In January 1992, Bata workers went on a strike. A newspaper report three months later in April carried an interesting story – the Bata share prices were going up! Bata had outsourced production and had managed to stay in the market even though the workers were on strike. This story seems to repeat with some variations.
The Bajaj Auto Strike from June 25, 2013 highlights not just the point in Bata story but one more. It was done by a story in Business Line.
Business Line carried a story ‘Changing nature of Bajaj Auto’s Plants’ on Bajaj Auto strike on July 3, 2013, rather it was in the context of that strike. The message in the story was that there is a pattern which emerges in a multi-plant organisation. A new plant is the cynosure of all eyes as Waluj plant was and later Chakan plant of Bajaj Auto was and now Pantnagar plant is. New plants are manned by young workforce who see themselves as engineers, while old plants are manned by experienced workforce who is reluctant to resort to strike even if called on by their counterpart in Chakan.
Waluj plant receives a compliment at the hands of Rajeev Bajaj, the Managing Director, with a tone of arrogance. He says, “Waluj has seen two decades of upheaval but the people there have learnt their lessons the hard way. Today, it is one of our best plants.”
The report says the obvious, “Waluj is now doubling for Chakan and may even assume a greater role if the strike continues indefinitely.”
The Bajaj Auto story carries some messages for us.
Firstly, resorting to strike when the production capacity far exceeds the demand for products is suicidal. Secondly, workers’ focus remains on their own employment, the larger focus on ‘commonality of interests’ which unions are trying to promote remains a distant dream. Thirdly, all new plants seem to go through a cycle – first being distinctively happy, then realising that they need to fight for their demands, this is a phase of friction, and then settling down to being “mature” employees who have “learnt their lessons the hard way” as Rajiv Bajaj says.
All this sounds like taming of an elephant. Interestingly, when I searched “elephant taming” this is what I got on one of the web sites: "To tame an elephant does not mean to dominate an elephant with physical fear. A skilled mahout uses verbal commands and positive reinforcement to forge a lifelong bond between themselves and their elephant partner."
The tradition of passing elephant ownership down from one generation of father to son still occurs in many parts of Laos today. Ceremonies between young sons and young calves are vital in strengthening the bonds and trust both will experiences together for the rest of their working lives.
Undoubtedly not a good metaphor, but yet it tells us an important lesson of building relationships.