Representing labour in India

Trade unions in India work mainly with workers in formal employment, particularly in the public sector. However, most people in India work in the informal economy, and their needs are attended mainly by voluntary agencies or NGOs. Economic globalisation and the policies associated with it are resulting in the increasing informalisation of work; as representatives of working people, unions and agencies alike are being further marginalised. Paradoxically, this situation is encouraging these organisations to overcome the mutual mistrust that has characterised relations between them in the past, and to join forces in order to pool their strengths. This article describes the background and current situation in general terms before presenting a case study of the National Centre for Labour (NCL), an apex body of labour organisations of all kinds working in the informal sector in India. Its members include unions and agencies active among workers in the construction industry, as well as in forestry, fishing, and domestic work. Such collaboration has not only enhanced the effectiveness of both the unions and the agencies, but has also increased the unions' representative character.