The strike mania
THE penchant for bypassing civilised means of protest and opting for crippling strikes — sometimes nationwide — seems to be gaining neurotic proportions. On Wednesday, once again a strike call brought the nation’s biggest city to a halt, adding to the citizens’ hardships and dealing a blow to an already struggling economy. The parties which had imposed the crippling strike on Karachi, home to some 18 million people, had diverse and perhaps genuine motives: the traders were angry over extortions and the murder of one of their own, transporters stayed off the roads at the prospect of the strike turning violent, while the MQM and Sunni Tehrik supported the protesting traders.
However, those who spearheaded and endorsed the strike must answer one question: what exactly have they achieved other than to aggravate the people’s suffering? With life in the city already plagued by rising crime and perpetual power shortages curtailing production, they have only added to the general frustration.
The grievances were perhaps legitimate, and it goes without saying that the peaceful display of collective frustration is a democratic right and, in fact, a valuable tool for the acceptance of legitimate demands. Apart from the right to free speech and freedom of assembly including the holding of rallies there are institutional forums, like parliament and the judiciary, to address public grievances. Regrettably, these channels are routinely bypassed as the tendency is to go for snap ‘wheel-jam’ strikes. This is being increasingly endorsed by some political parties and religious elements, and only serves to demonstrate their callous indifference to the people’s suffering.
Wednesday’s strike had negative social and corporate effects. Millions of daily-wage earners — for whom even a day without work means hunger — factory workers, office-goers, teachers, schoolchildren and doctors and hospital staff suffered the effects of the blazing June sun as public transport vanished. Meanwhile, the cumulative loss to the economy was to the tune of Rs3bn according to the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, with markets and other commercial centres remaining closed throughout the day. With this being the state of affairs in the country’s largest city considered the growth engine of the national economy, it is no wonder that foreign investment is hard to come by — even Pakistani industrialists have to invest in other countries. The prime responsibility for solving the protesters’ problems and making Pakistan business-friendly belongs to the government; however, non-state sectors must own the damage they cause to the economy and realise both the economic and social repercussions for a population that is unable to go about its business in a city held hostage by fear and instability.