Calcutta, July 29: The high priest of disruption in Bengal has sacrificed a strike at the altar of Left Front — an unheard-of rite in a state that became a synonym for bandhs.
Citu today announced the postponement of Tuesday’s transport strike, which had gifted chief minister Mamata Banerjee a chance to pick up the gauntlet and convert the showdown into a test of her authority and commitment to governance.
The CPM’s labour arm, rarely short of bombastic proclamations, merely referred to a letter from Left Front chairman Biman Bose to explain why the strike was being put off. In the letter, the CPM veteran asked the party’s trade union leaders to join a front-sponsored sit-in in the city on August 2 instead of going for the strike.
“We are complying with Biman-da’s request because bus workers will get an opportunity to voice their protest alongside other Left trade unions on August 2,” Citu state president and CPM Rajya Sabha MP Shyamal Chakraborty said. He did not mention a fresh strike date.
Few Left union leaders could recall a previous occasion on which Citu had to pull itself back from a strike it had already announced. “I have been with the Left trade union movement for nearly 50 years but have never heard of Citu deferring a strike it had announced,” said Debasish Dutta, state president of Aituc, the CPI’s labour wing.
Mamata can now claim to have achieved something that was inconceivable a few years ago in Bengal: force Citu to beat a retreat from a strike in a sector that it had lorded over.
Even two years ago, all it would have taken Citu to bring the city and the rest of Bengal to standstill was a red plastic chair, defiantly positioned at intersections, with two bricks to keep its flag in place.
Asked if Mamata’s threat to foil the strike forced the union’s hand, Chakraborty said: “We are not bowing to any pressure. You may think so, but we don’t.”
Chakraborty’s statement masked the deep divisions among Left Front unions over the transport lockdown that had originally coincided with a strike proposed by bus operators to press for fare hikes. Citu is opposed to increasing fares but had called the strike on the same day to oppose fuel price hike and push for state subsidy for the transport sector in order to avoid inconveniencing people on another day.
However, with Mamata, who has shunned bandhs for the past few years, threatening to cancel permits and licences, the bus operators had fallen in line yesterday and deferred their action.
Besides, Citu appears to have antagonised fellow unions through its infamous Big-Brother attitude with several leaders terming the decision “unilateral” and “taken without consultations”.
While all these issues have played their part in various degrees, the single-biggest factor that pushed Citu to the wall appears to be loss of official patronage — something that was a given when the Left was in power.
Citu’s predicament — and embarrassment — was evident in a disclosure of Subhas Mukherjee, the general secretary of the West Bengal Road Transport Workers’ Federation that is affiliated to the CPM’s labour wing.
“We have already distributed over 50,000 posters and leaflets across the state in support of the strike and lined up over 300 public meetings in the run-up. But we will have to cancel all of them,” Mukherjee said, hours before he left for a meeting at Baranagar this evening. “Now we will have to explain to people the reason for deferring the strike at the meeting,” he added.
The decision to postpone the strike was welcomed by state transport minister Madan Mitra. “This is a step in the right direction on the part of Citu,” Mitra said, adding, “We are happy that Citu has belatedly realised that a transport strike would not solve problems affecting the transport sector. They are welcome to come to the negotiation table to discuss things.”
The minister added: “When Mamata-di was informed of Citu’s decision, she expressed her happiness.”