In front of over a 1000-strong, exuberant crowd, celebrating the golden jubilee of Siemens Workers Union (SWU), every speaker on the dais agreed on one point: It is extremely rare for a workers’ union, which is not affiliated to a national political party to complete fifty years. The feat is even more extraordinary as SWU was not part of any industry-wide union for most of the 50 years.
The event celebrated the union’s struggle to overcome hurdles both internal and external and the people who are and, more importantly, who were associated in this struggle. It also showcased the many achievements of the union beyond workers’ rights and wage settlements.
The auditorium was packed to the brim. Suddenly there were loud cheers and whistles. The reason: Mr. Mahale, General Secretary of SWU for the last 27 years, had arrived with the guests of honour.
Among the guests of honour were representatives of FES[J61] and National Trade Unions Initiative (NTUI). This gave a clear message that, unlike the past, SWU was not without industry support any more as it is now affiliated to IndustriAll Global Unions and associated with IG Metall.
The invitees included all former office bearers of the Siemens Workers Union, all of whom were felicitated. One of the past office bearers was too old to even climb the few steps to the podium without assistance. It showed just how old this union is.
Mr. Mahale spoke of the key people and the major milestones of the union, highlighting 1987 as the key turning point in its history. It was the year that the union committee was elected by a secret ballot. He also emphasised the role of the management and their support during critical times.
An event that could have easily turned into an old veteran’s meet was, in fact, full of youthful exuberance. It led Mr. Seth, Head of IC sector in Siemens, to term SWU as unique because it is constantly evolving and encouraging young blood.
All the chief guests praised the union’s larger social activities, such as its educational programme for underprivileged children. Mr. Mathur, CEO and MD Siemens, India, saw it as an area for management-union collaboration.
Mr. Satam, the founder of SWU, was one of the stars of the day. Cheered on by the crowd, he gave a short but riveting speech and expressed pride that the organisation he helped start had turned fifty.
“They (SWU) brought a sense of belonging among the workers, and made them feel that ‘this is our company’” said Mr. Nerurkar, a former personnel manager in Siemens. He pointed out that this was the most important contribution of the Union. He also said that while the union adopted new technologies, it never let the workers feel the insecurities that came with it.
Mr. Atre, former president of SWU, regarded the period from 1993 until 2005 to be the golden age of the union. It was the time when the union gained financial stability and was able to implement many projects.
Highlighting the importance of financial stability, Mr. Vasudevan of the National Trade Unions Initiative (NTUI), said, “You need money to fight, particularly against large MNC’s like Siemens.” He went on to say that only the SWU had the ability to take on Siemens in India both in and outside the courts.
Mr. Sinha, FES, said, “Union and management are like the railway tracks. They never meet but without one of them a train cannot run.”
Finally, Mr. Girish Ashtekar, President of SWU while delivering his vote of thanks urged all members to work towards building a strong and self-reliant union and assured the Management that SWU will strive to make Siemens competitive in all its businesses.
The event concluded with a fascinating documentary on SWU’s 50 years.