Rhetoric and Reality

Winter is the season of festivals. For the left it is also the season of mass protests. Come winter Marxists and their non-Marxist allies become restive as if they have something to do in a hurry. Maybe it is a mere coincidence. Maybe not. They have special fascination to organise bandhs, sit-ins, strikes, work-stoppage and all that during winter. In truth it is a left ritualistic exercise of voicing dissent on behalf of the organised sector workers and employees before every budget. This time there won’t be any full-fledged budget because of the up-coming general elections scheduled to be held in April or May. But there would be a vote on account. So they are back in the streets with their rhetorical response to the horrific events taking place in India today. All branches of 27 nationalised banks including the largest lender the State Bank of India, across the country had no option but to down their shutters on December 17 as 8 lakh odd employees and officers under the umbrella organisation United Forum of Bank Unions went on a day’s token strike to press their long-standing demand of wage revision that has been hanging fire since November 2012. Indian Banks’ Association doesn’t want to concede anything beyond 5 percent hike but unions have reasons to demand more otherwise they could not have succeeded in going for the offensive at a time of anti-labour air that prevails in the country.

Massive mechanisation coupled with systematic downsizing of workforce and farming out of job has been going on for long without being seriously opposed by the unions. Their one-point agenda is how to have a deal for better pay packets for white color employees. No doubt they occasionally raise the issue of privatisation and merger but they don’t make it a point of agitation in permanence without which it is next to impossible to stop the bulldozing by the authorities. Their protest against the Centre’s privatisation drive is half-hearted. There lies a wide gap between Rhetoric and Reality.

All banks were in the private sector dominated by known Indian monopoly houses, in the early sixties. Nationalisation was done in the late sixties to avert bankruptcy, albeit political twist was there as the Soviet lobby acted decisively in deciding the late Indira Gandhi’s domestic and foreign policies. Even after nationalisation banks continued to function in the very old way, accumulating ‘bad loans’ over the years. They face the some threat of bankruptcy. Just on the day of nationwide bank strike the present RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan said the level of NPAs (non-performing assets) and restructured loans was not alarming at this point of time but the situation might become alarming anytime soon. It’s one way to tell the people concerned that the crisis of bad loans is really alarming.

Union bosses were on boards but they failed to re-fashion banking policy in favour of people in whose name banks were nationalised in the first place. It was business as usual and unions were happy with periodic wage rise. They have no other issue to agitate for. Farming of office work to private enterprises has been going on for decades, even before the advent of neo-liberal on- slaught in the 90s.

Large scale privatisation is now a matter of time. And foreign players will step in after their Indian counterparts acquire majority stakes in nationalised banks.

It is unlikely for white color workers and employees to invite preventive measures and risk jobs by resorting to a sustained movement against the establishment. The situation in banking sector is so grim that a one-day token strike or some sit-ins here and there cannot reverse the job-killing policy. But bank employees and their unions are more concerned about the present, not the future. Nor do they think even for a while over the fate of non-unionised lot rotting in Dickensonian working conditions in the unorganised sector.

If the left shows urgency to talk of the plight of the organised sector white color employees it is because they are their main hope in the coming parliamentary poll. They have isolated themselves from the peasantry because they have no meaningful agenda for the peasants. Peasant question is not their part of the general programme. In tribal India they are viewed as an integral political arm of the oppressors. They are equally enthusiastic like their rightist counter-parts to support the so-called ‘development model’ that invariably evicts the tribals from their land, throwing them into the dustbin of destitutes. ‘Development’ is what tribals are rebelling against in Central India and elsewhere.

Immediately after the successful nation-wide bank strike the left-led unions in the railways, defence establishments and other Central Government organisations began to organise protest marches, demonstrations and dharnas with the avowed objective of fighting the Centre’s anti-people policies. But their propaganda was too shallow to unearth the gravity the problem as it was aimed at mobilising opinion for poll. What is desperately needed is how to restore confidence in people’s initiative as oppressive atmosphere prevailing in the country today shows the dead end of all alternatives to radical transformation.

One can expect more rallies and protest demonstrations, particularly in big cities in view of the coming general election. But attack on rights is a continuing process. It is now almost certain that organised sector employees and workers cannot protect whatever remains of their hard-earned rights unless they sacrifice something in favour of a boarder perspective to make a common cause with their unorganised counterparts. For the unorganised, low wage apart, it is the question of 12-hour-day drudgery with no day off, harsh working conditions and hazardous jobs. They demand better wages, an end to discrimination against dalits, and an end to harassment and rehabiliation against workers trying to organise. But ‘hell thy name is Indian left’.

Vol. 46, No. 26, Jan 5 -11, 2014

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