A question has been raised by some comrades/friends that what is the necessity of pensioners/outsiders being elected as office-bearers of workers’ unions and associations in central government establishments, PSUs etc.? Is it not against the interest of the workers? Is it not denying the workers their legitimate right to lead their own organisations? Some other connected questions are also being raised.
The principle that the workers themselves should be the leaders of their organisations is correct and not wrong. Then why, most of the unions/associations are having retirees/outsiders as leaders of the movement.
It has got historical and practical reasons. Take for example the case of central government employees. The first to be organised in India were the Railway as also Posts and Telegraph workers. The pioneers of the P and T trade union movement like Tarapada Mukherjee, Henry Barton, Dada Ghosh, K.G.Bose and others were all either removed / dismissed from service, jailed, punished for their trade union activities. V.G.Dalvi, who organised the Postmen in 1919 was an Advocate, who could not be departmentally punished for his trade union activities. Secondly electing office bearers from outside trade union leaders, including M.P.s, gave the benefit that the employees issues could be directly raised in the Parliament etc.Hence since 1946, and especially after 1954 when NFPTE was formed, NFPTE itself and most of its affiliated unions elected sitting M.P.s as their President and sometimes other office-bearers also. This gave much benefits to the workers in raising their demands with the government and fighting against victimisation after the 1960, 1968 strikes etc. when lakhs of workers were victimised and sent out of service. The marathon discussions in Parliament on the issues of the P and T workers, victimisation etc is a shining example. This was the case with Railway Unions also. In the NFPE and NFTE, this system continued till the 1990s, when the Central government issued new recognition rules under which no retired employee could function as office bearer of the service unions. Due to strict implementation of the rule, on retirement, the office-bearer became a non-office-bearer. The union had to elect a working employee to the post.
In the PSU unions, not only pensioners but outsiders are also allowed to be office-bearers. Outsiders can be elected to the extend of 33% of office-bearers. Pensioners are included in the category of workers and can be elected without any limit. In the private establishments, usually some of the leaders are from central trade unions only so that they are always in the mainstream of workers. They have full trade union rights, unlike government employees.
Retired leaders are elected as office bearers since the workers feel that their past experience in the trade union movement or service unions enable them to lead the movement better. Some are reelected even after retirement for respect for their past service. It is due to this that a small percentage of retired workers continue to lead the organisations.
Ultimately, it is the workers who decide that who are to be the office-bearers of the union. Nobody needs to have any grudge when the conferences democratically elect the retired employee or outsiders as office bearers. However, restricting the number to the minimum is always preferred since that will enable the workers themselves to lead their organisations and decide their own destiny.
A further question is raised by some friends. Whether any worker can be elected as office-bearer of the pensioners’ unions/associations? Personally I am for this idea that young and energetic workers can be elected as office-bearers who can help a lot. In fact, in most of the government departments and PSUs, the pensioner organisations have been formed with the help of the unions of workers. In BSNL, the workers organisation BSNLEU took initiative in forming the pensioners association, AIBDPA.