Labouring unity

A new national trade union federation believing in one union at the workplace, one federation in one industry and one national trade union organisationBela Malik DelhiHistory 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 become redundant.” 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 differentiation.  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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