History of Trade Unionism in India

1 January 2017

Since the conflict, or co-operation between workers and management is greatly influenced by the nature of the workers organisation and the processes that induce their structure, study of Trade Union becomes a critical topic in the industrial relations area. In this chapter an effort is made to study the origin of Trade Unions in lndia, the nature and pattern of unions, the relations within the unions, its consequences for the structure and behaviour of Trade Unions in the Industry and the implications they leave to be marked and provide in the years to come. . 2 Workers Organisation – A Necessity and its Realisations in lndia Trade Un~ons are the product of large scale industrialisation and concentration of industries. Before the advent of industrialisation there were personal contracts between the employers and the workers (as the industries were run In the homes and with the tools of the employer). So there was no need to have any machinery for determining their relationship.

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But under the modem factory system this personal contact lost its weight due to setting up of large scale industrial units, with concentration in towns and with the heavy use of machinery. The lure of employers, to reduce the cost of production, in order to withstand in the competitive market and to maximise their profits enabled them to use more and more technologically advanced devices of production and sophisticated machines which, in turn, have contributed in further drying up the dampness of the personal relationship.

Simultaneously it had given rise to a new class of workers who were dependent on wages only for their livelihood and had come frnm different parts of the country, for seelung employment in these industries. 3. 3 History of the Indian Trade Unions As an organised movement, trade unions began to take shape in India in the years immediately following the end of the World War I. The rise of trade unions was a new development in the society. In its long history through the ayes there is no organisation which can be regarded as the prototype of a trade union. There are some similarities between a trade union and a caste, but there are rnore dissimilarities than similarities. A caste is many a time wedded to a profession or a craft. Originally the caste system may have developed, at least partially, as a result of different professions and practices followed by various sections of the society. But in course of time caste became entirely dependent on birth. One is born into a caste, he cannot join it.

The link between the caste and the profession or craft also broke down in later years. “z Trade unions are essentially the product of modem large scale industry. Indian trade unions did not grow out of any existing institutions in the society. They developed as a new institution. So far as the question of formation and development of Trade Unions in India is concerned, its necessity was realised from 1875 onwards by plulanthropists, social workers like Shri Soirabji Shapaji Bengalle and Shri N. M. Lokhandey.

As a result of their concrete efforts there was awakening among the workers and they had formed a few trade untons l ~ k e The Prlnters Un~on,Calcutta (1905) the Bombay Postal Unton (1907) etc Yet the necesstty of having workers organisatton on a large scale was reallsed only after the 1′ World War Therefore, labour leaders itke Mahatma Gandht had gtven due 1tnpetu5to the organtsatton of workers Gandhijt had realised the necessity of organising and combining the workers into tl-ade unions, as he had experienced from his close association with working class that the labour relations in India were not just and balancing.

On one side, the one party i. e. , capital (employers) were properly organised, entrenched and were having control over the market; whereas the other party i. e. , labour (employees) was so much disunited and disorganised that it was working under the grossest superstitions3. So much that it could not even imagine, what to say of thinking that its wages have to be dictated by capitalists instead of demanding on its own terms. 4 Moreover its intelligence was cramped by the mechanical occupation as it had little scope or chance to develop their mind. ‘ Due to this very reason it was prevented “from realising the power and full dignity of their atu us. “^ Keeping this attention on both these parties i. e. Capital and Labour (Employers and Employees. ) Gandhiji tried his best to regulate their relations on a Just basis. 7 Accordingly, he advised the working class, “to combine themselves in the form of unions but not for political motives but for bettering their social or economic positions. 9 So by combining into unions the labour would become intelligent enough firstly “to co-operate with itself’ ”and secondly ” then to offer co-operation with capital on terms of honourable equality”. ” For attaining the objective of elevating the labour to the status of

CO-partnersof capital, Gandhiji, felt that, there was no need to bring about transformation of the existing relationship as such capitals and labour were not to be considered “as inherently irreconcilable analgoni~ts”,’~ there was need to understand this rock bottom but truth “if capital was power, so was work1′ and the capital was as much neighbour of the labour as the latter was a neighbour of the former and one had to seek and win the co-operation of the other”. I4 With this understanding farnilistic relationship will be created in between these two potent forces of production i. e. apital and labour. Thus having combined labour “would not be tempted then by higher wages I5or helplessly allow itself to be attracted, for say, pittance. “”‘ But on the contrary its combination would act like a magnet attracting to it all the needed capital1’ and ultimately “will have ample food, good and sanitary dwellings, all necessary education for their children, ample leisure and self education and proper medical assistance”” and then the capitalist would ”exist as trustee for themn. ‘%erefore, Gandhiji had realised the necessity of combining the working class into Trade Unions.

Besides Gandhiji, the Whitly Commission on Labour in India (1929-31) had also pointed out that the “Modem industrialism is itself of western importation and the difficulties which it creates for labour in India are similar to the difficulties it has created elsewhere”. 20 In these conditions the Commission realised that “it is power to combine that labour has the only effective safeguard against exploitation and the only lasting security against inhuman conditionsn2′ Moreover the Commission did not fmd an evidence of any alternative remedy that is likely to prove effective. So it emphasised that the need of organisation among Indian workmen is great and it further recommended that “nothing but a strong Trade Union movement will give the Indian working class adequate The Commission went on recommending the necessity of Trade IJnlons so much that it said that “nor is labour the only p a q that will benefit from a sound development of the trade union movement. Employers and the public should welcome its growth? The Commission had also realised the necessity of Trade Union very much because it was confident that the Trade Union, if formed, ” is bound to evoke a response” and if that response does not take the form of organised trade union movement, it is feared that it may assume a more dangerous form. 2h Besides Gandhl and the Royal Commission on Labour (1929- 31) the necessity of forming Trade Unions has increasingly become more and more on ~ attainment of independence in India (i. e. 1 5 August, 1947). AAer being ndependent, India drafted her own constitution where in various freedoms viz. , freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of settlement and freedom of employment etc. have been guaranteed and goal of social justice has been set up for the welfare of all. Simultaneously for having planned economic development and bringing about social transformation in the country, the Planning Commission drafted its first five year plan, setting therein necessary targets of production – industrial as well as agricultural – to be achieved during the next five years.

For having industrial advancement industrial Policy Resolution in 1948, was also prepared. As the economic progress is bound up with the Industrial peace so for the successful ~mplementation the ~ l a n sparticularly in the economy organised for of , planned production and distribution and aiming at the realisation of social justice and the welfare of the masses, the co-operation from Trade Unions was considered absolutely essential at different stages of the execution of the plans.

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