New Delhi: Trade unionism is trying to make a comeback at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India’s premier consortium of government research labs.
The Scientists Workers Association (SWA), a trade union registered in 1971 to protect scientists’ welfare interests—is all set to hold its first meeting in the council’s Delhi campus, the first time since being banned in 2000.
“We’ve managed to keep the union alive,” said Dinesh Abrol, a former SWA president. The union’s first meeting has been scheduled for 9 April and is likely to be held at the National Physical Laboratory, a CSIR laboratory.
“Now that Dr Mashelkar has retired, we’re going to plan on getting our official recognition back,” he added referring to R.A. Mashelkar, CSIR’s former director-general, who retired in December 2006. The ban on the union was imposed by the then science minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Mashelkar.
SWA had acquired a reputation during the 1990s of being a “hot-bed of strikes, demonstrations and sloganeering”, said Mashelkar. “I tried to negotiate with them, but they were intractable and detrimental to research.”
S.N. Sharma, the last president of the SWA before it was disbanded, alleged that “favouritism and a complete disregard of working scientists’ concerns were a hallmark” of Mashelkar’s directorship.
There appear to be mixed reactions to the union’s comeback attempt. Some scientists believe the union’s return could help them negotiate better pay, and more transparency in the council’s functioning.
But others aren’t so sure. “Unions and research usually don’t go well together, unless they are properly balanced,” said S.C. Gupta, a retired professor of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and a committee member on one of CSIR’s advisory panels on medical research.
The union plans to invite T. Ramasami, the acting-head of the council, to their meeting, and have informed science and technology minister Kapil Sibal of their plans. Sibal is yet to comment on the letter.
Abrol, optimistic about the meeting, said: “Ramasami has been a member of SWA and I’m hopeful that he will help us,” he said.