By C H Venkatachalam
At the call of United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), bank employees and officers have participated in the nationwide strike on December 16 and 17, 2021 opposing and protesting against the government move to privatise public sector banks (PSBs) and to introduce the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, enabling the government to reduce equity capital in the PSBs to less than 51 per cent and allow private hands to take over the banks.
The strike was total and it paralysed banking transactions in a big way. Because of the strike, banking transactions were hugely affected and paralysed. Cash transactions could not be carried out. In many places, ATMs became dry. Government treasury operations, negotiating of import and export bills, grant of loans, cash transactions, etc, were not possible. In the three clearing centres in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai, huge number of cheques could not be taken up for clearance. Eighty thousand branches out of 86,000,that is 93 per cent, remained closed down. In the remaining ones, though they were kept open by the AGMs, DGMs, etc, no transaction could be carried out because all other employees were on strike.
Employees of all the PSBs, old generation private banks and workmen employees of foreign banks, as well as employees of Regional Rural Banks participated in the strike.
Employees and officers, especially young employees, were very vociferous in the rallies and demonstrations indicating their deep concern about their future if banks are privatised. With great difficulty and amidst very tough competition, they chose to join the PSBs only for the sake of job security. Many of them had left more remunerative private jobs, IT jobs, etc. Their urge to the unions to give the call for indefinite strike shows their anguish and determination, which is the big strength in the struggle of the bank unions.
Since the Bill, though deferred on the last day, has been listed in the agenda for passage in the just-concluded session, we had given the call for strike. During the meeting held by the additional Chief Labour Commissioner, the government /Union finance ministry officials stated that the Bill has not yet been introduced in the Parliament and they do not know when and whether the Bill will be introduced. Hence, we requested the government to assure that the Bill will not be introduced in this session so that the unions can meet the government and submit their details viewpoints as to why they oppose privatisation of banks. The government should also hold a wider discussion with all stakeholders of the banks before amending the law.
We informed the government that with such an assurance, the unions would consider to defer the strike. Unfortunately, the government could not give any such assurance. Conciliation meeting was held even on 15th evening and we attempted to convince the government to give such an assurance. But it did not happen. Hence, we have gone ahead with the strike as announced.
As per reports reaching us from various states and centres, the strike has been very successful and employees and officers have enthusiastically joined the strike.
There is no need to elaborate here about the reasons for our opposition to the moves of privatisation of public sector banks. From UFBU we have been consistently expressing our opposition to attempts of privatisation of banks as the same is neither in the interest of our economy nor in the interest of the workforce.
Further, our experience in the past has been bitter about the track record of many private banks which had collapsed due to mismanagement and financial irregularities. We also know that the huge problems faced by the banks on account of bulging bad loans is attributable to the deliberate default of loans by the private corporates.
On the other hand, the contributions of the PSBs have been invaluable and highly commendable. Hence UFBU is of the considered view that privatisation of banks is a retrograde measure.
We recall that when the government announced in the Budget 2021-22 that two PSBs would be privatised, UFBU immediately decided and expressed our strong protest against the decision through two days massive strike on March 15 and 16, 2021.
When the government had listed the Bill in the agenda for the current session, we again gave the call for strike and we have implemented the same successfully.
We only hope that the government would understand and appreciate the justified concerns of the bank employees, officers as well as of all our trade unions and not proceed with the decision to privatise any bank.
Bank employees are conscious that bank privatisation will not be in the interest of our country, our economy and our people, besides affecting their jobs, job security and future prospect.
We are thankful to all the Central Trade Unions — AITUC, BMS, INTUC,HMS, CITU, AIUTUC,TUCC, AICCTU, SEWA,LPF, TUCC, BKS — who have extended their support to our demands and struggle. We are also thankful to the unions in RBI, LIC, GIC, NABARD, RRBs, Co-op Banks, other public sector undertakings, government departments, bank retirees’ organisations, etc, for their fraternal support.
We are equally thankful to all the political parties — Congress, DMK, AITC, Shiv Sena, NCP, CPI, CPI-M, YSRC,TRC, AAP, TDP, VCK,RSP, CPI-ML-L, AIFB,MDMK — and all others for their support to our cause.
Similarly, we express our thanks to all the members of Parliament, who took up the issue in the Parliament and also addressed letters to prime minister and finance minister in support of our demands. We are thankful to the MPs belonging to the left parties and others, who staged a demonstration inside the Parliament campus in support of our strike. Our thanks are also due to all the various eminent personalities, who expressed their support and endorsed their views in favour of our demands.
While we regret the inconvenience caused to the banking public due to this strike, we are sure that they would appreciate that the strike was forced on us due to negative attitude of the government in averting the strike. We are also sure that the people at large would appreciate that our strike was in defence of public sector banking and to prevent privatisation of our banks. (IPA Service)
The writer is general secretary, All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA).