Over a million strike in India against move to privatize banks

The strike was called by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), an umbrella body of nine unions. It was observed all across the country on March 15 and 16 and supported by all major left parties

March 17, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
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Over a million employees of the banking sector in India observed a two-day national strike on March 15 and 16 in opposition to the government’s move to privatize public sector banks. The union government led by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has proposed to privatize two public sector banks as part of its larger privatization and disinvestment plan.

The employees carried out several protest marches in the capital, New Delhi, and other major cities, shouting slogans against the government’s move. The marches were attended by thousands from other progressive groups, including farmer’s groups and students’ and women’s unions.

On March 15, the first day of the strike, 10 trade unions and a group of farmers also gave a call for observing the day as “anti-privatization” and “anti-corporatization” day. The central trade unions said in a statement that the protests were carried out at 100,000 spots all across the country.  

The strike call was given by United Forum for Bank Unions (UFBU) which comprises the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA),the  All India Bank Officers’ Confederation (AIBOC), the National Confederation of Bank Employees (NCBE), the All India Bank Officers’ Association (AIBOA) and the Bank Employees Confederation of India (BEFI), among others.

Bank employees and left parties have been opposing the privatization moves by the central government, calling it pro-corporate and anti-people. Unions leading the strike claim that privatization is expected to impact the working conditions of the bank employees. They also claim that this can lead to difficulties in access to banking services by the poor living in remote areas adversely affecting their social security.

Left parties support the strike call

The strike call was supported by all the major left parties in India. Criticizing the Narendra Modi government for pursuing pro-corporate and anti-people policies, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Sitaram Yechury said in a Twitter post that while farmers are “forced to take their lives for small loans,” government is busy waiving off non-performing assets (NPAs) caused by ‘rich cronies.’ Now the government has decided to reward the same cronies by selling them public sector banks.” He called the move “criminal” and asked for resistance to reverse these “disastrous policies.”

Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of the CPI (ML) Liberation, also tweeted in support of the striking bank employees saying, “privatization is the Modi government’s biggest mantra to sell strategic assets and cause economic ruin.”

Talking to Newsclick, general secretary of AIBEA, C H Venkatachalam, said that the “strike has been successful” and the overwhelming number of the bank branches remained closed with young employees leading, which is a sign that they have understood the perils of privatization well.  

He also claimed that public banks have been performing well and are in profit and the government’s claim of their inefficiency is bogus.

Citing better coordination of resources and efficiency, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has already carried out the merger of 14 public sector banks in the last four years. The merger was opposed by the unions which see it as a first step towards privatization.  

The government already privatized a public sector bank, IDBI, last year and has proposed to garner more than 1 trillion Indian rupees which would be more than USD 13 billion by selling stakes in other public sector banks in the current financial year. The government is planning to privatize the country’s insurance sector too.     

The strike of the Bank employees would be followed by the strike in the four General Insurance Companies on March 17. The call for the strike in the insurance sector is given by all the unions. Employees in the largest life insurance company in India, Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), will observe a one-day strike on March 18.