BANK STRIKE; 16-17 December
December 27, 2021
RITUAL OF PROTEST WILL NOT WORK ANY MORE
UFBU (United Forum of Bank Unions) mustered courage this time to go on strike for two consecutive days against Modi government’s project to finish public sector banks (PSB). UFBU leaders also revealed in a press conference on Dec 15th that total outstanding amount in 13 NPA accounts belonging to the top corporates as on March 2021 was ₹ 4,86,680 crore which has come down to ₹ 1,61,820 crore today. This reduction is not because they have repaid that whopping amount, that never happens in accounts owned by monopoly sharks. It is because Modi government has ‘settled’ these accounts in that amount which in plain and simple language means that government has written off a total of ₹2,84,980 crore loan amount belonging to the Ambani-Adanis of the land during last 9 months of this year alone. Bank leaders went on to say that the PSBs are being used repeatedly by the government as tools to save dying/ drowning companies of big monopoly corporate and private banks like Yes Bank, big gutter of economic scams IL&FS and Global Trust Bank etc. Due to this, the government banks are on the verge of collapse for which the blame will be laid on them and finally, they will have to bear the brunt of it. They also appraised that the government is doing all this, deliberately, in a planned manner to drive PSBs sick and then hand these over to the corporate crocodiles to devour. This sinister game will have very serious consequences on the people of the country at large and their life savings, their deposits are in danger.
This struggle of bank employees (officers below Management Committee MC level included) must be strongly supported by all sections of the public without any reservation. Bank staff are one of the most suffering sections of PSU employees. The whole nation must share their grief and wholeheartedly support and stand with them.
Bank Employees’ Unspeakable Sufferings
Unsung Corona Warriors: The whole world went into two years of shock treatment caused by deadly pandemic, Covid-19. Everybody knows how the medical, para-medical and their support staff had to attend to their duties putting their own life on line. They are respected and adored by one and all, very rightly so. So many of the young and bright doctors, nurses, cleaners lost their lives. Hardly anyone, though, has noticed that bank employees too remained on duty throughout the pandemic. According to the Moneycontrol.com report over 1,50,000 bank employees got infected by Corona while performing their duties during covid and 1200 lost their lives on duty. Not only that, 1.5 lakh infected employees carried virus to their homes and how many of their family members would have died as a consequence, there is no data available. Another fact that bank managements deliberately hide actual data to avoid paying compensation, may also please be noted. No dirghe was sung on their death, no obituaries written, they passed away unacknowledged and unsung!!
No Working Hours: Its ages, good 135 years since the brave workers of Hay Market, Chicago laid their lives for the cause of 8 hours work, 8 hours rest and 8 hours recreation, the way one likes to spend one’s time. That never happened in banks. Their May Day is yet to come. Working time of the bank employee is 7 days a week, stretched till he/ she falls unconscious and that’s without any overtime or any compensatory off. Leave is never sanctioned howsoever serious the reason may be. They always proceed on unsanctioned leave taking risk of finding a ‘show cause notice’ waiting on their table. Ironically, employees of the private banks reach their home early than the PSB employees. No recruitment is taking place, not even in place of those retiring every year.
Worst Victims of Non-sensical and Whimsical Policies: PM appeared on TV on November 7, 2016 as usually, raising his index finger straight and announced demonetization, the most non-sensical and horrible, terrible policy on earth for the common man. It, of course, helped the big producers of branded goods. Hell broke loose on bank employees the very next day. Apart from working till mid night amidst chaos, witnessing poor, hungry and destitute people collapsing in the queue is a harrowing experience. Bank employees were subjected to undergo that ordeal for months together. Before that, banks were made to open whopping 43.4 crore Jan Dhan (PMJDY) savings accounts.
Sword of Accountability Always Hangs Straight Over Head: All frauds and scams in banks occur because of decisions taken/ connivance of the MC (Management Committee) or the Board of Directors. Since that decision is not taken by an individual, members of the MC escape accountability. Frauds/ scams take place not only at the level of sanctioning of loans but also at the stage of first restructuring and then at the time of ‘settling’ the account through write off. For swindling of public funds through that channel, accountability is to be fixed. Noose is kept ready at the time of sanction itself and only the head is to be found out later! While sanctioning these ‘would be NPA’ accounts, the terms/ conditions are intentionally fixed in such a manner that no human being on this earth can comply. That is the reason that for each and every corporate account that drowns, heads of lower rank officials roll. Top management may appreciate for opening of so much Jan Dhan accounts but as soon as soon as any lapse is noticed, the same ‘efficient and dynamic’ official receives a very fat charge sheet for not adhering to KYC or ‘due diligence’.
Transfer as a Tool of Severe Punishment/ Retrenchment: Bank management need not pay for retrenchment of its employees these days. They can make as many officials submit their resignations as they want, simply by exercising their right to transfer anyone, anytime, anywhere in India, cleverly and cunningly. Women employees having breast feeding infants too are not spared. The worst spectacle of this suffocating exercise is witnessed at the time of mergers. Banks have got rid of up to 20% of their entire staff without any ‘premature retirement policy’ simply by exercising right of transfer arbitrarily and vindictively. There is no remedy for this ‘punishment’. Victim has nowhere else but to go home straight.
Bank Employees are under Acute, Chronic Stress: You may not find any bank employee these days working comfortably or cheerfully. Going is getting tuff and stressful by each passing day. Most of them have to take medicines of diabetes, BP, hypertension, depression, insomnia and what not. A 2017 study published in the July issue of ‘International Journal of Research in Humanities & Social Sciences’ informs that most of bank employees are under severe stress like this; 53.5% are suffering from headache, 67% frustrated, 53.5% having negative thoughts, 50% restless, 58.5% over thinkers, 52.5% mood swings, 42% back pain, 43.5% neck pain, 20.5% under depression, 33% feel they are about to go under depression, 51% nervous, 40% memory loss, 70% hair problems, 41% breathing issues, 38% frequent infections, 45% high BP. These figures pertain to the year 2017. Stress since then is aggravated alarmingly. This study also shows that most of the bank employees are suffering from multiple ailments. The biggest contributing factors to this level of stress are that bank employees are not getting any support or comfort from anywhere, neither from management or government nor from public or even from their trade unions. The second reason is uncertain, dark future. The pace with which this government is dismantling PSUs particularly the banks and handing these over, wholesale to the corporate sharks, no one is sure what will happen to them tomorrow. Dark and gloomy future stares and scares them.
In spite of being sensitive and empathetic to their plight, one can’t help but ask following questions to them;
1) The naked loot by the monopoly capitalists is going on unabated in the country and the darling of Ambani-Adanis, Modi government is in hurry to hand over all the resources of the country to the corporates. Bank employees are in the most suitable position to expose this reality before the people of the country because no one knows the economic and financial reality better than them. Why did they not fulfill this social responsibility? Why did the bank employees not perform this most important job of alerting the people in time so that these blood sucking corporate parasites are taken on target by the angry, suffering masses. The job that the farmers of the country did so brilliantly, shouldn’t that have been done long back by the bank employees?
2) No section of employees can fight its battle alone. Shouldn’t bank employees join the struggles of the working class, unhesitatingly and unconditionally? Modi government, the most anti-people and anti-worker government in the history of the country so far has, forcibly, snatched away the 44 rights acquired by workers after sacrifices for centuries and they have been handed over the rattle of 4 Labor Codes. Why are the bank employees not joining the labor movement against this gross injustice? Why did the bank employees not support the current glorious, historical farmers movement? Shouldn’t the bank employees too share society’s pain?
3) Bank trade union leaders’ ultimate goal always remains to become director in the board of the bank. This is the root cause of the downfall of trade union movement in banks. By becoming a bank employee-official director, sitting in a five-star hotel burdened with inferiority complex deep within with the board of directors and then signing on the dotted lines of all the resolutions/ decisions passed, they virtually mortgage their right to fight. Their language, then, changes from ‘we shall fight the injustice of the management’ to ‘together as a team with the management we shall make our bank great, take it to new heights’. The workers take over the role of the owners!! Is it a matter of honor as these workmen directors proclaim or a matter of pity!! Relation between worker and owner is antagonistic, it can’t be reconciled. Worker may be made to harbor illusion of becoming master by the cunning and shrewd managers of the bourgeoisie but this is a ploy to corrupt their thinking and lure them out of the fight. Why did bank unions allow the management to soften/ smother their fighting spirit by falling victim to this vulgar greed of occupying director’s chair? Can they make their bank great and take it to new heights when government has decided to dismantle these and sell to the rich like a scrap? Is it not unbecoming of being a worker? Is it not treachery to the working class? Was it not the beginning of the current downfall? Is a common board of owners and workers possible?
4) Bank workers please explain why they never supported the struggles of the exploited, toiling masses of the country? When did they associate themselves with the struggles on the issues of life and death of the millions and millions of the poor and destitute? Why should the people support them?
5) Can bankmen win their battle alone? Can white-collar workers save whiteness of their collar without joining the fight of the ocean of unorganized workers? Is it possible to push back, roll back this bourgeois neoliberal onslaught now or is it possible to halt it right here? Shouldn’t the bank employees have joined the massive anti-capitalist-imperialist-fascist mass movements going on in the country?
Trade Union Movement in Banking Industry
As pioneer of trade union movement and very first trade union leader in India, N. M. Lokhande deserves a salute from all the workers for forming ‘Bombay Mill Hands Association’ in Mumbai (Bombay) in 1890 after first Factory Act was passed by Britishers in 1881. That was the period of nascent capitalism, the so- called green shoots of capitalism in our country. There used to be the Crafts Unions formed by the skilled artisans of different crafts before that. All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) came into existence in 1920 and the Trade Union Act was passed in 1926. Industries were growing at fast pace and so were the trade unions representing workers. Workers had 2766 registered trade unions with a total membership of over 16,60, 000 in 1947.
Credit of formation of the very first trade union in banking industry in India goes to the employees of Imperial Bank of India (now SBI) which they did in 1925. Next significant mile stone of the trade union movement in banking industry was organization of Confederation of Bank Unions in 1946 that gave birth to the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA). Understandably, government was alarmed by formation of AIBEA more than formation of trade union in any other industry with obvious reason that if bank employees too will strike work, how would the economy run! In the 1952 AIBEA elections, the official candidate of Imperial Bank’s AIBEA for the post of GS was defeated by one who was a card holder of CPI. It was then got known that there is a majority of communist party members/ sympathizers in AIBEA and this led to its first split. Imperial Bank employees formed their separate unit of AIBEA and the same trend is still continuing as the Imperial Bank became State Bank of India on July1, 1955. Even now, AIBEA in SBI is separate from AIBEA in rest of the banks. Indian Banks Association (IBA) as representative body of the bank management came into existence on September 26, 1946.
During the pre-nationalization era of banks, working conditions of bank employees were pathetic. Show cause, suspensions, terminations of employee activists who ‘dared’ to form unions was routine as it now happens in private industries. Maruti company at Gurgaon is the vivid example where 10 workers are still languishing in jail, the conflict began with the workers daring to form their union. Even after repressions by the management, bank employees continued to ‘dare’ form their unions and continued with their organized fight and collective bargaining with the management and went on to earn one right after another. AIBEA earned the honor of being the leading trade union among trade unions in other industries also. The best feature of the bank trade union activities those days was that bank employees were motivated by their trade union leaders to participate enthusiastically in the struggles launched by their comrades in other sectors.
Downfall of Trade Union Movement in Banking Industry
Indira Gandhi took two vital decisions that had serious impact on banks. First, in order to take the capitalist development both in industrial and agricultural sector to another orbit and to make available humongous amount of financial support to both, she nationalized 14 banks on 19th July, 1969. That was, indeed, a landmark decision. Every aspect of working conditions of the employees was mutually settled there- after. Seventies and eighties saw rapid development of banking network and it was a hunky- dory period for employees as well as trade union leaders. She took another significant decision in 1974 during emergency and amended Banking Regulation Act 1949 yet again to appoint workman director in SBI. ‘Workers’ participation in management’ was a very much orchestrated concept those days. Complacency had already crept in the trade union activities in banking industry and they fail to understand the real design of the government behind that. The same demand to appoint workmen director and officer’s director was raised vociferously by unions in all the banks to which government happily acceded. Unions were euphoric, they were to send 3 names and one of these would sit in meeting of the Board of Directors. That was the beginning of the end of the trade union movement and beginning of the corruption of thought process of the trade union leaders. ‘Workers’ participation in management’ is a ploy to hoodwink workers so that they harbor an illusion that they are no more workers, they are owners!! Management/ government adopts this strategy when industry is in upswing phase, production/ expansion is required to be boosted at faster pace and management doesn’t want any slow down because of employee’s unrest. Bank unions fell prey to the trap and two prong degradation crept in. First, leaders started talking in the language of owners and union circulars began reading like management circulars, like this, ‘we have to work hard, over time like a team with management in order to take our ‘beloved bank’ to new heights!!’ Secondly, top leaders of the unions began behaving like appendages of the CMD/ MDs as it is they who will, eventually, pick one out of the three names to sit around the table in the Board Room. The workmen directors would always be aware that they are sitting there undeservedly by mercy of the management. They were first to sign every board decision. Some overenthusiastic and severely intoxicated by the director power, among them were even witnessed exhorting officers to give up their petrol reimbursement and other allowances as ‘their’ bank is in tight financial position!! It never occurred to them to explain to their members and the public at large as what is the actual cause of financial stress of banks. They, many a times, bore more arrogance, helping themselves, enjoying, having fun in bars and spas of the five- star hotel than even CMD. That was the height of stupidity of the trade union leaders. This downfall, gradually, got so disgusting that while preparing for union conferences, the most intensely debated/ deliberated topic would be, how much and which brand of liquor is required to be arranged and how many ‘comrades’ like to have non-veg snacks along with it!!
Towards the last decade of the last century, need of the ruling capitalist class warranted that since the corporates have accumulated huge capital, there is no demand in the market and the investment avenues are drying up, government should hand over all PSUs to them and get away from the way. UPA responded to the mood and need of their masters and unleashed ‘neo liberal policies’ to ‘alleviate poverty’!! Crisis went on accentuating and deepening fast and UPA government was not matching the corporate needs as they were going slow and subtle in dismantling PSU infrastructure. These crocodiles wanted to gulp everything in one go!! Need was created for a ‘dynamic-dashing-daring-56 inch chest’ Modi with the help of bought- out media and Modi has not disappointed his corporate masters. Master of the art of befooling the masses and creating theatrics, Modi, coined new slogan, ‘government has no business to be in business’!! Banks proved to be the easiest prey. The dismantling process of PSBs is almost complete.
Why to fight a losing battle?
Up to just 6 months back, people used to comment that SBI is too huge to be purchased by a corporate and it is the safest government place to keep their life savings. People are naïve, don’t know perhaps that there may be over 80 crore poor people in the country whom Modi government claims to have fed free during pandemic but here is one Mukesh Ambani also in the country who ranks 8th among the richest corporate sharks in the whole world. Ambani’s name may be added to SBI well before the coming year ends. What to talk of any other bank!! Can bank privatization be halted now? The answer is NO. Should the employees stop fighting to save PSBs? The answer is again, NO. Even after knowing that PSBs can’t be saved from privatization, employees must keep fighting to agitate and educate themselves that the neo-liberal onslaught can’t be reversed or halted now. They have to close ranks with ongoing workers struggle in general to take this whole system of capitalism on target. There is no middle course left now. They must also learn that there can’t be any participation of workers in management. They must realize that they can’t take their ‘beloved bank’ to new heights, how so ever hard they may try. Government propaganda is always driven by the needs of the capitalist class. What can they do now to save their beloved bank? Isn’t that non sense of ‘employee participation in management’ gone with the wind? Wasn’t is a cunning ploy to befool them? Capitalism has crossed its expiry date and it has now only grief and devastation to offer. Bank employees too have to discharge their historical responsibility and join their comrades fighting for liberation of working class to usher in socialism.