National Commission on Labour (1967)||
20.14 The pattern and structure of unions and the basis on which they are organised do not admit of any simple generalisation. Unions in different countries have .developed on different lines, depending on social and economic compulsions of industrialisation, political and historical factors, and the institutional framework of the respective societies. For instance, in the U.K. where unions grew out of the guild system, the occupation/trade became the baas of workers getting together for collective action. Australian experience is similar. In the U.S.A., workers are members of local unions, most of which are affiliated to national unions covering an occupation or an industry. In the U.S.S.R., trade unions are organised on an industry basis; all persons employed in a factory or establishment belong to one union, and at the higher levels, each industry union comprises unions of one branch of the national economy. French, Italian and Belgian unions are divided not only on industry/plant basis bat also have strong religious denominations. 'Enterprise4 is the basis of union structure in Japan. About 85 per cent of the unions covering 80 per cent of the total membership in Japan are confined to a single unit/establishment or enterprise.
20.15 It is true', that over the years, in no country has the union structure remained static; in its attempt to adjust to national situations, the trade union movement has undergone changes. Government intervention has played a significant role in giving a direction to unions and in the restructuring of unions; its impact again has varied from country to country.
20.16 The experience in India has not been different though the ordeals through which unions in other countries had to pass were spared for our unions in the early years because of the protective arm of the State. Even so, cases ace on record where union organisers had to suffer indignities at the hands of employers and penalties through State action. While the broad pattern of organisation has been small unit-wise unions locally federated at the area or national level, variations in .structure and pattern do exist. Formation of plant level unions covering different departments, was the trend in the early stages. When the bulk of labour consisted of manual workers with little difference in skills and with equal deed for protection and/or improvement in conditions of work, organisation on a plant basis covering all workmen was a necessity. Their welding together into larger industry-wise/area-wise unions has been a later development. In a few cases, however, the process was reversed in the sense that the formation of an industry-wise union or a union for the working class at a centre led to workers in a unit in the industry at a particular centre getting organised. In some specialised employments, craft unions have also been built up.
20.17 Industrial unions have been organised mainly as a result of the need felt by workers in one industry at a given centre to come together on a common platform. The main reason for the development of such industry-cum-centre unions has been the concentration of certain industries in particular areas; a contributory cause has been organisation on the part of the employers in those centres. For instance, textile workers in Bombay, Ahmedabad, Kanpur and Indore, plantation labour in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and jute mill workers in West Bengal, got organised on this basis. Engineering workers in Calcutta, Bombay and other important centres, workers engaged in chemical and pharmaceutical industries in Bombay and Baroda, and transport workers in many States are other instances in point. Provisions in the industrial relations legislation in certain States permitting recognition of industry-wise unions in a given area have helped the growth of industry-cum-centre unions. At the all-India level, with the setting up of institutions like the wage boards and the tripartite industrial committees, and with greater scope given by Government- for formal or informal consultations in the formulation and implementation of policy, the older industry-wise unions have acquired strength and many new ones have been formed. Federations of workers engaged
in cotton textiles, cement, engineering, iron and steel, plantations, sugar, coal, oil refining and distribution, chemicals, banks, insurance, railways, post and telegraph and defence establishments are instances of organisations at the all-India level which have either strengthened or have newly come into existence to meet workers' needs. Workers in ports and docks are also organised on an all-India basis. In respect of some industries, there is not one union but more than one, and these are either affiliated to different all-India federations or exist on their own. Some have been sponsored by the central organisations themselves as their specialised agencies for the industries concerned. The advantages of organising industry-wise unions are: (i) the facility that they afford for collective bargaining, (ii) introduction of a measure of uniformity in the principles governing all aspects of working conditions and (iii) reconciliation of sectional claims of different levels of workers within an industry.
2O.18 Although unions covering all workers without distinction of craft or category, either at the plant or industry level, are now the general pattern, craft unions have also come up in air transport, in some sections of ports i and docks, and in industrial units based on modern technology. Skilled workers in these industries find or apprehend that their interests will not be protected by a general purpose union. They argue that the increasing complexity of modern industry makes it difficult for industry-wise unions to function effectively and smoothly and that the growth of technology and new skills demand craft unions to serve such specialised interests. Lack of homogeneity and rivalries between workers belonging to different craft groups have also prompted formation of separate associations.
20.19 We are conscious that unions being democratic and voluntary institutions, the basis on which a union should be organised is a matter to be determined by workers themselves, in the light of their own needs and experience. We also recognise that unions regard this right as basic to their democratic functioning. The political environment within which unions work, and the wider range of services which their members will require them to provide also influence their structure. It is, therefore, not our intention to draw up a scheme for structural reform of unions. They have to grow according to the dictates of their members, but within the constraints set on them by the laws of the land. We indicate, however, the desirable lines of future development, more as a guide to thinking within union membership, so that the evolution of unions could be complementary to the recommendations we make.
20.20 The first question which comes to our mind is the size of unions. As pointed out earlier, our unions, by and large, are small in size. Even though we recognise that small unions could be well knit, there will be a minimum size below which a union will not be viable. No hard and fast rule to draw the line of demarcation is possible, much less can there be a regulation to prevent the existence of non-viable unions. We expect, however, that our recommendation on recognition of a union as bargaining agent will reduce multiplicity of unions at the plant level and help in the growth of viable unions.
20.21 The Indian Labour Conference, which discussed in 1964 the subject of category-wise craft unions, concluded that their formation should be discouraged. The evidence before us supports this view. Several of our study groups have come to the same conclusion. According to one, "it is necessary to take steps to ensure that craft unionism does not degenerate into fragmentation of unions and thereby bring about the evils of inter-union and intra-union rivalries". Several central organisations of workers have also expressed opposition to formation of unions on a department/craft basis. We consider that with most unions confined to a single plant, the advantage of mobility which craft unions may provide to their members will be illusory. On the other hand, the disadvantages of having to bargain with too many unions in one plant are not likely to be minimised if craft unions are allowed to function in addition to plant and industry-wise unions. While we appreciate the argument that demands of skilled categories are not at times properly sponsored by the general union, craft unions as a rule should be discouraged. We, therefore, recommend that the craft unions operating in a unit/industry should be encouraged to amalgamate into an industrial union. In the alternative, where an industrial union covering all categories of workers in an enterprise has been recognised as the sole bargaining agent, it would be desirable for such a union to set up sub-committees for important crafts/occupations so that problems peculiar to them receive adequate attention. For these arrangements to work, the process of internal decision-making should be such that members belonging to any craft do not nurse the feeling that their claims go unrepresented.
20.22 We take cognizance of the welcome development in the formation of centre-cum-industry unions and industry-wise national
unions. The evidence before us is in favour of this trend. State Governments and important organisations of workers, as also several Study Groups, favour the view that centre -cum-industry unions are desirable and that they should ultimately develop into national federations, one for each industry—a goal worth striving for. Formation of such national industrial federations should be encouraged, as these will be more effective at collective bargaining forums and also as agencies to which educational and research activities for the benefit of the workers, in the concerned industries could be en-trusted
20.23 Reduction in the number of workers' organisations at the State and the apex levels is also called for. [his is a development which can come about only if various political parties and trade unions sponsored and controlled by them could come to some understanding as a basis for their common programme, or better still, if the workers themselves become sufficiently educated to avoid multiplicity of unions and unite into one strong union at the industry/ plant level and affiliate themselves into a single national centre. We are conscious of the difficulties in this regard. Union leaders in different. groups at present question both the need for and feasibility of a common programme. unless the means to further the interests of the working class are also agreed upon. Any action on the part of the State to force the pace in this matter is likely to meet with adverse reaction. In a democratic set-up, unity among trade unions cannot be imposed from outside; it has to come from within. Certain moves have been afoot in recent years to bring together various national federations, but without much success. Current altitudes of different trade union organisations and political parties to this problem are rigid and each is anxious to preserve its own identity. This Is so in spite of a fair amount of unanimity with regard to the goals of the working class movement and its organisations; the differences being confined mainly to the methods to be adopted. A major difficulty in the evolution of a single working class organisation in the country is the association, formal or informal, of different central organisations with various political parties who regard the former as a major source of their strength. We hope that our suggestion elsewhere, regarding a minimum membership qualification for a national federation to be represented at tripartite/consultative bodies set up by the Central/State Governments, may help this process of unification.