Communism, revolution or crippling strikes may be on the wane after two decades of economic reforms in India, but trade unions are relevant as before, experts at a weekend seminar concurred.
Speaker after speaker at the conference on Friday, discussing “Effects of globalisation on trade unions” said unions were vital in representing the interests of employees as the economy aimed for higher growth.
“However, the trade unions need to redefine their new role in the global economy and it would be better if they can be free from political affiliations and leadership, rather acting as a resistance,” Surinder Singla, former finance minister of Punjab, told the seminar.
Singla said unions were best when they were like the All India Bank Officers’ Confederation (AIBOC), which organised the seminar, as it had no bias or ideological baggage.
Singla, who said reforms had proved successful as Indian companies had risen in the world, criticised trade unions who are unconstructive and cited the example of unions of public sector Coal India Ltd that prevented workers from buying its shares to share its profits.
However, Dipankar Mukherjee, member of Parliament for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said globalisation was not of use without workers getting global wages. “There’s a huge disparity in wages among the workers of the same company in India and abroad. Profits of companies are going up, whereas workers’ wages are coming down,” he argued.
Striking a note different from Singla said, unions were important in protesting against adverse factors such as inflation and could also be constructive in growth plans.
“It was on September 7, when all trade unions irrespective of political affiliations joined together and went on a nationwide strike against price rise and other issues. It’s the unions that have proposed expansion of several PSUs like that of BHEL,” he said.
“How can there be political democracy without trade democracy?” he said,.
“Unions are a must in a democratic set-up, through which employees’ grievances could be redressed, and they need to be strengthened in the present scenario,” said J.D. Aggarwal, chairman, Indian Institute of Finance.
He said like goods and services, labour should also enjoy free movement.