Striking a chord

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on March 12, 2018

Workers everywhere are taking to the streets. Surely, governments and companies are doing something wrong

This time around, you would have noticed it. It impacted your purse, after all. The two-day strike by more than 800,000 employees in India’s 27 public sector banks meant empty ATMs, uncleared cheques and pending transactions. A report said nearly 100 million cheques worth nearly ₹740,000 crore stayed uncleared at around 50,000 branches. The media went to town against the forever demanding and lazy public sector bank staff.

But has anyone bothered to refer to unions’ circulars to understand why the employees went on strike? This was no flash strike. The decision was taken well in advance and managements duly informed. And a strike, if peacefully conducted, is permissible under Article 19 of the Constitution.

Employees demanded a 30 per cent wage hike. Their logic? India’s public sector banks earned a profit of ₹50,582 crore as on March 31, 2013. The Indian Banks’ Association, with whom bank employees are negotiating, was ready for a 10 per cent raise. Employees said that wouldn’t even cover inflation. They want the government and bankers to set apart at least 10 per cent of the gross profits to meet the wage demand.

Bank employees are not alone. About a week ago, almost 1.3 million workers in about 40 central government departments went on strike under the banner of the Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers. The strike was the biggest of its kind since 1968, say unions. Just a few weeks ago, Railway employees too said they would strike work.

Over the last 12 months, India has seen several strikes. On February 20 and 21, 2013, the country witnessed a general strike in which all the 11 central trade unions took part. The year saw massive protest demonstrations — most of which were ignored by the media, barring reports on traffic snarls and lost man-hours.

Trade unions, cutting across party lines, are joining hands to protest against soaring prices, hire-and-fire policies, cuts in social security spends and pension reforms. India is not alone. Thousands of workers in Europe, Latin America, and even in the US, where trade union activities are largely muzzled (Wisconsin, in March 2011, passed an anti-trade union law), are coming out on the street in protest against similar policies. There is something wrong with labour policies across the globe. Governments and companies must reflect on this.

Assistant Editor

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Published on February 19, 2014
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