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CIMA Gallary

Loss of strike lifeline

Calcutta, July 29: Several reasons were cited today for Citu’s unparalleled decision to defer the transport strike but the most telling one was a realisation that the union no longer enjoys official patronage.

Protests such as industrial action, gherao and bandhs almost always cast themselves in an anti-establishment mould but in Bengal, they drew sustenance from an unbreakable umbilical cord with the ruling dispensation for over three decades.

Left sources said the transport sector in Bengal was beset with problems that affect workers and Citu’s reading of the pulse was correct.

But the union soon realised that it was in no position to offer any relief to the workers even if the strike had managed to cripple the sector for a day. More important, the union had no real answer to the chief minister’s threat of cancelling bus permits.

If Mamata had gone ahead with the threat — considered symbolic when she issued it but few were willing to bet on such a reading — the workers’ livelihood would have been affected.

Citu leaders were also reminded of the bitter lesson of the general strike in February when Mamata cracked the whip on government employees. Many union leaders had threatened to move court and spoken of other forms of strikeback but the employees who faced the stick were largely left to fend for themselves.

If a similar situation were to have unfolded in transport, the impact on the workers, whose grievances are far graver than that of a government employee, Citu would have been able to offer little succour with the Left out of power.

The transport sector has an increasing number of casual workers — whose job security is fragile, unlike a government employee who enjoys many rights. It would have been easier for the government to legally crack down on the transport employees than it was the case with government employees.

Added to this was bad timing. Citu miscalculated the fallout of calling the strike on the same day bus operators had lined up similar action.

Citu’s strategic reasoning was sound: avoid inconveniencing the people on an additional day. But it did not foresee the tactical blunder: Citu was seen as allying with bus operators who were demanding higher fares — an irreconcilable element for a Left organisation at the forefront of the fight against price rise.

Besides, Citu did not bother to consult unions allied to other Left parties. Their clout may not be decisive but, as a Left leader put it, “the arithmetic of quality also matters as much as the arithmetic of quantity” when it comes to mass movements.

The CPM union was not calling a strike in a specific industrial unit or segment where its individual muscle would have been sufficient. The transport sector affects most citizens and a shutdown in such a segment requires all-round support, especially when the enforcer is enfeebled.

Ranjit Guha, AITUC general secretary, said his union had opposed the strike since “Citu did not consult us”. “A large section of our trade union members are transport workers. But Citu did not bother to take us into confidence about Tuesday’s strike,” he said.

Ashok Ghosh, the general secretary of RSP’s trade union UTUC, said Citu took a “unilateral decision”.

All of which ensured that none — neither like-minded trade union leaders nor the political leadership of the Left — was comfortable with the Citu strike plan.