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Trade Unions

Dr.Yogananthan Srinivasan


A trade union is an organised group of workers. Its

main goal is to protect and advance the interests of
its members

A union often negotiates agreements with

employers on pay and conditions. It may also
provide legal and financial advice, sickness benefits
and education facilities to its members

Trade unions aim to represent the interests of

people at work and negotiate with employers for
better terms and conditions for their members

Trade Union
Section 2(h) of the Trade Unions Act, 1926 has
defined a trade union as
Any combination, whether temporary or
permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of
regulating the relations between workmen and
employers, or between workmen and workmen,
or between employers and employers, or for
imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct
of any trade or business, and includes any
federation of two or more trade unions.
Then this definition talks about three relationships. They are
relationship between the:
Workmen and workmen
Workmen and employers
Employers and employers.


The first trade union was started in 1877 in Nagpur

It was this labour protest on an organized scale, through the
support of some philanthropic personalities, that organized
labour unions came to be formed
The setting up of large-scale industrial units, created conditions
of widespread use of machinery, new lines of production, and
brought about changes in working and living environment of
workers, and concentration of industries in large towns
The first Factorys Act was passed in 1881 by N.M. Lokhode
In 1919 Madras Labour Union was the first Union in India to be
formed and established by B. P. Vadia
Bombay Trade Union formed in 1975 under the leadership of
Sorabjee Shapurjee Bengatee


At least 7 members should be present for an application

It should in a prescribed form ,fees and should be

registered under the Registrar of Trade Unions

Should be accompanied by a copy of the Rules of TU

Certificate of Registration is issued as soon as TU has

been duely registered under the Act



The trade union movement started after 1918, when the workers
formed their associations to improve their conditions. It is, thus, a
part of the labour movement, which is a much wide term

A trade union is an essential basis of a labour movement for

without which one cannot exist, because trade unions are the
principal schools in which the workers learn the lesson of selfreliance and solidarity

Trade Unionism in India has been the natural out come of the
modern factory system

The main elements in the development of trade unions of workers

in every country have been more or less the same

The development of trade unionism in India has had a checkered

history and a stormy career


Social Welfare Period (1875-1918)

The development of industries led to large-scale production on the one

hand and social evils like employment and exploitation of women and child
labour and the deplorable workable conditions, the governments attitude
of complete indifference in respect of protection of labour from such evils,
on the other.

Early Trade Union Period(1918-1924)

The year 1918 was an important one for the Indian trade union movement.

The industrial unrest that grew up as a result of grave economic difficulties

created by war. The rising cost of living prompted the workers to demand
reasonable wages for which purpose they united to take resort to collective

Left-Wing Unionism Period (1924-1934)

In 1924, a violent and long-drawn-out strike by unions led to the arrest,

prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of many communist leaders. The
rapid growth of the trade unionism was facilitated by several factors


Trade Unions Unity Period (1935-1938)

In mid-thirties the state of divided labour movement was natural thought

undesirable and soon after the first split, attempts at trade union unity
began to be made through the efforts of the Roy Group on the basis of a
platform of unity.

Second World War Period (1939-1945)

The Second World War, which broke out in September 1939, created new
strains in the united trade union movement.

Hence, again a rift took place in 1941 and the Radicals left the AITUC with
nearly 200 unions with a membership of 3, 00,000 and formed a new central
federation known as the Indian Federation of Labour

The Post-Independence Period (From 1947 to-date)

As pointed out earlier, when attempts to restructure the AITUC failed, those
believing in the aims and ideals other than those of the AITUC separated from
the organization and established the Indian National Trade Union Congress
(INTUC) in May, 1947

Features of trade unions

It is an organisation formed by employees or


It is formed on a continuous basis. It is a permanent

body and not a casual or temporary one.

It is formed to protect and promote all kinds of

interests economic, political and social-of its
members. The dominant interest with which a union
is concerned is, however, economic.

It includes federations of trade unions also.

It achieves its objectives through collective action

and group effort

Objectives of Trade Union

To improve the economic lot of employees by securing for

them better wages.

To secure better working conditions for the workers.

To secure bonus for the employees from the profit of the


To resist schemes of the management which reduce

employment, e.g., rationalisation and automation.

To secure welfare of employees through group schemes

which give benefit to every employee.

To protect the interests of employees by taking active

participation in the management.

To secure social welfare of the employees.

To secure organisational stability, growth, and leadership.

Reasons for Joining Trade Unions

Greater Bargaining Power
Minimize Discrimination
Sense of Security
Sense of Participation
Sense of Belongingness
Platform for self expression
Betterment of relationships


To secure for workers better wages

To safeguard security of tenure and improve conditions of service

To increase opportunities for promotion and training

To improve working and living condition

To provide for educational cultural and recreational facilities

To promote identity of interests of the workers

To offer improved level of production and productivity discipline

and high standard of quality

To promote individual and collective welfare

Functions of Trade Unions

Broadly speaking, trade unions perform two types of
functions, viz.,

Militant Functions. One set of activities performed by

trade unions leads to the betterment of the position of
their members in relation to their employment.

The aim of such activities is to ensure adequate wages,

secure better conditions of work and employment, get
better treatment from employers, etc.

When the unions fail to accomplish these aims by the

method of collective bargaining and negotiations, they
adopt an approach and put up a fight with the
management in the form of so-slow, strike, boycott,
gherao, etc.

Hence, these functions of the trade unions are known as

militant or fighting functions.

Fraternal Functions.

Another set of activities performed by trade unions aims at

rendering help to its members in times of need, and improving
their efficiency.

Trade unions try to foster a spirit of cooperation and promote

friendly relations and diffuse education and culture among their

They also arrange for legal assistance to its members, if necessary.

Besides, these, they undertake many welfare measures for their
members, e.g., school for the education of children, library,
reading-rooms, in-door and out-door games, and other recreational

Some trade unions even undertake publication of some magazine

or journal.

These activities, which may be called fraternal functions, depend

on the availability of funds, which the unions raise by subscription
from members and donations from outsiders, and also on their
competent and enlightened leadership.

Functions of Trade Unions

Another broad classification of the functions of unions may be as

Intra-mural activities. These consist of those functions of the

unions that lead to the betterment of employment
conditions such as ensuring adequate wages and salaries, etc.
for which the methods adopted may be collective bargaining,
negotiations, strikes, etc.

Extra-mural activities. These activities help the employees to

maintain and improve their efficiency or productivity, e.g.,
measures intended to foster a spirit of cooperation, promote
friendly relations, and diffuse education among members and
various other types of welfare measures.

Political activities. Modern trade unions also take up political

activities to achieve their objectives. Such activities may be
related to the formation of a political party or those reflecting an
attempt to seek influence on public policy relating to matters
connected with the interests of working class.

Criticism of Trade Unions

Lack of education makes the workers narrow-minded,

and prevents them from taking long-term views.

Thus, anything, which does not result in an

immediate reward, becomes unattractive to them.
This attitude is responsible for many strikes and lockouts in industrial concerns.

Trade unions may not welcome rationalisation and

improved methods of production for the fear that
some of the workers will be put out of work.
Therefore, they resort to go slow policy that retards
industrial progress.

When labour unions strike because of illogical

grounds, incalculable losses occur to producers,
community and the nation. These are harmful to the
workers also. They suffer because of the loss of

They create artificial scarcity of labour by

demanding that only union personnel
should be employed.

By undue insistence on the payment of

standard rates of wages, they have only
leveled down the earnings of the efficient

Motivation to Join Unions

Greater Bargaining Power. The individual employee

possesses very little bargaining power as compared to that of
his employer. If he is not satisfied with the wage and other
conditions of employment, he can leave the job.

Make their Voices Heard. The desire for self-expression is a

fundamental human drive for most people. Dont you agree
with that? All of us wish to share our feelings, ideas and
opinions with others. Similarly the workers also want the
management to listen to them.

Minimise Discrimination. The decisions regarding pay, work,

transfer, promotion, etc. are highly subjective in nature. I may
rate you very differently as compared to your marketing
teacher! Similarly the personal relationships existing between
the supervisor and each of his subordinates may influence the
management. Thus, there are chances of favoritisms and


of Security. The employees may join the unions because

of their belief that it is an effective way to secure adequate
protection from various types of hazards and income
insecurity such as accident, injury, illness, unemployment,
etc. The trade union secure retirement benefits of the workers and
compel the management to invest in welfare
services for the benefit of the workers.


of Participation. The employees can participate in

management of matters affecting their interests only if they join
trade unions. They can influence the decisions that are taken as a
result of collective bargaining between the union and the


of Belongingness.Many employees join a union because

their co-workers are the members of the union.


times, an employee joins a union under group pressure; if he

does not, he often has a very difficult time at work.


the other hand, those who are members of a union feel that they
gain respect in the eyes of their fellow workers. They can also discuss
their problem with the trade union leaders.

Structure of Trade Unions

Plant level Unions: The first level in the structure from below is the
plant level union. This comprises the unions in one organisation or
factory. Please note that only seven members are required to form a
union. This has lead to multiple unions in one factory. (We will discuss
the details of this aspect in the problems faced by unions in India).

Local Level federations. This is the second level in the structure

from below. The local trade union federation holds together the plant
level unions at the local level in a particular craft and industry. These
local level federations might be affiliated to either some regional
level or national level federation or these may be independent.

Regional level federations. These are the organisations of all the

constituent unions in a particular state or region.

National federations. These are national level bodies to which

plant level unions, local unions or regional level unions may get
affiliated. These are the apex bodies at the top of the structure. They
act as coordinating bodies. These national federations may have their
own regional or state level coordinating bodies to which the plant
level unions may get affiliated.

Problems & weaknesses of Trade


Uneven Growth. The trade unionism in India is characterised by

uneven growth, both industry-wise and area-wise. Trade unions are
popular in big industries and the degree of unionisation varies widely
from industry to industry. Besides, trade union activities are
concentrated in a few states and in bigger industrial centers mainly
due to concentration of industries in those places.

Limited Membership. The number of trade unions in India has

increased considerably. But this has been followed by the declining
membership per union.

Multiplicity of Unions. There exist several trade unions

in the same establishment. The multiplicity of unions is the
result of outside leadership and labour laws.
The law permits and gives sanctity to small unions. Any seven persons
can form a union under the Trade Unions Act, 1926.
This Act confers rights on such a union. It is allowed under the Act to raise
disputes, file suits, go to conciliation and even bargain with employers.
Therefore, small sections of workers are encouraged to form separate
Unions. There is no restriction on the number of unions to be registered in
one establishment.

Outside Leadership. Trade unions in India are led largely by people who
themselves are not workers. These outsiders are politicians, intellectuals
and professionals having no experience of work in industry. Outsiders
to dominate the trade unions to advance their personal interests.

Problems & weaknesses of Trade


Financial Problems. The financial position of the trade unions is weak

because their average yearly income is very low and inadequate. The
subscription rates are very low.

Under conditions of multiplicity of unions, a union interested in

increasing its membership figures keeps the subscription rate unduly

As a result, the funds with the unions are inadequate and they cannot
undertake welfare programmes for their members.

Another reason for the weak financial position of union is that large
amounts of subscription dues remain unpaid by the workers. Besides
this, unions do not have proper staff and organisation to collect

Indifferent Attitude of Workers. In India, a large number of workers

have not joined any union. Moreover, all the members of the trade
unions do not show interest in their affairs. The attendance at the
general meetings of the unions is very low. Under such circumstance,
trade unionism cannot be expected to make much progress.

Suggestions for the development


One Union in One Industry: Multiplicity of unions in

the same plant leads to inter-union rivalry that ultimately
cuts at the root of the trade union movement. It weakens
the power for collective bargaining and reduces the
effectiveness of workers in securing their legitimate
rights. Therefore, there should be only one union in one

Paid Union Officials: Generally, the trade unions avail

the services of the honorary workers due to lack of
funds. The practice should be stopped because honorary
office bearers cannot do full justice to the task entrusted
to them because of lack of time at their disposal.

Suppose that you are asked to do something in the

office, which requires a lot of responsibility. You are not
offered any thing in return. Of course the motivational
levels will come down unless and until you are a very
passionate or a committed person.


same applies to the officials of the unions.

Therefore, paid union officials should be employed who
are persons of proven integrity and who are able to
evaluate the demands of workers so that they may
negotiate with employers on equal footing.


of Leadership from Within: It is of

crucial importance that trade unions are managed by
the workers, and not by outsiders. Leadership should be
developed from within the rank and file of the workers.


of Trade Unions. Till recently, the

employers refused recognition to the trade unions
either on the basis that unions consisted of only a
minority of employees or two or more unions existed.

Trade unions in India

The Indian workforce consists of 430
million workers, growing 2% annually.
The Indian labor markets consist of
three sectors:
The rural workers, who constitute about 60
per cent of the workforce.
Organized sector, which employs 8 per
cent of workforce, and
The urban informal sector (which includes
the growing software industry and other
services, not included in the formal sector)
which constitutes the rest 32 per cent of
the workforce.

At present there are twelve Central Trade Union

Organizations in India:
All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)
Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)
Hind Mazdoor Kisan Panchayat (HMKP)
Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS)
Indian Federation of Free Trade Unions (IFFTU)
Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC)
National Front of Indian Trade Unions (NFITU)
National Labor Organization (NLO)
Trade Unions Co-ordination Centre (TUCC)
United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) and
United Trade Union Congress - Lenin Sarani (UTUC - LS)

The Indian National Trade Union Congress

The INTUC came into existence on 4th May, 1948, as a result of the resolution
passed on 17th November 1947, by the Central Board of the Hindustan
Mazdoor Sevak Sangh, which was a labour leader on the Gandhian Philosophy
of Sarvodaya

To establish an order of society which is free from hindrances to an all-round

development of its individual members, which fosters the growth of human
personality in all its aspects, and which goes to the utmost limit in
progressively eliminating social, political or economic exploitation and
inequality, the profit motive in the economic activity and organization of
society and the anti-social concentration of power in any form;

to place industry under national ownership and control in a suitable form;

to secure increasing association of workers in the administration of industry

and their full participation in that control;

All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)

It was established in 1920 as result of a resolution passed by the organized
workers of Bombay and the delegates which met I a conference on 31st
October, 1920.

to establish a socialist state in India;

to socialize and nationalize means of production, distribution and exchange;

to improve the economic and social conditions of the working class;

to watch, promote, and further the interests, rights, and privileges of the
workers in all matters relating to their employment;

to secure and maintain for the workers the freedom of speech, freedom of
press, freedom of association freedom of assembly, the right to strike, and
the right to work and maintenance;

to co-ordinate the activities of the labour unions affiliated to the AITUC;

United Trade Union Congress (UTUC)

Some trade union leaders of the socialist bent met together December 1948 to
form a new central organization of labour, called Hind Mazdoor Sabha

The objectives of the UTUC are:

to establish a socialist society in India;

to establish a workers and peasants state in India;

to nationalize and socialize the means of production, distribution and


to safeguard and promote the interests, rights, and privileges to the

workers in all matters, social, cultural, economic and political;

to secure and maintain workers freedom of speech, freedom of press,

freedom of association, freedom of assembly, right to strike, right to work or
maintenance and the right to social security;

Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)

This union has been the outcome of decision taken by the Jana Sangh in its
Convention at Bhopal on 23rd July, 1954.
to establish the Bhartiya order of classless society in which there shall be
secured full employment;

to assist workers in organizing themselves in trade unions as medium of

service to the motherland irrespective of faiths and political affinities;

the right to strike;

to inculcate in the minds of the workers the spirit of service, co-operation

and dutifulness and develop in them a sense of responsibility towards the
nation in general and the industry in particular.

The BMS is a productivity-oriented non-political trade union. Its ideological

basis is the triple formula:

nationalize the labour;

National Front of Indian Trade Unions (NFITU)

This union was founded in 1967, with the claim that this trade union of India
is not controlled by any of the political party, employers or government.

to organize and unite trade unions with the object of building up a National
Central Organisation of trade unions, independent of political parties,
employers and the government, to further the cause of labour and that of
national solidarity security and defence of India, and to make the working
people conscious of their right as well as of obligations in all spheres of life;

to secure to members of trade unions full facilities of recognition and

effective representation of interests of workers and to ensure for the
working people fair conditions of life and service and progressively to raise
their social, economic and cultural state and conditions;

to help in every possible way member trade unions in their fight to raise
real wages of the workers;

to endeavour to secure for members of affiliated trade unions adoption of

Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU)

This union was formed in 1970 when as a result of the rift in the AITUC, some
members of the Communist party seceded. About the objectives of the CITU,
its constitution says:

The CITU believes that the exploitation of the working class can be ended
only by socializing all means of production, distribution and exchange and
establishing a socialist state, that is, it stands for the complete
emancipation of the society from all exploitation.

The CITU fights against all encroachments on the economic and social
rights of the workers and the enlargement of their rights and liberties
including the right to strike, for winning, defending and extending the
freedom of the democratic trade union movement.

In the fight for the immediate interest of the working class the CITU
demands: (a) nationalization of all foreign monopoly concerns who
barbarously exploit the working class; (b) nationalization of all concerns
owned by Indian monopolists and big industry who garner huge profits at
the expenses of the workers, who exploit the people by pegging prices at a


Trade Union is an important factor of the

current society, as it safeguards the basic
interest and needs of both the employees
as well as employers, by giving better
terms and conditions of employment,
secured jobs, better wages, favorable
working environment which in turn leads to
desired profitability.

Thank You