IOP@FSU Field-Advancing Research: Does a Female World Exist Within the Indian Trade Union Movement?

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In the proposed research, I investigate whether a “Female World” exists in trade unionism in India and its nature. I will also investigate whether, with time, this Female World is converging with the mainstream male world of trade unionism or diverging further away from it, or if the gap between the two worlds has remained relatively static. My specific research questions are the following:

RQ 1: Does a Female World exist within the Indian trade union movement?

RQ 2: Is the Female World converging with or diverging further away from the male world of trade unionism or relatively static?

This study is aimed at making key contributions to the academic literature on trade unionism and to the organization of trade unions, recognizing their vital role in securing labor rights. Evidence of the female world and its role in declining trade unionism has so far been tested only in the context of western nations. In today’s world, the diffusion of capitalism through neoliberal economic policies has led to a decline in unionism. Decline of trade unionism is a cause of worry because it is the only vehicle that allows workers to directly negotiate their rights and needs. Trade union research in these countries has also revealed that strategies to increase the inclusion and participation of female leaders have successfully increased their numbers and participation within trade unions (Trebilcock 1991; Kirton 2006). Current research, however, does not elucidate whether these new strategies, yield enough impact for the female world to converge with the male world.

Through my proposed research, I want to investigate the dynamic direction of the female world. Answers to my research questions are also imperative to secure the future of trade unions in India. In the words of multiple participants from my preliminary research, “everything that I have has been made possible by the union.” Moreover, the location of this proposed research also makes it academically interesting. India has a colonial past. It has shifted from Soviet-style five-year economic planning and a mixed economy to a neoliberal economy since the nineties. India is also the largest democracy in the world. The state I have chosen for this research, West Bengal, has made a violent (Sarkar 2012) transition from 34-years under communist governance to non-communist governance as recently as 2011. Trade unions in India and West Bengal, in particular, have weathered these significant political and economic transitions. Therefore, what we learn from them may shed light on trade unions elsewhere in historically and developmentally comparable contexts.

The preliminary data show scattered evidence of a female world. So far, I have interviewed trade union members only from CITU (leftist trade union) and most members of the leadership. In fall 2022 when I return to India for fieldwork, I plan to interview members of the other trade unions and general/ lay members.

Rwiti Roy is a PhD Candidate at the FSU Department of Sociology.

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