A futile gesture

The Prime Minister’s appeal to call off the country-wise strike by all major trade unions on February 20 and 21 has gone unheeded. It is only to be regretted. The economy is weighed down with a severe slowdown and the strike will only aggravate the situation. Besides, the general public will be put to great inconvenience. Emergency health services will be thrown into disarray. Millions of workers in the unorganized sector who are daily wage earners will lose two days’ earnings. The demands of the trade unions are numerous—containing prices, generating employment, enforcement of labour laws, social security for all workers, stepping down on disinvestment, abolition of contract labour, removal of ceilings on bonus, increasing provident fund and gratuity benefits, compulsory registration of trade unions and assured pension. The demands are in some cases clashing with one another.

 High growth is conducive to workers’ benefit. It creates jobs and hikes wages. In the last decade, higher growth not merely reduced unemployment but also more than doubled growth in real wages in the manufacturing sector. Along with that, rural wages increased six-fold. High growth can result from boosting private sector investments and adopting flexible labour laws. It is the only way to generate greater employment opportunity. The Factory Act and the Industrial Disputes Act have become obsolete and they need significant modification. Industrial harmony can be ensured only if the multiplicity of trade unions is whittled down. All this will result in greater amelioration of the condition of workers, much more than a general strike can. CITU in West Bengal has shown some sense by curtailing the strike to one day, whatever the pretext may be.

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