Strikes by organized lobbies such as unionized employees, truck unions and workers of all sorts have been a feature of political life in India. January may appear to be an unexceptional month in this respect, but it has been argued (see the Mint story on strikes on Monday) that as the general election approaches, more strikes are in the offing.
Strikes usually are borne out of some disaffection on the part of those who resort to the measure. In the case of truckers, for example, increases in the price of tyres, fuel, tolls and other costs are sore points. Employees usually want higher salaries than what they get. These demands are economic in nature and they suggest that the inability to stabilize prices and price expectations are responsible for the political turmoil caused by strikes.
There is some truth in this. While inflation has come down from its 13% peak last year, the political effects in its wake, strikes for example, are yet to subside. What is preventing them from abating?
In the run-up to the general election, political parties of all hues want to play the strike game. As a voter-cum-worker mobilization device, strikes are unparalleled in their efficiency. Resultantly, a vicious cycle sets in: While the original economic problems sort themselves out, strikes end up creating more problems. The truckers strike, for example, has the potential to bring back inflation. This will lead to renewed problems in the future. So, while the grievances may have some substance, their “solution” will only add to the problem, and not resolve it. This problem has been particularly acute in states ruled by Left parties, where strikes only have political ends.
Figures show there may be some substance in this. In the 10-year period from 1997 to 2006, the number of strikes in Central public sector undertakings (one of the more unionized sectors of the economy), came down from 1,305 to 420, the man days lost increased from 16.97 million (in 1997) to 20.27 million (2006). While there are no reliable estimates of output lost per man day, going from the demands for higher pay, higher inflation and shortages of goods in these years, one can only say that strikes added to the problems.
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