Article (March-2018)


Trade union leadership behavior

Anil Malik

Designation : -   Management Consultant HR & IR Strategies

Organization : -  AM HR Solutions, Indore


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Trade union leadership has its own style. In general a true leader inspires, motivates and gets support from others through mutual understanding. He takes responsibility for his decision and the actions. He believes in clarity of communication and in roles and responsibility of each member of the group. There are such examples of such leadership in trade union organizations also but often we found that trade union leaders inappropriately use their status for managing others.
In the current case, we found that Mr. Rana has a potential leadership trait with ample maturity and sense of responsibility. His acceptability level and respect among his people is high. He not only believes on his team member but also gives them freedom to work. Like, he trusted on his own secretary Mr. Mohan, who is also the employee of the company and has good capabilities of drafting the letters etc. However, Mr. Mohan has different mindset and he appears to be an independent power center in the company. His this approach made him bit arrogant and he has forgotten that he is first an employee of the organization then the trade union leader.
Mr. Mohan wanted to draw attention of management on the charter of demand given by the union for wage negotiation. Therefore, he refused the right full instruction of his superior Mr. Menon who asked him to work on other workstation. Mr. Mohan wanted to create scene and he succeeded in his strategy for bringing down management, as the discussion on charter of demand given by union were not in progress. 
The matter clearly indicates about the lack of communication in between management and the union representatives and equally within the management itself. In consequent to this, Mr. Mohan took an advantage of the situation and he not only refused to obey the instructions of his superior Mr. Menon but also abused him. Mr. Menon kept quiet and did not react much but Mr. Mohan took the advantage of patience and mature approach of Mr. Menon and mislead to the workers that turned into strike. 
When situation got out of control, Mr. Rana the external leader was approached and after having discussion with workers and the management, he assessed the situation and found that union stand was wrong and weak. Mr. Rana explained the situation to Mr. Mohan and indicated him about the possible disciplinary action against him including his termination because of call of illegal strike and wage deductions of all other workers. 
On other side as it happens in many cases, the cost of business loss superseded the loss of discipline. Management as such must show its strength in such cases but it does not happen in general and typically plant leadership comes under pressure for compromising in situation instead of demonstration of firm attitude towards the discipline. One should understand that the practice of pressing nose and get the mouth open always leads to wrong precedents. 
Here also the plant head Mr. D'Souza involved himself in the situation and explains the urgency of supply commitment to customer. Mr. Menon being a mature person gives the solution and says that if Mr. Mohan, the trade union leader who abused him, apologies him then the matter will be closed. Mr. D'Souza found it an easy solution which shows the lack of his understanding towards the human nature and trade union behavior. He suggested this solution to Mr. Rana who discussed with Mr. Mohan who as it was expected refused to apologize & after finding unsuccessful in managing to Mr. Mohan keeping a larger perspective of his own leadership Mr. Rana himself offers to apologise Mr. Menon and he communicates his views to Mr. D'Souza. 
The plant head Mr. D'Souza was quite confident that now the matter will be resolved but it did not happen as Mr. Menon refuses to accept the apology of Mr. Rana and insisted for the foot down of Mr. Mohan who has been actual culprit of abusing him. In fact, the plant head Mr. D'Souza does not have the basic traits of leadership. In whole episode, he acted like a messenger & he never exhibited the leadership and demonstrated confidence and sense of security in the mind of his own people. He did not even try to know the root cause of the issue and the reason of indecent behavior of Mr. Mohan. As a plant leader, he could have shared his piece of thoughts with Mr. Rana that such indecent behavior at the cost of discipline cannot be accepted at any cost. He could have taken stern action against Mr. Mohan and could have established the sense of security in the mind of managerial staff that they all are protected under his leadership. He could have appeal to the all workers by explaining the reality and the management views on the situation. He could have well explained to the people that there is no intentional delay in settlement on charter of demand related to wage rise. With the kind of excellent support of leadership like Mr. Rana, the harmony could have been maintained with effective communication. 
The Supervisor Mr. Menon may be mature and respectable among people but does not seem to be tactful. One side he could have sensed the situation before instructing to Mr. Mohan for working on other's place that there is a state of annoyance in union leadership. However, he failed. Secondly when the senior leader of the union Mr. Rana himself was keen to break the ice and offered his apology to Mr. Menon, it was sufficient. He should have accepted it and shown his larger heart. Possibly, this could have changed the situation not only among the workers but also to Mr. Mohan.
In whole situation, the involvement of Human resource function is missing which may be one of the reasons of emergence of such situation. In the industry, the active HR Head keeps the eye on situation and work as a catalyst between management and the union. The issue cropped up because of situation of no progress on discussion on charter of demand given for wage rise. Here, continuity of dialogue plays a big role. But when plant leadership does not realize that trade union leaders also need respect and recognition and they are also answerable before their members, such situations are created to invite the attention of management which is not a healthy sign of employee relations at works.