Cash and no carry

The first question that struck me on hearing of the banking strike was: Why only two days? I mean, does it not make sense for the bankers (their frequent strikes make sense to no one else) to extend their strike-holiday by a couple of days more so that they can enjoy an extended weekend? In fact, that’s their tradition, vouched by the strike-festival calendar of many years! Also, if their cause justifies two days it can as well vindicate a longer span too.

We now know why we were spared with just a two-day hit. Something bigger is in the offing. Sounding like a seasoned kidnapper-for-ransom, a union leader has threatened that if their demands are not met forthwith, the bankers will launch an indefinite strike soon. He has also warned that the proposed open-ended strike may be preceded by another warm-up strike of two days or so, probably giving us customers an op to get used to it and brace ourselves up for the impending big bang. But there’s a silver lining. Even the indefinite strike has to be for a definite period because unless the bankers get back to ‘work’ how can they strike again, indefinite or definite?

Any bank strike is accompanied by two, er, striking claims. First is national interest. Is there any? Fat chance. At a cost of Rs 30,000 cr to the economy and unquantifiable agony to people, quoting national interest is rather queer. National interest in fact is not only rendered notional but also self servient to their self-interest. But worst is the second claim: Success! So the measure of the success of their strike is directly related to the loss and hardship to the nation and its people. Indeed, it takes a real perverted mind to derive pleasure from putting dependent people in trouble and it takes even more gall to make a celebratory song of it in public. But we seem fated for worse since the bankers are plotting an endless display of ‘national interest’ and an infinite reap of such ‘success’?

Really, bank strikes are a form of white-collar terror unleashed on innocent victims who have no means to fight back. What options do the bank customers have? Can they seek compensation from the strikers for loss or disruption in their financial transactions or for extra interest charged in loan accounts owing to deposited cheques not taken for clearing? Also, the damage to business goes beyond the strike days as clearing operations do not return to normal immediately. Again, a bank strike also constitutes a human rights violation, because our right to access our own money is denied. In a milieu of ATM-to-mouth existence that could be a killer in an emergency situation. Really, with bankers bunking work at will, it is time their targets upped their ante to this ‘terror’ threat.

Apart from the familiar itch that arises on its own within a certain period of the earlier strike, what has raised the hackles of the bankers now is the proposed amended legislation to the banking laws. Among other things, they apprehend a reduction in work force due to outsourcing and, therefore, a de-unionising process. That is something the captains of labour cannot stomach and hence the resort to the unfailing ploy of rallying their captive members by creating insecurity in their minds about their jobs and pay. The truth is the opposite: Bank employees are more secure than even Kasab or Afzal Guru. And they do not need unions which were meant to fight for those slogging in unfair and distressing physical working conditions. If anything, striking bankers make our living conditions worse and it is we who should feel insecure about strike-happy bankers.

Of pay, the secure PSU lot, despite having no superior or unique skills and qualities to set them apart or justify special treatment, is however better off than the rest of the working populace. In any case, nothing prevents them from seeking greener pastures in a liberal banking environ. In a merit-based job scene, pay should be a matter of a person’s abilities and not the subject of a dubious ‘collective bargaining’ power of unions whose own motives and methods are suspect. The prevailing system of bunching employees into stringent cateogries and classes is the culprit. The result is a spiral of anomalies vis-a-vis pay parity and pay hikes, things that can never be resolved to any class’s satisfaction. Always grievance-laden and insatiable, and their sights set only inwards, small wonder they are blind to the outside world of customers they are supposed to serve. And since strikes cannot be deemed customer service, the bankers are only strengthening the case against them.

But bankers pale in comparison to our MPs. With coal blacking out Parli proceedings and the opposition striking at will with their ban-MMS (Manmohan Singh) demand, the country itself is on a lockout. Though we foot the bill through taxes, we can claim the nation is better off only when Parli is not in session. Sadly, we can’t say that of banks. It’s about our personal post-tax cash, stupid!

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Jawahar T R