ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

The State of Our Unions

The right to unionise is a fundamental one; a weak trade union movement is incapable of defending this right.

According to the pink press and some spokespersons of Indian industry, the year 2009 has seen a revival of the trade union movement in India. The recent strike by pilots of Jet Airways foregrounded the issue of unionisation and the right to strike in public attention. Given the social background of the pilots and that they represent one of the most well-paid sections of India’s workforce, this also helped skew the discussion. There have been other prominent strike actions in recent times in important sectors of the economy. Coal miners threatened to strike work in January this year, port workers in March and bank employees actually went on a two-day strike in August. Other than that, wellknown foreign multinationals like Hyundai in Chennai and Nestle in Pantnagar saw strikes which held up their production, while Mahindra and Mahindra and MRF workers also struck work. Industrial action was not limited to blue-collar workers, before the Jet pilots, there was the demonstrations by Jet Airways staff who had been summarily retrenched; Air India as well as Delhi and Mumbai airport employees went on hunger strikes and walkouts, MTNL officials and government doctors in Bihar and Maharashtra as well as officials of public sector oil companies have gone on strike.

With the onset of the economic recession last year, such “labour unrest” was expected by many and these instances only seem to prove this expectation correct. But a closer look at the provisional figures for industrial disputes in the organised industrial sector, compiled by the Labour Bureau of the Ministry of Labour, actually show a decline in the first five months of 2009 in the number of strikes. During January-May 2009, when the impact of the global and domestic economic crisis was the most severe, there were only 41 strikes in the organised sector compared to 96 and 101 strikes in the corresponding months of 2007 and 2008, respectively. In the first five months of 2008, over 3.85 lakh workers went on strike, while this year the number in the same period was just over a lakh. This is a significant decline and shows that rather than any upsurge in working class action, there has been an actual slowdown. (It must be noted though that the decline in the number of lockouts has been even sharper according to the provisional compilation: from 145 and 138 in January-May of 2007 and 2008, respectively, to just four in the organised industrial sector in the first five months of 2009.)

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top