[DEBATE] : New TU Initiative, India
p.waterman at inter.nl.net
Sun Jun 25 09:52:26 BST 2006
A new national trade union federation believing in one union at the
workplace, one federation in one industry and one national trade
Bela Malik Delhi
History as is its wont was being made quietly, safe from the media's
glare which was concerned with US president, George W Bush's state
visit to New Delhi (March 2-4). On March 6, more than one million
workers joined a new trade union federation (New Trade Union
Initiative, NTUI). The addition of one more national trade union
federation to the national scenario could escape attention. What
singles out this initiative is a belief in the unity of the trade
union movement, done through the shedding of sectarianism and
charting out what General Secretary, Ashim Roy terms "an actionable
solidarity" towards a single national trade union federation. Gautam
Mody, Secretary, NTUI, added, "The day that all progressive,
democratically structured unions can come under one umbrella, we will
The foundation of the NTUI led to constitution of a committee to
negotiate with all progressive trade unions towards trade union
unity, building merger into the birth. Because the trade union
movement in India grew out of the struggle for independence, the
majority of individual unions have most often been aligned to
political parties. It will be recalled that the All India Trade Union
Congress (AITUC), the oldest trade union federation in India, formed
in 1920, predates the formation of the Communist Party of India,
arguably 1925, and remained completely autonomous for many years.
AITUC is the founding member of The World Federation of Trade Unions
(WFTU), which was established in the wake of the Second World War to
bring together trade unions across the world in a single
international organisation, much like the United Nations.
NTUI questions party affiliation in the context of the general mood
among workers for unity and asks trade unions to revisit the
assumption that every political difference requires union
A trade union without the backing of a political party might be
incapable of resisting the offensive against workers. The only answer
is, as VB Cherian, veteran activist of the Kochi Port and Dockworkers
Union put it: "get united is the objective compulsion."
However the task of trade union unity - one union at the workplace,
one federation in one industry and one national trade union
organisation - is formidable. Most unions have their base in the
shrinking pool of regularly employed workers, who are then divided
along political, regional, communal and even caste lines. Some unions
are centred on individuals.
Building industry-based unity in one company across the globe is
challenging, as a worker in one part is pitted against the other.
Chandra, an activist, said that it was a problem to reassure US
citizens that their jobs have not been stolen by Indians, and that
globalisation is responsible for off-shoring.
Benedicto Martinez, from Frente Autentic del Trabajo (Mexico)
believed, "The only way to pressurise trans-national corporations is
to organise ourselves on a global scale."
Ashim Roy stressed on the trade union movement needing to imbibe a
sense of equality, and to address social divisions such as race,
gender and caste.
Market-led globalisation is increasingly placing the state against
labour while it protects the privileges of capital. Labour is
struggling in the face of labour flexibility, plant closures,
lock-outs, de-centring production, outsourcing and off-shoring. This
is happening across the world, asserted Sarnapalla D'Silva of the
United Federation of Labour, Sri Lanka.
Welcoming the initiative, DL Sachdeva, Secretary, All India Trade
Union Congress (AITUC) said, "We should respond positively to the
appeal given by AITUC (as the oldest central trade union in India)
and NTUI, in the recently held NTUI foundation conference in Delhi,
to other central trade unions and independent organisations to build
broader working class unity and to come on one platform."
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