Capital: New Delhi
Population: 1.29bn. (2014 est.)

India has ratified neither ILO Convention No.87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, 1948) nor No. 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, 1949).

There is no institutionalised system for the recognition of a union, which in the 'voluntarist' tradition depends on union strength in a given plant and the attitude of the employer. Employer-union attitudes are commonly adversarial, and the government frequently acts as mediator. Indian has many large unions, with many millions of members, but as a percentage of the entire active workforce, the unionised proportion has historically been small, and confined to the formal sector. However, the most recent membership verification round reported huge membership growth among numerous national centres, linked to labour law reforms, which enabled unions to expand their traditional organising sectors. It is also the case that unions can mobilise massive numbers, effectively shutting down the formal sector in some states. Unions claim that the general strike of 21 May 2003 was observed by some 30 million workers in opposition to government’s move to raise 132 billion rupees by selling off state-run companies. And in 2013 the largest ever strike was held, with the participation of a reported 100 million workers. While these symbolic actions tend to pass peacefully, smaller strikes focussed on socio-economic interests at state government level and in individual plants do face incidents of repression, with violent dispersal and arrests of strikers.

The government recognises 14 central trade unions. The Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), close to the Congress party, has generally been considered the largest. INTUC is a key ITUC-affiliate. Conversely, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), with links to the BJP, has benefited from the rise of that party and now claims the largest membership. BMS The third largest centre has for some years been the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) founded by socialists opposed to government domination of INTUC. The All-India Trades Union Congress (AITUC) was the national centre until independence, when Congress inspired the foundation of the INTUC: AITUC is linked to the Communist Party of India (CPI) and has a WFTU affiliation. Also linked to the WFTU is the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which broke away from the AITUC is linked to the Communist Party of India– Marxist (CPI(M)), with particular strength in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. Another notable centre is the ITUC-affiliated Self-Employed Womens Association (SEWA), recognised as a national trade union centre since 2008. There are, in addition to these, a number of other national trade union centres, such as the ITUC-affiliated (formerly WCL-affiliated) Confederation of Free Trade Unions of India (CFTUI), and many active federations with large memberships, most of these are linked to national trade union centres, but they are not all directly affiliated to them.

Full details of the country's political history, the development of trade unionism, and contact and affiliation details for all national trade union centres can be found in ICTUR's in-depth global reference book: Trade Unions of the World.

Link to reportFull country profile: India, from Trade Unions of the World (2016)

Link to letterIntervention letter: mass arrests, repression, police violence (2018)

Link to report IUR journal: 'Struggle and Unity for Progress', Sindhu Menon (2013)



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