Trade Unions

Trade Unions: A trade union may be defined as an organization of employees formed or on a continuous basis for the purpose of securing a diverse range of benefits.

Sec. 2(h) of the Indian Trade Union Act, 1926 defines a trade union as any combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen, or between employers and employers, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, and includes any federation of two or more trade unions.

This definition is very wide as it includes an association of employers also. But ordinarily, a trade union is viewed as a continuous association of wage-earners or salaried employees for maintaining the conditions of their working lives and ensuring them a better and healthier status in the industry as well as in society.

  1. According to Edwin B. Flippo, “A trade union is an organization of workers formed to promote, protect, and improve, through collective action, the social, economic, and political interests of its members.”
  2. In the words of Dale Yoder, “A union is a continuing, long-term association of employees formed and maintained for the specific purpose of advancing and protecting the interests of members in their working relationships.”
  3. V.V. Giri defined trade unions as voluntary organizations of workers formed to promote and protect their interests by collective action.


The Trade Union Movement began in India during the closing years of the First World War. The exploitation of labour caused by the exigencies of the war created unrest among the working-class people and led them to form unions which, would voice their grievances, fight for their rights and ensure to them better working conditions.

When they were sufficiently organized on the model of working peoples’ associations in western countries the Government was compelled to give them legal recognition by passing the Trade Union Act of 1926. Some valuable rights and privileges were conceded to Unions registered under this Act.

Since then, Trade Unions have been multiplying in large numbers till they reached the total figure of 1,863 in the year of our independence. Their membership also has been increasing in the same manner.


The Trade Union Movement in India received a great impetus in the last war when the price of essential commodities rose abnormally high owing to the scarcity created by war conditions.

  • The rise in the cost of living made industrial workers better organized than before and the principle of collective bargaining was accepted as the only means of securing better service conditions from employers.

  • Their demand for overtime allowance, bonus, compensation, relief, etc. became more and more insistent and gathered a force which even the most resourceful of our producing concerns failed to resist.

  • Public opinion being strongly in favour of workers supposed to be mercilessly exploited by their masters, it was easy for these representative labour unions to get many of their demands conceded by the employers of labour.


The national government of India has a very sympathetic attitude to labourers of all categories passed a series of Acts for the welfare of industrial labour. They gave the workers security against unjust exploitation.

The success gained by trade unionism in the field of industrial labour encouraged employees in other business organizations such as banking, insurance and similar other concerns to form associations of their own on trade union principles and wrest from the unwilling hands of their masters more and more amenities and privileges.

Nowadays we have not only railway men’s unions, postal and bank employees’ associations but also associations of shop-keepers employees and even of other lower grade servants and menials. They are clamouring for their rights and agitating through their representative bodies for better working conditions and the amenities of civilized life.


The importance or significance of trade unions can be studied under the following heads:

  i. Functions relating to trade union members

a. To ensure healthy, safe and conductive working conditions for the workers.

b. Safeguarding workers against all sorts of exploitation by the employers, by union leaders and by political parties.

c. Protecting workers from the atrocities and unfair labour practices of the management.

d. Exerting pressure for enhancement of rewards associated with the work only after making a realistic assessment of its practical implications.

e. Ensuring a desirable standard of living by providing various types of social services – health, housing, educational, recreational, cooperative, etc., and by widening and consolidating social security measures.

f.  Ensuring a fair and reasonable deal and social justice to workers.

g. Encouraging workers’ participation in the management and leader-follower cooperation.

h. Making the workers conscious of their rights and duties.

i. Removing the dissatisfaction and redress the day-to-day grievances and complaints of workers.

j. Raising the status of trade union members in the industrial organization and in the society at large.

 ii. Functions relating to industrial organization

a. Making organization as a joint enterprise between workers and management and promoting the identity of interests.

b. Increasing production quantitatively as well as qualitatively, by laying down the norms of production and ensuring their adequate observance.

c. Maintenance of discipline at the place of work.

d. Redressal of day-day grievances.

e. Promoting cordial relations between the workers and management by settling disputes through negotiations, joint consultation and voluntary arbitration and by avoiding litigation.

f.  Two-way communication with the management.

g. Exerting pressure on the employers to enforce legislative provisions beneficial to the workers, to share the profits equitably, and to keep away from various types of unfair labour practices.

iii. Functions relating to society

a. Rendering constructive cooperation in the formulation and implementation of plans and policies relating to national development.

b. Participating in the planning of programmes of national development, e.g., family planning, afforestation, national integration, etc.,

c. Launching special campaigns against the social evils of corruption, nepotism, communalism, regionalism, linguism, casteism, price rise, black marketing, hoarding, smuggling, sex inequality, dowry, illiteracy, dirt, untouchability and disease.

d. Helping non-organised sector to organize itself.

e. Creating public opinion favourable to government’s policies and plans, and mobilizing people’s participation for their effective implementation.

f. Compel the government to enact legislation conducive to the development of trade unions and their members.


There should be a proper mechanism to resolve disputes among the principal parties. With a view to bringing about a better understanding and friendly co-operation between labour and management, some legislative measures have been adopted by the Government in the hope that they will mark a new epoch in the history of the labour movement in this country and set at rest all disaffection and unrest among industrial workers.

Need for discipline: Under the circumstances which now prevail, it is difficult for trade unions in India to grow and develop along healthy lines and serve the cause of the members in the way they should. What is needed for the healthy growth of such unions is that they should shed all political character or affiliations and develop a sense of discipline and responsibility among the members.

Spirit of service to the nation: It is necessary that the trade unions all over the country should be actuated in their activities by a spirit of service to the nations. The workers forming such unions should be made to realize that their interests are indissolubly connected with the interest of the nations and that they cannot prosper unless the nation as a whole prospers. So, they must respond enthusiastically to the call for national reconstruction.

Trade union are to strive not only for the needs of workers and improvement in the conditions of their service but also for the greater welfare of the nation in the belief that what is good for the nation is good for labour also.

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