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History of Indian labor Unions
October 7, 2010
in Human Resource Management
The Indian labor movement is more than 150 years old, with its origin in the 1850s and
1870s. But it gained momentum in 1918 when the Madras labor union was formed with
mill workers as members. The formation of the All India Trade Union congress (AITUC)
in 1920 gave a fillip to the organized labor movement in India. A series of agitations and
strikes happened during the early years of unionization in different parts of the country.
The focus of the unions was to end exploitation of workers in factories and other
workplaces like mines, Trade union also participated in the freedom struggle against the
colonial rule. National leaders like Mahatma Gandhi were active in the trade union
movement. The introduction of the Trade Union Act of 1926 provided the required legal
framework for unions.
The changes in the political landscape of India resulted in the AITUC splitting into the
Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) in 1947 followed by the formation of
the Hindustan Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) in 1948. Later political events like the split in the
Indian National Congress and the communist party also resulted in formation of
corresponding unions. Thus, in India, politically connected unions became a regular
feature. The election of communist government in states like Kerala and West Bengal
gave a flip to the labor movement in the states.
With the support of political parties and the elected governments, the public sector
companies and many private companies became heavily unionized. What followed in the
1960s and 1970s was a rise in trade union activity leading to strikes and lockouts. Though
the imposition of emergency in 1975 led to the suspension of trade union rights and a
sudden fall in trade union activity (many prominent opposition trade union leaders were
jailed during the emergency period), post emergency the activities picked up. Under
pressure from trade unions, in 1976 the Industrial Disputes Act was amended making it
mandatory for firms employing more than 300 workmen to take prior government
permission before retrenching workmen.
The failure of the Bombay textile strike (started in 1981) led by independent trade union
leader Dutta Samant marked another shift in the labor unions. Nonpolitical unions
focused on members’ requirements alone became a reality. After the first wave of
economic liberalization in 1984, the approach of unions also started to change. By that
time the profile of their members also changed with more people wanting better living
conditions, rather than those led by larger political ideology. Private sector unions
became increasingly open to productivity linked agreements that were later accepted by
the public sector unions also. The powerful banking sector trade unions allowed the
introduction of computers in a limited scale. They extracted a price for this in terms of
extra payment. In many workplaces there was a marked shift towards adopting a
collaborative approach rather than a confrontationist approach.
The next phase of economic reforms introduced in 1992 focused on the opening of the
economy and integrating with global economic forces. Privatization of state owned
enterprises and the closing down of unviable ones were part of reform package. The
voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) became a legal option for firms to separate excess
employees on mutual agreement. The national renewal fund (NRF) was established to
help firms adjust to the new economy realities. Currently, many traditional unions both in
public and private sectors have recognized the significance of market forces and
competition and are prepared to work with the management to increase competitiveness.
While the industry and investors demanded reforming the labor to introduce more
flexibility and the hire and fire, due to opposition from national unions such progress
could not be made.
The emerging new generation IT / ITES sector saw firms where labor union activity was
absent. The career and professional growth focused employees showed antipathy toward
unions and their employers went ahead to ensure good conditions of work. Though there
have been discussions about introducing trade union activity in the new sectors, not much
progress could not be made. Similar non-union firms are functional in the traditionally
unionized sectors like manufacturing and services (for example the new private banks are
completely trade union free
The Labor movement
October 7, 2010
in Human Resource Management
The union movement is important. Just over 15 million US workers belong to unions –
around 12% of the total number of men or women working in this country. Many are still
traditional blue collar workers, but more and more are white collar workers. For instance,
workers including doctors, psychologists graduate teaching assistants, government office
workers and even fashion models are forming or joining unions. Federal state and local
governments employ about seven million union members, who account for almost 40%
of total government employees And in some industries – including transportation and
public utilities where over 26% of employees are union members – it’s still hard to get a
job without joining a union. Union membership in other countries is declining but is still
very high relative to the United States: over 35% of employed workers in Canada,
Mexico, Brazil and Italy for instance.
Furthermore it can be a mistake to always assume, as a keen jerk reaction that unions
only negatively impact employers. For example perhaps by professionalizing the staff
and /or systematizing company practices unionization may also improve performance
Thus in one study researchers concluded that heart attack mortality among patients in
hospitals with unionized registered nurses were 5 to 9% lower than in nonunion hospitals
Another study found a significant negative relationship between union memberships ad
employees intent to leave their jobs.
Why are unions important? How did they get that way? Why do workers join them? How
do employers and unions hammer out agreements? These are questions we’ll address in
this article.
American Union movement>>>
To understand what unions are and what they want, it is useful to understand where
they’ve been. The history of the union movement in the United States has been one of
alternate expansion and contraction. As early as 1790 skilled craftsmen shoemaker,
tailors, and printers and so on organized themselves into trade unions. They posted their
minimum wage demands and had tramping committees go from shop to shop to ensure
that no member accepted a lesser wage. Union membership grew until a major depression
around 1873 resulted in a membership decline. Membership then began increasing as the
United States entered its industrial revolution. In 1869, a group of tailors met and formed
the Knights of Labor. The knights were interested in political reform. By 1885, they had
100,000 members which (as result of winning major strike against a railroad) exploded to
700,000 the following year. Partly, because of their focus on social reforms and partly
due to series of unsuccessful strikes. The knights’ membership dwindled rapidly
thereafter, and the group dissolved in 1893.
In 1886, Samuel Gompers formed the American Federation of Labor. It consisted mostly
of skilled workers and unlike the Knights focused on practical bread and butter gains for
its members. The Knights of Labor had engaged in a class struggle to alter the form of
society and hereby get a bigger chunk of benefits for its members. Gompers aimed to
reach the same goal by raising day to day wages and improving working conditions. The
AFL grew rapidly until after World War I at which point its membership exceeded 5.5
million people.
The 1920s was a period of stagnation and decline for the US union movements. This was
a result of several events, including a post war depression manufacturers renewed
resistance to unions Samuel Gomper’s death and the apparent prosperity of the 1920s By
late 1929 due to the Great Depression, millions of workers (including many union
members) had lost their jobs and by 1933 union membership was down to under there
million workers.
Memberships began to rise again in the mid – 1930s. As part of his New Deal programs
president Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed the National Industrial Recovery act, which
made it easier for labor to organize. Other federal law as well as prosperity ad World War
II also contributed to the rapid increase in members, which topped out at about 21 million
workers in the 1970s. Union membership has consistently fallen since then due to factors
such as the shift from manufacturing to service jobs, and new legislation (such as
occupational safety laws) that provide the sorts of protection that workers could once
only obtain from their unions. Indeed, hundreds of local, state, and federal laws and
regulations now address the sorts of concerns that helped drive the early union movement
Trade Union Registration and
Recognition in India
October 11, 2010
in Human Resource Management
The Trade unions act of 1926 provides for registration of trade unions by the designated
registrar of trade unions. Registered trade unions have certain obligations to meet like
maintenance of accounts and filing of returns. Non-compliance may invite cancellation of
registration. However the act is silent about the recognition of the trade union by the firm
for the purpose of collective bargaining. Various state governments like Maharashtra
have enacted legislations like the Maharasthra Recognition of Trade Union (MRTU) and
the Prevention of unfair labor practices (PULP) Act of 1971 to recognize unions based on
their real strength. With support from courts, many organizations have used the secret
ballot method to identify and recognize unions as representatives of workers. Other
methods followed are membership verification conducted by government machinery or a
check off system where employee declares union allegiance to company and allow
deduction of membership fee from the salary.
The Supervisor’s Role:
Supervisors are an employer’s first line of defense when it comes to the unionizing effort.
They are often in the best position to sense evolving employees’ attitude problems, for
instance, and to discover the first signs of union activity. Unfortunately there’s another
side to that coin: they can also inadvertently take actions that hurt their employer’s union
related efforts.
Supervisors therefore need special training. Specifically they must be knowledgeable
about what they can and can’t do to legally hamper organizing activities. Unfair labor
practices could (1) cause the NLRB to hold a new election after your company has won a
previous election, or (2) cause your company to forfeit the second election and go
directly to contract negotiation.
In one case a plant superintendent reacted to a union’s initial organizing attempt by
prohibiting distribution of union literature in the plant’s lunchroom. Since solicitation of
off duty workers in non work areas is generally legal, the company subsequently allowed
the union to post union literature on the company’s bulletin board and to distribute union
literature in nonworking areas inside the plant. However, the NLRB still ruled that the
initial act of prohibiting distribution of the literature was an unfair labor practice one not
made right by the company’s subsequent efforts. The NLRB used the superintendent’s
action as one reason for invaliding an election that the company had won.
The election:
The election is held within 30 to 60 days after the NLRB issues its decision and direction
of Election. The election is by secret ballot; the NLRB provides the ballots; voting booth,
and ballot box and counts the votes and certifies the results.
The union becomes the employee’s representative if it wins the lection, and winning
means getting a majority of the votes cast, not a majority of the total workers in the
bargaining unit. Also keep in mind that if an employer commits an unfair labor practice
the NLRB may reverse a no union election. As representative of their employer,
supervisors must therefore be careful not to commit unfair practices. Several things
influence whether the union wins the certification election. Unions have a higher
probability of success in geographic areas with a higher percentage of union workers, in
part because union employees enjoy higher wages and benefits. High unemployment
seems to lead to poorer results for the union, perhaps because employees fear that
unionization efforts might result in reduced job security or employer retaliation. Unions
usually carefully pick the size of their bargaining unit (all clerical employees in the
company, only those at one facility and so on because it’s clear that the larger the
bargaining unit, the smaller the probability of union victory The more workers vote, the
less likely a union victory probably because more workers who are not strong supporters
vote. The union is important too. The Teamsters union is less likely to win a
representation election than other unions, for instance