The Political Role of Labor Unions in India: An Inter-State Study of Labor Unions in West Bengal, Karnataka and Rajasthan

Chattopadhyay, Rakhahari

     This study is an examination of the emergence of unions, their organizational characteristics, and their interactions with political parties and public policy in three Indian states: West Bengal, Karnataka, and Rajasthan.
      We hypothesize first, that freedom to form associations with limited, controlled and institutionalized access to authorities will result in a multiplicity of weak unions. Secondly, because competition is controlled by the authorities, the need for contacting the authorities, both political and administrative, to get things done would be great, but because of the general isolation of the workers and also because of the necessity for the union leaders to have legal and political skill, the task of contacting the authorities cannot be done through the worker-leaders of the unions but only through professional politicians. Hence, the tendency to have politicians as leaders of workers' organizations and/or close liaison between workers' organizations and political parties (if multiple parties are tolerated and available) should be great. Thirdly, because of the ever-present threat of control, the unions would predominantly be interested in survival rather than in being influential and because of the low legitimacy of interest group activity, the 'public' goals would tend to be heavily ideological or normative.
     In this study, we . . . examine the unions in two factories in each of the states. One of the two is always an engineering and the other is a non-engineering (with predominantly unskilled workers) factory in each state. . . . [W]e . . . examine the organizational aspects of the unions, union-political party relations and the union-government relations in three separate chapters. This . . . [is] preceded by a chapter describing the growth of unionism in the three states of West Bengal, Karnataka and Rajasthan. In the concluding chapter we . . . summarize our findings in terms of interstate similarities and differences, and then, we . . . briefly refer to the implications of our findings for the political system in India as a whole.

Lloyd I. Rudolph (chair), Philippe C. Schmitter, J. David Greenstone