M.L. Sondhi

The Tribune, December 7, 1977

All available evidence indicates that a minor crisis in Haryana has generated cross-pressures because we have a penchant for moral lecturing when the proper recipe for developing harmonious relations is to be found in a significant break-through in ideas or social concepts.  A satisfactory solution to the problems of industrial relations in Haryana is essential for creating a more dynamic economic climate in the State.  Since the Janata Party professes Gandhian ideology, the State Government should be interested in evolving a machinery for the peaceful solution of union-management conflicts.  Haryana can, in fact, provide an example to the rest of the country by taking concrete steps to achieve a modernization of the labour movement in industrial centers such as Faridabad.

The communists’ simplistic assertion that trade unions are the instruments of a class war has proved to be a serious liability in developing an adequate structure of trade unions in several parts of the country.  The importance of the Ahmedabad model of peaceful industrial relations lies in the fact that the trade unions in Gujarat, following Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy, have strengthened their role in the sphere of collective bargaining and have simultaneously achieved a status and influence in the public life of the State.  This augurs well for their continued functioning and development.  The Textile Labour Association (TLA) has adopted an approach to the voluntary arbitration system which has created an atmosphere in which grievances are removed, the rights and job status of employees are safeguarded and strikes are not looked upon as the only mechanism for ensuring a fair share of the earnings for labour.


Haryana is faced with a historic choice: whether to repeat the notable experiment of Gandhiji’s Ahmedabad where the negotiating process encourages an emphasis upon reasonable obligations to share burdens, or to face the prospect of a loss of industrial production while the two sides flex their economic muscles.

At least four issues are at stake in Haryana and these cannot be brushed aside by partisan phrase-mongering in favour of the rights of labour, or by warnings of “anarchy” by those supporting the management.

First, if trade unions have to become vehicles of social change, the role of voluntary arbitration should be fully understood.  Every time industrial disputes go to the courts or involve the use of the police, the trade unions miss a real opportunity to develop economic and political strength.  It is significant that in Ahmedabad the majority of the grievances are settled by negotiations and very few disputes are sent to the courts.

Secondly, can Haryana provide a genuine alternative to the terrible liability of the pathological rivalry of different unions?  This is the problem of discovering a “representative union” on the foundation of the accepted criteria.  The decisive question is whether a trade union can represent the workers’ interests more effectively as an organic unit or as polarized and fragmented units doing hostile propaganda against one another.

Thirdly, there is a good argument for making an important break with the past as far as the urge among factory owners to dominate industrial relations is concerned.  Many industrialists do not take notice of the national clock and are inhibited from going forward towards industrial cooperation, equity and social harmony.  Here again, Faridabad factory owners may find in Ahmedabad, the key to some of their difficulties.  The Gujarati industrialist has not failed to realize the advantages of conciliatory strategies and of experiences relating to Gandhiji’s times.  The common heritage of labour and capital is a belief in increasing production and productivity to enhance the gains of both workers and entrepreneurs.

Fourthly, the realignment of political power in favour of the masses, which the Janata Government claims to represent, will not lead to any new institutional development unless a conscious effort is made to introduce new social ideas.  The Emergency brought home the need to have built-in checks and balances to prevent abuse of power on the national scale.  Similarly, there is some talk of reviving Gandhiji’s ideas on the doctrine of trusteeship to create a new relationship of employers and employees.  It is one thing to indulge in rhetoric about the exploitation of workers and quite another to forge institutional forms in which a healthy labour-management relationship can flourish.


Austria has shown, through its doctrine of Social Partnership, that both labour and management can avoid ideologically motivated industrial conflicts, and that labour power and management power can creatively balance each other to promote the national good.  The Austrian Social Partnership of employees and workers has three facets: (1)  The Austrian trade unions have inherent strength and the employers have respect for this strength as a contribution to social harmony: (2) the trade unions do not impose their will in a one-sided militant manner.  The split into different political unions has ceased to exist.  Cooperation between management and labour has been built entirely on the basis of mutual trust.  The social partnership has not been formalized in law.  There is a Parity Commission on Wages and Prices in which both sides meet periodically and also whenever an emergency arises.  The commission has three sub-committees on (a) prices; (b) wages; and (c) on general economic and social questions.  It would be an achievement of great political significance if the Haryana Government were to evolve guidelines incorporating the best elements of trusteeship as well as Social Partnership doctrines.  

By initiating a new search for common interests in industrial relations, Haryana’s Janata Government will help strengthen the general national interest in at least three ways: First, the outstanding feature of the Ahmedabad model of trade unionism, if adopted, will be in initiating a trend away from the ill-defined pattern of partisan activity in which over-politicisation of all industrial disputes takes place.  This will give the Haryana political system a cultural identity based on concepts of harmony and social justice, rather than one based on divisive hostilities which were mercilessly exploited by Mr. Bansi Lal to build up his power complex.


Secondly, a new strategy of industrial relations – even if it is partially, successful will be a powerful stimulant to implement programmes of social development and welfare.  It will show to the people that by Gandhism the Janata leaders do not mean moral lecturing but a serious contribution to the solution of social problems.

Thirdly, the ideals of a liberal democracy cannot be strengthened by oral propaganda.  A genuine economic and social process in which neither management nor labour seeks the follow coercive and manipulative policies but prefers to relate their respective strength in a structured manner has much to commend it.  By giving high priority to confidence in industrial relations the Haryana Government will, in fact, be making a social innovation which would strengthen the public dialogue and nourish the grassroots of democracy.

The Janata Party in Haryana, as elsewhere, has a long way to go in becoming a credible and constructive force in Indian politics.  It would be tragic if, in the formative stage, parochial decisions prevent its units from pursuing integration processes.  The State should take a historical and all-India view of its capabilities.  The traumatic experience of the Emergency has, as it were, made this State the test case of democratic control on all issues.  That is why a minor political crisis is seen as a political signal to the whole country.

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