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Privatisation: Public Sector Bank Unions to Intensify Agitation, May go for ‘Prolonged Strikes’

On Thursday, hundreds of PSB officers and employees gathered at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to reiterate their opposition to privatisation and any bid to bring in a Bill in this regard.
Bank Protest

Union leaders address the gathering of bank staff members at Jantar Mantar on Thursday. Image clicked by Ronak Chhabra

New Delhi: Stepping up their opposition to the Centre’s privatisation spree, public sector bank (PSB) employees on Thursday said they may go for “prolonged strikes” across the country in case the government decides to introduce a Bill in this regard.

On Thursday, hundreds of PSB employees and officers staged a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar at the call of United Forum of Bank Unions. They were joined by Central Trade Union (CTU) leaders, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.

The agitational campaign of bank unions in the country, that has witnessed several strike actions in recent years, will continue until the Centre assures that its agenda to privatise the country’s PSBs is off the table, some union leaders told to Newsclick, adding that the this is so because the Modi government “cannot be trusted.”

“We have decided that if the government brings any law to privatise the banks during the ensuing [Monsoon] session of Parliament, then, there would be intensified and prolonged strikes in banks,” C H Venkatachalam, general secretary, All India Bank Employees Association, said on Thursday.

Bank Protest

 

Bank officers and employees reiterate their opposition to privatisation of national banks. Image clicked by Ronak Chhabra

In the Union Budget for the financial year 2021-22, the Narendra Modi government had announced its intent to privatise two PSBs, with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in April this year, reiterating that the government will fulfil its commitment to the same.

However, according to one media report, the Central government has not been able to make considerable progress on bank privatisation for these many months now since making the announcement in the face of trade union opposition.

In December last year, over eight lakh bank officers and employees across the country struck work for two days to protest against the listing of a Bill that seeks to amend banking laws in the country in the legislative business Winter session of Parliament. Taking note of the fierce opposition, the government had deferred the plan.

Likewise, in March this year, banks remained closed, as employees and officers joined the two-day general strike call by CTUs to protest against the privatisation of public enterprises.

The fight to save PSBs from being handed over to private players will only get intensified in the months to come, Soumya Datta, general secretary, All India Bank Officers’ Confederation, told Newsclick.

“In case the Bill to privatise PSBs is not listed in the ongoing Parliament session then after its conclusion, employees and officers will prepare for activities across the country to ensure that the Bill is not introduced in the next session,” Datta said, adding that “it will be a long-drawn battle,” for which the bank staff, “is prepared.”

The resolve to fight ‘tooth and nail’ against the move to privatise PSBs by bank staff unions is having some impact going by reports that the Centre is unlikely to introduce the contentious Bill in the ongoing Monsoon session.

However, Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress, told Newsclick that the Modi government “cannot be trusted”.

“Look at how the Centre uses its executive powers every now and then to ensure that its agenda of transferring national wealth to private corporations is fulfilled,” she said, citing examples of the farm ordinances, introduced in 2020, among others.

Hence, Kaur added, that the agitation by bank unions would continue until an assurance is given by the Centre that the agenda to privatise the country’s PSBs is off the table.

“Privatisation of public enterprises is also being seriously opposed by all the CTUs in the country. It will be discussed in our next meeting in the coming days in which issues, such as inflation and unemployment, will be addressed,” Tapan Sen, general secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, told Newsclick.

Earlier, addressing the protesting bank employees, Sen assured them of support from unions in other public sector undertakings.

The gathering was also addressed by D Raja, general secretary, Communist Party of India (CPI) and Rajya Sabha MP, who extended his party’s support to the bank unions.

“The present government must be held accountable and answerable,” said Raja, urging bank employees to “continue with your agitation.”

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