‘Parameters used to judge its effectiveness must be different from that of a hartal or a bandh’
The 48-hour all-India strike, coordinated by an umbrella of 11 central trade unions, may have belied fears that life in the State would come to a standstill. But, trade union activists say it was “successful and widely supported”, particularly in the industrial sector and among unorganised workers.
The most visible face of the strike, the transport sector, had declared a 12-hour strike which saw a majority of buses across four road transport corporations going off the road. Industries across the State saw a complete lockdown over two days — around 22 lakh workers employed in large, medium and small-scale factories. The large female workforce employed in garment factories, along the city’s southern outskirts, also struck work.
Similarly, lakhs of those employed in the unorganised sector — which includes beedi and anganwadi workers, head-load workers in market yards, construction workers and gram panchayat workers — struck work on both days.
Though the media has been quick to “write off” the response to the general strike, trade unionists feel the parameters used to judge the effectiveness of a strike must be different from that of a hartal or a bandh. Prasanna Kumar, secretary of the Karnataka State Committee of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, says that a strike need not be visible in the city centre.
He pointed out that the impact was felt “strongly” in the APMC yards across Karnataka, on construction sites, at beedi and garment units everywhere, and on a majority of factory floors across the State. “This is because the charter touched a raw nerve among workers, whose stagnant incomes haven’t kept up with spiralling prices.” It is natural that those who are hurt most are speaking up the loudest, he says, adding that the demand for minimum wages of Rs.10,000 and social security benefits have also found wide resonance among workers.
At the Town Hall
This “wide support” that Mr. Kumar talks about was visible at the Town Hall on Thursday where thousands of workers, across occupations — a majority from the unorganised sector — rallied. H.V. Anantha Subbarao, State committee secretary of the AITUC, said it is only natural that this section, where wages are the lowest and there’s almost no access to social security such as health or pension, join in large numbers.
The transport strike too, where the AITUC unions have large membership, was a “success”, but the impact was more in road corporations outside Bangalore and in the KSRTC’s inter-State fleet. Mr. Subbarao pointed out that the strike’s objective this time was also to “save the industry” that has been burdened by an unfair hike in diesel price. In this sector, the autorickshaw drivers’ strike — under an umbrella of eight unions — was near total. When asked, M. Manjunath of the Adarsha Auto Drivers’ Union said it is because “it pinches us most”. “Those under regular employment have pension, ESI and regular incomes. We have nothing, and fuel prices eat into our income even as essentials get costlier.”
Banks and insurance offices remained empty on both days. Apart from the general demands, opposition to ‘reforms’ in banking and allowing greater FDI in insurance found resonance, said Amanullah Khan, president, All India Insurance Employees’ Association.
Need to introspect
The “partial response” in the city’s PSUs, however, called for introspection, Mr. Khan said. “Trade unions will have to sit down and [debate] why in these central PSUs, which face the threat of disinvestment and contractualisation, employees didn’t respond in large numbers,” he said, adding that this was a “Bangalore-specific phenomenon”. The strike was partial in State government offices too, where one of the unions kept off.