ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Trade Unions for What

Trade Unions for What? E A Ramaswamy THE view that trade unions are a luxury which developing countries cannot afford has deep roots. Simply stated, the argument is that in a society plagued by grinding poverty, providing a basic minimum subsistence must take precedence over all other goals. Since militant union action in pursuit of the narrow interests of organised labour cannot but detract from this all- important goal, trade unions are un- suited to our needs. The strongest advocates of this position are develop- ment-oriented labour economists. They lament the loss in production caused obstructionist trade unions, and yet State to condemn wholesale so essential a trapping of modern industry as the trade union. The alternative is provided by the alluring concept of 'responsible unionism' whereby trade unions would pursue larger national goals instead of the narrow sectional interests of labour. Not surprisingly, 'responsible unionism' has found wide public acceptance. Unenlightened public opinion has always tended to view trade unions as a needless nuisance. To the naive observer there is something sinful in dislocating industry, whereas its normal functioning is a good thing in itself. If the hardships caused by union action are going to be mitigated by loading the labour movement with broader social goals, so much the better. What is Cronical is that trade union leaders themselves have fallen victim to 'res' ponsiblec unionism'. Asoka Mehta, in an article in Economic Development and Cultural Change, pleaded that trade unions in India should work for the overall welfare of the society, and INTUC leaders have reaffirmed their faith in this precept countless times.

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