This carried on well into the 80s and it was only in the first burst of economic reforms, that the tide began to turn and management, not labor, began to get the upper hand. So it is in this context that the current agitation at Manesar must be viewed where agitating Maruti workers burnt to death the HR Manager and caused extensive damage to to the factory.
There was always an element of lumpenization within the Trade Union movement, but even so, they were governed by a certain ideology. But today we have come to a situation where lumpen and casteist elements masquerade as a Trade Union. So much so, that in a recent TV program, the venereal CPI leader, Gurudas Das Gupta, also a Trade Unionist was hard pressed to defend the action of the Maruti workers. He could hardly be on the side of the management, but was hard pressed to defend cases of wanton violence.
It is time to study the phenomenon and relevance of Trade Unions in the context of the current business and economic phenomenon. Trade Unions were set up and are governed by the Trade Union Act of 1925 and were set up to provide a platform of collective bargaining for salary and working conditions of laborers, mostly factory workers. That is still the stated purpose, but with increased mechanization, computerization and outsourcing of core functions, Unions have become somewhat toothless. Also with increasing individualization, more and more workers - especially as workers also get more and more educated, prefer to do their own bargaining, rather than leave them to the negotiating skills of their union bosses. In that sense, the Manesar incident can be literally understood to be an aberration and the last sigh of a decaying institution.
While this is true of the organized sector, it could well be said that in the unorganized sector, the work has just begun in the unorganized sector and this is an area where Trade Unions could really make a difference. Be it domestic laborers, be it bonded laborers, be it casual and migrant labor, unionization could do them a world of good as on their own, with little social or organizational support, they have little negotiating power and end up by being exploited on all fronts.
The unorganised sector, covers most of the rural labour and a substantial part of urban labour. lt includes activities carried out by small and family enterprises, partly or wholly with family labour. In this sector wage-paid labour is largely non-unionised due to casual and seasonal nature of employment and scattered location of enterprises. This sector is marked by low incomes, unstable and irregular employment, and lack of protection either from legislation or trade unions. The unorganised sector uses mainly labour intensive and indigenous technology. The workers in unorganised sector, are so scattered that the implementation of the Legislation is very inadequate and ineffective. There are hardly any unions in this sector to act as watch-dogs. But the contributions made by the unorganised sector to the national income, is very substantial as compared to that of the organised sector. It adds more than 60% to the national income while the contribution of the organised sector is almost half of that depending on the industry.
Pitting a construction worker against a comparatively well heeled worker at the Maruti plant at Manesar, it is very clear as to who is being exploited and is in more dire economic straits. Orgainized labor has reaped the benefits of more than a century of labor activism. Now this is the time that Trade Unions turn to the unorganized labour, who continue to be exploited more than ever.
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