National Commission on Labour (1967)||
20.30 In our opinion, the primary functions of a union is to promote and protect the interests of its members. The union draws it strength from the funds and general support provided by its members. It has, therefore, to strive to better the terms and conditions of employment and generally to advance their economic and social interests so as to achieve for them a rising standard of living. Welfare activities like organising mutual benefit societies, co-operatives, employment assistance, libraries, games and cultural programmes are on aspect of union functions. Education of its members in all aspects of their working life including improvement of their civic environments, will be another. These have been recognised as the normal activities of a union in the Trade Unions Act 1926, which stipulate the objects on which the general funds of union can be spent. These primary functions lead the union to areas not specifically within its confines.
20.31 In every society it has been recognise that in discharging the basic functions, unions have to operate on many fronts: social, economic, civic and political. To the extent possible, they have to influence policy decisions in the interests of workers and also explain t their members the limits within which their interests can be served by the union. Legislative support which the unions require for realisation of some of their objectives and achievement of their long-term interests takes them into the region of politics. They have to formulate a stand on social and economic objectives of the community/country as a whole, an participate in activities to make their view point heard in the policy making bodies so that the choices eventually made and the priorities adopted subserve the best interests of the workers. Of late, trade unions are not content to rest merely with their contribution in framing policies; their experience has bee that once the policies are framed, their implementation has also to be diligently watched Unions have come to realise that unless the
1 "It is felt that a membership fee of at least four annas a month be prescribed in the rules of a trade union as a condition precedent if it desires registration as a recognised union". (Second Plan, p. 573); this recommendation of the Section Plan was given effect to by the Act, No. 42 of 1960.
voice and weight is brought to bear upon the Government, the workers' interests are likely to suffer. In several countries, therefore, the political process of Government and participation in it have been attracting the interests of unions increasingly. Whether a union should get directly associated with a political party or have its own wing would depend upon the circumstances in each country. Considering that such political action/association is legitimate, the Trade Unions Act, 1926 permits the constitution of a separate fund to facilitate political action by a union.
20.32 We do not take a static view of the role which trade unions have to accept in the larger interests of the community. In every country, this role has to change depending upon the stage of economic and social development. It also depends on the strength of unions, both organisational and financial, and also to a great extent on the institutional set-up of the society in which they operate. In the early Stages of their growth, unions in many countries concerned themselves primarily with their members' interests, but took on wider functions in due course.
20.33 Participation of unions now ranges from joint consultation at the plant/industry level to work on bodies like the Economic and Social Council in France, the Planning Commission in Sweden, or the Economic Council in Denmark. Contacts with governmental authorities are less formal in the U.S.A. and Australia. In a number of countries, the law specifies the activities that unions may engage in. In practice, however, the unions' freedom to enlarge on these is not restricted. In France and the Netherlands, unions, according to law, are consulted on any draft legislation dealing with economic and social issues. In Sweden and the Netherlands, they are made responsible for the implementation of the labour and social security legislation. The experience of co-determination in the Federal Republic of Germany and workers' control over industrial establishments in Yugoslavia fall within the range of responsibilities of unions in the different countries, mentioned above.
20.34 Thus, while a union will function in the interests of its members, depending upon the strength of organised labour and labour which could be organised, it should also accept community responsibilities. Consciousness of this wider responsibility will vary from country to country depending upon the extent of wage employment. Where wage earners are a predominant section of the working force, no special responsibilities in regard to the community can devolve on unions. Where, as in our country, self-employment is sizeable, unions have to make a special effort in understanding the interests of the total community. It is being widely suggested that unions should seek to harmonise the sectional interests of their members with the larger interests of the society. This aspect of the role of unions in a developing economy has been emphasised in our successive five year plans. As the Third Plan observed, "there is need for a considerable readaptation in the outlook, functions and practices of trade unions to suit the conditions which have arisen and are emerging".1 Unions, being the organised expression of the working class, have to shoulder this urgent task. It is in recognition of this fact that in India trade unions have been associated with nation building activities since long. The very first Planning Advisory Board, constituted in 1950 to advise the Planning Commission on matters of policy, had two labour representatives on it. Subsequently, labour representatives have been associated with the Development Councils set up for individual industries as also with apex consultative bodies formed by Government for seeking advice on problems of industrial development. The association of organised labour with tripartite bodies at the Central and State levels in the formulation and implementation of labour programmes has had a longer history still.
20.35 In their evidence, some unions have shown an awareness of this responsibility. Others, while recognising the need for it, have argued that in the present state of development of unions when (i) they are confined largely to the urban industrial sector, (ii) a vast section of labour employed in agricultural and small industries is still outside the pale of union influence, (iii) levels of living, wages and working conditions of workers are to be protected and improved, (iv) several unions compete for the loyalty of workers and (v) unions have also to contend against unhelpful, if not antagonistic, employers, needs of sheer survival will force unions to give priority to the immediate sectional interests of workers. As an analysis of the present situation both these views seem to be valid, though for some of the obstacles mentioned in the latter view, the remedy would seem to lie with the unions themselves.
1 Third Five Year Plan, p. 255.
20.36 The immediate interests of a group of workers and of the community at large may sometimes conflict, though there can be no such conflict in the long run. Even in the short run, the sectional goals must be reconciled with the community goals. 'The process of achieving reconciliation of interests depends upon the creation of an awareness of the identity between the two. Unfortunately, such an awareness of the identity of interests appears to be still lacking in the country and the evidence before us is conflicting in regard to its need and urgency. Employers' organisations, for understandable reasons, have shown reluctance in expressing their views on the subject. While State Governments favour some reorientation of trade union functions, most of the workers' organisations have emphasised only the traditional role of unions. The INTUC while acknowledging the need for adequate attention to fulfilling the traditional role, of unions, has suggested that unions should (i) serve their membership and cater to the many-sided requirements of workers as responsible citizens; (ii) plan for sustaining the interests of their membership during times of industrial peace by organising intellectual, social, cultural and recreational activities, consumer co-operatives, credit co-operatives and co-operative housing societies; and (iii) educate the rank and file so that the traditional agitational role should gradually be transformed into one of understanding. It has pleaded that the union should be given an' effective role in the affairs of the industry, including in its management as co-partner in industry. The other view is equally cogently put forth-by the HMS when it points out that "if the trade unions allow themselves to be diverted from their traditional role in the name of requirements of economic development, the weaker and exploited sections of the working class will find themselves terrorised and deprived of safeguards to an even greater extent". The AITUC strikes a different note altogether. In its view, "the ultimate aim of the trade union movement is to abolish capitalism and wage-slavery and establish socialism in which not only the working class but all layers of society are freed from exploitation To evoke proper response from unions, it suggests a wide range of institutional changes. Other central organisations have indicated views which He between these extremes.
20.37 The trade union .movement, which we expect will evolve on the basis of changes in its structure recommended earlier, has indeed to pay greater attention to the basic needs of its members. Important among these are
(1) To secure for workers fair wages;
(2) To safeguard security of tenure and improve conditions of service;
(3) To enlarge opportunities for promotion and training;
(4) To improve working and living conditions;
(5) To provide for educational, cultural and recreational facilities;
(6) To cooperate in and facilitate technological advance by broadening the understanding of workers on its underlying issues;
(7) To promote identity of interests of the workers with their industry;
(8) To offer responsive co-operation in removing levels of production and productivity, discipline and high standard of quality; and generally
(9) To promote individual and collective welfare.
20.38 At the same time, it is imperative that unions keep the well-being and progress of the community constantly before them even in the midst of their endeavours to help the working class. Unions have a stake in the success of the national plans for economic development, since these are formulated and implemented as much for maximising production as for distributing the product in an equitable manner. Unions have to adapt themselves to changing social needs, and rise above divisive forces of caste, religion and language; and indeed, in this regard, the role of the unions has been creditable. It is only thus that they can progressively become instruments for constructive purposes. In this context, some important social responsibilities of trade unions appear to be in the field of:
(i) promotion of national integration;
(ii) generally influencing the socio-economic policies of the community through active participation in their formulation at various levels, and
(iii) instilling in their members a sense of responsibility towards industry and the community.
20.39 We believe that real progress in trade union functioning, in the unions ability to assume social responsibilities and in their capacity to reconcile their responsibilities to their members with those to the community can come only through the building up of the internal strength of the unions. It will he the task
of the trade union leadership to improve the range of their services as much as the method of operation with these ends in view.