Brief History of Trade Union Movement in India

Introduction

This article deals with the history of Trade Union Movement, its growth, features, etc.

Trade unions are organizations of workers formed to protect the rights and interests of workers through collective action.

In India, the first quarter of the 20th century gave the birth of the trade union movement. A series of strikes were declared in India in the twenties. The success of most of these strikes led to the organization of many unions.

In 1920, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was set up. In 1926, the Trade Unions Act was passed which gave a legal status to the registered trade unions.

Subsequently many trade unions were formed such as:

  • Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC),
  • Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU),
  • Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS),
  • Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangha (BMS),
  • United Trade Union Congress (UTUC), and
  • National Federation of Independent Trade Unions (NFITU).

Growth of Trade Unions in India

It was not until the close of First World War, that the modern trade Union movement really took permanent roots in Indian Soil.

The establishment of Bombay Mill Hands’ Association is considered as the first phase of the trade union movement in India. In 1905, the Printers Association of Calcutta and Dock Union Board in Bombay were formed.

There was labor unrest in India at the end of the First World War. In several industries, the workers went on strikes to secure wage increases. The Russian Revolution and the Industrial Labor Organization have inspired the Indian laborers to launch trade unions like the Spinners Union and Weaver’s Union which had been established in Madras and Ahmedabad respectively.

But the important step in the history of Indian trade unionism was the foundation of All India Trade Union Congress in 1920. There had been a steady progress of trade union movement in India. However, the decision of the Madras High Court that the formation of trade union is illegal stood in the way of its development.

In 1926, the Trade Unions Act was enacted to give legal recognition to the different trade unions. The said Act also .conferred certain privileges on the registered trade unions in an industrial unit. The Trade Unions Act has made it compulsory on trade unions to use their funds for workers interests and to prescribe a fee of at least 25 paisa per works. Most of the members of the executive committee of a trade union must be employed in the factory.

In 1930, the climate was not favorable to the growth of trade Union movements in India. The prosecution of the communists involved in Meerut conspiracy case and the failure of Bombay Textile strike of 1929 retarded the trade union movement. Moreover the serious economic depression was added with it, during the period.

In the next phase, the Second World War gave a great impetus to the trade union movement in India. The rising cost of living forced laborers to organize themselves into trade unions. At the same time the Second World War split the trade union leaders on the question of participating in the war. Industrial unrest was also increased during this period. As a result; there was a marked increase in both the number of trade unions and of organized workers.

With independence and partition, the country was plunged into growing unemployment. A series of strikes occurred, in the country. The All India Trade Union Congress was split up as a result of which the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) was formed in 1947 under the control of congress party. The Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) was formed by the socialist Party in 1948, and United Trade Union congress (UTUC) was formed in 1949. Recently, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) has been formed by the Communist Party (Marxists).

There are more than fourteen thousand registered trade unions in India. The steady growth of trade unions in India is due to the political consciousness among the laborers as well as the governmental measures to facilitate collective bargaining through appropriate legislation.

Features

The main characteristics of the trade unionism are:

(a)  Small size of membership,

(b)  Lack of adequate finance,

(c)  Non fulfillment of welfare schemes,

(d)  Control of political parties,

(e)  Outside interference in the activities of labor unions.

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