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Is The Bank Unions Strike In India Justified? – OpEd

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Nine bank unions joined together and organized a nationwide strike on 29th July, 2016, which crippled banking operations all over India. After the one day strike, the bank unions claimed that around one million bank employees joined the strike and it was a grand success.

What do these unions mean by success? Do they mean that crippling the bank operations resulting in several millions of rupees of national loss and causing untold hardships to millions of customers and business enterprises is the barometer of what they call as success?

What purpose for the strike?

The bank unions went on strike on 29th July primarily on three accounts, namely to protest against the merger of subsidiary banks with State Bank of India , to oppose government’s move to dilute it’s equity stake in the loss incurring government owned IDBI bank from 78.5% to 49% and to demand that the bad loans must be recovered by the banks. The question is as to whether these demands justify a nation wide strike, that virtually crippled the economy of the country for a day. The weapon of strike which should be the ultimate weapon is being used in a light hearted manner.

The move of the government of India to merge the subsidiary banks with State Bank of India and dilute it’s equity in IDBI bank are policy decisions taken by popularly elected government based on it’s wisdom and it’s view that such measures are needed to improve the efficiency of the banks and improve it’s operations. If there would be different view point on the action of the government , then it is for the Indian parliament to decide the course of action by discussions and even by voting, if necessary. How can the bank employees demand that such policy decision of the government should be taken only with the concurrence and approval of the bank employees and as per their wishes?

There are many stake holders in the banking system apart from the government . For example, State Bank of India is owned by the government of India only to the extent of around 59% of equity holding and the rest is held by others such as insurance companies, mutual funds, individuals etc. Bank employees who work in the bank getting monthly wages and whose interests are only short term during their period of employment in the bank, should leave it to the stake holders who have long term interests and parliament to decide on the matter.

Going on strike for such reasons amount to abuse of privileges that are enjoyed by the unions due to their collective bargaining strength.

What concept for trade union movement?

When Karl Marx advocated the need for the struggle by the work men to save themselves from exploitation and improve their living conditions, obviously he had in his mind poor and deprived work men and not the type of bank employees that we have today.

The bank employees at various level who are paid high salaries apart from being provided with several other benefits and perks cannot be considered, by any stretch of imagination, as deprived people that Karl Marx thought about. In India , bank employees are now privileged class of citizens and one may be justified in concluding that their forming unions and terming them as trade union activity is an anachronism.

Look at the contrast between the white collar bank employees who claim trade union rights and more than 20% of Indian population ( more than 250 million people ) who are blue collar workers living below poverty line and not knowing as to where their next meal would come from. Karl Marx only had such deprived blue collar workers in mind when he said that “workers have nothing to lose except the chains.”

Are the bank unions democratic in their decisions?

When the bank unions call for strike, all the employees respond to the call even if some may feel that such call for strike could be unnecessary. In the case of the strike on 29th July, many bank employees might have been unhappy about the strike decision but still participated due to the fear of the union leadership, who are mostly associated with one political party or the other and have iron like grip over the activities and decisions.

In countries like Japan, England and others, before issuing a strike call, the unions would seek the opinion of the members about organizing the strike, by conducting secret ballot. Such secret polls are never conducted in India by the bank unions. Possibly, , if such secret poll would have been conducted on 29th July strike decision, substantial number of bank employees, who have no particular political affiliation and are only concerned about their work, might have voted against organizing the strike.

It is high time that trade unions in India, particularly bank unions, should do careful self appraisal and take a relook at their priorities and activities, so that the spirit of Karl Marx would not be disappointed.


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N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

4 thoughts on “Is The Bank Unions Strike In India Justified? – OpEd

  • July 31, 2016 at 4:35 am
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    Mr N S Venkataraman

    Any type of non-coopration to make our voice heard is agitation & Strike is one such tool. It was a well informed strike & bank clients were made aware. Sure enough it was used as a last resort but ur ill-informed blog talks as it was some flash strike.

    Now to answer ur Questions which are wrongly answred by you yourself.

    What do these unions mean by
    success in Strike?

    Unions mean tht such huge participation proves that a huge section of workers have same issues & hence they participated to mark their protest.Mind it a large section of our clients hv supported us & arranged finances as if its a Bank Holiday. On ur point abt National Loss, I would say U need to investigate & write about the scams & if U want to stick to Banks then please investigate abt few unjustifed corporate loans given by accumalating Retail deposits both in PSB & Pvt bank under pressure of Ur so called policy Makers.NPA of such Corporte loans is National Loss & Recovery of such funds R in our agenda so Strike is in national intrest.

    On your Point of Policy decisions taken by popularly elected Govt & intrest of Stake holders.
    PSUs & PSBs R National assets of each & every individuals who elected the Govt to power.if the PSUs & PSBs R loss making then steps should be taken to revive them not to sell them & make money for Party in name of Govt treasure.Hv U not heard of under value sale of PSUs done by Govt in past?
    Who buys a loss making entity? & Who can Sells a Profit making entity? to fit in the Answers to the 2 questions above, Govt has gone ahead & made Profitable PSUs look Loss making in name of Asset Quality Review & other things so tht they can be brought on the block for Sale & investors very well knw this so they R Ready to invest. This I term as “Nationlization of Losses & Pvtiztion of Profit”
    About Stake holders, Employees R the biggest stake holders any institutions coz investor just bet their Money But employees bet our life to the institutions. We Hv all the Right to fend for our safety & future.

    When U say Karl Marx advocated the need for the struggle by the workmen to save themselves from exploitation and improve their living conditions, obviously he had in his mind poor and deprived workmen and not the type of bank employees that we have today. My question to U is wht is poverty? We R paid for our work & U dnt hv an athority to talk if we R well-paid or ill-paid coz if U hv to talk in this way then U hv to justiy a lot of things right from justifying 7th pay commision to Tax theft done by ur corporte doner to Ur NGOs which U happly accept.according to U only poor & deprived people form a work force this thought itself disqualifies U frm making Refrence of Karl Marx.

    Yes, Unions R Democratic as we participate because of the cause not out of anybodies fear let it get clear in ur mind. We R not like the poor deprived whome Ur NGO Represents & glorifies collective Begging. We R Fighting for & Bargaing for our Rights.Today anything done in name of charity is the in thing so NGOs like Urs find relevence coz some white collars beg on behalf of poors & God knws what actully Reaches the poor but we R well informed & Represent self in our agitations. Union fight for Rights Unlike NGOs for grants & carity

    Please come out this old style of compariog every thing with western World. Even after 70 years of indepenace we R still just a developing country & people like have to Run NGO’s to help Poor people to get their Rights.
    Ur Blog may find Relevance in a fair & Perfect world which is a Myth so U should go out & try to make the world a better place to live Rather than sit & write judegmental Blogs abt trade Unions.As my friend says Thank God people like U were not active before year 1947 or even today huge masses would hv be serving the British.

    Just to clarify, I am not a Leader of any Union but I am an member of every Union hving well being of masses on their agenda.
    Jai Hind

    Reply
  • July 31, 2016 at 4:46 am
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    If the parliamentarians take right decisions the 2g coal block bofors scams wouldn’t have been there.

    Reply
  • July 31, 2016 at 11:52 am
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    Bank employees are the privileged class with fat salaries and perks. As the author rightly says that the elected govt is empowered to enact laws basing on its wisdom, the union can not b a partner in the decision making of the govt. In India Unions are so powerful that they can dictate and blackmail any govt with strikes

    Reply
  • July 31, 2016 at 4:32 pm
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    sir, your comments is almost true. The bank employees having received the salaries very high compare with other scheduled banks. Before 2000 the bank employees the currency can only counting in manually. But now (just ten years…) the counting machine have being counted, and the cash balance also done by the computer so the bank employees’ strike can’t be justified.

    Reply

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