The 48-hour strike by central trade unions may have been successful for them — in the sense that their cadre struck work. Governments too have been insensitive or have completely ignored its impact as the resultant wage cuts would reduce their burden to some extent.
But it is the common man who has been made to suffer. Medical assistance was unavailable and transport facilities were denied to many. Industrial units have been hit. More than all this, it is the daily wage earner who has been the hardest hit. India is a developing country and most people live below the poverty line. We lost 48 precious hours sitting idle at home.
During my visit to the U.S in 1999, the labour union of the New York Transport Authority called for a strike. Since office-going public would have been put to great hardship, as a majority used the New York subway, the authorities took the matter to the court. The strike was banned and the union directed to pay $1 million a day to the Transport Authority if it went ahead with the strike. It promptly called it off.
The U.S is also a democracy like India. Why can’t India take similar action? Labour unions go on strike at the drop of a hat under the guise of democracy and fighting for their rights. It is time we adopted a tougher attitude towards the labour unions.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s plea to the Election Commission to ban political parties calling for bandhs was interesting (Feb. 21). Would she have done this when she was in the Opposition? If there is a law to punish a political leader who invites people to go on strike, their frequency would decrease. In Kerala, people have learnt how to convert a hartal into a festive holiday.
While protest is needed against the uncaring attitude of the government, this sort of unproductive, loss-making two-day bandh is unwarranted.
There are other ways of registering one’s protest. One could be working more. Meetings and agitations can be reserved for time after working hours.
Keralites have always prided themselves on being ahead of the rest in many areas. That this is a fallacy is proved once more with the State earning the dubious distinction of being the only place where a trade union strike has turned into a virtual bandh. There was not a ripple in Mumbai. Delhi was its usual self and even in Kolkata, buses and taxis plied. In Chennai, life was normal. But in Kerala, it was like a scene after war — graveyard-like silence.
The fabled “Kerala model” is a well-worn myth. We have slipped in all areas. Today, we have no industry worth its name, no agriculture to speak of. All we produce are largely, unemployable youth. The one area where we are doing well is tourism, and again thanks to Mother Nature.
We do not realise that the rest of India has marched ahead. There is only a limited following elsewhere for the obscurantist views held by some fossilised politicians. One can only hope and pray that better sense will prevail and Kerala too would change its attitude and embark on the road to development.