International trade unionism helps weak Indian unions to integrate precarious workers' struggles

Union flag at factory gate, showing their role.
Union flag at factory gate, showing their role.

Analysis of the situation of the working class and their relationship with trade unions in India's new industrial heartland around New Delhi.

Submitted by Fredo Corvo on October 16, 2016

"Faribad Workers News' in its presentation of events and in its conclusions puts some issues on the agenda that are not limited to India:

• the rise of temporary contracts and the decline in the number of workers with permanent contracts;
• solidarity between the two categories of workers;
• the role of the union.

At a superficial reading of the reports of workers' struggles, solidarity between permanent and temporary workers seem to get started easily. And when a unified struggle fails, notice how seemingly easily temporary workers come in motion. However, within companies and beyond, there have undoubtedly been done a lot of everyday efforts on a small scale by thousands of workers to forge linkages that ultimately made possible solidarity actions on a mass scale. This can serve as an example for workers in Western Europe and in North America, who in recent decades have been played apart by management in various ways. However, it is also necessary to note that the vast array of resources to divide the workers on which capital can rely now, in fact have been used only partly in India. We mention for instance differentiation of functions and wages or the decomposition of large manufacturing halls into departmenst isolated from each other. So management still has many possibilities.

We limit ourselves here to the ability of trade unions to play a role in this divide-and-rule game.

For those who have no sense of what workers' struggles mean, it can be surprising and even incomprehensible that the temporary workers continue to support the creation of company unions, while they do not have the right to join, and while knowing that it is often possible that later they could be dismissed by management because of their militant support for the trade union, while this union supports management in doing so ... the same union which owes its existence to the temporary workers.

The explanation is simple: both trainees and temporary and permanent workers know that solidarity is the only way to defend themselves against the management. "Faribad Workers 'News' is based on this really existing awareness of the need for solidarity, when it asks the workers to form new structures to shape solidarity and expand into other businesses, rather than - as they seem say - to continue to rely on the union. The question is why 'Faribad Workers' News' is not more clear, both on the union, as on new structures.


These alternative other structures are indeed known for over 100 years, when during the Russian and German revolutions of 1905, 1917, 1918 to 1923, the workers' councils or soviets have been invented by the workers themselves. This organization consists of workers’ meetings to discuss and make decisions and carry out decisions by the workers themselves. If necessary, the workers’ meetings choose committees of struggle per department and per factory. If struggle expands they send delegates to the councils at the level of a city, region or country. The delegates are not a ‘workers parliament’ who then do as they likes for years, but they can be replaced at any time by other temporary representatives.

These structures occur 'spontaneously' only in appearance. In reality - seen the experience in Russia, Germany, more recently Poland – council structures arise only at a certain level of development of consciousness, while the councils at their turn, give a huge impetus to further development of consciousness:

1. When workers feel that traditional forms of representation (trade unions and parliamentary ‘workers' parties of parties of the ‘workers’ state) have been dismissed as advocating workers' interests.
2. If wider working masses feel the need to resist the repression of the state, and they also see the opportunity to do so. The minimum requirement for this awareness is that workers throughout the region, the country or even on the continent are struggling.

Since both forms of consciousness do not develop in the class in a homogeneous way, groups of conscious workers develop, in which also members of other classes may participate. The more conscious workers can bring more hesitationg workers into movement by their determination, insight and courage. The publishers of 'Faribad Workers' News' are themselves such a group, whether they are aware of this or not. Our impression - but we can be wrong - is that they are not aware of this, and therefore confine themselves to describing and asking questions, when in fact they also can provide answers. The trick is indeed not to run too far ahead as vanguard, but you can also hang at the tail of a movement.

Obviously typical Indian aspects also play a role. When we are well informed, justice plays an important role into the prevailing culture, coupled with confidence in the legal system of laws, governments and law. That would explain why workers are reluctant to come into conflict with this system - which forms part of the state that oppresses them. When the consciousness of broad masses of workers does not make progress on this subject, no 'new structure' can emerge. It is important to understand that often proletarian movements arise by a desire for justice. During the struggle they come into conflict with the state and they gradually learn to overcome it, aided by the most conscious elements of the class that can explain to them the significance of this conflict.


Integrally connected to the Indian legal system is the rule that unionisation is only allowed for permanent employees. ‘Faribad Workers News' shows how the management of these companies use this to keep unions out of the factory, or if they need unions, to get them in the factory. However, for the trade union movement itself, the legal exclusion of temporary workers, is extremely harmful:
1. because it deprives unions of a source of income from membership dues,
2. because it affects the image that the unions would represent the workers,
3. because it brings them into conflict with what is now the majority of workers.
The latter is also extremely dangerous for the employers and the state because it leaves open the road to self-organization of the working class outside the trade union movement, an independent organization that ultimately can raise workers' councils as a second power in society, opposite to capital and the state .

The trade union movement as a structure of paid executives has its own interests it must defend if it wants to continue to exist as an organization in capitalist society. Sandwiched between capital and labor, constantly kept short by the state, most unions since World War I decided to keep the contradictions between the working class and capital within the limits of the capitalist relations of production, just like the state. Therefor the trade union movement has become part of the capitalist state. The few trade unions that do not choose this path, as soon as the workers' struggle from which they originated weakens, they are destroyed by the state or condemned to a marginal existence. So it is in India and so is the world.

The trade union movement in India operates in a legal framework that has its origins in British imperialism. It struggles just like unions in many Western countries with declining membership numbers and declining influence. In India, as a result of specific legislation that promotes the formation of factory unions, there are many thousands of unions and many confederations, a dozen of which is recognized by the state. The influence of the trade union movement has rapidly declined due to the emergence of temporary contracts. At present the trade union movement in India is extremely weak both against the resurgent workers' struggles and to pressure from businesses and state. The attitude of Indian trade union movement in the car industry seems primarily motivated by a short-term vision, which aims to conquer a place in companies at all costs before other unions do. Ultimately, this short-term vision will cause the existing trade union movement to be pushed aside by movements of temporary workers and / or emerging organizations that are actually or apparently advocating the interests of who are now the vast majority, temporary workers. To prevent this, the international trade union movement has been rushed to the rescue.


A report of the international trade union Industriall shows that in September 2016 representatives of affiliated automobile associations in India discussed with representatives of similar trade unions and works councils in Germany and Japan. Representatives of management of Volkswagen, Skoda, Daimler, BMW presented how 'social dialogue' has been introduced into their companies and they had an 'open debate' (which is diplomatic language for ‘intense’) with the unions on the 'challenges' and opportunities for ‘effective cooperation’ between unions and management. In this context, all participants were received by the management in the Volkswagen plant in Chakan (Pune). As regards the specific 'challenges', it is important to know that Industriall underlined the need "to fight for the rights of temporary workers and women”. The meeting ended in the following joint statement:

“Automotive unions from Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune regions decided to strengthen union networks towards protecting the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, resist precarious work at respective manufacturing plants, together resist victimization of workers and extend support to victims of unfair labour practices. Unions from Chennai automotive companies decided to form a network and hold periodical interactions to share information towards coordinated actions to protect workers rights.”

We can expect that trade unions will first experiment in the auto industry of Chennai, Bangalore and Pune with so-called standing up for the rights of temporary workers. This can take many forms, both in terms of demands and of structure of the trade union movement. Demands may be on permanent employment for temporary workers or claiming the same payment and working conditions for temporary and permanent employees. The organizational structure of the trade union movement can be adjusted by establishing separate unions for temporary workers - may be not called "unions" in order not to conflict with the law. Another possibility is opening trade unions for all workers and / or trainees - whatever type of contract - coupled with actions aimed at reforming labor laws. It is expected that these modified union tactics will be greeted enthusiastically by the masses of the workers as they meet deep-seated feelings of justice and solidarity. This enthusiasm can also blind less conscious workers for what may lie behind this new union tactics, for example, a redistribution of payroll over different categories of employees, differentiation into more function and salary classes that can further divide the workers, dismissal for some of the workers in connection with robotisation or other changes in the production process or the transfer of production to other regions.

Given this development of new union tactics, groups of more advanced workers - such as ‘Faribad Workers News' – did better prepare themselves for the changing situation. In the past, internationalist communists were on several occasions linked to organizations of more conscious workers in the factories - like the ‘Revolutionäre Obleute’ and ‘Betriebsorganisationen’ in Germany, and their unification into ‘Arbeiterunionen’. These were not new unions or industry associations focused on negotiations and agreements with capital, but militant organizations who played a vanguard role in broader movements. However, it would be a tragic mistake if communists now would repeat the tragic mistakes of the KAPD / AAUD, namely making a fetish of these 'organizations from bottom up' at the expense of their own function in that struggle, at the expense of their own organization and their understanding of the broad lines of the future development of class struggle.

Fredo Corvo 11-10-2016

I've translated into Dutch the article of 'Faribad Workers News' Struggles and Union Issues at Honda and Bellsonica in Manesar, India for my dutch blog I also added some comment and news in Dutch , that you'll find here in english translation. [/i]



7 years 8 months ago

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Submitted by ajjohnstone on October 16, 2016

I read this article and was very surprised that the author doesn't explain that Indian unions are political party proxies. The Congress, the Communist Party, the BJP all have their union affiliates.

Often most can collaborate and coordinate with one another as we saw in the nationwide Bandh just recently(with the exception of the union that supports Modi).

But whenever political parties assume office, their union support softens their militancy.

The SPGB's Indian companion party are far too small to have any presence inside the workplaces and unions but they are well-aware of the problem and their position is to seek an expression independent of the political unions. More an asperation, unfortunately than a reality.

In countries like India workers have the legal right to form trade unions. But there, too, unlike Europe and America, most of the big trade unions have been organised from above more as fund-raising, vote-catching political subsidiaries of self-seeking “leaders” than as spontaneous, grassroot, independent and autonomous organisations of the working class to defend their economic interests. Moreover in the absence of factory-wide free election of trade union functionaries, there are as many unions as there are political parties, most of them operating with their hired gangsters and peculiar flags having very little regard to class unity.
Actually these trade unions are not genuine trade unions. Still workers‟ organised resistance against exploitation is a must; and for that matter, their resistance struggles must have to be freed from the infamy of remaining divided and subservient to various capitalist political parties. This they can achieve by organising themselves in fully integrated and independent trade unions of their own, by throwing away all kinds of blind faith and submissiveness regarding the wretched hierarchy of subscription-squeezer and flag-hoister “leaders”. The working-class movement is a movement of equals – organised by the workers and in the interest of the workers….

….All workers are able, rather abler than the “leaders” to understand their own class-interests only if they are fully informed of their circumstances from local to global. And to be informed of what is happening around, and what has happened earlier, what they require is to meet in regular general assemblies, discuss and debate all that matters keeping ears and minds open and decide to take such steps as deemed useful. In case a strike is to be declared, they would need a strike committee to be formed of recallable delegates elected and mandated in the general assembly – thus retaining the ultimate control in their own hands. Where there are many rival trade union shops in a single factory or workplace operated by many capitalist political parties, a socialist worker can neither keep on supporting the one he is in, nor go on seeking membership of one after another or all at the same time, nor can he open his own “socialist” trade union instead.

What he can, and should, do as immediate perspective, is to try to form a “political group” with like-minded fellow workers and campaign for a class-wide democratic unity as stated above. Whenever an opportunity arrives the group must use the assemblies as a forum for political propaganda to expose the uselessness of the “leaders” and show that the trade union movement is unable to solve the problems of crises, insecurity, poverty, unemployment, hunger and wars.


7 years 8 months ago

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Submitted by Ed on October 18, 2016

Fredo, do you mind giving more detail of the contents of the article itself in the introduction? Just coz more people are likely to share it on social media that way..