Pakistani Bloggers

April 18, 2016

Strike while the Iron's Hot

I wrote this after Dr. Shakil Auj’s murder but forgot to post it:
My wife is a student at Karachi University. What follows is a synopsis of our discussion after teachers there went on strike due to Dr. Shakil Auj's murder (May Allah SWT grant him a place in the highest level of Paradise). We were wondering when strikes are morally okay (as in this case, the students suffered for no sin of their's) and when they are effective (Was the desired end achieved?). I shall discuss the latter only.
A few words about what follows: a) For the sake of simplicity, I shall refer to those on strike as strikers (in this case, the teachers) and those the strike is against as the strikees (in this case, the government/KU administration) and b) My discussion seeks to prove the following 2 statements:
1.       A strike is only effective when the service/product that is being removed by the strikers has value
2.       The strikers can only be defeated when the strikees remove a service/product that the strikers find of greater value than their own removed service/product.
Confused? Let's look at an example.
From 1974-75, British coal miners' union (National Union of Mineworkers) went on strike. The service being pulled in this case was coal, an essential requirement for the British populace, given oil's rising price after the 1973 crisis. Mines were shut down and coal production came to a virtual standstill. The British government instituted a 3 day work week with smaller working hours for the general public to reduce coal consumption to contest the strike. They failed and the government toppled.
From the above example, we see that the strikes are essentially a test of stamina and the ability to outlive the strikee. Both parties, the striker and strikee have reserves. The strikers have reserves of salaries which they get via subscriptions from their members so that they can pay the strikers when they are on strike. The government has reserves of coal. So in the end, the side that wins is the one whose reserves last longer. In 1974, the workers won. In 1984, the government did. The object of value was coal, something the population could not do without, leading to the government losing elections. But let's say the workers' reserves finished. Why couldn't the strike continue? Because no matter what principles one stands for, they all go down the drain when you're looking at starvation or a change in lifestyle, especially for those who depend on you. And those workers weren't exactly of the 1%. In 1984, the same NUM lost because the strikes outlasted the strikers, and the service removed was their salaries, something the strikers needed more than the government needed coal.
Often, our countrymen plunge headlong into strikes without properly calculating the practical consequences of their efforts. Let's look at political protests. When protesting, what product/service of value are they pulling? I can think of 2: the physical problems such as traffic caused by the protest and media coverage making the government look bad in the eyes of the international community. Both of these 2 types of value-pulling have not worked in the past because it doesn't really affect our government. It has very little bearing on the outcome of the next elections and 'the man' has no qualms about blocking roads for VIP movement anyway. Also, media coverage is too intangible an object of value. Will the media have the far-reaching effects strikers intend it to or does it just look good on paper?
Some political parties understood this and created what I term to be secondary services/products of value, i.e. when you have nothing of value, you create it. An example of secondary value is violence. Arming a political party to spread fear and using it as leverage creates value. People listen to them because they fear for their lives.
Now let's look at what value a student at a university has for the administration. What leverage can they garner when fighting for their rights? Unless said student is exceptional, none. Unless they can get the university grants through some brilliant ideas of theirs, the only object of value they have would be their fees. This works if the university is new and they need all the money they can get. But KU's fees are a joke and since it's an old established, economically feasible university, they won't ever be lacking for applicants. The only value that remains is that these students are future recruiters. They will go on to become leaders in their fields, putting their alma maters in a good light. However, this is too abstract and dicey a product of value. Besides, by the time these students go on to do great things, administrations would likely have changed by then, leaving the current administration no incentive to keep their students. Understanding this, many students form parties/unions or join political parties in school. This also explains campus violence.
Next I'll talk about civil disobedience movements. Keeping the above paradigm in mind, I believe civil disobedience will not work in today's world. Gandhi lived in a different world from ours. His India was a rural India, i.e. relatively self sufficient. Aside from modes of transportation and irrigation systems, what did the British do for India that would make the locals dependent on Britain? On the other hand, Britain needed fertile India's resources. Gandhi understood this and knew civil disobedience would hurt Her Majesty's coffers more than India's. The British government did not have a product/service of value that they could pull to hurt the largely independent Indian man without jeopardizing their own operation in India.
Fast forward to today. Urbanization dominates the country. We are miles deep in debt to the world. Globalization means we require Western products/services. Another intangible yet significant product of value is Western culture. Remember, there is only one Jessica Alba but many countries from where you can import cotton. Suddenly, the dynamics have changed. Taking to the streets to protest foreign interference in our country won't help much because frankly, my dear, we need 'em more than they need us.
I think that if we keep these few principles in mind, we as a nation can become wiser to when it's practical to go on strike and when it's just an ill-thought emotional response to injustice. Don't always strike while the iron is hot, or you may end up striking out.


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