People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 24, 2008
Real Face Of Verification Of TU Membership
THE ministry of Labour, government of India announced on January 11, 2008 the result of verification of trade union membership for the year 2001, which evoked several comments by the press which claimed that the CITU has lost its position in the trade union movement.
Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece, made comments indicating that the CITU declined in strength in the trade union movement due to the decline of the communist influence in the trade unions. It glorified BMS for becoming first in the membership figures and indicated the indication of pro- Hindutva policies of BMS.
The Indian Express on January 19, published, "It is finally official - CITU, the trade union wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) no longer is as powerful as it used to be." It claimed the Left trade unions were virtually wiped out in the railways and "losing ground" in public sector.
The procedure for verification of membership was evolved in the year 1957 when code of discipline was adopted by the Indian Labour Conference. The AITUC criticised that procedure as improper and demanded secret ballot which would ensure correctly the strength of the union among the workers. The AITUC and CITU even boycotted verification of membership during eighties of the last century objecting to the procedure.
The main reasons for objection to the verification of membership was as follows:
In the past, the CITU has complained to the government of India about the gifts demanded by the government officials. In case of seamen's union in Mumbai when CITU union objected to the dubious methods of Regional Labour Commissioner, Mumbai, the CITU affiliated union was given nil membership though it had majority support among the offshore vessels workers in Mumbai. The same union opposed secret ballot conducted by Indian Ship-owners Association and obtained court order not to open the ballot boxes.
In a note of dissent to the report of the bipartite committee on New Industrial Relation Law (Ramanujam Committee 1990) Homi Daji (AITUC), M K Pandhe (CITU), Pritish Chanda (UTUC-LC), Jatin Chakraborty (UTUC) and Prasanta Das Gupta (TUCC) stated:
"We advocate secret ballot because membership verification does not give the actual strength of the union. It is only an assessment of union membership. A workers' affiliation is recorded not by the worker but by an officer of the government. The government in power can always influence the verifying officer and there are innumerable cases of this type in the history of verification in our country. Manipulation of record is always possible but secret ballot, if properly conducted, can give the actual strength of the union."
The dissent note therefore asserted, "The secret Ballot is the only democratic mechanism wherein the workers determine their own bargaining agent."
The fallacy of verification machinery was clearly seen when the results of the secret ballot of railway unions has been announced. The verified membership of all the railway union stood at 25 lakhs while the number of workers is only 13 lakhs. Though some margin can be understood for due membership, the figures clearly indicate the inflation of membership which could not be detected in verification procedure.
The verified membership of HMS in railways was over 10 lakhs but the secret ballot showed its strength at 4.5 lakhs. Similarly INTUC's verified membership was seven and a half lakhs but in secret ballot it got only 3 lakh votes. The verified membership of BMS in railways was nearly six and half lakhs but in secret ballot it got less than 2 lakh votes.
If the claimed membership of these organisations is taken into consideration, it comes to more than double the employment in railways.
In steel industry, the verified membership of HMS and BMS is more than CITU but these two organisations have not a single recognised union in steel industry while CITU has recognised union in 4 establishments. BMS is not even a member of the National joint Committee for Steel Industry due to its low membership.
In coal industry, the total employment in only 5 and a half lakhs but the verified membership of INTUC, HMS and AITUC is more than 8 lakhs.
The situation in other industries is not materially different. However, this example clearly shows the overestimated membership claimed by trade unions which can stand verification procedure without detection.
The government of India is not applying the same norm for verifying the agricultural union membership as applied to industrial workers since there is no common employer and the work is also of migratory character. The Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) had admitted that the membership cannot be verified according to normal procedure. There was no spot verification and mainly on the basis of record submitted by the unions the verification was conducted by the government.
This has given rise to the tendency of claiming more membership of the agricultural workers. Hence, we see that during the latest verification, the claim of agricultural membership of trade unions has reached about one crore!
Strengthening the membership of agricultural unions should no doubt be a priority for the trade unions since this is a most neglected stratum of the working class. However the membership claim clearly shows an exaggerated figure.
Out of total verified membership of two and a half crore, over 76 lakhs is the membership of agricultural workers i.e. 30 percent of the total membership. In case of some organisations, the agricultural workers membership is above 50 percent of their total membership while one organisation has shown 79 percent of their membership as of agricultural workers. Any research worker may draw the conclusion that the agricultural workers are the most organised lot in the country!
In case of CITU there is a separate organisation of agricultural workers namely - All India Agricultural Workers Union which has a membership of 30 lakhs. It is a separate organisation since the problems of this sector are totally different from industrial workers. They do not get properly covered by any Labour legislation and there is total absence of any dispute settlement mechanism. Since CITU has not claimed membership of agricultural workers due to these aspects, the Press is clamouring that the CITU's membership has gone down. As a matter of fact, CITU's claimed membership increased from 24 lakhs to 34 lakhs while verified membership has gone up from 18 lakhs to 26 lakhs.
In the National Committee on verification convened by the CLC (C), the CITU representative pointed out the shortcoming of the present verification procedure but the CITU's views were ignored and final verified membership was announced by the government.
It should be noted that the officials of the Labour ministry leaked out the information regarding preliminary verification results without giving prior information to trade unions. The ministry refused to hold enquiry into this leakage. The leakage only created confusion among the workers.
The CITU will carry forward the struggle for introducing secret ballot for assessing the strength of the union. It will highlight the irregularities involved in the verification mechanism, despite the trade unions who were supporting secret ballot but are not pressing it today for obvious reasons.