Do striking SBI workers deserve our sympathy?

Officers and staffers of India's largest nationalised bank, SBI, have launched yet another indefinite strike, this time pressing for their pension. Do they deserve our sympathy?


They who have the most cushy working hours? They who couldn't care less about customers? They who have multiple sites and houses, tonnes of leave, and other perks that only a public sector worker knows she is entitled to?

This is what I have written elsewhere.

"The indefinite strike launched by employees of India’s largest nationalised bank from today shows, yet again, the failure of public sector workers and their unions in coming up with newer ways of airing and securing their demands without hampering the interests of customers who underwrite their salaries. Indeed, the belief that closing down offices and causing losses to the employer is the only way of drawing shows that trade unionism has become a hapless hostage of outdated modes and techniques of protest.

"Don’t get us wrong. The six point charter of demands of the employees related to their pension may be legitimate. Indeed, the fact that officers and staff members are both on strike shows that this is a serious issue. And, don’t get us wrong again. Employees have a right to protest. Indeed, if protest had been disallowed there would never have been progress on issues such as justice, equality, better working conditions, and so on. But the question here is not about the employees’ demands or their right to protest. It is about us. 

"The simple question that “We, the People”, must ask is: is there no other way in which public sector employees can protest for their legitimate demands without causing inconvenience to us? The pension issue is a straightforward dispute between the employees and their managements. “We, the People” are not involved in it. Yet, today and over the next few days, it is we—not the management—who will be put to trouble; it is we—not the management—who will not be able to withdraw cash or issue cheques. 

"The usual response of the workers and their unions to this very simple point is that the managements do not take them seriously if they do not strike work at such a scale. Maybe, but why should we pay the price? The other clichéd response is that the people do not mind this small inconvenience because, after all, the employees too are one of us. Maybe, but who really benefits from this, the people or the employees? In other words, the employees and their unions are still using socialist-era striking methods. 

"As customer frustration grows over the next few days, it is imperative that the employees and their unions think of news ways of drawing attention and securing justice without affecting customers. Let there be an all India convention on this. Let them think of working all night. Let them think of forming a human chain after office hours. Let them think of doing something radically different that will earn them the bouquets of customers, rather than their brickbats. 

"At this rate, all that public sector employees and their unions will accomplish is a further erosion of public trust in their organizations and drive them into the hands of private players. And leave the people wondering whether the pampered public sector employee will ever be satisfied."