For once,Mamata does the right thing by laying down work rules for her employees
Mamata Banerjees politics,in a word,could be called populist,in the absence of a well-formulated and well-enunciated agenda. In her last years in opposition,and now as chief minister of West Bengal,Banerjee has steadily positioned herself as more left than the Left. The Luddite politics of Singur,her stint as the most anti-reformist,statist railway minister in recent history,or her assault on FDI in retail,would bear testimony to that. Therefore,her governments decision to cancel the extensive trade union rights of its employees comes as a break from both the chief ministers consistent populism and lefter-than-Left political moulding.
This decision is welcome,not merely because West Bengal would always have profited from a mellowing of its cholchhe na,cholbe na image and reality,but more so because there was something perverse about the 1981 grant of full trade union rights to state government employees by the Left Front government. That had engendered anytime,anywhere strikes by the governments own employees,taking the state swiftly and steadily downhill. That 1981 clause,which Banerjees government is planning to withdraw,went against all good sense. The proposed amendment to the state service rules,to cancel that original amendment,is ostensibly aimed at disciplining government employees and reducing political influence on them. It will not go down well with hardened and professional unions that know better than most how to bring state-funded industry and services,transport,state-aided schools and colleges as well as government hospitals to a complete suspension of activity with or without notice. While not de-recognising state employees unions,the reform will curb their disproportionate powers of blackmail and disruption by denying them the right to strike.
The employees associations may have already threatened protests (there was already a general trade union strike planned for February 28),and the state government will take a lot of flak for the denial of democratic rights. But this is the moment for
Mamata Banerjee to hold her nerve,and for her government to hold its ground. If the state employees can be made to change their work and political culture,a lot else can be reformed in Bengal.