Social Science Baha
Official

Civil Society Approach to Rise of Unionism in Nepal

Pitambar Bhandari

After 1950’s, Nepal experienced tripartite agendas in the history of state-building– democracy as a political regime, economic liberalization and diplomatic interdependence in the post-colonial world. Industrialization and the associated labour issues emerged as political instruments and social movement agenda. The trade union activities which were prohibited during the panchayat regime, however, resumed after the reinstatement of parliamentary democracy in 1990.

In the context of low scale industrial economy compared to agro- based activities, unionism has grown as a new trend of movement including wider range of labor forces from industrial sector, civil service, teachers and other business entrepreneurs. The functioning of trade unions is not merely limited to the wage and welfare relationship between the employer and employee. It is also extended to Union formation which includes political party lineage. In each political movement of national level since 1950’s, unions have become the driving agents in terms of resource mobilization and issue regulation. After signing the Comprehensive Peace Accord between the Government of Nepal and CPN (Maoist) in 2006, rise of unionism has been equated with frequent strikes demanding the power sharing mechanism even in the recruitment of staff.

National level development projects are often encountered with the obstruction of workers’ union affiliated to certain political parties. Mostly, those projects are of bilateral concern among neighboring countries. During the time of ten years long armed conflict and April uprising of 2005, unions acted as a part of civil society movement. The central argument of this paper is that rise of unionism in Nepal is not isolated form of industrial economic structure but has linkage with party building and intra-union struggle. This paper further examines the efficacy of the unions as watchdogs for economic welfare and the rights of the workers.

The first part of the paper tries to trace the history of unionism in Nepal and the current status of trade unions in Nepal. The second part will compare and contrast the global trend of unionism with respect to social movements in Nepal. In the third part, formation, objectives and activities of the trade unions and their legacy with political parties along with intra-union conflict will be analyzed based on the primary and secondary sources. For the purpose of data, literatures on labor issues, political party manifestos and policy paper related to labor act and regulations will be reviewed.

Keywords: Civil society, Unionism, Social movement, Political Instrument