A murky trade!

All about trade unionism in Kashmir

After the fall of autocracy in 1947, a new era of empowerment and emancipation blossomed in the subcontinent; the aura of freedom and sense of authorization liberated mind and soul of almost everyone. Workers, especially government workforces who were the most exploited lot during the oppressive rule were the first to shun fetters of slavery and exploitation. Much appreciated Silk factory workers agitation in 1924 against Dogra ruler’s exploitation was a watershed for fight against tyranny by Kashmiri workers and became a benchmark for future trade unionism in Kashmir.

After independence most of the workers who were either underpaid or exploited to the extent of suppression made best of democracy and initiated trade-union movement in a big way. No doubt, political parties and politicians’ encouraged and patronized trade-unionism, but later exploited it for their own political gains. Later Indian trade unionism became so diverse on ideological and political lines that instead of ensuring justice, a large number of trade union leaders exploited this noble cause and ventured into coercion and political exploitation. Lobbying and gang wars changed the whole meaning of trade unionism in the region and even veteran trade union leaders in India, like Georg Fernandez and Datta Samant could not resist the temptation of political ambitions. The twenty days Railway strike in 1974 and great Bombay textile strike in 1982 changed the whole concept of trade unionism in India both for the best and the worst.

In Kashmir trade union movement started in 1964 with J&K Low Paid Government Employees Federation for thousands of teachers and other workers. The legendaries like Sampat Prakash and his associates strengthened the trade union movement with unflinching support of thousands of employees and workers against all odds. However in eighties the whole conception and scenario of trade unionism in Kashmir became more political and exploitative. With increasing factionalism and splits trade unions became arms and instruments of politicians and other exploiters leaving the exploited workers in the lurch. From plain social work trade unionism became a flourishing trade where most of the time interests of exploiters were preferred over the exploited. Several leaders made fortunes out of trade unionism and some leaders made good out of their trade union career by joining political bandwagon and are doing well in their new ventures.

The present scenario of trade unionism in Kashmir is more individualistic than collective. Gone are the days when leaders with innate traits of leadership and idealism would automatically get promoted to forefront of trade unionism and would lead with honesty as selfless social workers.  Now within almost every group of work force and employees few rude opportunists with mala-fide interests join hands and resort to exploitation in the garb of trade unionism. Earlier workers would get organized only on the issues of exploitation and injustice, but now petty issues of monetary and promotional anomalies within the groups and sub-groups of workers are exploited for personal benefits and bullying others. A cursory look into any establishment will reveal the pathetic scene of ‘n’ number of associations pursuing the same agenda only because of the ego and conflicting interests of individual cunning leaders and exploiters. Unfortunately, within the present system of trade union movement the exploiters are more united than the oppressed.

Presently, most of the trade unions are creation of politicians and few senior functionaries in the administration and are patronized to browbeat and tarnish the image of real crusaders of rights of workers or their rivals. With increased number of trade unions, most of them are unrecognized and work in contravention to existing registration laws governing trade union organizations. This trend of exploitation of workers at the hands of unscrupulous elements patronized and pampered by few dishonest administrative functionaries and irrelevant politicians by flouting rules has created a network of trade union mafia. These thugs in the name of trade unionism not only give bad name to noble cause of fight against exploitation and injustice, but most of the time intimidate and bully the honest and sincere sympathizers of workers and employees.

Now is the time for government to check the mushrooming trade union organizations and allow only those bona fide associations to operate and represent the workers, who are not only the rightful representatives of workers, but are lawfully entitled to plead such cause.