Business, Human Resources, Marketing, Planning, Public Issues, Strategy

Strategy for a Strike!

During the past one week the employee union of London Underground caused a strike, stopping the London mass transport system London Underground better known as Tube. The inconvenience caused was unbelievable! Workers in the city were not able to reach office leading to GDP loss, physical and mental aggravation to all the travelers, Problems for tourists amongst many other issues. The strike also got me thinking about the various strikes which keep happening and how can one make a strike more successful.

According to Wikipedia,

A strike is a strike action by a critical mass of the labour force in a city, region or country. While a general strike can be for political goals, economic goals, or both, it tends to gain its momentum from the ideological or class sympathies of the participants. It is also characterized by participation of workers in a multitude of workplaces, and tends to involve entire communities. Strikes are sometimes used to put pressure on governments to change policies. Occasionally, strikes destabilise the rule of a particular political party.

So from the strategic point of view I feel the following points are most important:

  • A strike should have a goal! To change government policy, economic reasons, political reasons, whatever but the goal should be clear and decided.
  • The strike should gain sympathy from communities! The strike is a way to let the masses know about your demand and make them sympathize with you, so you definitely need them to relate with you!
  • The strike should reach out, make a difference to the people!

Now lets take a few examples of the various strikes which keep happening in the country and try to analyze them from the strategic point of view.

Kolkata Bandh! The very lovely state of West Bengal in India is famous for almost continuous strikes throughout the year conducted by CPM (the ruling party) and Trinamool. What is amazing is how these strikes are a complete failure and only a loss to West Bengal. Whenever central government passes a policy against CPM there is a strike in West Bengal. The strike does not reach out to anyone in the country (except poor West Bengal citizens and Kolkata Business Travellers), the entire country keeps working and contributes to GDP and West Bengal takes another holiday and burns some buses! The strike does not get any sympathy from citizens across the country and in fact even Kolkata residents are not fed up of this. The result is a total failure and a mockery of a strike (it becomes just another holiday for a lazy babu)

Youth4Equality! Lets not discuss the issue of reservations but focus on the strike caused by doctors (and engineers) around India against the OBC reservation act. The goal was clear, to prevent the passing of the OBC reservation act by the Congress Government. The major failures were because of points 2 and 3. The strike could not make the people sympathize with the doctors nor could they get any publicity. Media easily shows people suffering outside government hospitals and doctors not giving treatment. Its a no brainer which side the sympathy will go! How many people actually give medical / engineering exams and how many actually know about them? The strike needed to reach out to the masses and it did not.

Bollywood Producers Strike! In India movies are important, afterall it is the favorite timepass for the weekend. When movie producers wanted to get a bigger pie from multiplexes they needed to strike in a very simple way! Make a difference to the life of the average moviegoer. By not releasing any films for a period of 2 months they were able to get the attention of everyone in the country (though they did not get the sympathy). At the end of 2 months people were dying to see a movie and the multiplexes were dying of the debt burdens! Instant solution by the strike.

Strike by Factory Employee Unions! A strike by factory unions typically works on the sympathy angles and mostly is even able to pull it off! Nobody likes to see people crying over television regarding how are they going to feed their kids or send them to school. A very recent example is the Jet Airways firing of staff and in fact they did not even need to do a strike!

To sum it up doing a strike is an important way to affect policy decisions. But doing a strike is also like the game of bowling where you need to get all the 9 pins down in 1 go to get a strike! You need to have a plan, gain sympathy, make yourself indispensable and then you can virtually get anything done!

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7 thoughts on “Strategy for a Strike!

  1. @AT_korvus
    Appreciate ur inputs- abhiram , but thts beside the point…

    Strikes, while the intention of protest is justified, I feel isnt the right way of protest. I know how Textile mills in Mumbai shut down in the 1980s – it all came down to egos and the biggest sufferer was the mill worker. There has to be a better way of protest, probably internet cud be one method of protest for the future…

  2. Great post! But I see some patterns, when the muscle-man (film producers) strike they can get things done but when the unorganized (the young engineers) plan a strike for a GREATER cause it some how fails! It is much more about display of muscle and capacity to disrupt the regular life which affects the outcome of a strike!

  3. AT_korvus says:

    @Sid:

    The biggest reason why strikes work is that they cause inconvenience, and at the heart, are nothing better than a form of blackmail. If someone wants their voice heard, they have to shout loud enough to drown out all other voices. One of the best examples of such a protest was the Civil Disobedience movement, and other such protests by a certain Mohandas. Any protest that doesn’t cause inconvenience has a very small chance of success, and what the people in WB have forgotten is that when protests become a form of life and start feeding off themselves (I protest against your protest of my protest), then they lose all their impact.

    And as regards the Internet, its just a medium, not a method. Even protests on Internet have succeeded only because of their high decibel intensity and their ability to generate mass mobilization. Face it, the majority of the strikes are for dubious causes and are nothing better than a circus, and in this dog eat dog world that always was and always will be, someone will always suffer. If the mill worker suffered, it was because of his inability to organize himself and make his voice heard. Its not pretty, its not nice, but thats the way it is. Nobody hears the voice of a million people who sleep hungry every night, but a few hundred hooligans gather together and do a chakka jaam/burn trains/beat up outsiders and they instantly get political recognition.

    Keeping this in mind, a strike/demonstration is IMO the best form of making your voice heard, and like a lot of other things, it “should” be used only for good. The keyword here is “should”. So no, I don’t think that there can be a good, socially acceptable and nice form of protest, but only better causes to protest about.

    (And check this out: an unusual form of protest in the virtual world forced the benevolent Chinese government to bow!

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.04/law.html

    )

  4. I agree with Abhiram and I think all his points come into the the 3 points mentioned in the article. If you can make yourself heard and cause a major impact in other people’s lives then you are through.
    The impact part is important and also dicy. Sometimes if you have really big impact (like Indian Oil does, no flights when they strike) you can get your demands approved instantly. On other times when yoy impact others (plus don’t get right publicity) then you get censured and the strike becomes a waste (like Youth4Equality).

  5. Saurabh Sunil says:

    @abhiram

    First commment about the nine-pin bowling. There is a 9 pin bowling as well as a 10-pin bowling. There is even a 5 pin bowling 😛

    Jokes apart, the Americans standardized the rules of 10 pin bowling as an overtly nationalistic counter to british/european influence of 9-pin bowling. (just like baseball for cricket, coffee for tea and so on).

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