Trade Union Movement in India

Owing to the growth of industrialisation and capitalism, Trade Unionism had made its headway. The trade-union movement in India is now over 50 years old. Its career has gone through several stages. Periods of resentment and bitter struggle have alternated with incentives for recognition, restructuring, and achievement.

This article mainly focuses on the meaning and objectives of the Trade Union movement in India with the problems faced by them and the measures to overcome such problems. The article also discusses the history which led to the formation of Trade Unions in India. It further sheds light upon the Trade Unions Act of 1926 which is the legislation formed to regulate all the provisions of the Trade Unions in the nation.

Trade unions are a major component of every nation’s system of international labour relations, each of which has its own set of objectives or targets to achieve according to its constitution and each has its plan to achieve those objectives. Employee representation plays a major part in the labour sector. The Ministry of Employment, Government of India Employment Bureau, gathers annual statics on labour unions. Freedom to form a trade union is a constitutional right under Article 19(1)(c) of the Constitution of India.


Trade unions are workers’ organisations or groups organized together by labourers, workers, or employees to meet their demands for fair working conditions in their work environment. Trade unions in the USA go by the name of labour unions. A labour union, or trade union, is a workers’ association that has joined hands to pursue goals in areas such as wages and working conditions. The union negotiates with employers’ terms and conditions, keeping workplace satisfaction high and shielding workers from dangerous or unequal working conditions.

Such unions exist to deal with problems faced by workers, such issues can be of any kind, such as wage issues, unfair rules of work, scheduling, etc. The worker’s union represents all the workers employed for one single employer. All contact that happens between the employer and the workers is usually achieved through the union. All of the above-mentioned trade unions are both liable and accountable for preserving discipline, and the central aim among the employees is to see that proper relationships are being established between management and staff and the trade union will take disciplinary action against the employees who are ever misbehaving, disrupting the peace and harmony in the workplace and sustaining indiscipline.

Labour unions or trade unions are regulated by the various legislation in different countries, according to the country’s rule, they will obey the registration process and method for the creation of the trade union. Trade unions established in compliance with their country’s legislation shall have the privileges provided by trade union legislation. With trade union privileges or rights, it should perform other duties regarding workers. A Union’s main aim is collective bargaining. Trade unions can be established in India, only those individuals engaged in labour or business may join trade unions.


In India, the trade-union movement can be analysed distinctly across three phases. The first phase covered the duration from 1875 until the end of the First World War. This phase was largely marked by a humanitarian ethos employed by the friendly societies in dealing with the labour. The second phase began from the end of the First World War and continued until 1947, the year of independence for India. This period was very remarkable as it saw in India, with the unified and continuous labour movement, the beginning of real modern trade unionism.

Bombay had founded the earliest trade union when textile mills were built in 1851. In 1879, the first Factory Commission was formed to research workers’ problems. The first factory act was passed in 1891- The Indian Factory Act but it remained ineffective. In 1884 the Second Factory Commission was formed to which a memorandum was submitted. At the same time, the first memorandum was sent to Mill Owners’ Association which approved the letter. The case has been remembered as the country’s first trade-union win. This trade union rally led to the founding of the ‘Bombay Millhands Association’ as the first trade union. The union had no finances, however, bearers of office, and members of the committee.

This was followed by the founding of other unions throughout the country, and the start of coordinated strikes. Trade unions were founded including Ahmedabad Weavers (1895), Jute Mills, Calcutta (1896), Bombay Mill Workers (1897), and the Social League (1910). The Madras Press Workers (1903), Printers Union, Calcutta (1905), and the Bombay Postal Union (1907) were among the notable strikes that took place during this time. The strike of the Madras Textile Workers (The Buckingham and Carnatic Mills Strike of 1921 was a strike by the Buckingham and Carnatic Mills workers in Madras city now called Chennai) was exceptional.

Objectives of Trade Unions

  1. Wages and Salaries: The issue that drew the significant attention of trade unions is salaries and wages. This element can, of course, be relevant to policy issues. Differences, however, can occur during their implementation process. The trade union plays a key role in the negotiation of pay scales in the case of the unorganized market.
  2. Working Conditions: Trade unions for the preservation of workers’ health require management to have all basic facilities such as lighting and ventilation, sanitation, restrooms, protective equipment when performing dangerous duties, smoking, refreshment, reduced working hours, leave and rest, paid holidays, job satisfaction, social security benefits, and other welfare initiatives.
  3. Discipline: Trade unions not only negotiate things with which to strengthen their working conditions, but also shield employees from management clutches if employees become victims of the coercive actions and disciplinary policies of management. This victimization can take the form of prosecutions, suspensions, dismissals, etc. In such a situation the separated worker who is left in a state of helplessness can approach the union. Ultimately, the problem can be brought to the trade union’s attention of management and it describes the injustice to an individual worker and fights for justice by the management. Thus, the Union will protect the victimized employee.
  4. Personnel policies: Trade unions are formed to fight against the unfair application of recruitment, allocation, promotions, transfers, training, and other personnel policies.
  5. Welfare: Trade unions are intended for the workers’ welfare, as mentioned earlier. Trade union acts as a reference, advisory body, and acts together to solve the employees’ personnel problems. It brings the management’s attention, through collective bargaining sessions, workers’ difficulties regarding sanitation, hospitals, homes, schools, and colleges for the cultural and social problems of their children.
  6. Employee-employer relationship: Harmonious employee-employer ties are a sine qua non for workplace harmony. A trade union also aims to attain that aim. However, the bureaucratic approach and hierarchical management mentality can lead to tensions within the company that eventually undermine the employees’ and management relationships. The trade union, representing all the workers, can conduct ongoing negotiations with management to fostering labour peace.
  7. Negotiating machinery: Negotiations involve one party’s demands and the other party’s counterclaims. The cycle continues until an agreement is reached between the parties. Consequently, negotiations are based on the principle of ‘give and take.’ Labour union is a negotiating party, by collective bargaining defends the rights of the workers. Therefore, the union acts as the bargaining machinery.
  8. Safeguarding organizational health and business interest: Organizational health can be assessed using methods developed for redressal of disputes and strategies implemented to minimize the rate of absenteeism and workforce turnover and enhance employee relationships. Trade unions can achieve employee satisfaction through their successful functioning. Trade unions are thus helping to reduce the rate of absenteeism, labour turnover and to establish systematic dispute resolution procedures that lead to harmonious industrial relations. Trade unions will thus contribute to increasing production and productivity rates, disciplining them, and increasing the quality of work life.

Trade Unions Act, 1926

The Trade Union Act passed under the title of the Indian Trade Union Act in 1926, came into force on 1 June 1927 with a Central Government notification in the Official Gazette. The Act was amended in the year 1947, 1960, and 1962, followed by the deletion of the term “Indian” from the 1964 amended Act, which came into force on April 1, 1965. In 1982 a comprehensive trade unions (amendment) statute was passed.

Trade Unions in India are regulated by the 1926 Trade Union Act, which is the primary law that provides specific rules, regulations, and procedures for regulating the trade unions. The Act providing for the registration of trade unions and specifying the law relating to the registered trade unions in other respects.

No effort by the Indian legislature to delineate the contours of the term ‘Trade Union’ or any of its synonyms was made clear until the year 1926. In 1926, section 2(h) of the Trade Union Act 1926 describes, inter alia, a trade union as “Any combination, whether temporary or permanent formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relation between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen or between employer to employers or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business and includes any federation of two or more Trade Union”. 

The analysis of the above definition reveals that:

  1. The Trade Union should be a combination.
  2. Such a combination must be either temporary or permanent.
  3. It must include any federation, two or more federation of Trade Unions.
  4. The definition further recognizes that the primary objectives of the Act are one or more of the following:
  5. Regulating the relation between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen or between employer to employers, or
  6. Imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business.

Provisions of the Act

In pursuit of the primary objectives, the Act comprises of 33 sections. The provisions of the Trade Union Act, 1926 can be broadly classified into eight sections, namely:

  1. Definition (S.2)
  2. Registration of the Trade Unions (S.3 to 12) 
  3. Duties and liabilities of registered Trade Unions (S.13 to 16).
  4. Rights and liabilities of registered Trade Unions (S.17 to 21).
  5.  Amalgamation and dissolution of Trade Unions (S.24 to 27).
  6. Submission of returns (S.28).
  7. Penalties and fines (S.31 to 33).
  8. Power to make regulations (S.29 to 30).

Functions of Trade Unions

  1. Collective bargaining is one of the functions of Trade Unions, as described by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India it is the technique by which conflicts over conditions of employment are settled amicably through agreement rather than coercion. In this process, negotiations and discussions are held between employer and employee regarding working conditions. Collective bargaining helps to resolve employee problems. Collective bargaining is the foundation of the movement and it is in the interests of labour that Trade Union has been given constitutional recognition and its capacity to represent workers.
  2. Trade unions protect the worker against wage hike, provide job security through peaceful action.
  3. Trade unions also support the workers in offering financial and non-financial assistance during lockout or strike or in medical needs.
  4. This must also be borne in mind when reaching an arrangement that the rights of employees who are not trade union members are also covered and employees who are not trade union members are also covered and workers are not discriminated against.

Problems faced by Trade Unions in India

  1. Uneven growth: trade union activities are concentrated in large-scale industry and there is hardly any trade union involvement in small-scale businesses, domestic and agricultural labour, even regarding manual labour alone and mostly in larger industrial centres. The degree of unionism differs widely from industry to industry, thereby affecting only a portion of India’s working class.
  2. Low membership: although the number of trade unions in India has increased significantly, the declining membership per union has followed this. The total number of members per union in the years 1927-28 was about 3,500. In 1946-47 it decreased to around 1,400, and again to as small as a figure of 675 in 1985-86 and 659 in 2000-01. It means small-scale labour unions are emerging.
  3. Multiplicity of Unions: Another problem affecting trade union development is the multiplicity of unions. Many trade unions may exist within the same establishment. The existence of many labour unions can be because the Trade Unions Act of 1926 permits the registration as a union of any group of seven workers and confers some privileges on it. Many times, it is argued that the multiplicity of unions is due to external members, but the more important argument is that they should operate because the law makes and grants the small unions sanctity.
  4. Inter-Union Rivalry: Unions tend to play down one another to achieve greater control among workers. They are doing more damage than good to the cause in the process. Employers are granted the chance to play against one another in unions. They can refuse to negotiate on the basis that no true representative union exists. Besides this, the solidarity of the workers themselves is lost. Employers can take advantage of it in a struggle between groups of workers.
  5. Poor financial condition: The financial situation is extremely poor, as their gross annual profit is ridiculously small and inadequate. Due to the multiplicity of unions, the subscription rates are exceptionally low, unions interested in increasing their membership keep the subscription rates extremely low, resulting in the inadequacy of funds with unions. Another important explanation for the union’s poor financial status is that the workers remain unpaid for significant sums of subscription dues. In certain unions, the name of persistent defaulters appears constantly on the registers. According to the union rules they are neither expelled nor ceased to be members ipso facto.
  6. Lack of Public Support: The trade unions often resort to strike and protest to meet their demands. As a result, it causes inconvenience to the public. It is almost no public interest or sympathy.

Essential conditions for the success of Trade Unions

  1. A trade union’s first element is the creation of a radical labour-power to man the movement. An educated and able workforce keeps the leaders devoted and makes their will to lead their fellow workers strong. The lack of a sufficient and appropriate standard of general as well as specialized or vocational education, a sufficient dedication to work, a diverse composition of the labour force separated by language, tradition, caste, and religion disparities and widespread deprivation due to low wage rates make the working class incapable of successfully and actively organizing the trade union movement.
  2. Strong leadership and organizational structure are other important factors for an effective and stable trade union. A trade union should have its base laid on stable grounds in order to achieve success in its artifacts.
  3. A consistent outline of the aims is a third important aspect of trade union sustainability and sound working. Trade unions with object complexity are looked down on with suspicion.
  4. Another point that needs to be adhered to is that trade unions need to make sure that their structure has a coherent and well-conceived policy. Haphazard trade-union growth can give rise to problems of jurisdiction, the sphere of activity, etc. A trade union should be considered as a business organisation, as careful planning is also required.
  5. Sound internal organization is also of vital importance This, in turn, requires that the Union’s financial resources should also be adequate, in addition to sound business administration. The factors which make a trade union strong and healthy are, therefore, unflinching adherence to the constitution and rules of the trade unions, regular payment of duties, full representativeness, and cooperation with other unions.

Trade Unions in India

The Indian population is made up of 430 million jobs, an annual rise of 2 percent. India’s labour markets are comprised of three sectors:

  1. Rural or agricultural workers, who make up about 60 percent of the workforce.
  2. Organized sector employing about 8% of the workforce and
  3. Urban informal sector (including the increasing tech industry and other services not included in the formal sector), which accounts for 32 percent of the workforce remaining.

There are currently twelve Central Union Organizations in India:

  1. All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC)
  2. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)
  3. Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)
  4. Hind Mazdoor Kisan Panchayat (HMKP)
  5. Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS)
  6. Indian Federation of Free Trade Unions (IFFTU)
  7. Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC)
  8. National Front of Indian Trade Unions (NFITU)
  9. National Labour Organization (NLO)
  10. Trade Unions Co-ordination Centre (TUCC)
  11. United Trade Union Congress (UTUC)
  12. United Trade Union Congress – Lenin Sarani (UTUC-LS)


Unfair labour practices and the tradition of not involving workers in any kind of decision-making led to the establishment of a trade union in India and its recognition by the judiciary. The notion of social justice and industrial peace can only be accomplished by reciprocal collaboration between employers and employees, which is why trade unions play their major role in maintaining industrial peace and serving people.

There are various situations in which workers should be exempted from unilateral decisions by employers, such as wages, promotions, working hours, holidays, this protection can only be accomplished by negotiation called collective bargaining where the interests of both sides are given priority in any conflict, the history of the trade union clarifies the struggle behind the founding of trade unions in India.

Certain hardship prevails in the work of the trade union, such as the lack of financial resources and leadership, which prevents the proper distribution of resources and participation in policymaking, given these constraints, the need for a more effective labour union to defend the interests of sweat labours.


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