Driver-unions are Weak and Powerless

In popular perception, drivers are solidly united across India under the banners of unions affiliated with confederations like INTUC, AITUC, BMS, CITU, etc. with deep ties to political parties. If they are not united, argues a layman, how can strikes be so successful! How do they manage to hold an entire city or state to ransom! Drivers must also be paying membership fee of at least ₹100 per month, so at 2 crore drivers, unions must be netting ₹2,400 crore every year!

How wrong they are! The combined membership fee receipts of all unions across the whole country for the entire year would not touch even ₹1 crore.

How the unions run their affairs on a meagre income and why some of the strikes are so successful is a subject for another post. Here, let’s see why they are numerically, financially and intellectually so weak.

Drivers are not united because their unions have always faced four logistical nightmares:

  1. How to enrol vastly spread out drivers as members.
  2. How to manage the renewal of their subscriptions every month.
  3. How to engage them on issues and seek their opinions.
  4. How to deliver union’s services to members including SOS help.

Every union leader can trace back his leadership to his own experience as a driver. His ground level knowledge of the issues and standing within the driver community may be respectable, but given his humble background and low literacy levels, he runs out of depth on legal, technical and policy matters. High decibel political rhetoric can be no substitute for research-based understanding of the issues. That a part of him always suffers from a sense of inferiority in plush bureaucratic environments doesn’t help either. The unions, therefore, hardly ever succeed in making impactful and well thought out representations before the authorities or the judiciary.

Repeated failures on the part of the leadership to address the drivers’ issues, as also the leaders’ failure to march in tandem with the advent of dotcom era since around the turn of the century, has given rise to a sense of cynicism amongst the drivers. In the absence of any tangible benefits or even a semblance of those, drivers see no reason why they should join unions. Consequently, unions are left with few members and become weak on finances, weak on legal knowledge and weak on intellectual capacity.

Unions continue to survive though but on paper, in business cards and on letter heads which are put to some use when a hot issue comes up. Media also bring them to life from time to time. In normal times, a ‘leadership badge’ is a tool for a union leader to earn their living and protect their political capital.

How Chaalak Shakti addresses all of the above issues will be discussed in a separate post.

Disclaimer: This post is by no means disparaging of the union leaders. We have only thrown light on what holds them back and how their good intentions fail. Given a chance and a choice, absolutely ALL of them, including some who are critical of the author, will press themselves fully in the service of drivers and the society. We long for that day and we are working for that moment to arrive.

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