MUCH of the controversy over the political involvement of trade unions in India involves a problem in semantics. Those who blame unions for their relations with politics have in mind the commitment which many unions and union leaders have to particular political parties. Nor can it be seriously denied that this party commitment is at the root of the bitter mutual rivalries which characterise the trade union scene in our country and which sap the strength and effectiveness of the unions.
The setting up of textile and clothing mills around the port cities of Bombay (now Mumbai), Calcutta (now Kolkata), Madras (now Chennai) and Surat in the second half of the 19th century led to the beginnings of the industrial workforce in India. Several incidents of strikes and protests by workers have been recorded during this time. The credit for the first association of Indian workers is generally given to the Bombay Mill-Hands Association founded by N.M. Lokhande in 1890. This was in the period just after the passing of the ‘First’ Factories Act in 1881 by the British Government of the time. The following years saw the formation of several labour associations and unions. The first clearly registered trade-union is considered to be the Madras Labour Union founded by B.P. Wadia in 1918, while the first trade union federation to be set up was the All India Trade Union Congress in 1920.
Following the rapid growth of unions around the time of the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the setting up of the ILO industrial conflict began to increase and over 1,000 strikes were recorded between 1920 and 1924. The waves of strikes boiled over with the arrest of prominent leaders and trade-unionists in the infamous ‘Cawnpore Conspiracy case’ in 1924 with the union leaders being arrested and accused of attempting a Communist revolution to try and overthrow the ruling British government. Subsequently, the Trade Union Act (1926) was passed which created the rules for the regulation and closer monitoring of Trade Unions. In the first year of the law’s operation, 28 unions registered and submitted returns with a total membership 100,619. The number of unions grew rapidly after that and by the time of Independence of India in 1947, there were 2,766 unions registered which had a combined membership of over 1.66 million. This resulted in a wide influence of unions and workers’ organisations and led to significantly favourable social legislation being enacted in the first decade of Independence. Several important labour laws were passed during this time.
Apart from these there are various community associations in India. These community groups are organised on the basis of caste, class and religion. Some examples of caste organisations are Scheduled Caste Federation, Backward Caste Federation, etc. Amongst other organisations there are some like Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Northern and Southern India Christian Conference, etc. which represent interests that are supposed to safeguard their respective religions.
The rise of peasants groups in India has been mainly due to abolition of Zamindari System, implementation of Panchayati Raj, land reform measures, Green Revolution Movement. They gained power since 1960s. In 1936, the All India Kisan Sabha was established and after 1942 the Communist Party of India acquired control over it.
Different parties have got their own peasant organisations. Even though there are some important All India Kisan Associations like All India Kisan Congress, All India Kisan Kamgar Sammelan, Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, peasant groups have been mainly organised on territorial basis.
Their demands relate to procurement prices of agricultural products, fertiliser subsidy, tenancy rights, electricity charges, etc. The Bharatiya Kisan Party (BKP) in Western U.P. is considered the most significant pressure group.