Trade Union

In this post, we will learn about the Trade Union.

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Trade Union

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In industrial relations and labor laws, a trade union is an organization that represents workers in a particular industry or profession. The primary objective of a trade union is to protect and promote the interests of its members, including their rights, welfare, and working conditions.

Trade unions achieve their objectives by engaging in collective bargaining with employers to negotiate better wages, benefits, and working conditions for their members. They also provide legal representation and support to workers, particularly in disputes with their employers.

In India, the Trade Unions Act of 1926 governs the formation and operation of trade unions. The Act defines 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.”

Under the Act, trade unions can be registered with the Registrar of Trade Unions, who maintains a register of all trade unions in the country. Registered trade unions have legal recognition and certain privileges, such as the ability to file a legal case on behalf of their members.

Definition of Trade Union as per ILO

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines a trade union as “an organization consisting predominantly of employees, the principal purposes of which are to protect and promote the interests of its members in the workplace.” This definition is based on the ILO’s Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, which is one of the core conventions of the organization.

The ILO recognizes that trade unions play an essential role in promoting social justice and decent work for all. The organization promotes the right of workers to form and join trade unions, to engage in collective bargaining with employers, and to take collective action to defend their interests.

In addition to protecting and promoting the interests of their members, trade unions can also contribute to wider social and economic development. They can advocate for policies and laws that benefit workers and society as a whole, and they can work with employers to improve productivity and competitiveness while ensuring decent working conditions.

Definition of Trade Union as per Ministry of Labour & Employment

The Ministry of Labour and Employment of India defines a trade union as “an association of workers or employees formed with the objective of regulating the terms and conditions of employment of its members.”

According to the Trade Unions Act of 1926, which falls under the purview of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, a trade union is any combination of workers or employees formed for the purpose of promoting and protecting their interests in relation to their employment. The Act further defines a trade union as any combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workers and employers or between workers and workers or between employers and employers.

In India, trade unions are registered with the Registrar of Trade Unions, who maintains a register of all trade unions in the country. Registered trade unions have legal recognition and certain privileges, such as the ability to file a legal case on behalf of their members.

Characteristics of Trade Union:

In industrial relations and labor laws, a trade union has the following characteristics:

  1. Voluntary Association: Trade unions are formed voluntarily by workers who have common interests and concerns related to their employment.
  2. Collective Bargaining: Trade unions engage in collective bargaining with employers on behalf of their members to negotiate better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
  3. Legal Recognition: Trade unions can be registered with the relevant authority, giving them legal recognition and certain privileges under the law.
  4. Represent Workers: Trade unions represent workers in a particular industry or profession, and their primary objective is to protect and promote the interests of their members.
  5. Advocacy: Trade unions advocate for the rights of workers and seek to improve their working conditions and welfare through various means, such as collective bargaining, strikes, and protests.
  6. Right to Strike: Trade unions have the right to strike as a means of applying pressure on employers to address their members’ demands.
  7. Democratic: Trade unions operate democratically, with members electing their leaders and participating in decision-making processes.

Objectives of trade union

Trade unions are formed to represent the collective interests of workers in a particular industry or occupation. Here are some of the objectives of trade unions:

  • To secure better wages and working conditions for members.
  • To improve job security and protection against unfair dismissal.
  • To secure better benefits such as pensions, healthcare, and insurance for members.
  • To protect the rights and interests of workers in the workplace.
  • To promote equal pay for all workers regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity.
  • To ensure that workers are treated fairly and with dignity and respect.
  • To promote workplace health and safety and protect workers from hazardous working conditions.
  • To provide training and education opportunities for members to improve their skills and knowledge.
  • To engage in collective bargaining with employers to negotiate better working conditions and benefits for members.
  • To promote social justice and fairness in the workplace and in society as a whole.

Reason behind joining a trade union

There are various reasons that may be instrumental behind a worker joining a trade union. Some of the common reasons are:

  • Collective Bargaining: One of the primary reasons that workers join a trade union is to collectively bargain with their employer for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
  • Job Security: Workers may join a trade union to protect their job security and prevent unfair dismissal.
  • Improved working conditions: Workers may join a trade union to push for better working conditions such as shorter working hours, breaks, and safer working conditions.
  • Better Pay and Benefits: Workers may join a trade union to negotiate for better pay and benefits such as pensions, healthcare, and insurance.
  • Solidarity: Workers may join a trade union to show solidarity with their colleagues and to collectively address issues that affect them.
  • Legal Support: Workers may join a trade union to access legal support and representation in case of disputes with their employer.
  • Career Advancement: Workers may join a trade union to access training and education opportunities that can help them advance their careers.
  • Protection Against Discrimination: Workers may join a trade union to protect themselves against discrimination based on gender, race, or ethnicity.
  • Social Justice: Workers may join a trade union to support the wider cause of social justice and advocate for a fairer society.

Types of Trade Union

There are many types of Trade Union based on different concern –

Based on Purpose:

Reformist Trade Union:

A reformist trade union is a union that seeks to bring about gradual and incremental changes in the existing system. Reformist unions work within the legal framework and established institutions to negotiate with employers for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. They do not seek to challenge the capitalist system but rather to make it more equitable and just for workers.

Revolutionary Trade Union

A revolutionary trade union is a union that seeks to bring about fundamental and radical changes in the existing system. Revolutionary unions reject the capitalist system and aim to overthrow it through collective action and direct confrontation. They seek to replace the existing system with a socialist or communist system that is more equitable and just for workers.

Predatory Trade Union:

A predatory trade union is a union that seeks to advance its own interests at the expense of its members and the wider society. Predatory unions often engage in corrupt practices such as embezzlement, extortion, and collusion with employers. They may also be involved in criminal activities such as racketeering and money laundering. Predatory unions do not represent the interests of workers but rather serve the interests of union leaders and their associates.

Based on Membership pattern

Occupational Trade Union:

An occupational trade union is a union that represents workers in a specific occupation or profession, regardless of the industry they work in. Examples of occupational trade unions include the American Medical Association (AMA), the National Education Association (NEA), and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

Industrial Trade Union:

An industrial trade union is a union that represents workers in a specific industry, regardless of their occupation or profession. Examples of industrial trade unions include the United Auto Workers (UAW), the United Steelworkers (USW), and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

General Trade Union:

A general trade union is a union that represents workers across multiple industries and occupations. General trade unions often focus on promoting social justice and advocating for workers’ rights more broadly rather than focusing on specific industries or professions. Examples of general trade unions include the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the International Workers’ Association (IWA).

The choice between occupational, industrial, or general trade unions often depends on the specific needs and priorities of the workers. Occupational unions may be better suited for professionals who share common interests, while industrial unions may be better suited for workers in a specific industry who face common challenges. General unions may be better suited for workers who share common struggles across multiple industries and professions.

Blue-collar and White collar (Managerial) Unions:

The primary objective of formation of such associations is similar to that of trade unions, i.e., to protect the interests of officers. We find ample evidence in the history of Indian trade unionism that white-collar employees were initially shy of unionising at the beginning; they have eventually formed strong unions. Examples of such unions are the All India Bank Officers’ Association and the Airports Authority Officers’ Association (India), a recognised multi-cadre association of the Airports Authority of India (AAI).

Based on Level of Operation

Plant-level Trade Union:

A plant-level trade union is a union that represents workers within a specific workplace or plant. Plant-level unions negotiate with the employer on behalf of their members for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. They are often concerned with workplace-specific issues, such as health and safety, job security, and grievance procedures.

Industry-level Trade Union:

An industry-level trade union is a union that represents workers in a particular industry, regardless of the workplace or plant. Industry-level unions negotiate with employers and industry organizations on behalf of their members for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. They are often concerned with issues that affect workers across the industry, such as wages and benefits, working conditions, and industry-specific regulations.

Regional-level Trade Federation of Trade Unions:

A regional-level trade federation of trade unions is a federation of unions that represent workers in a particular region or state. Regional federations coordinate the activities of member unions and advocate for the interests of workers at the regional level. They may also negotiate with regional governments or industry organizations on behalf of their members for better working conditions, wages, and benefits.

National-level Trade Union Federation:

A national-level trade union federation is a federation of unions that represent workers across a particular country. National federations coordinate the activities of member unions and advocate for the interests of workers at the national level. They may negotiate with national governments, industry organizations, or multinational corporations on behalf of their members for better working conditions, wages, and benefits. National federations often play a significant role in shaping national labor policies and legislation. Examples of national-level trade union federations include the AFL-CIO in the United States and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the United Kingdom.

Structure of Trade Unions in India

Trade unions in India have a hierarchical structure, with different levels of organization and representation. Here is an overview of the typical structure of trade unions in India:

  1. Shop Floor Level: This is the lowest level of the trade union structure, where the union represents the workers of a specific shop floor or factory unit. The union officials at this level are typically elected by the workers of that specific unit.
  2. Plant Level: This is the next level of the trade union structure, where the union represents workers of multiple units or departments within a specific plant. The plant-level union officials are typically elected by the members of the shop floor-level unions within the plant.
  3. Regional Level: This level consists of a federation of plant-level unions in a particular region, such as a state or province. The regional-level officials are typically elected by the members of the plant-level unions within the region.
    For example, the Maharashtra General Kamgar Union (MGKU) represents workers in the state of Maharashtra and is affiliated with the AITUC.
  4. National Level: This is the highest level of the trade union structure, where a national federation or confederation of trade unions represents workers across the country. National-level officials are typically elected by the members of the regional-level unions or directly by the individual members.

There are 12 central trade unions recognized by the Indian government, which represent workers across various sectors and industries. These include the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

In addition to these levels, trade unions in India are also organized based on their industry or occupation, such as banking, transportation, manufacturing, construction, etc. These industry-based unions may also have their own internal structure and representation, which may overlap with the hierarchical structure outlined above.

Different theories of trade unions

There are several theories that have been developed to explain the role and functioning of trade unions under industrial relations and labor laws. Some of the prominent theories are as follows:

1. Pluralist Theory:

The pluralist theory suggests that trade unions are one of the many interest groups in society that compete for power and influence. According to this theory, trade unions are important in representing workers’ interests, negotiating with employers, and resolving conflicts in the workplace. The pluralist theory recognizes that different interest groups have different goals and agendas, and that conflict is a normal and necessary part of the industrial relations system.

2. Marxist Theory:

The Marxist theory sees trade unions as part of the broader struggle between capital and labor. According to this theory, trade unions are a means of protecting workers from the exploitation of employers and promoting their economic interests. The Marxist theory emphasizes the importance of class struggle and collective action in achieving social and economic justice for workers.

3. Human Relations Theory:

The human relations theory emphasizes the importance of social and psychological factors in industrial relations. According to this theory, trade unions play a key role in promoting worker participation and involvement in the workplace, as well as creating a sense of community and solidarity among workers. The human relations theory emphasizes the importance of communication, collaboration, and cooperation in resolving conflicts and promoting mutual understanding between employers and workers.

4. Institutional Theory:

The institutional theory emphasizes the role of institutions, such as trade unions, in shaping industrial relations. According to this theory, trade unions are important in creating stable and predictable employment relationships, promoting social norms and values, and providing a voice for workers in the decision-making process. The institutional theory emphasizes the importance of legal frameworks and formal institutions in regulating industrial relations and promoting social stability.

5. Systems Theory:

The systems theory emphasizes the interdependence of different actors in the industrial relations system. According to this theory, trade unions are important in promoting cooperation and collaboration between workers, employers, and government agencies, and in creating a more harmonious and productive workplace. The systems theory emphasizes the importance of feedback, adaptation, and coordination in creating a dynamic and responsive industrial relations system.

6. Power Resource Theory:

The power resource theory suggests that trade unions are an important means of balancing power between workers and employers. According to this theory, trade unions are able to exert influence and pressure on employers through collective bargaining, strikes, and other forms of direct action. The power resource theory emphasizes the importance of resources, such as membership size, organizational strength, and political influence, in determining the bargaining power of trade unions.

7. Critical Industrial Relations Theory:

The critical industrial relations theory sees trade unions as part of a broader struggle for social justice and equality. According to this theory, trade unions are a means of challenging existing power structures and promoting a more democratic and equitable workplace. The critical industrial relations theory emphasizes the importance of addressing systemic inequalities, such as those related to gender, race, and class, in order to achieve meaningful social change.

8. Neo-liberal Theory:

The neo-liberal theory argues that trade unions are a hindrance to economic growth and competitiveness. According to this theory, trade unions create rigid and inflexible labor markets, which limit employers’ ability to hire and fire workers and adapt to changing market conditions. The neo-liberal theory emphasizes the importance of deregulation and free markets in promoting economic growth and argues that trade unions should have a limited role in the industrial relations system.

Trade Unions in India

All India Trade Union Congress

The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) is one of the oldest and largest national trade union federations in India. It was formed in 1920 and has played a significant role in the Indian labor movement since then.

Objectives:

AITUC aims to achieve a society that is free from exploitation, oppression, and discrimination. The main objectives of AITUC are to fight for the rights of workers, promote social justice, and work towards the establishment of a socialist society. AITUC also strives to achieve better working conditions, higher wages, and social security for workers in various sectors of the economy.

Structure:

AITUC is a federation of various trade unions and has a hierarchical structure. At the top of the structure is the National Council, which is the highest decision-making body. The National Council is comprised of representatives from the affiliated unions, who elect the office bearers of the federation. The General Secretary is the head of the AITUC and is responsible for carrying out the decisions of the National Council.

Membership:

AITUC has more than 10 million members and is affiliated with various national and international trade union organizations. It has members from various sectors of the economy, including industrial workers, agricultural workers, government employees, and the informal sector. Any trade union that agrees with the objectives and principles of AITUC can become a member of the federation.

Hind Mazdoor Sabha

Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) is a national trade union federation in India. It was formed in 1948 and has a significant presence in various sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, construction, and mining.

Objectives:

HMS aims to protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare. The federation believes in the principles of social justice, democracy, and secularism. It also aims to promote unity and solidarity among workers of different religions, castes, and regions.

Structure:

HMS is a federation of various trade unions and has a decentralized structure. The National Executive Committee is the highest decision-making body of the federation, and it is responsible for formulating policies and programs. The General Secretary is the head of the HMS and is responsible for implementing the decisions of the National Executive Committee.

Membership:

HMS has a significant presence in various states of India and has members from various sectors of the economy. The federation has around 1.5 million members and is affiliated with various national and international trade union organizations. Any trade union that agrees with the objectives and principles of HMS can become a member of the federation.

HMS also has a Youth Wing, Women’s Wing, and Employees’ Federation, which work towards the empowerment of young workers, women workers, and employees, respectively. HMS also works closely with other labor organizations to strengthen the labor movement in India.

Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC)

The Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) is a national trade union federation in India. It was formed in 1947 and is one of the largest trade union federations in the country.

Objectives:

INTUC aims to protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare. The federation believes in the principles of social justice, democracy, and secularism. It also aims to promote unity and solidarity among workers of different religions, castes, and regions.

Structure:

INTUC is a federation of various trade unions and has a hierarchical structure. The highest decision-making body of the federation is the All India Conference, which is held once in three years. The Conference elects the National Council, which is responsible for formulating policies and programs. The President is the head of the INTUC and is responsible for implementing the decisions of the National Council.

Membership:

INTUC has a significant presence in various sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, construction, and transport. The federation has around 3.5 million members and is affiliated with various national and international trade union organizations. Any trade union that agrees with the objectives and principles of INTUC can become a member of the federation.

INTUC also has various departments, including the Youth Wing, Women’s Wing, and Employees’ Federation, which work towards the empowerment of young workers, women workers, and employees, respectively. The federation also works closely with other labor organizations to strengthen the labor movement in India.

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is a national trade union federation in India. It was formed in 1955 and is affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization.

Objectives:

BMS aims to protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare. The federation believes in the principles of social justice, democracy, and nationalism. It also aims to promote unity and solidarity among workers of different religions, castes, and regions.

Structure:

BMS is a federation of various trade unions and has a decentralized structure. The highest decision-making body of the federation is the National Delegates Conference, which is held once in three years. The Conference elects the National Executive Committee, which is responsible for formulating policies and programs. The President is the head of the BMS and is responsible for implementing the decisions of the National Executive Committee.

Membership:

BMS has a significant presence in various sectors of the economy, including manufacturing, construction, and agriculture. The federation has around 10 million members and is affiliated with various national and international trade union organizations. Any trade union that agrees with the objectives and principles of BMS can become a member of the federation.

BMS also has various departments, including the Youth Wing, Women’s Wing, and Employees’ Federation, which work towards the empowerment of young workers, women workers, and employees, respectively. The federation also works closely with other labor organizations to strengthen the labor movement in India.

Self-Employed Women’s Association

The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is a trade union based in India that focuses on organizing women workers in the informal sector. It was founded in 1972 by Ela Bhatt and has its headquarters in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Objectives:

SEWA aims to organize and empower women workers in the informal sector by providing them with social and economic support, education, and training. The organization’s primary objective is to improve the status and living standards of women working in the informal sector.

Structure:

SEWA has a decentralized structure and is organized into various units, including production and marketing, finance and banking, and health and childcare. The organization is led by a President and a General Secretary who are elected by the members. SEWA also has a National Executive Committee, which is responsible for formulating policies and programs.

Membership:

SEWA has a membership of over 2 million women workers, primarily from the informal sector. The organization accepts membership from women who are self-employed, home-based, or casual workers. Members are organized into various groups, including trade groups, cooperatives, and savings groups. SEWA also provides training and education to its members to help them develop new skills and improve their livelihoods.

SEWA also operates various programs and services, including healthcare, childcare, education, and legal support. The organization has also launched various campaigns to advocate for the rights of women workers in the informal sector and to promote gender equality.

Challenges for Indian Trade Unions

Trade unions in India face several challenges that impact their ability to represent and protect the rights of workers effectively. Some of the significant challenges are:

  1. Informal sector workers: A large proportion of the Indian workforce is engaged in the informal sector, which includes workers who do not have job security, social protection, or access to formal channels of representation. Trade unions face significant challenges in organizing these workers and representing their interests.
  2. Changing nature of work: The nature of work is changing rapidly in India, with increasing automation, outsourcing, and precarious employment. Trade unions need to adapt their strategies to address the changing nature of work and ensure that workers’ rights and interests are protected.
  3. Fragmentation: There are several trade unions in India, and the labor movement is fragmented, which weakens the collective bargaining power of workers. The lack of unity among trade unions makes it challenging to negotiate with employers and the government effectively.
  4. Government policies: The Indian government has implemented several labor reforms in recent years, which have weakened the bargaining power of workers and made it more challenging for trade unions to operate effectively. For example, the government has introduced labor codes that consolidate labor laws and reduce the scope of collective bargaining.
  5. Technological advancements: The use of technology in the workplace has increased significantly, which has led to the displacement of traditional jobs and the emergence of new forms of work. Trade unions need to develop new strategies to address the impact of technology on employment and ensure that workers’ rights are protected.
  6. COVID-19 pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the Indian economy and has led to widespread job losses and income insecurity. Trade unions face the challenge of representing and protecting the interests of workers who have been impacted by the pandemic.

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FAQs on Trade Union

What is a trade union?

A trade union is an organization formed by workers to protect their rights and interests in the workplace. It works to promote the welfare of its members by negotiating with employers on issues such as wages, working conditions, and benefits. Trade unions also provide support to workers in case of disputes or conflicts with management, and they may also engage in collective bargaining to negotiate better terms and conditions for their members.

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