'Striking to Survive'

Workers in the organised sector look restive. In truth the banking business has reached a stage where even officers are not safe. The second strike in a week—something unusal for organised sector labour. On December 21, 2018, an Officers' Union of public sector banks observed a day-long strike to protest the merger of Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank with Bank of Baroda. Then on December 26, 2018, banking services throughout the country were totally paralysed after close to one million workers, employees and officers of all state-run, private and some foreign banks went on a one-day strike opposing the merger while demanding immediate salary hike. The strike call was given by the United Forum of Bank Unions, an umbrella organisation of all 9 unions including All India Bank Officers' Confederation. Post-merger, the number of state-run banks will shrink to 19 from 21 now. Everybody knows the merger will see a large number of branches getting closed and customers will have to face tremendous handships. The nightmare unleashed by the notorious note-ban will continue unabated after the merger and 'rationalisation' of services.

The government has long been trying to cut workforce though work-load per worker has increased many fold over the years. They are doing all this under the spacious plea of combating staggering Non-Perfoming Assets (NPAs) of banks. Instead of identifying the real causes of NPA, they are targeting officers and employees for the perennial crisis the banking industry has been in for such a long period. There is no evidence anywhere in the world that bigger banks are stronger and efficient. The world witnessed the collapse of bigger entities like Lehman Brothers.

The original purpose of bank nationalisation has already been defeated. The rich in connivance with the persons in authority have long been systematically looting national resources including nationalised banks. The government of the day as it was the case with the previous dispensation as well is trying to shield the big defaulters at the expense of employees and ordinary depositors. Most public sector undertakings, not excluding profit-making ones are going to be privatised anytime soon. The Modi administration and many of Modi's right-wing supporters around the country have found in de-nationalisation a way to strengthen the corporate culture and religious obscuantism in a manner that makes the two concepts seem—almost socially and polticially acceptable in some sections of Indian society. And it is a dangerous phenomenon. It all started in the Vajpayee era and Modi continues the Vajpayee era legacy with iron fists without bothering about legitimate opposition. He seems to have earned the divine right to use bullying tactics to promote his agenda, especially when that agenda is capricious in nature. Under Modi's baton India's future is at stake.

One of the Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) that is on 'auction' at the moment is the telecom major BSNL. The all Unions and Associations of BSNL recently served a strike notice to the management accusing the government of sabotaging and liquidating BSNL to help the Mukesh Ambani owned Reliance Jio acquire monopoly in telecom business. The proposed strike which was to begin on December 3, 2018 has now been deferred following the government's assurance to sit across the negotiating table. BSNL unions went on strike twice in 2017 to press the demands they are now agitating for. Workstoppage by railway workers, including loco-running staff and automobile sector workers has been hitting the headlines for quite some time. Workers of motorcycle companies Royal Enfield and Yamaha ended their 50-day long strike recently, forcing the authorities to concede their demands, at least partially. Working conditions are just medieval in nature as workers, mostly apprentices and contractual labourers have to fight for the right to union even in the 21st century. Employers have devised numerous devices like Fixed Term Employment (FTE) etc to restrict the number of permanent workers, though the very nature of job is perennial. They don't even honour Contract Labour Act, 1972 to regulate contractual work.

Even at a time when the Modi government is planning to run 'Bullet Train', workers in the country, in almost every manufacturing and mining sector, toil in most hazardous conditions, risking their lives all the time. They live dangerously in mining areas because of extreme poverty and acute joblessness. And poverty sometimes compel them to indulge in 'illegal' mining for sheer survival. At the time of going to press 15 diggers have been trapped for nearly a fortnight in a rat hole coal mine in Meghalaya. The chances of survival of those ill-fated miners seem remote because the authorities are still debating as to how to pump out water from the flooded pit.

The proposed two-day General Strike across the country on January 8-9, 2019, by workers and employees owing allegiance to mostly left-leaning unions, illustrates among other things that objective conditions are so ripe that wage-earners look too eager to take up agitational path despite loss in wages, albeit fall in real wages is so rampant that toilers can no longer tighten their belts.

Having failed to sell populism in a situation of staggering economic inequality to flight of internally displaced persons from communal polarisation to the rise of religious fanatics, from Modi's virtual endorsement of segregation of so-called foreigners in Assam to the sychophantic chorus by the media, rationalising each of his lies, the saffron brigade is desperately trying to divert public attention to more emotive and divisive issues that will further aggravate the crisis situation.

Only the other day the Communist Party of India marked its 94th foundation day. After so many years communist movement is still too weak to make its presence felt in national politics. Even their regional bases in a state or two have been marginalised by the far right, thanks to ideological wilderness left forces have been in throughout the world. While addressing a CPI-organised rally on December 26, 2018, Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU agitation fame rightly hit out at Modi for diverting public attention to 'religion'. It is the diversionary tactic they play quite often. 'The young people of the country need job and not relegion'. What Modi says day in and day out about job creation is diametrically opposed to the ground reality. They sell blatant lies about jobs and economic growth because they cannot tell the truth which is horrifying. No doubt the Modis have been seccessful in making a sizeable section of population intolerant and insensitive to anything rational and just. Any voice of dissent is being termed anti-national and anti-patriotic. Dissenters in the Modi regime have only one place to go—jail.

The cost of basic commodities is rising drastically, defying all inflation forecasts. No doubt Modi is a disaster for democracy but he is really a catastrophe for workers and farmers who are being forced to swallow half-truths and starve. After a prolonged hiberation forces on the left have begun to assert themselves. People may reimpose faith in them if they understand the principles are to be fought for, even when the fight looks lost.


Vol. 51, No.27, Jan 6 - 12, 2019