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Tech Workers Coalition - Bangalore
Tech Workers Coalition - Bangalore

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Labour Movement in India - Part II

History helps us identify the root causes of some of the challenges that still remain central to labor unions today. The following section summarizes some of the challenges that affect my approach towards designing for organizing :

Divisions in politics has led to a division in the worker movement. Close affiliations to political parties create fear that party interests will overpower worker interests, or subordinates these interests towards party goals. Political parties are known to take advantage of unions to fulfill their agendas. While union leaders maintain that worker interests are a priority, incompatibility between the long-term national interests pursued by a party and the immediate economic and welfare objectives expected to be pursued by unions appears inevitable. The willingness and ability of a trade union's leaders to serve the principal union objectives are thus determined by a complicated balance of forces between the party and the union (Sheth 1968).

Middle-Class Perceptions
Class, religious and caste-based differences, aggressive approaches to organizing and the nature of work are some of the reasons which have led to a perception that unionization and strikes are a blue-collar activity (Punekar 2015). Such activities are seen as harming the professional identity of the worker, carefully constructed through their careers (Noronha and D’Cruz 2015) Contrary to popular belief, white-collar employees, supervisors and managers have been organized by the trade unions, in and not limited to the banking, insurance and petroleum industries (Anand, Ranjan, and Jha 2014). It is argued that to shift these perceptions, unions must focus on organizing previously unorganized sectors like the IT industry (Shyam Sundar 2006) and take on new social roles.

Worker movements in India have been led by non-workers with no experience in the industrial process. Leaders tend to be authoritarian or autocratic, unconcerned about daily worker entered problems (Gupta and Sharan 2004). However, the legal framework of industrial relations in India makes it almost inevitable for trade unions to be led by non-workers. Sheth says that outside leadership will be necessary for Indian trade unions as long as industrial relations are characterized by government interventions at every stage and workers themselves lack the necessary educational and legal equipment to protect and promote their interests (Sheth 1968). There is a need for activist centered unions, where workers can perform the role of activists, rather than having an outsider represent their interests (Gupta and Sharan 2004).

State & Industry Relations
Unions have been historically dependent on the State for various interventions in industrial relations. However, in the liberalization era, the State is on the side of the capital (Anand, Ranjan, and Jha 2014). There have been continued interventions from the State that benefit employers at the cost of employee rights and well being. The IT/ITeS industry is exempted from the Standing Orders Act in Karnataka is further evidence of the fact (Srivatsa 2019). The establishment of NASSCOM as a body representing the employer's interests has proved to be quite detrimental to employee interests. Jyoti highlights in his book, Dot Comprador, how NASSCOM misuses its power, firstly, by not acknowledging policies related to long term industry development and policies pushed for private gain over broader interests of the country (Saraswati 2012). Unions in the IT/ITeS sector are necessary to check unfettered power in the hands of capital.
The labor movement in India has led to significant victories for the working class in terms of securing better wages, work conditions and legislation. However, in the post-liberalization era, trade unions have found it challenging to adapt to the changing needs of the workforce today. This is particularly the case in the IT industry, where workers are often averse to the idea of unionizing and a strong belief that management will address their issues (Noronha and D’Cruz 2015). Despite existing challenges, IT employees have been slowly warming up to the idea of unionization, especially in light of mass layoffs in the country. Unions such as Karnataka IT Union (KITU), Forum for IT Employees (FITE), National Information Technology Employees Sena (NITES) have been officially recognized in states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal. These unions are often questioned on the legality of their existence by employers as they argue that IT employees are professional and cannot be considered workers (Srivastava 2015). FITE is unique that it is an independent union without political affiliation. Issues taken up are often common issues in the services industry such as layoffs and appraisals (“F.I.T.E. – Forum for I.T. Employees” n.d.). Methods like collective bargaining, litigation, online and offline demonstrations, and online petitions are used. Facebook and a website have been the primary way to share information while offline meetings are organized.

It becomes evident that the idea of unionization goes beyond demands for better wages and working conditions, but to be political actors with a voice in democracy that must challenge existing hegemonies, both within and outside the workplace. However, forms of exploitation in the tech industry are not always evident, and require workers to learn and share their experiences to build knowledge on which they can then act upon.

If you believe that working in the IT sector can be a better, fairer industry for all us, join us and see how we can take back our lives, and build a brighter future in tech.

Link to register :
Follow us on twitter @twc_bangalore

References :
Sheth, N. R. 1968. “Trade Unions in India—A Sociological Approach.” Sociological Bulletin 17 (1): 5–18.

Punekar, S D. 2015. “White-Collar Unions in Bombay.” Economic and Political Weekly 6 (51): 7–8.

Noronha, Ernesto, and Premilla D’Cruz. 2015. “Organising Call Centre Agents: Emerging Issues.” Economic and Political Weekly, June, 7–8.

Anand, Vishal, Shashi Ranjan, and Kumar Jha. 2014. “Trade Union Movement in India and the Aftermath of Liberalised Economic Policy of 1991.” IOSR Journal of Business and Management 16: 47–53.

‌Srivatsa, Sharath S. 2019. “IT Sector Gets Five More Years of Exemption from Standing Orders.” The Hindu, June 1, 2019, sec. Karnataka.

‌Saraswati, Jyoti. 2012. Dot.Compradors. London: Pluto Press.

‌Shyam Sundar, K. 2006. “Trade Unions and the New Challenges: One Step Forward and Two Steps Backward TRADE UNIONS AND THE NEW CHALLENGES: ONE STEP FORWARD AND TWO STEPS BACKWARD.” The Indian Journal of Labour Economics 49 (4).

‌Gupta, Namrata, and Raka Sharan. 2004. “Industrial Workers and the Formation of ‘Working-Class Consciousness’ In India.” Sociological Bulletin 53 (2): 238–250.

‌“F.I.T.E. – Forum for I.T. Employees.” n.d. FITE. Accessed July 29, 2020.

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