It was the awareness created by the BEST Kamgar Sanghatna among the workers on the newly-introduced computerised duty chart that led to the strike that began on Wednesday.
But the Sharad Rao-led BEST Workers Union hijacked the issue in the last minute and claimed credit for the strike though it had not shown any sign of protest against the new rota system when it was first implemented.
In fact, on February 26, Rao's union even accepted the parameters for implementing the computerised duty schedule given by BEST administration (copy of acceptance letter with dna).
Jagnarayan Gupta of BEST Kamgar Sanghatna (affiliated to CPI-M's Centre of India Trade Unions) said: "Earlier, Wadala and Oshiwara bus depots had been chosen for implementing the schedule, but it was a mix of manual and computerised chart. Similar was the case when ten other depots were chosen for implementing the schedule on a pilot basis. Therefore, the problems arising due to the new chart did not come to light till the time the fully-computerised schedule was put up for being implemented from March 1."
From mid-February, the BEST Kamgar Sanghatna had started making workers aware of the truth behind the proposed schedule, but it was only two days ago that the harsh truth came to light—how working hours would drastically increase. The new schedule was prepared by Canadian firm Trapeze to help BEST reduce expenditure.
Sharad Rao has been stating that his union had never asked the staff to proceed on strike. But CITU fully endorses it. Its general secretary, Tapan Sen, said: "CITU extends all support to the heroic strike by the Mumbai bus workers, and calls upon other trade unions, unions affiliated to the CITU in particular, to act in solidarity with the striking workers."
The reason why only the Rao-led union and Shiv Sena's Kamgar Sena were engaged in holding talks with the authorities was because only these two are recognised by BEST, Kamgar Sanghatna isn't. The first two have approximately 16,000 and 6,000 workforce, respectively, under them. The Sanghatna has only a 3,500-strong membership.
"The workers in the other unions realised how problematic their work would become and exerted pressure on their leaders who finally gave in. And the result is there for you to see," added Gupta.