Mumbai AutoRikshawmen’s union is a single union representing Auto drivers in Mumbai. Out of nearly 1.05 Lakh autos in Mumbai majority of them (over 90% according to their leader S. Rao) is represented by the union. On 31st August, Autorikhshawmen’s union called for a 1 day strike to protest against the unfair pricing strategies and ease with which permits are obtained by private cab companies, namely Ola and Uber.
As per Rao’s estimate, over 95,000 rickshaws were on strike on 31st August. However a cursory stroll down Mumbai’s highways on 31st evening painted a different story. There was a significant increase in the number of autos after 5 PM. Thozhilalar Koodam spoke to two auto drivers who were part of the union and were still running their autos in clear contravention of the instructions by their union.
Both the Auto drivers we spoke to were from outside Maharashtra like UP and Bihar and speaking to them and understanding their reasons for violating the strike revealed internal contradictions within the Auto drivers as well as how the high handed decision making and lack of support by union leadership can fail to convince workers as to importance of solidarity and strike.
Q : Were you on strike throughout the day?
A 1: Yes, We were but took our Autos out by evening. We have to eat after all (laughs).
A 2 : It takes courage to drive our autos like this. There are reports coming in that many auto drivers were beaten up by union members for violating the strike. We have to be careful. We are trying to only go short distance in our areas and mainly stay on highways. If we go away from highways and in crowded areas, we could get beaten up.
Q : What is the strike for?
A1 : The strike is against Ola and Uber. You know it is so hard for auto drivers to get permit. It costs around 1,1.5 Lakhs and is a tedious procedure. Thats why number of autos in Mumbai are far more then number of auto-drivers. Getting a permit takes time. However , for these Ola and Uber guys, it is almost like as soon as the cab comes out of showroom it comes with a permit ! Also depending on the area and time of the day, they change their fares which is totally illegal but they continue to do it. Our businesses have been badly affected.
Q : Do you believe in this strike?
A2 : Yes, very much so. Strike is important but when we saw that many of the local Auto drivers were not supporting the strike and were driving, we also thought why not!
Q : Were you consulted by the leadership when they took the decision to strike?
A2 : No! There is never any consulation, only order. They did do pamphleteering in all the areas and told us reasons for the strike which we agree with. But we are never consulted regarding such decisions.
Q : But if many like you violate the strike, it has even less chance to be successful right?
A1 : It anyway has no chance to be successful. When the government is backing these companies what can such 1 day strike do. As long as government is supporting them, strikes wont change anything for them. It is only us who stand to lose.
Q : How long have you been driving autos?
A2 : I have been driving it for 6 years. I am from a small village and when there was no income left in farming I came down here. Initially the pay was good as long as you worked hard.
A1 : Certainly better then what we earned in our village.
A2 : But lately due to Ola and Uber especially, our wages have been affected.