There exists a major problem in giving a precise definition for trade unionism as it has many facets with society, economic condition, political and psychological aspects. Even though such attempts provide partial view of unionism as an institution, their usefulness cannot be denied from the view point of analysis of union activity and assessment of place and role of trade unions in the economy. The role of powerful trade union movement in the large picture of society brings about fear to some people and gives impetus to anticipation and hope for others. The basic difficulty in defining the trade unionism is that, with the change in circumstances, the nature of unionism may also change. Thus there is no factual, accepted and unified insight of trade unionism.
In India however the field of economic analysis of trade unions has by and large been a neglected area. Probably the reason lies in the fact that the most apparent characteristics of unionism in India are its predominantly political origin and character. The foregoing analysis suggests that while the internal problems of trade unions and labour movement have been analyzed to some extent, systematic attempts seem to have been few on the role of unions fulfilling the demands of their labourers and organizing themselves into institutions useful in the growth and development of the economy. There is no doubt that the workers expect mainly higher earnings and better conditions of work and that is the major motivation in their joining the unions. There is a view that the problems may not be so much created by unions as they are the results of weak and inefficient labour markets and poor management. However there is some wider questions which have not been attended to. Trade unions with their frequent use of direct action as a weapon for struggle have been painted as one of the major culprits in the drama of the slow pace of industrial development. The role expected to be played by the unions may be constructive and cooperative one, but the institutional framework may hinder its fulfillment. There are hypothesis concerning the relationship of the union’s attitude and use of weapons with the labour market condition which also need to be verified for a proper perspective on union and labour policy.
THE THEORY OF INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY
The Theory of Industrial Democracy was propounded by Sydney and Beatrice Webb. The Webbs argue that the necessary conditions for the emergence of trade unionism are a permanent separation of functions of direction of industrial operation and execution. They mention this point by taking references from the trade unionism of the British. As long as there were chances for a paid worker to become lord himself, as long as there were outlooks of economic advancement, no strong organization can be established because any initial organization would always be losing its former and most capable members, and will be restricted to the young people or to a generation of youthful and unstable from whose inexperienced hands it would be difficult to draw supply of good trade union leaders. This also leads one to discover, why in the past there were only rebellions, revolts and insurrections and no continuous organization came into existence, although industrial oppression existed through the ages.
They highlighted the factory system, introduction of machinery and the use of power, only gave impetus to this separation, which in some trades had started long ago. This means that industrial revolution is not the cause for the rise of trade unionism but the separation of the functions. “The formation of independent association to resist the will of the employers requires the possession of a certain degree of personal independence and strength of character”. That is why in the beginning trade union arose among the skilled workers.
In order to improve their members’ economic status, the unions demanded each firm to pay at least a minimum rate of wages and to provide minimum working conditions in terms of hours, situation, safety etc. The Webbs referred to this as ‘common rules’.
- To Webb trade unionism may extend democracy to the industrial sphere. It may equalize the bargaining power of the labour and capital. Hence it would be possible to form uniform, minimum standard of wages, working conditions and working hours to each firm. This was called as “common rules” by Webb. They believed that common rules in this area would be economically and politically describable.
- Trade union movement is not an instrument of revolution to overturn the capitalists. But they saw it as the solution to the class conflict of inequality of bargaining power and collective agreement. It was merely to eliminate industrial autocracy and replace it with industrial democracy.
- The trade unions would achieve their goals through political action. Webbs never emphasized on any revolutionary method to overthrow the capitalists but through political actions which is the nationalization of the industries.
METHODS TO ACHIEVE OBJECTIVES:
- Mutual insurance: The Webbs insisted that insurance against casualties is not the objective of trade unions and it can always be provided in a more effective manner by social or private insurance. It is only a method by which trade unions prevent a needy worker from accepting employment in terms which are less favorable.
- The method of collective bargaining: It is used to exclude the demands of individual workers, employers and particular localities. In individual bargaining the employer owing to his superior bargaining power can take advantage of the weaker position of an individual worker and competition among the workers may result in the diminishing of the wages. In collective bargaining when the representative of the workers bargain with the employer on behalf of workers the bargaining power of an individual becomes equal to that of the group and the demands of both the workers are eliminated.
- Legal enactment: The trade unions will stick to the law as a means of attaining its objective. Trade unions require a different type of method of organization because they have to exercise political pressure and the usual methods of propaganda, canvassing and lobbying have to be followed. This may be a long struggle and the result is always uncertain. It satisfies the trade union aspirations of permanence and universality.
These methods of trade unions will not exclude competition among the employers, but they will only take labour out of the competitive process. In this way Webbs wanted a peaceful and gradual evolution of the socialistic form of government.