Strikes are a “democratic” way of expressing discontent with the system. Aren’t they?
While strikes seem to be the apt go to method of putting forth one’s demands, in reality, they’re far from civil and even less democratic in the way they’re conducted. Take the 2009 labour strike at Pricol in Coimbatore. Workers staging a strike outside Pricol’s office attacked the company’s Vice President with iron rods. In a similar strike at Maruti Suzuki in 2012, workers burned down a part of the manufacturing plant. Of course, neither of these strikes were successful in achieving the demands or as much as even receiving government response.
The point being that in India, each and every protest turns into violence. And yet, violence is just one of the many reasons why such strikes never prove to be effective in our country. Let’s explore these reasons.
Too soon too short
Barring the 2016 labour strike, that shook the nation, most strikes in India are very short lived. Take for example the Railway Strike of 1974. While one of the most impactful and earnest strikes the country has seen, its life was barely 20 days. It was brutally suppressed by Indira Gandhi, resulting in jail terms for several protestors.
Then there are the auto/taxi strikes in Mumbai demanding to increase the minimum fare per 1.5 kms. According to a study, taxi drivers earn as much as Rs 88,000 per month, which means staging a ‘hartal’ for one day can lead to a loss of Rs 3000. Thus taxi bandhs in the city don’t last for more than 24 hours. Similarly, during labour strikes, workers lose per day salaries, which may not bode well for a person living dangerously close to the poverty line.
Apart from money, protestors also don’t have enough time to stage a strike. During the Nirbhaya rape case, women from various organizations went on strike demanding capital punishment for the rape accused. After 2 weeks of dharnas, disgraceful comments by politicians, protestors returned home. Lack of substantial actions against the culprits and problems in personal life led these women to shit down the strikes.
Polarisation woos trump mass welfare
India being a massively polarized nation, there is no way the government can please everyone. What one community is fighting for, the other is fighting against, and heeding to either side’s argument can result in riots. For example, take the 2018 Bharat Bandh where Dalit organisations went on strike to protest against the probable dilution of the SC/ST Act. Protestors disrupted railway traffic and set vehicles on fire. Police had to use tear gas bombs on protestors to prevent further damage. While the demands of the strike seemed valid and imperative to the progress of SC/ST communities, they went against the demands of the general category. General category citizens have usually been agitated with the leeway given to those from SC/ST in different walks of life like education, government jobs, etc. In 2006, medical students across the nation went on an anti-reservation strike to eliminate unmeritorious admissions in colleges.
Since there is no unanimous national consensus in terms of reservation, such strikes will always be unsuccessful in India. This is because government authorities may never be able to pass a substantial bill that pleases both sides. Thus heeding to one side of the demands will prop up strikes on the other side and vice versa.
Too many obnoxious strikes
India has seen thousands of strikes in the past 60 years, some prominent and some very niche. According to a research, there were a total of 159 strikes between 2014 and 2016. The country experienced its biggest strike ever in 2016, with over 180 million workers protesting for higher wages. In contrast, the nurse protests, for a similar demand, happen almost every year for a couple of days, but go unheard of. It’s the sheer volume of the strikes for such certain causes that make it difficult for people to keep track of it. Just like the bombing in the Middle East, Indians have now become desensitised to strikes in the nation.
Government apathy, lack of time, and polarized interests have made it almost impossible for strikes to strike the impact that they want.