Thursday, February 21, 2013

Historic Two Day Strike Paralyses India

20 February, 2013

Workers began a two day strike in India to protest rising prices and government policies to open up the economy. Millions of factory and bank employees stayed away from work and public transport was shut down in most big cities after major trade unions called the countrywide strike. It is the first time since the Independent struggle that India witnesses two consecutive days of strikes.

A labour leader was fatally crushed when he tried to stop buses from leaving a terminal in Ambala, Haryana.

Workers armed with iron rods smashed factory windows and set a fire truck and several cars on fire in Noida.

Trade unions oppose government policies to open the retail, banking and aviation sectors to foreign investors in an effort to jumpstart India's sputtering economy.

labour unions affiliated with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the two main communist parties, and even the ruling Congress party-led trade union are demanding that the government roll back its economic reforms, which they say harm workers' interests.

The unions have issued 10 demands, including raising the minimum wage for all workers to 10,000 rupees a month, controlling prices and providing social security for all workers.

Trade unions say the government's recent moves to open the supermarket sector will hurt millions of small store owners who will not be able to compete against multinational retailers.

Bank employees oppose the government's decision to allow big companies to enter the banking sector and a policy to privatize state-run banks.

Kerala, Tripura and Bihar were among the worst hit states where normal life was thrown out of gear while stray incidents of violence were reported in Odisha and Karnataka. Protest marches were taken out in several cities.

Reports from state capitals said financial services were crippled and bus commuters faced difficulties.

In Haryana, bus driver Narender Singh, who was also the treasurer of AITUC, was killed when he tried to stop a bus which was being taken out from the Ambala Depot despite the strike, district president, Haryana Roadways Workers Union’s, Inder Singh Bhadana said.

Life was partially affected in Trinamool Congress ruled-West Bengal with shops, markets and business establishments closed in many parts of Kolkata while government run buses and trams operated in large numbers.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is against bandhs and had warned government employees from remaining absent, claimed attendance at the state secretariat, Writers’ Buildings, was 100 per cent.

In the national capital, commuters faced hardships as a section of auto-rickshaws and taxis remained off the road in support of the strike. Bus services were partially hit as a number of bus unions, including a section of Delhi Transport Corporation employees, have also extended support.

The strike call in the country’s financial hub Mumbai witnessed near cent per cent participation by employees from banking and insurance sector leaving their operations totally paralysed.

Normal life and business came to a standstill in Tripura as trade unions enforced two-day nationwide general strike commenced on Wednesday morning. The strike called by 11 trade unions evoked complete response across the state with business establishments and educational institutions remaining closed.

Government offices recorded very thin attendance while vehicular movement was off the road. No untoward incident reported from anywhere in the state.

The strikers organised picketing outside some government offices. Emergency services and all activities relating to assembly election were kept out of general strike.

The 48 hour bandh also affected functioning in ONGC in state. ONGC workers’ Union supported 10-point demands of the trade unions.

The workers’ union however informed that the staffs engaged in gas exploration and distribution units have joined duty. ONGC is providing gas to state’s thermal power projects and is partner of ambitious 726MW power plant at Palatana in south Tripura.

The trade union strike hit train services in Bihar as Left unions staged rail rokos, leaving local and outstation passengers stranded at various stations in Bihar.

Members of several unions, namely All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and supporters of all the Left parties sat in dharna at Patna’s Dak Bungalow square. They marched to the Patna junction and staged a rail rook, blocking trains and tracks.

At the Patna junction, rail announcements relayed information on train delays owing to the “jan andolan.” Passengers had to face delays of over two hours as trains were stalled in their tracks. The Magadh Express was terminated in Patna and other trains were rescheduled.

Big shops in key locations downed their shutters. Banks and government offices were also found to be shut. Fewer autos plied on the roads, cycle rickshaws were deterred from operating, while several main routes were barred for movement of vehicles. In some places in Bihar, protestors pelted stones at buses and vehicles. Outside the Patna junction, protestors burnt tyres.

Anganwadi sevikas and helpers joined the strike in large numbers. “The government promised that anganwadi workers would be considered for promotions, but they have not kept their word. We are surviving on Rs. 3,000 a month. Our condition is worse that that of the labourer,” Asha Devi, an Anganwadi sevika said. Many complained that the government funds for buying provisions for the mid0day meal were not consummate with the rise in prices.

In addition, Beedi workers and pan stall owners also lent their support to the strike.

“The response has been great in Bihar,” said Deepankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of CPI (ML) (Liberation) . “All trade unions, farmers, unorganised sector workers, bank employees have all supported the bandh. Common people have also joined in since the issues raised are not limited to the labourers. Inflation, price rise, land acquisition are concerns in the entire country. We have also demanded the implementation of Verma committee recommendations in the upcoming budget session. We also want the government to declare prohibition in the ongoing budget session in Bihar. If the government does not pay attention to the voice if the working people, it will be doing so at its own peril. Our people are ready to ensure a successful bandh in Bihar and Jharkhan on the second day too. In terms of participation the band is a success, but ultimately it is about achieving our goals. If we don’t, the movement will have to be intensified,” Mr. Bhattacharya said.

He said that labour unions had staged a huge strike in Delhi in 1992. But the Babri Masjid was “demolished to vitiate the atmosphere in the country and stifle the voice of the workers.”

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