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Indian trade unions are getting bigger, coinciding with slowdown

This is also more than the total membership size of all trade unions in the previous survey conducted in 2008

Sreelatha Menon  |  New Delhi 

Early data emerging from the ongoing survey of trade unions in India have revealed they are growing by leaps and bounds from what they were five years ago, contrary to popular belief they are losing their sheen and diminishing by size with the rapid contractualisation of labour.

Going by data from various trade unions, submitted by them to the union labour ministry as part of the survey, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), affiliated to the Congress party, has emerged as the biggest of the seven central trade unions, with a membership of 33.3 million. This is against its earlier size of a mere 3.9 million.

This is also more than the total membership size of all trade unions in the previous survey conducted in 2008, signifying a giant leap in the size of unions, coinciding with the economic slowdown, which was supposed to push workers into the arms of unions.

The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), lenient to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is in second place after INTUC, with 17.1 million members.

In the 2008 survey, BMS had been the leader, with a membership of 6.6 million, while with 3.9 million members, INTUC held the second position.

The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), affiliated to the Communist Party of India, has retained the number three slot with a 14.2 million membership, up from 3.4 million in 2008.

Following it is the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), an independent union, with 9.1 million members, up from 3.2 million in 2008. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), with 5.7 million members, remains on the fifth slot. Its membership has been growing less dramatically than the rest from the earlier figure of 3 million.

Other central trade unions include United Trade Union Centre, which has claimed a membership of 4.7 million, Trade Union Coordination Centre with 1.6 million, Self Employed Women's Association with 1.3 million and All India Central Council of Trade Unions with 2.5 million.

These claims would now be verified by the labour ministry through a detailed procedure, including a physical verification.

The last survey was conducted taking into account the size of unions in 2002 and the results were declared in 2008.

According to D L Sachdev, national secretary, AITUC, the spectacular rise in numbers reflect the shift of trade union membership from regular to contract workers. Besides, there has been a thrust in all unions in mobilising the unorganised sector into their fold, he says.

National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme workers as well as farm workers have joined in large numbers. Besides, there are more workers from brick kilns, coal, road transport and power generation who have moved to AITUC, Sachdev said.

According to R A Mittal, Secretary, HMS, it is the untapped segment of contract workers in the industry which have swelled the numbers of various unions including HMS.

He said: "The unions would be shorn to their true size after the verification. So, we took precautions to verify our claims ourselves first. The result was that while till last year, HMS had 1,250 unions affiliated to it, close verification of these unions for the past two decades led to the cancellation of at least half of them. Now, it is left with just 700 unions. The others have lapsed or have ceased to exist."

"The labour ministry would now check annual returns of the unions to see if these tally with the membership claims. Next, the records of the unions would be verified in various localities to see if the membership is genuine or not. The physical verification of a sample size of 10 per cent would ensure that the members actually exist," explained Mittal.

The sudden bulge in membership in BMS is also being attributed to the women factor, or the discreet membership drive that BMS undertook through house-to-house surveys in the cities to enroll domestic workers as members. Rival unions point out that this ploy may backfire as domestic workers are a floating population and may not be there when the verification takes place.

The increase in membership reflected in the claims submitted by the unions has spread hope among them. The talk of unions facing doom is all false propaganda. A certain kind of worker is being replaced by a different kind, said Mittal. Unions are not going to go anywhere, he added.

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First Published: Sat, April 06 2013. 22:48 IST
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