Growth of Trade Union Movement



Trade unions in India, as in most other countries, have been the natural outcome the modem factory system. The development of trade unionism in India has chequered history and a stormy career.

Early Period
Efforts towards organising the workers for their welfare were made, during the early period of industrial development by social workers, philanthropists and other religious leaders mostly on humanitarian grounds. The first Factories Act, 1881, was passed on the basis of the recommendations of the Bombay Factory Commission, 1875. Due to the limitations of the Act, the workers in Bombay Textile Industry under the leadership of N M Lokhande demanded reduced of hours of work, weekly rest days, mid-day recess and compensation for injuries. Bombay Mill owners’ Association conceded the demand for weekly holiday. Consequently, Lokhande established the first Workers’ Union in India in 1890 in the name of Bombay Mill hands Association. A labour journal called “Dinabandu” was also published.

Some of the important unions established during the period are: Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants of India and Burma (1897), Management the Printers Union, Calcutta (1905) and the Bombay Postal Union (1907), the Kamgar Hitavardhak Sabha (1910) and the Social Service League (1910). But these unions were treated as ad hoc bodies and could not serve the purpose of trade unions.

Modest Beginning

The beginning of the Labour movement in the modest sense started after the outbreak of World War I in the country. Economic, political and social conditions of the day influenced the growth of trade union movement in India. Establishment of International Labour Organisation in 1919 helped the formation of trade unions in the country. Madras Labour Union was formed on systematic lines in 1919. A number of trade unions were established between 1919 and 1923. Category wise unions, like Spinners’ Union and Weavers’ Union, came into existence in Ahmedabad under the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi. These unions were later federated into an industrial union known as Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association. This union has been formed on systematic lines and has been functioning on sound lines based on the Gandhian Philosophy of mutual trust, collaboration and non-violence.

All India Trade Union Congress

The most important year in the history of Indian Trade Union movement is 1920 when the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was formed consequent upon the necessity of electing delegates for the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This is the first all India trade union in the country. The first meeting of the AlTUC was held in October, 1920 at Bombay (now Mumbai) under the presidentship of Lala Lajpat Rai. The formation of AlTUC led to the establishment of All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF) IN 1922. Many Company Railway Unions were affiliated to it. Signs of militant tendency and revolutionary ideas were apparent during this period.

a) Period of splits and mergers: The splinter group of AITUC formed All India Trade Union Federation (AlTUF) in 1929. Another split by the communists in 1931 led to the formation of All India Red Trade Union Congress. Thus, splits were more common during the period. However, efforts were made by the

Railway Federation to bring unity within the AITUC unity. These efforts did bear fruit and All India Red Trade Union Congress was dissolved. Added to this, All India Trade Union Federation also merged with AITUC. The unified AITUC’s convention was held in 1940 in Nagpur. But the unity did not last long.

The World Was II brought splits in the AITUC. There were two groups in the AITUC, one supporting the war while the other opposing it. the supporting group established its own central organisation called the Indian Federation of Labour. A further split took place in 1947, when the top leaders of the Indian National Congress formed another central organisation.

b) Indian National Trade Union Congress: The efforts of Indian National Congress resulted in the establishment of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) by bringing the split in the AITUC, INTUC started gaining membership right from the beginning.

c) Other Central Unions: Socialists separated from AITUC had formed Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) in 1948. The Indian Federation of Labour merged with the HMS, Radicals formed another union under the name of United Trade Union Congress in 1949. Thus, the trade union movement in the country was split into four distinct central unions during the short span of 1946 to 1949. Some other central unions were also formed. They were Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) in 1955, the Hind Mazdoor Panchayat (HMP) in 1965 and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) in 1970. Thus, splinter group of INTUC formed Union

Trade Union Congress, the split in the Congress Party in 1969 resulted in the split in INTUC and let to the formation of National Labour Organisation (NLO).

Present Position

There are over 9,000 trade unions in the country, including unregistered unions and more than 70 federations and confederations registered under the Trade Unions Act, 1926. The degree of unionism is fairly high in organised industrial sector. It is negligible in the agricultural and unorganised sectors.

Though the number of unions has greatly increased in the last four decades, the union membership per union has not kept pace. The National commission on labour has stated that only 131 unions had a membership of over 5,000. More than 70% of the unions had a membership of below 500. Over the years the average membershipf igures per union have faIlen steadily from about 1387 in 1943 to 632 in 1992-93 (Pocket Book of Labour Statistics, 1997). Unions with a membership of over 2000 constitute roughly 4 per cent of the total unions in the country.

There is a high degree of unionisation (varying from 30% to over 70%) in coal, cotton, textiles, iron and steel, railways, cement, banking, insurance, ports and docks and tobacco sector. White-collar unions have also increased significantly covering officers, senior executives, managers, civil servants, self employed professions like doctors, lawyers, traders, etc. for safeguarding their interest.

There are as many as 10 central trade union organisations in the country (as against one or two in UK, Japan, USA). The criteria for recognition as Central Trade Union has been that the combined strength should be 5 lacs numbers with a spread over to at least 4 states and 4 industries as on 31.12.89. Ten such Trade Unions are; (1) BMS (2) INTUC (3) HMS, (4) U.T.U.C - LS (5) AITUC (6) CITUC (7) NLO (8) UTUC (9) TUCC (10) NFITU. As per one survey (Economic Times, 24.9.97) the five leading Trade Unions’ strength are as follows:

Trade Union Strength

  • BMS - 331 Lakhs
  • INTUC - 271 Lakhs
  • AITUC - 18 Lakhs
  • HMS - 15 Lakhs
  • CITU - 3.4 Lakhs

Trade unions in India

The Indian workforce consists of 430 million workers, growing 2% annually. The Indian labor markets consist of three sectors:

  1. The rural workers, who constitute about 60 per cent of the workforce.
  2. Organized sector, which employs 8 per cent of workforce, and
  3. 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:

  1. All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)
  2. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)
  3. Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)
  4. Hind Mazdoor Kisan Panchayat (HMKP)
  5. Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS)
  6. Indian Federation of Free Trade Unions (IFFTU)
  7. Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC)
  8. National Front of Indian Trade Unions (NFITU)
  9. National Labor Organization (NLO)
  10. Trade Unions Co-ordination Centre (TUCC)
  11. United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) and
  12. United Trade Union Congress - Lenin Sarani (UTUC - LS)