"Your Highness, not only this, the workers have been led by some so called leaders who are in the employment of my different factories and are staying in the quarters in the mill compounds. They have organised large processions of the workers and have been inviting leaders and other agitators from socialists unions from British India." Sixth day after launching of Nepal's first ever-Labour movement in March 10, 1947 General Manager of Jute Mills R. K. Sihaniya wrote an appeal to tame the movement. Mr. Sihaniya named 5 persons as the leaders of agitation including Man Mohan Adhikari & G. P. Koirala.
He came with his concluding demands as saying- "I requested to the Badahakim (chief administrator of the Government) to provide military guards for help for emergency purpose; but I was flatly refused that he could do nothing. The workers may take any violent action they will be guided with. Therefore I have fervently pray Your Highness to very kindly accede to my prayer by issuing necessary commands to send here suitable military help with commander to our factories within a week for the safe guard of the property." This appeal written in English by Mr. Sihaniya to Rana Prime minister, presenting himself as 'I have the honour to be, Your Highness's most obedient Servant’ reflects the clear picture of then industrial relation of that time. This way Nepal begins its journey of Trade Union Movement.
Inception of trade union movement
That was the time, the mill owners entertained their monopoly in the mill with the support of "prays and orders". As a result of monopoly and towering exploitation, the workers were on the street against factory owners. The then unionist Mr. Naina Lal Bohora recalls then situation "the mill has to run for 24 hours, but the benefit in comparison to work was negligible. One has to work in heavy pressure. The workers were waiting for the appropriate time to revolt against in the Biratnagar Jute Mill".
The then representative of the shareholders in Biratnagar Jute Mill industrialist Late Juddha Bahadur Shrestha adds-there was no labour law. Working hour was not determined. Workers had to work for more than 12 hours, whereas the workers in the neighbouring India were enjoying 8 hours-working day. The wage rate was significantly low. The managing director was entertaining absolute rights. Management was practicing ‘hire and fire’, everything was dictatorial.”
The demands of the movement
The inception of the movement was geared up with the demands of 8 hours working day, subsidy in foods & clothes and increase in wage-rate. The movement was one step ahead as it had voiced for trade union rights. This was the first event of this type by the workers in the open space holding banners in the rule of autocratic Rana regime on March 4, 1947. This movement was the cornerstone for democratic movement and traced the path of overthrow of Rana Oligarchy. The movement as such had institutionalised the two different schools of thoughts- the Communist & and the Socialist that were struggling for democracy in Nepal as well.
The dispute and the beginning of struggle
And the conflict between two schools of thought gave birth to the debate of flag and the banner of the movement. One trend was pleased to hang-up with a name and flag as of Socialist union and another was demanding name of the banner as Trade Union Congress and the red flag as of Communist Union of India. Both the tendencies had their own arguments & assumption. There was no strong political party in the country that time. The Nepali National Congress Party was formed just a month earlier and Communist Party was still not in the scenario. Therefore, Com. Man Mohan Adhikari and Mr. B. P. Koirala were in the stand with their experience in the Indian Communist Party and Indian Socialist Party respectively.
The trade union was not formed formally till this moment. Keeping in mind overwhelming support of workers to Man Mohan pressed finally to decide a mechanism having red flag. This mechanism kicked off the movement ultimately. However, almost all the activists were arrested and movement was brutally suppressed.
This suppression was wide spread even in India. A Pamphlet was distributed in March 25, 1947 emphasising the news on "gun against bread, Lathi charge against workers", etcetera.
The story of 1947 labour movement did not adjourn here. Despite arrest of the leaders, the struggle began with new height ignoring the brutal suppression. The movement achieved some of the workers demands and it also laid the foundation of Nepali trade union movement. Nepali Congress prominent leader BP Koirala opined that this movement had given tremendous momentum to the country and there was a very encouraging reaction of this. People’s Leader Madan Bhandari remarks on this event as "though the autocratic Rana regime brutally suppressed the movement, but the foundation of their repressive regime was badly shaken. As a result, government declared an act on 1948 banning right to organise and even announced a National Assembly with a provision of one workers' representative on it."
The period of 1947 to 1951 was the dynamic periods; where series of ups & downs the country witnessed. The workers activities in this period added tremendous contribution in the establishment of "All Nepal Trade Union Congress". After 1950, with the end of Rana oligarchy and establishment of multiparty system, various unions came into existence, but the whole decade was under the dominance of a high degree of uncertainty and instability. Therefore, labour movement was further weakened instead of strengthening.
In 1960, the monarch took over the power through military forces and political parties were banned. Simultaneously the trade unions were also banned with other social and political organisations. The union movement was, thus, compelled to become scattered and autonomous type of movement limited to enterprise level. There was neither any national centre nor any federation up to 1979. Although the autocratic system established Nepal Labour Organisation as its labour wing, actually a puppet union to maintain its membership position clear in ILO. Of course, NLO is an example of government created yellow unionism and pure anti-worker formation during 1960-80, which could not play a genuine role as workers' organisation.
After a continuous struggle of 19 years in 1979, political environment could be made a little open in comparison to previous years. Half a dozen trade unions came into existence without any legal status. However, the formation of national centres or co-ordination between the unions of different sectors was not possible because of the oppressive political system. Nepal Independent Workers Union (NIWU), launched in January 1979 played a role like that of a national centre at that time.
After a decade long heavy struggle, NIWU along with Independent Transport Workers Association of Nepal, Nepal Independent Hotel Workers Union and Trekking Workers Association of Nepal (all the three developed after 1980) came into association to establish General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) in 1989. Thus under the leadership of the newly launched labour centre- GEFONT, the workers shed their blood in the popular mass movement of 1990 to attain multiparty democracy.
After GEFONT, the next confederation- Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC) came into existence just after success of popular movement-1990 claiming continuation of their history of 1950s. In 1998, Democratic Confederation of Nepalese Trade Unions (DECONT) came into existence through division in NTUC.
The Illusive Concepts
After 1990, moves through fronts in special situations were begun with some illusive trends. The illusive concept ‘trade unions for merely factory workers’ developed the wrong feeling that service sector workers are petty bourgeois. Based on this wrong notion, white-collar workers were considered outsiders.
Only after 1996, the right notion of "All wage earners in the trade union" has gained its due place. Unions have, then, started to treat each-other on the basis of whether it is legally recognised or not. After April Uprising of 2006, there is mushrooming of political trade union groupings. Thus, most of these union groups are enjoying political recognition irrespective of their size and influence by the transitional government.
However, the Trade Union Act-1992 has classified unions in three structures such as -
• Confederation - Mention as Trade Union Federation in Law
• Federation - Mention as Trade Union Association in Law
• Enterprise level Unions - Mention as Trade Union in Law
The process to form such unions has also been regularized in the law. To form enterprise level union, at least 25 percent of the workers of the enterprises should be signatories. The law has been formulated making compatible to the multi-party system and with high honour one's freedom of association as well. But it is equally aware on division in labour movement and problems of multiplicity of trade unions. Thus, a provision of Authentic Union has been made. It will be decided holding an election between registered unions (there may be 4 unions in maximum in an enterprise) to identify CBA Agent.
Trade Union federation can be formed under three conditions, which is as following:
1. By associating 50 enterprise level unions
2. By organising 5,000 individual members from trades & industries having same nature of jobs.
3. By organising 5, 00 individual members having same nature of jobs from informal sector.
Likewise, co-ordinating 10 or more federations can form a confederation. However, it is mandatory that there should be at least 6 federations, which is formed as per process 1 and 2 mentioned in above paragraph.
There have been mentioned different roles and responsibilities of trade unions in all levels. The Confederation shall represent all labourers in National tripartite committee. It will provide policy inputs to the competent authority. To fulfil member's demands, it will hold various legal measures to pressurise government as well as the employers. Further, Confederation is entitled to launch highest means of peaceful struggle-strike to meet its demands. Confederation shall participate in every labour related forum including the minimum wage board and the ceremonial forum. Maintaining international relationship & policy intervention in National level comes under the Confederation.
Federation shall work same as the confederation. The only difference is Federation cannot participate in tripartite body like Central Labour Advisory Committee and the Minimum Wage Board. Federations are responsible to maintain industrial relation with in their line of industries.
Existing Tradition and Different Exercises in Trade Union Movement Today
Division and fragmentation is also the reality in Nepali trade union movement. This division has two-fold adverse effects. First- high union density, multi-unions and unhealthy competition among each other in traditionally organised enterprises; Second- low union density and poor unionisation in vast agricultural and non-agricultural informal economy. This demonstrates the reality why the unions fail to raise collectively the voice of nearly 4.5 millions wage-workers in Nepal.
In Nepal different types of workers organisations are active in manufacturing, service and agricultural sectors both in formal and informal economy. By exercise we have tradition of trade unions such as -"Each Party, One Union", "All party FRONT of Trade Unions" and apolitical or politically indifference professional groupings. Within the practices, some are in the existence just as the "labour wing of political parties".
Before April Uprising of 2006, three trade union confederations- GEFONT, NTUC and DECONT were known as recognised trade union centres under the Trade Union Act- 1992. Employees associations active with in the Professional Alliance for Peace and Democracy (PAPAD) are functioning under the National Directive Acts and similar types of other acts. Confederation of Nepalese Professionals (CoNEP) affiliates is recognised as per both sets of these acts. Unions associated with a network- Joint Labour Movement Coordination Committee created during the April Uprising- 2006 are known as political groupings. Besides these, the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions (ANFTU) has surfaced in existence as the by-product of CPN (Maoists)’s ‘People’s War’ after the success of April Uprising- 2006.
Experience shows- the exercise of "Each party, one union" has limited unionism in a narrow domain. Because of partisan prejudices, the exemplary gains achieved by some of the trade unions have been even overshadowed so far. Antagonising very spirit of the working people "Unite" there has always been a permanent line of division in the trade union movement.
"Frontal Unions" naturally rest as a 'directionless' movement; workers have been misused to follow party-directives no matter that was politically motivated or the apolitical one. Further, 'game-plan' such as to capture major post of leadership "citing patron-parties strength" has been instigated. Sad to spell out here, many "unions" in existence as the 'political groupings' are just limited to the 'cosmetic organ' of concerned political parties.
Thus in new Loktantra, an argument to review our past citing pros & cons of all above mentioned trends & exercises in order to launch a genuine and powerful trade union movement is started. Principally all perhaps agree that now time has come to create a truly new SINGLE union in Nepal which stands in absolute ground of NEW value & principle and would be considered as a sole recognised body of Nepali working masses by the State and the International Community.
JTUCC and Trade Unions in Post-April Uprising
... missing text ...
Trade Unions and International Relations
Globally, different trade unions are associated with this or that International Centres. Those who are not associated with any Powerful Centres have linked themselves with alternative alliances. The association with such Alliance Groups and Centres has special importance.
However, following the international tradition since its inception, Nepali trade union movement followed a trend of affiliation with international trade union centres. For instance, the first trade union confederation-the All Nepal Trade Union Congress (ANTUC) was also affiliated with the WFTU.
This tradition was broken after imposition of dictatorial political system called Panchayat, when all mass organisations along with the trade unions were banned. After 19 years of silence, Second Generation of trade union movement gets birth in new height.
On the one hand, the initiation of newly re-organised union movement in Nepal was heavily influenced by extreme-left orientation and on the other; both ICFTU and WFTU had been juggling around in an exercise to occupy the unions in the continent. They were following a policy like that of super-powers in the third world. They first hurriedly affiliated the so-called unions and later perhaps they realise- Oh! What sort of union became the member now? Moreover, there was no existence of such unions in Nepal who do support either the WFTU or the ICFTU. Thus, a trend of Non-alignment has been started.
Dissolution of USSR after 70 years of its establishment resulted into inevitable changes in the influence and base of WFTU, as well as in the role and size of ICFTU.
Post 1990 periods in Nepal similar initiatives had been started again taken by either side. However, GEFONT still maintained non-aligned policy regarding international affiliation.
"Our confederation does not have any biases or prejudices towards any international centre. However, we have our own reservations on some trends still active in the existing centres. We believe corrections may be produced through independent efforts instead of affiliation, and positive contributions can be done even independently for the integration of world trade union movements". This statement by GEFONT 2nd National Congress clearly exhibits GEFONT stand on International Trade Union Centres.
The NTUC immediately seek affiliation by ICFTU after its inception. Very recently DECONT is associating with WCL. A tiny 'union', which is almost a political grouping only, is continuing its relationship with the WFTU.
However, GEFONT's stand has been honoured internationally. Thus, it enjoyed completely Independent status by all of the international bodies and started to work closely as the Contact Group member created by the then ICFTU & WCL; and participated actively in the process of creation of New International- the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). As the founder of this organisation, GEFONT holds position of second substitute member in International General Council and Titular and the second substitute in the Asia- Pacific Regional Council.
GEFONT affiliates along with other national centres have been affiliated with various Global Union Federations (GUFs) such as BWI, ICEM, ITGLWF, IUF, ITF, IMF etc.