Thursday, 27 May 2021

The Indian Trade Unions in the era of globalisation

Globalization is the expansion of trade and commerce across the world transcending the international borders. Essentially, therefore, it is market-driven. The existence of global trade can be traced back to the civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Indus Valley, Phoenicia and China from 4000 B.C to 1000 B.C. The Formation of nation-states in Western Europe in the 15th and 16th Centuries and the successful efforts of colonization by Spain, Portugal, Great Britain and France in the succeeding periods marked by the rapid expansion of global trade by means of reciprocal import and export of raw materials and finished goods between the Conquerors and the colonies necessitated the expansion of capital in hitherto unknown scale and the conferment of charted rights for exclusive trade in exchange for certain obligations to the State. All these culminated in the advent of a joint-stock system of ownership of business enterprises and the emergence of modern corporations. The following Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century which gave rise to mass production also necessitated aggressive and innovative worldwide marketing techniques. The notable early multi-national companies are the Unilever of Holland and England, Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company of Switzerland, Philips Lamps of the Netherlands and Standard Oil of the USA. In the aftermath of the new industrial policy of the Govt. of India, the scale of preference gradually tilted towards privatization, foreign direct investment, deregulation of exports and imports in tune with the terms of international trade agreements etc., resulting in private-public joint ventures, foreign-domestic collaborative ventures, big Indian business houses like the Tatas, Birlas, TVS becoming transnational, multi-national corporations like Ford, Hyundai, GM, Nokia, Suzuki, Volvo etc., establishing their production hubs in India and competing substantially in the domestic market in addition to sizeable exports, large scale employment opportunities abroad, creation of a level-playing field for the private sector in the nationalized fields of banking, insurance, telecommunications etc., increased flow of revenue to the State through direct and indirect taxes and so on. Slow and steady phasing out of small and medium scale industries catering to the local and domestic markets, replacement of large scale manual labour in production and construction activities with increased use of mammoth machines, mechanisation, automation etc., migration of manual labour force from rural areas to urban centres of production leaving agriculture in the lurch, increasing unplanned urbanization, power and water scarcity, painful adjustment of domestic consumption needs and unpredictable inflationary trends according to global market supply and demand, unabated out-sourcing resulting in sporadic indirect engagement of labour and so on.

The trade union movement in India dates back to 1890 with the formation of the Bombay Millhands Association which in fact was more a welfare association than a trade union. Therefore, the first unions formed were viz., the Madras Labour Union (1918) and the Textile Labour Association, Ahmedabad (1920). The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the first trade union federation was formed in 1920. The political difference cropped up ever since its inception among the three groups viz., the nationalists led by Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru, communists led by Dange and M.N. Roy and the moderate socialists led by V.V Giri and N.M. Joshi paved the way for the formation of rival unions based on political ideologies and the first grand split saw the formation of the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) from AITUC in 1947 followed by further splits with the formation of Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) and finally the formation of the Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) in 1970. The political difference played a vital role in the formation of further federations such as Bharathiya Mazdoor Sabha (BMS) and other regional level federations by the regional parties. As of now, almost every political party has its labour wing in the form of its own federation. Still, there are some other federations without any political link. One can understand the importance of a trade union from the inalienable right to association in Art. 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India. Trade union stands as a parallel institution to management in matters of industrial relations such as collective bargaining, participative management, conflict resolution etc.

Different challenges in the position of Indian Trade unions in the wake of globalization, in particular, is far less with the decline in the number of conventional manufacturing like textile, foundry, mines and quarrying etc. and the growth of service sector where unionization is not possible because of the scattered labour force. Even in manufacturing, perceptible change is noticed from mass-production centres to small, small satellite units of production based on the speciality of the components to be made. It is a well-known fact that unionization in small units is very difficult. Thus the decline in membership has rendered the Indian trade unions vulnerable and ineffective other than in public sector undertakings where though unionization stands presently at 90%, the role of unions is restricted to that of bargaining agents in wage negotiations only.

Therefore, the position of the Indian Trade Unions in the era of globalization is to understand not only the implications of change but also, non-change and non-adaptation. The role played by the Indian Trade Unions during the pre and post-independence periods cannot be undermined. Their constant efforts made the Govt. of India ratify a number of conventions of the International Labour Organization and instrumental in the passing of many post-independence labour laws. Their indomitable spirit of litigation brought about many landmark judgments by the Apex Court of the nation. To address the human problems associated with globalization, they have to revamp their armoury with new weapons. They should not refuse to understand that the commitments of an industry are not only limited to that of security of employment and fair wages to workmen and fat dividends to shareholders. Another stakeholder viz. society is still at large. It needs better quality of goods and services at cheaper prices keeping the ecological balance intact and the uninterrupted transfer of social wealth and technological know-how to posterity. Therefore, Indian Trade Unions, along with other social partners, should recognize the need for the transition and transformation of our economy to be fully integrated into the global economy as a major and competitive player where its citizens including the labour force can enjoy an enhanced quality of life. 

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