​Does capitalist India need trade unions?

The ground reality is, trade unions are affiliated to one or the other political party. They have come to represent the interests of the political class and not the workers. They no more address the grievance of the workers but are keener to serve the interests of the political parties.

By Syed Ali Mujtaba,

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At a time when land acquisition ordinance is being pushed forward, many public sector undertaking are being dis-invested, India’s tectonic shift towards capitalism is endangering the trade union movement which is a cause of grave concern to all the socialist thinking people of the country.

The way India is changing towards capitalist mode of production, it’s high time to think about the relevance of the trade union movement in country, an idea that once electrified the masses.

What appears is trade union movement is fast loosing sense of direction and the purpose today. The moment we talk about trade union, we talk about political parties, industrial disputes, and mass agitation, ultimately economic loss. Trade unions are thought as having nuisance value, belittling its importance it enjoyed in the capitalist mode of production.

The birth of trade union movement occurred when socialist thinker Karl Marx gave a call to the factory workers; “you have nothing to lose except the chain.” This call of Karl Marx resounded across the world and led to the creation of a platform to raise the grievances of the workers working in the industrial complexes.

Soon this idea resulted in the formation of a strong trade union movement across the world, where workers united to raise their issues and problems. This forced the employers to mend their exploitative ways and they were forced to listen to the demands of the workers that were espoused through the trade unions.

If the factories had to run smoothly then workers supremacy has to be acknowledged. This idea culminated in the May Day celebration as a tribute to the workers that fructified the imagination of Karl Marx.

When Karl Marx envisaged the trade union movement, he had in mind, the poor and the downtrodden people who could not get even a square meal a day and who were exploited mercilessly by the their employers.

A distance has been traveled from then and now and today the situation has drastically changed. At present, large sections of the members of the trade union are no more that Karl Marx sought to support and represent. They are no more the trade union movement of the past and their activities have assumed different dimensions and shape.

The ground reality is, trade unions are affiliated to one or the other political party. They have come to represent the interests of the political class and not the workers. They no more address the grievance of the workers but are keener to serve the interests of the political parties.

The political parties consider the trade unions as their fiefdom. Under the cover of the trade union, they launch agitations using the workers to serve their interests. The political parties have totally high-jacked the agenda of the trade union movement.

At present, there are four major trade unions with their national network: All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) is affiliated to the Communist party Indian (CPI), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) owes allegiance to Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) is the wing of Congress Party; Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is affiliated to Bhartiya Janata Party.

In one industrial complex, there are several trade unions, representing different political parties. If an agitation is launched by the unions affiliated to one political party, it is being thwarted by the trade union affiliated to other political party. It has led to industrial chaos.

The present style of the trade union movement has become an exploitative tool to meet the interests of the political parties. Sometimes, other group also support the trade union as they can get the benefits serving the interests of the political parties.

Obviously, the trade union movement is drifting away from its original purpose. The trade union is far from the exploited class and has become an exploiter class.

The concept of trade unionism is now no more a blue color prerogative. Even those working at highly paid position are demanding for trade union rights. They organize themselves and resort to agitations and strikes, whimsically claiming that they are being exploited. In this category, the new addition is the IT professional who lay claim as exploited workers and like to be covered under Labor Act.

The trade union movement has now even gone a step further causing more confusion, with the self-employed people like auto rickshaw drivers and small merchants forming associations and claiming sort of trade union rights. They are resorting to agitation under one pretext or the other and paralyzing the day-to-day life.

In such a situation, it is high time to relook at the practices adopted by the organized class of people in the name of trade union rights. However, this concept need not to be buried as it has not outlived its purposes.

There are still large segment of unorganized workers such as domestic helps, unskilled agricultural workers, construction labor who cannot assert their rights and need some sort of trade unions to demand their rights. In this sense, trade union movement still has some relevance.

Nonetheless, the present situation certainly calls for re-look at the trade union concept. Legislation have to be made fixing income level of the workers, above which the rights of employees to organize themselves into associations for the purpose of carrying out agitations should be denied. This is because the trade union activities are becoming a drag and causing economic setback to the country.

The trade union movement in India as such has to undergo a course correction as its fast losing its sense of purpose. A deep scrutiny of the trade union movement is warranted in the larger national interests of the country.

(Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at [email protected])