The Trade Union Movement in India commenced as a result of state intervention for the demand of improved working conditions. Economic reforms based on privatisation, liberalisation and austerity measures to provide favourable environment for the trade unions to engage in greater industrial disputes, but there is increasing dissension or fragmentation within the trade union movement itself.
Trade Union movement emerged due to the need of improved working conditions of the working class in India; there has also been a decline in trade union activities over the years. During the period from 1991 to 2000, economic reforms for liberalisation and privatisation measures were introduced by the Government of India
. Privatisation refers to policies that decrease the state`s role and increases the private sector`s responsibility to drive the economic decisions in the market. As of 2002, the combined membership of trade unions in India is around 24,601,589, as per statistics from the Ministry of Labour
. Around 11 Central Trade Union Organisations (CTUO) are documented by the Ministry of Labour in 2008.
Aim of the Trade Union Movement
The Trade Union is an association that meets up and looks after the continuous demand of the wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the working conditions. Political motivations and the ideologies have influenced Indian trade`s union movement. The twin aspects of the Indian Trade Union Movement, labours organisation for industrial bargaining and its ideological orientation were analysed with the political colour. The aspects of the Trade Unions were scanned in the wider background of the nationalists struggle against imperialism. There is simultaneous dissension or fragmentation within the trade union movement itself.
History of Trade Union Movement
The initial demand for the regulations of the working conditions in the Indian factories came from the Lancashire textile capitalist lobby. They perceived that the emergence of a competitive rival in the Indian textile industry under favourable conditions would deteriorate their position. They demanded the appointment of a commission for an investigation of the factory and working conditions of the labours. The first commission was appointed in 1875, although the First Factory Act was not passed before 1881. The Act prohibited the employment of children under the age of 7. The Act also limited the working hours of children below the age of 12 years. Similar circumstances resulted in the enactment of the factory acts for the jute
industry in 1909 and 1911.
The trade union movement in British empire in India
got an impetus when Bombay Mill Hands Association was formed on 24th April, 1890. The establishment of ILO, in 1919, provided a source of inspiration for the workers to become politically conscious. India`s membership exerted great influence in the formation of a central organisation of workers called All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), in 1920, for the purpose of conducting and coordinating the activities of the labour organisations.
Development of Trade Union Movement
The period from 1924 to 1935 can be regarded as the era of revolutionary trade union movement. M.N. Roy, Muzaffer Ahmed, S.A. Dange and Shawkat Osmani led the trade union movements and as a result the political consciousness among industrial workers increased. The First World War and its consequences brought a period of soaring prices, unprecedented exploitation for the industrialists but miserably low wages for the workers. The emergence of Mahatma Gandhi
led to the growth of non-violent trend of nationalist struggle, which could not mobilize the workers for the national cause. The worker class throughout the world awakened to organise a Proletarian Revolution. The setting up of a League of Nation`s Agency (ILO) gave an international importance to the labour problem.
Indian National Trade Union Congress
The nationalist leaders took the initiative of forming the Trade union as a national body. The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) came into existence on 31st October, 1920. Lala Lajpat Rai
was elected as the President of the AITUC. The national leaders were closely associated with the Trade union congress. The celebrated nationalist leaders like C.R. Dass
, V.V. Giri
and later on Sarojini Naidu
, Jawaharlal Nehru
etc presided over the annual sessions of the All India Trade union Congress (AITUC). By 1927, the number of trade union Congress affiliated to the AITUC increased to 57.
During 1926-27, the AITUC was divided into two groups, namely, the reforming and the revolutionary groups. The Communist thinking seemed to carry greater influence in the formation and the working of the AITUC. The strikes became the principal weapon of the Trade Union. They published their own journal named Kranti, which became the instrument to propagate the ideals and principle of the Trade union. The motto of the Kranti was to defeat capitalism. The Trade unionists strongly believed that until the capitalists were completely overthrown, the proletariat would be deprived from the privileges. The strikes called by the Trade unionists were inspired more by the political ideas rather than the immediate economic demands. The AITUC was later affiliated to the Pan Pacific secretariat and to the Third International at Moscow. To protest the Communist supremacy in the International level, the moderates under the leadership of Joshi withdrew from AITUC and formed the All India Trade Union Federation.
CITU - Centre of Indian Trade Union
Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) is a National level Trade Union in India politically attached to the Communist Party of India
(Marxist). The Centre of Indian Trade Union is one of biggest assembly of workers in India. It has strong unquestionable presence in the Indian states
of West Bengal
besides a good presence in Tamil Nadu
, Andhra Pradesh
. It has presence in almost all of the Indian states.
Alarmed at the increasing strength of the Trades Union Movement under the control of the Extremists, the Indian Government
considered it as a threat. Hence, it decided to put restrictions by issuing several legislative actions. A Public Safety Bill was introduced in the Legislative Assembly in the year 1928, but it did not get the majority support. Later under the circumstantial pressure, the Bill had to be issued in the form of the Ordinance in 1929. The Trade Disputes Act in 1929, provided for compulsory appointment of the Courts of Enquiry and Conciliation Boards for settling industrial Disputes. It also announced that the strikes were illegal in public utility and services (like the Postal services, Railways, Water and the Electric Departments).
The Act also provided that each individual worker, participating in the strike, should give an advance notice of one month to the administration. Moreover, the Act announced that the Trade union should forbid political activities. However, the Trade Union Movement in India had experienced a rapid success.