In the last three decades, Trade Unions or Labour Unions, have become a taboo term. As people, we have been programmed to see trade or labour unions synonymous with unnecessary disruption, factory labour unrest and factory lockouts. To some extent the perception is not very wrong. But since it’s more linked to the Cinematic depiction of Trade Unions, hence that is not entirely correct as well. In fact, the perception seems to be more wrong than correct.
It must be noted that when India saw massive manufacturing activity during 60s, 70s and 80s, workers were made to work more than their physical and mental capacity. Their health was often ignored and they were not paid their rightful wages. As expected, the workers needed someone who could stand in front of the powerful employer and do the collective bargaining for the workers. Thus, Trade Unions or Labour Unions were formed with workers as their members. These unions acted as instruments of collective bargaining for the workers. The key functionaries elected among the members supported by the members, voiced the members’ issues with the employer and bargained on their behalf. Because Governments were and are one of the biggest employers in the country, hence the trade unions voiced the labour issues with the Governments as well. In simple, these unions tried to safeguard the interests of worker(s) in a face-off(fight) with all too powerful employer. They performed their duty quite effectively and the workers lot benefited from their activism.
That said, although the plight of a worker, whether he/she works in a manufacturing unit or some service company, has increasingly deteriorated in all these years; even they turned their backs on these unions. Which is quite surprising. An employer’s irritation with trade and labour unions can be understood, but it’s difficult to understand why the employees see a trade union as something unnecessary.
I think, one of the reasons behind labour unions going out of favor is our mindset, which has changed drastically in the last 30 years. We have started assuming that someone else is a Labour, and we’re not. We started assuming that — a worker or a labour is one who does manual labour. When the fact of the matter is — in a World of employer and employees, the latter is always a labour (or a worker).
The reason for today’s article is not some labour right messiah raising its voice in my head. The reason is to put things in perspective.
Have you heard about The National Association of Software and Services Companies. It’s popular by the acronym NASSCOM. What is NASSCOM? It is a trade association of Indian Information Technology and Business Process Outsourcing industry, established in 1988. NASSCOM is a non-profit organisation, but it does exactly what a trade association or a trade union does. It is a global trade body with over 2000 members, of which over 250 are companies from the China, EU, Japan, US and UK. NASSCOM’s members are companies in the business of software development, software services, software products, IT-enabled/BPO services and E-Commerce. It safeguards the interests of its members (here they are the member companies) against the high-handedness of the countries, companies, they work in or they work for. Although, it also safeguards the interests of its white collar employees who work in offices outside India; it is no different from Trade Unions or Labour Unions of crores of workers in India.
In that spirit, if NASSCOM is acceptable, then why not trade or labour unions of ordinary factory workers!