose of unions is to protect and promote the well-being of their members.”

Theory # 4. Anti-Capitalism Approach of Karl Marx:

Karl Marx represented trade unions as an instrument for destroying the capitalist class. The trade unionism becomes necessary to bring about revolutionary and fundamental changes in the social order of the workers. Marx considered trade unions as an instrument to overthrow capitalism.

He believed that capitalism develops three tendencies:

(i) The tendency of heavy concentration of wealth in the hands of few of the largest capitalists;

(ii) The tendency towards a steady depression of wages and the growing misery of the wage-earners keeps revolutionary order alive; and

(iii) The inevitable and frequent economic crisis under capitalism lead the working class towards destruction. In his view, it was imperative for the workers of the world to collect in an international trade union movement to accomplish the death of capitalism.

In the Communist Manifesto (1847), Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels give the origin of trade unions in the following words, “With the development of the industry, the proletariat not only increases in number, it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalised in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinction of labour and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois and the resulting commercial crisis make the wages of the workers even more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery, the collision between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take mere and mere the character of collisions between two classes.”

“Therefore, the workers begin to form combination (trade unions) against the bourgeois, they club together in order to keep up the rates of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provisions beforehand for this revolts.”

Thus according to Marx, “Competition as a result of large scale concentration of industry in one place, divides the interests of workers. But the maintenance of wages (the common interest which they have against their bond unites them in a common thought of resistance- combination. This combination always has a double aim-that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist.”

Theory # 5. Sarvodaya Approach of Gandhi:

Mahatma Gandhi’s approach to the growth of trade unions was contrary to those of Karl Marx. Gandhi’s philosophy is based upon the ‘Sarvodya’ principles of truth, trusteeship and non-violence. He believed trade unions as economic institutions in which capital and labour are not antagonistic but are supplementary to each other.

In Gandhiji’s words, “My ideal is that capital and labour should supplement and help each other. They should be a great family living in unity and harmony. Capital not only looking to the material welfare of the labourers but their moral welfare also – capitalists being trustees of the welfare of the labouring classes under them.”

Gandhiji believed that workers should organise, because if they are organised they can have more wealth and strength through their labour as compared to the capitalists through their money. He believed trade unions as essentially reformist organisations, who have the strength to defend assaults from outside. The Gandhian approach to trade unionism is not merely related to material aspects but to the moral and intellectual aspects. He advocated that a trade union strives for all-round betterment of the working class including training of its members in supplementary occupations.

By undertaking programmes for teaching supplementary occupations to their members, the risk of uncertainty of employment during strike period can be reduced to the minimum. Many of Gandhiji’s views have arisen out of the fundamental principles of his idealism, such as – purity of means, faith in the individual, economic equality, trusteeship and the need to remove the evils of industrialism. Hence Gandhiji considered trade unions as moral institutions who can uphold the dignity of labour by following the principles of equality and trusteeship.

According to Mahatma Gandhi, the aims, objectives and policy of trade unionism is, “It is not anti-capitalists. The idea is to take from capital, labour’s due share and no more, and this, not by paralysing capital but by reform among labourers from within and by their own self-conscious not again through the cleverness of non-labour leaders, but by educating labour to evolve its own leadership and its own self-restraint, and its self-existing organisation. Its direct aim is not in the least degree political. Its aim is internal reform and evolution of internal strength. The indirect result of this evolution when, and if, it ever becomes complete, will naturally be tremendously political.”

Gandhiji said…. “while it is quite proper to insist upon (workers) rights and principles, it is imperative that they should recognize the obligation that every right carries with it…. The workers should treat the business of their employers as if it were their own business and give it their honest and undivided attention…. (They should) fight, if they must, on the path of righteousness.”

Theory # 6. Protest Approach of Kerr, Dunlop, Harbison and Myres:

According to them, the workers often find their work distasteful and their compensation never commensurate with their contribution. Further, industrialisation inevitably circumscribes workers’ freedom by imposing discipline. So trade unions are formed as a means of protest-an expression of the workers’ resentment over the prevailing industrial system.

Theory # 7. Control Approach of G.D.H. Cole:

As per Cole, the ultimate objective of trade unions is to have control of workers over the industry, although the immediate objective may be the realization of higher wages and better conditions of employment for the workers.

Theory # 8. Work Traditions Approach of S.H. Slitcher:

Slitcher stated that wage earners could not exercise much control over working conditions through individual bargaining. Consequently, the workers should develop, through their unions, a system of work rules and traditions- ‘a system of industrial jurisprudence’ which served as a means of production to employees in their work.

Trade Unions – 2 Major Problems: Internal and External Problems

Trade unionism, as a movement, has made considerable progress in our country, yet they have not grown up on sound lines. Unlike the Western countries, the Indian trade unions have not made the expected progress. They are beset with a number of obstacles that have considerably hampered the proper growth of unionism. Certain conditions must be met to have proper growth of trade unions and in Indian industries, all these conditions are not fully met.

In spite of the fact that our trade unionism is no longer in a state of infancy, the movement of unionism is not as strong as it should be. Multiplicity of trade unions, disunity in the rank of workers, lack of education among the working force, lack of resources, political rivalries etc., are many of the diverse causes responsible for the slow growth of trade unionism in our country.

The various problems of trade unionism can be broadly put under two headings:

1. Internal Problems, and

2. External Problems.

1. Internal Problems:

Internal problems are related to labour. Indian labour has certain peculiar traits. Some of these traits have proved to be obstacles in the proper growth of unionism.

The internal factors responsible for the slow growth of Indian trade unions are:

i. Migratory Character:

Healthy trade unionism requires the existence of a stable industrial population, which is largely absent in India. The migratory nature and the consequent lack of proper commitment of industrial workers have acted as a great hindrance to the development of sound and stable trade unions in India.

The workers who are frequently changing an industrial centre and are frequently changing their employer are less inclined to maintain a keen and constant interest in any organisation. An ultimate escape from the industry by many workers to go back to their villages tend to diminish their enthusiasm for collective efforts to their working conditions.

ii. Heterogeneous Character:

In every big industrial centre, one can find workers coming from almost all regions of India. These workers differ inter se in regard to language, religion, race, caste, habits of food and dress etc. Thus the workers of Indian industry are very heterogeneous in character. This weakness among the workers has often been exploited by the employers by following the policy of divide and rule. Thus heterogeneous character of the workers has proved to be a great hindrance in building up labour solidarity.

iii. Poor Economic Conditions:

The general poverty and low level of wages have been the other obstacle in the stable trade unions in India. The earnings of the workers have been low. They can barely meet the expenses of their family. They are usually under debt also. Under such conditions, it becomes difficult for the workers to contribute even a smaller subscription to the union funds. Further, they are unable to bear the strain of strikes and lockouts due to their poor economic conditions. Thus low economic standards and poverty of the workers come in the way of the growth and development of trade unions.

iv. Illiterate Labour:

The Indian labourers are illiterate and ignorant and there is absence of democratic spirit among them. Illiterate workers are not fully conscious of their duties. They fall easy prey to the tactics of opposite groups. Without any proper reason, they may go on strikes and indulge in subversion.

They do not understand the true role and functions of trade unions. For generations, they have become accustomed to be ruled and have developed slavish mentality and inferiority complex. As such, many workers are incapable of thinking in terms of any organised effort on their part.

v. Ineffective Leadership:

Indian workers lack the ability, capacity and courage for leadership. Generally, social reformers, lawyers or politicians hold the leadership posts of trade unions. These persons may be rude, selfish and self-seeking. They do not have first-hand knowledge about the labour problems. They may be indifferent to the true interests of labour.

They do not understand the real difficulties and grievances of the workers. Sometimes they attempt too much and thereby diminish their own effectiveness. Many of the leaders have been opportunists and have their own axe to grind. Now-a-days, most of the leaders belong to some political party and have made the trade unions a platform for the furtherance of their own political ends.

vi. Lack of Unity:

The trade union movement in our country has received a serious set-back owing to the lack of unity among the various leading organisations of labour. There are numerous trade unions functioning independently in our country. Each one is under the influence of one or the other political party.

The political parties misuse trade unions to further their own political ends. The mutual strife among trade unions weaken the strength of unionism. Due to mutual dissension among trade unions, each agitation is supported by some and opposed by others. This results in half-hearted action or utter failure.

vii. Low Membership:

Most of the trade unions have low membership and as such lack proper finances, organisation and leadership. The low membership of a union has been mostly due to the larger number of unions and workers are not united, even in the same industry.

Further the trade union activity is generally concentrated in metropolitan centres where large scale industries are located. Here again, it is the manual workers who are covered by trade union activity. The total membership of trade unions is only a small part of the total number of wage-earners.

viii. Low Standards of Life:

Low standard of living and long hours of work leave the workers with less energy and time to pursue any trade union activity. In the depressed conditions, the workers have failed to promote healthy unionism in our country.

2. External Problems:

No trade union movement can make much progress without the active co-operation among various factors. The role of intermediaries, the jobbers, the industrialists, the labour laws etc., could impede and thwart the growth of trade unionism.

These external obstacles are discussed below:

i. Non-Co-Operation of Intermediaries and Jobbers:

The jobbers and intermediaries have been deeply hostile to Indian trade unionism. The trade unions take away the powers of the jobbers, who therefore, try all fair and unfair means to create disunity among the workers and defeat the aims of the trade unions.

The intermediaries, who are mostly the agents of the industrialists, conspire against workers, in workers’ conferences and pass on all the information to the industrialists. Thus the opposition and non- co-operation of intermediaries and jobbers create an obstacle in the growth of trade union activity.

ii. Opposition by Industrialists:

The majority of the Indian industrialists treat workers organisation nothing but a challenge to their power and authority. They think that the growth of trade unions is not in consonance with their interests. Big industrialists try to undermine and sabotage all efforts to strengthen the trade unions.

Cases have come to light when the employers have victimized trade union workers. They even employ spies, goondas and strike breakers to disrupt the union activities. At times, the industrialists try to win over union leaders by giving them huge bribes. Many times they even refuse to recognise the unions in which they do not find the workers of their liking.

iii. Political Pressures:

The political parties have been responsible for creating unhealthy rivalries among the trade unionists. Each political party, with the aim to promote its interest, tries to win over the workers. In this process, they create bitter feelings and differences among the working class. Thus rivalry among trade unions and political pressures pose a serious threat to the growth of healthy trade unionism in our country.

iv. Less Legal Support:

There are no adequate provisions in the government laws and machinery to safeguard the interest of the workers. Law does not give much support to the workers going on strikes etc. The industrialists are better placed to take advantage of law. So lack of proper legal support impedes the growth of trade unionism in India.

v. Changing Industrial Scenario:

Our industrial scenario is changing fast due to privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation. Jobs are moving from the organised sector to the informal sector. Many industries are closing down. There are voluntary retirement schemes coming out. There is more computerisation in the industries. All these are reducing the workforce in the organized sector. This is likely to undermine the strength of trade union movement, particularly that of central trade unions.

Trade Unions – 8 Important Measures for Strengthening Trade Unions

Trade union movement has been facing several problems. Moreover, the problems of trade unions are like a vicious circle. It is not possible to put an end to all their problems. Hence management, trade unions, political parties should take steps to reduce the effects of these problems.

The following are some of the measures to minimise trade union problems and to strengthen the trade union movement:

1. Strong Base:

In order to develop a strong trade union movement, it is essential to widen the unionism to unorganised sector and small town. Worker in household, small scale and domestic sectors should form trade unions. The membership of unions should be also be increased. For this purpose, rigorous membership campaign should be launched.

2. United Labour Front:

Unions must put a major joint front. A strong and united trade union movement is necessary to safeguard the interest of the members and to help in achieving the targets of production. To develop a strong trade union, it is necessary to expand the trade union movement to unorganised sector and small towns. The membership of unions should also be increased.

3. Single Union:

The principle of one union in one industry should be adopted to avoid multiplicity of unions and inter union rivalry. This will help in eliminating the problems created by multiplicity of unions.

4. Financial Stability:

The financial problem of the union can be solved by raising the membership and collecting fees from all members, the membership fees should be raised as the amount of wages of workers increased significantly compared to the situation in 1926 when trade union act provided for the collection of 25 paisa per month per member as subscription fees.

5. Efficient Leadership:

Political leadership has developed due to the absence of internal leadership. Outside leadership is the main cause of multiple problems of the trade unions. These problems can be removed through the development of leadership talent from within. Management should encourage internal workers to lead their own movements. Both management and trade unions should provide education and training for the development of internal leadership.

6. Paid Union Officials:

Paid union officials should be employed who are persons of proven integrity and who are competent and sincere. They should be able to evaluate worker’s aspiration and strong enough to negotiate with employers on equal basis.

7. Recognition of Trade Union:

It should be made obligatory for employers to recognise the unions in all undertakings employing 100 or more workers. A trade union seeking recognition as a bargaining agent should have a membership of atleast 30 per cent of workers in the establishment. The minimum membership should be 25 percent if recognition is sought for an industry in a local area. The recognised union should be statutorily given certain exclusive rights and facilities.

8. Expansion of Union Activities:

Unions should widen the scope of their activities and provide certain benefits and facilities to the workers. This will attract more workers towards unions and will make the union strong and popular.

Trade unions movement is gaining momentum with passage of time. Workers and others are joining unions to protect and further their interest. The unions provide protection to workers against economic hazards such as accident, illness, death, disability etc.