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Strike: What for? Times have changed
01 Mar 2012

Tuesday’s countrywide strike organised by 11 labour and employee unions met with partial success, unsettling transport and banking services in particular. One can understand if low-paid workers protest against rising prices or excesses of the management or demand better wages and working conditions. The labour laws recognise the right to strike under certain conditions. Dissatisfied workers have the right to take their dispute to labour courts. But what is it that is common among factory workers, bus drivers, postal employees and bankers? Some are fairly well paid and they have joined hands only to show their disruptive power.
This was the 14th general strike since the economic reforms began in 1991. The Left and others opposed to reforms are free to voice their dissent in a peaceful way. India as a democracy allows them enough space. Elections provide the voters an opportunity to overthrow a government whose policies they disapprove of. But a minority cannot dictate terms, disrupt normal life or indulge in unlawful activities to forcibly have its way. There is almost a political consensus on economic reforms, which have pushed India’s growth rate from 2-3 per cent to 7-9 per cent. If the agitating workers and employees have rights, so do people at large – the right to free movement to carry on with their day-to-day life. A shutdown brought about by the use or threat of force is illegal and courts have ruled against road/rail blockades.
Times have changed. A vote is seen as a more reasonable weapon to bring about change than a strike. Companies, banks and institutions compete not only among themselves within the country but also with rivals outside. A whole new generation has emerged which is furiously working to raise living standards and is intolerant of disruptions and dislocations. Given the cost of agitations and loss of productivity caused by a disgruntled workforce, managements have to strengthen their internal dispute settlement mechanism and make their work culture congenial for growth. It is important to adopt global management practices. Rules of the game have changed and the socialist era is over.