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Development of Trade Unions in India: 10 Obstacles | Economics


The following points highlight the ten major obstacles to the development of trade union in India. The obstacles are: 1. Small Size of Unions 2. Uneven Growth of Unionism 3. Financial Weaknesses of the Unions 4. Multiplicity of Unions and Intra Union Rivalry 5. Outside Leadership 6. Politicisation of the Unions 7. The Problem of Recognition of Trade Unions 8. Migratory Character of Workers and Few Others.

Obstacle # 1. Small Size of Unions:

Most of the trade unions in India are of small size having an average membership of about 500 workers. The main characteristics of the problem are that the total membership of the unions has been gradually increasing; the average membership has been decreasing. The average membership is very low in India as compared to other countries. About 44 per cent unions have a membership of less than 100.

The small size of unions is due to various factors namely;


(i) The requirement of the Trade Union Act 1926 is that any seven workers may form a union and get it registered. This give rise to a large number of small unions.

(ii) Unionisation in India started mainly with the big employers and gradually it spread to small units. This process is still continuing. Thus, the number of unions and union membership are increasing, but the average membership is declining.

(iii) The trade union generally exists in a factory or the unit of employment. In India, every factory does not have a trade union. Whenever the employees in a particular factory are organised a new union comes into existence.

(iv) Rivalry among the leaders and the Central organisations resulted in multiplicity of trade unions, thereby reducing the average number of membership.


Increase in the number of small unions is not a healthy development. Small unions cannot face the challenge of employers for long because of the weak bargaining power. They are short of funds and are helpless to engage the services of experts in times of emergency. Moreover, they cannot undertake the mutual benefit schemes.

Small unions aggravate their helplessness in collective bargaining and fail in pressurizing the Government and the employers in pursuit of meeting workers’ demands. They depend thoroughly on the political parties or on such outside personalities who happen to command political influence on the employers and the Government machinery.

Obstacle # 2. Uneven Growth of Unionism:

The growth of trade unionism in India is quite uneven and is concentrated only in few industries such as coal mines, plantations, food industries, textiles, chemicals, utility services, transport and communications and commerce etc. The degree of unionisation varies from industry to industry ranging from 28 per cent in plantation to 75 per cent in tobacco manufacturing industry.

It may also be noticed that trade union activities are mostly concentrated in organised sector only and especially in textile industry. Textile industry in the country has not only been the prime mover of all trade union activities but it has also been the supreme centre of all labour activities and labour trouble.


It is the industry that produced a number of labour leaders who have guided the destinies of the Indian labour movement. A few of them are Shri N.M. Lokhande, B.P. Wadia, Harihar Nath Shashtri, N.M. Joshi, R.S. Ruikar in the earlier period and later Shri Khandubhai Desai, S.A. Dange, G.D. Arpbedkar, S.R. Vasawade and V.V. Dravid all started their career as the organisers of textile labour.

Another important feature of the unionism is that it is mainly concentrated in a few states and in bigger industrial centres only. The main reason of such development is the concentration of certain industries in such big centres and only in certain States. A large number of workers, who are members of trade unions, are from manual labour class.

Obstacle # 3. Financial Weaknesses of the Unions:

Trade union in India is financially weak.

The low income of the workers is one of the reasons but there are certain other reasons of limited finances:

(i) Workers are apathetic towards the trade unions and do not want to contribute to union funds out of their hard earned money.

(ii) Multiplicity and inter rivalry of unions is one of the reasons that unions are interested in increasing their membership and therefore, they keep the subscription rate unduly low and do not collect even that subscription regularly.

(iii) Members do not make regular payment of their subscription to the union. They rather prefer to make ad hoc payment whenever a dispute arises. It shows a lack of commitment of the union.

A large part of their total subscription income is spent on routine expenses i.e., running of the office and other expenditure. A meager amount (around 5 per cent) is spent on trade disputes. Hardly 5 per cent of the total income goes to labour welfare activities.

The main reason of the deplorable conditions of the trade unions is the insufficiency of funds, which affects their entire working adversely. They can neither undertake any welfare activities for their members nor can they undertake successful conduct of strikes etc. For want of fund they cannot employ full time competent salaries staff. They, therefore, have to avail the services of honorary workers.

Obstacle # 4. Multiplicity of Unions and Intra Union Rivalry:


Another important feature of the Indian trade unionism is the multiplicity of trade unions. Multiple unions are the result of political outsiders wanting to establish their hold, with a view to increasing their political influence and establish their own unions.

Existence of different conflicting and rival organisations the divergent political view, is greatly responsible for in adequate and unhealthy development of unionism. Within a single organisation, we may come across a number of groups having different type of persons and different types of views. It develops small unions.

Inter union and intra union rivalry undermines the strength and solidarity of the workers in many ways such as:

(i) A single union represents a very small number of workers and therefore does not enjoy the confidence of most of the employees.


(ii) These small unions assume only a limited range of functions instead of diverting members’ energy to some constructive and cooperative channels they have to encouraged strike, disloyalty and non-cooperation.

(iii) Most of the unions fail to realise the importance of labour welfare activities and mutual help.

This character of trade unionism has cut the root of the unionism, weakens the power of collective bargaining, and reduced the effectiveness of workers in security their legitimate rights.

Theoretically each trade union follows the path of democracy and has register of members, holds elections, maintains accounts etc. Practically there are leaders who behave like autocrats, rig elections and employ other means of capturing power. This leads of intra union rivalry. If a leader of a group is defeated in election, it may challenge the results before the Labour Court of a higher court and try to obtain an injunction for preventing the elected group to function or the other course open to it is to form a new union, thus splitting the existing union.

Obstacle # 5. Outside Leadership:


Another disheartening feature of Indian trade union is the outside leadership i.e., leadership of trade unions not from within the workers but from outside the industry. Since leaders are mostly professional politicians and lawyers who have no history in the industry. It applies at local as well as at the national level.

There are several reasons for this phenomenon:

(i) The rank and file is largely illiterate and is unable to communicate with the management.

(ii) The management personnel are generally from high castes. Therefore, in dealing with the management, the psychological advantage goes to the management.


(iii) Lack of Unions’ formal power tends to put a premium on the charismatic type of the leader usually a politician, who can play the role of defender of the workers against his enemies.

(iv) For ensuring a measure of equation of power in collective bargaining, where the workers are uneducated and have a low status.

(v) For avoiding victimisation of office bearer of the unions.

These outsiders are generally political leaders and serve their political masters and not the workers. They want to hold the union with a view to maximise their individual standing as political leader. Moreover, direct contact with rank and file and top leaders is missing because the leaders are to pay attention to a number of unions. Because of the ignorance of the workers immediate pressing needs, they fail to put the workers’ case effectively.

Obstacle # 6. Politicisation of the Unions:

One of the biggest problems which the trade union movement in India faces is the influence of the political parties. Multiplicity of the trade unions in India is traceable to the domination and control of trade union movement by rival political parties, which led to the inter union rivalry. This character promoted the trade unions to become tools of political parties to serve their political aims.

From the very beginning, the trade union movement has its allegiance with political parties. The main reasons of the politicization of trade union movement lie in their being illiterate, ignorant and backward workers were not in a position to take upon themselves the task of organisation. There was a wide social gulf between them and the employers and managers and other officers.

They were afraid of the employers, managers, police and the government. In this situation, they needed some outside assistance to get over their initial feelings of fear and nervousness and to learn the rudiments of agitation and organisation. Some eminent public men social workers and political leaders came forward to their assistance.

Obstacle # 7. The Problem of Recognition of Trade Unions:

The one of the basic issues in our industrial relation system is problem of recognition of trade unions. The attitude of the management was callous and it was under no obligation to give recognition to any union which can negotiate with it. The situation is more or less the same in the present day industrial scenario.

The employers many a time refuse to recognise a trade union on the pretext that it does not represent the majority of workers or there are already two or more unions in the plant. These are not valid grounds for refusing recognition because it is their own concern to unite all employees with common interests in a single union and not the concern of the employers.

Obstacle # 8. Migratory Character of Workers:

Most of the workers in Indian industries came from the nearby villages. They come in the morning and return to their village in the evening. This migratory character of Indian labour has proved a great hindrance in the development of trade union movement. Due to their migratory character, the workers do not take keen interest in union activities because they are mainly concerned with coming from and going to their villages.

They are generally absent from their duty during harvest time. They pay their subscription to the union but remain unconcerned. Sometimes, workers do not join any trade union because they are apathetic to it. This is one of the reasons that only 28 per cent of the total workers are members of the unions.

Obstacle # 9. Lack of Commitment of Workers to Unions:

The industrial workers, mostly illiterate are not loyal to any particular trade union, if there is more than one union in the industry. They incline to shift their loyalty to any union in power to ensure their security and in the expectation of betterment of their lot. This phenomenon was also found in several studies conducted on worker behaviour in situations of intense trade union rivalry. Some studies also showed that workers are members of more than one trade union at the same time.

In the sixties, the Ministry of Labour while verifying the membership of the rival unions in the Calcutta port came across the fact that the total of the membership of the rival unions in Calcutta Port, came across the fact that the total of the membership claimed by the rival unions added upto more than the total employment. The same phenomenon was noticed in Durgapur Steel Plant in 1969-70 and in Madras Port in 1973-74, while carrying out the studies by the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.

The dual membership is a reality in Indian situation. Only a small percentage of workers are really politically motivated. But many are shrewd enough to take advantage of trade union rivalry by changing their affiliation rapidly. The win of one party in the General election tends to shift workers’ loyalty to a union affiliated to the ruling party.

Obstacle # 10. Casteeism and Communalism in the Trade Unions:

On the lines of Parliamentary electioneering process, caste and communal feelings have infiltrated into the trade union movement. The workers from homogeneous groups on the basis of case and community for their security, it is understandable. But lighting for leadership within the same union on caste and communal basis is really fateful. Sometimes, this feeling takes murderous turn. In a way, this is also one aspect of politicization.

Of late, in some States notably Gujarat, unions with predominantly scheduled caste membership has also been formed. In some industrial units, particularly where contract labour is engaged, tribal workers organised their unions. These unions generally keep aloof from the unions of non-tribal workers.

Thus, there are a number of weaknesses in the trade union movement in India. The result is that the trade unions in India are weak, politically motivated and guarded by political leaders. Trade union leaders, who are mainly political leaders, serve their political motives.

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