Functions of Trade Unions

Trade unions perform a number of functions in order to achieve the objectives. These functions can be broadly classified into three categories:

1. Militant Functions

One set of activities performed by trade unions leads to the betterment of the position of their members in relation to their employment. The aim of such activities is to ensure adequate wages, secure better conditions of work and employment, get better treatment from employers, etc. When the unions fail to accomplish these aims by the method of collective bargaining and negotiations, they adopt an approach and put up a fight with the management in the form of go-slow tactics, strike, boycott, gherao, etc. Hence, these functions of the trade unions are known as militant or fighting functions. Thus, the militant functions of trade unions can be summed up as:

  • To achieve higher wages and better working conditions

  • To raise the status of workers as a part of industry

  • To protect labours against victimization and injustice

On 18,July,2012, India's leading car manufacturer Maruti Suzuki Udyog Ltd in Manesar factory workers in an agitation at factory human resource manager burned to death by workers, made severe damage to companies property and hurt severely several other workers. Thereby MSUL (Maruti Suzuki Udyog Ltd) sacked all of its workers who ever involved in that incident and filed a police complaint against those employees.

on 8,November,2012, few workers strike who are dismissed but claims that they were not involved resorted to hunger strike demanding to reinstate them. The labour union of the company "Maruti Udyog Kamgar Union" have lent support to the agitators at Manesar then join them to make representation to the state labour department on this issue.

2. Fraternal Functions

Another set of activities performed by trade unions aims at rendering help to its members in times of need, and improving their efficiency. Trade unions try to foster a spirit of cooperation and promote friendly industrial relations and diffuse education and culture among their members. They take up welfare measures for improving the morale of workers and generate self confidence among them. They also arrange for legal assistance to its members, if necessary. Besides, these, they undertake many welfare measures for their members, e.g., school for the education of children, library, reading-rooms, in-door and out-door games, and other recreational facilities. Some trade unions even undertake publication of some magazine or journal. These activities, which may be called fraternal functions, depend on the availability of funds, which the unions raise by subscription from members and donations from outsiders, and also on their competent and enlightened leadership. Thus, the fraternal functions of trade unions can be summed up as:

  • To take up welfare measures for improving the morale of workers

  • To generate self confidence among workers

  • To encourage sincerity and discipline among workers

  • To provide opportunities for promotion and growth

  • To protect women workers against discrimination

3. Social Functions

Besides the main economic functions consisting basically of organising unions and improving their terms and conditions of employment to enable workers to meet their physical needs, some unions have now started undertaking and organising welfare activities and also providing variety of services to their members and sometimes to the community of which they are a part, which may be grouped under following heads:

1) Welfare activities provided to improve the quality of work life including organisation of mutual fund, cooperative credit societies for providing housing, cooperative stores, cultural programmes, banking and medical facilities and training for women in various crafts to help them to supplement their family income.

2) Education: Education of members in all aspects of their working life including improving their civic life, awareness in the environment around them, enhancement of their knowledge particularly in regard to issues that concern them, their statutory and other rights and responsibilities, workers’ participation in management.

3) scheme, and procedure for redressing their grievances. Some central union organisations are also assisting the Government in implementing the Workers’ Education Scheme.

4) Publication of periodicals, news letters or magazines for establishing communication with their members, making the latter aware of union policy and stand on certain principal issues and personnel matters concerning members, such as births, deaths, marriages, promotion and achievements.

5) Research: Of late, this is gaining importance and is intended mainly to provide updated information to union negotiators at the bargaining table. Such research is to be more practical than academic, concerning problems relating to day-today affairs of the union and its activities and union and management relations. Some of the research activities are : (i) collection and analysis of wage data including fringe benefits, and other benefits and services through surveys of comparative practices, data on working conditions and welfare activities; (ii) preparation of background notes for court cases and also position papers for union officials; (iii) collection and analysis of macro data relating to the economy, industry sectors etc. All the above mentioned activities and services are considered normal activities of unions in the Trade Unions Act which stipulates the objectives on which general funds of the union can be spent.

4. Political functions:

These functions include affiliating the union with a political party, helping the political party in enrolling members, collecting donations, seeking the help of political parties during the periods of strikes and lockouts.

Facts [+]

Biggest all-union strike, India

Feb 28-2012: Banking, insurance, telecom, transport, Defence, mining, postal, and other Central and State Government services initiated country-wide strike called by central trade unions.

This is for the first time that trade unions of all hues, the Left, Congress party, Bharatiya Janata Party, Shiv Sena organization, Muslim League etc. have joined hands to voice their protest against violation of trade union rights, growing contractorization, disinvestment, privatisation and growing price rise.

"Apart from the 11 central trade unions, 40 federations and about 5,000 other unions will be participating in the action,’ said Mr A.K Padmanabhan, President, Centre of Indian Trade Unions.