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The relationship between trade unions and political parties

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Relationship between
Trade unions
and
Political parties
The relationship between trade unions and political parties
20 days strike
17,00,000 workers participated in
the strike
Largest known strike
Issues – low wages, harsh working
conditions, very long working
hours
The relationship between trade unions and political parties
The relationship between trade unions and political parties
Strike was brutally crushed,
violently suppressed.
1000s sent to jail.
1000s lost their jobs
Reign of terror unleashed.

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The relationship between trade unions and political parties

  • 3. 20 days strike 17,00,000 workers participated in the strike Largest known strike Issues – low wages, harsh working conditions, very long working hours
  • 6. Strike was brutally crushed, violently suppressed. 1000s sent to jail. 1000s lost their jobs Reign of terror unleashed.
  • 7. The leader of the strike was Mr. George Fernandes, the President of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation.
  • 9. This was 1974. Within a few years, in 1977, George Fernandes and his party came to power. He became the Union Minister for Industries. He immediately told the railway unions to stop their agitational mode. This was the difference between the union leader and the minister.
  • 10. Not an isolated case. Experience of the CPI(M) not very different.
  • 11. Broadly, 4 distinct patterns in the relationship: 1. Where the party controls the unions - - `Leninist’ model 2. Where unions create the political party and feel it is their right and duty to dictate policies of the party.
  • 12. 3. A more general social democratic pattern – interdependence. 4. Unions, even if politically engaged refuse any alliance with political parties.
  • 13. In India – lack of class politics of the classical type. More complex, fragmented and hierarchical nature of society partly due to the grip of the caste system over almost all relationships. Plus the left in India historically divided and steeped in Stalinist politics.
  • 14. Historically, the trade union movement grew out of the national Independence movement and by and large remained a creation of it. First leaders common. Nehru – President of AITUC and then the Prime Minister of the country.
  • 15. The trade unions connected to the main parties did not participate in joint protests and often withdrew support at the last moment. Independent trade unions were often looked at with suspicion. Lack of assertion of trade unions vis-a-vis political parties – also due to the fact that the trade unions represented a very small section of the workforce – 8% at the most. The leadership has remained middle class, upper caste and male.
  • 16. 1971 – 108 parliamentarians connected with trade unions in some way. That is 21% This went down to 7.7% in 1996 and 3.9% in 2004 The possibility of labour-friendly policies has become even more remote.
  • 17. Recent negative changes in the Contract labour act, Industrial Disputes Act etc have been formulated without consulting their respective unions.
  • 18. Uncontrolled rapacious capital Ruthless exploitation of every possible resource, including labour Entire thrust – opening of markets, expansion of markets and emergence of a new regime of accumulation.
  • 19. Formation of autonomous or independent trade unions and company level Federations of workers. Blue Star, HLEU, Voltas etc. At another level, SEWA Formation of various platforms also with the central trade unions across party lines. Attempts to form a Federation of independent unions in the form of the NTUI.
  • 20. Broad fronts with organisations of rural workers, informal sector workers that are issue-based. For example, over right to food or right to work campaigns. Some have been quite successful . Some of these have been alliances with women’s organisations, dalit organisations, organisations working with issues related with human rights, rights of sexual minorities and other disadvantaged sections.
  • 21. The existing parties seem a total no-no. One issue has been raised that has been raised here as well – Is the time ripe to attempt to form a new radical workers’ party? Given the nature of capitalist crisis and its almost persistent nature, the idea of a radical party coming into being at this stage seems remote, though much more debate in needed.