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Strike paralyses left ruled states
Published on 8 Sep. 2010 12:17 AM IST
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India’s economy suffered losses worth thousands of crores Tuesday as a 24-hour strike called by eight trade unions against rising prices and privatisation hit life in parts of the country, particularly Left-ruled states including West Bengal where one person was killed. One of the trade unions warned of more such strikes.
Millions stayed away from work and many flights were cancelled in the protest against the economic policies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government. Among the strike-backers was the Congress-affiliated Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC). The strike was virtually complete in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) ruled states of West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala, while it evoked a mixed response in states like Tamil Nadu and Assam, and a tepid reaction in Karnataka.
The financial capital Mumbai and the national capital New Delhi were relatively unaffected except for commuters who were hit with autorickshaws joining the protest.
According to INTUC president G. Sanjeeva Reddy, around 100 million (10 crore) workers from sectors including banks, insurance, power, telecom, coal, defence, port and dock, road transport and petroleum and unorganised sectors such as construction took part in the showdown.
The Rajya Sabha MP and convener of the Coordination Committee of the Central Trade Unions, which called the strike, told IANS from Hyderabad that the strike was “99 percent” successful. The strike, he said, was held to “reassert” the bargaining power of the trade unions.
According to him, government leaders, including Manmohan Singh, wanted to discuss the workers’ demands.
The unions that called the strike were, besides INTUC, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) and Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS).
The workers want a check on price rise of essential commodities, pro-active measures to protect employment in recession-hit sectors, strict enforcement of all basic labour laws, Rs.50,000 crore for an unorganised workers’ social security fund, and a halt to privatization of central public sector enterprises.
While the demands found resonance in places like West Bengal, where an activist of the opposition Trinamool Congress was killed, it was viewed differently by India Inc.
“Today’s strike by the major trade unions is totally unjustified. Such strikes do not serve any purpose, only affect productivity and adversely hit social and economic development, apart from the interests of average people,” said Assocham president Swati Piramal.
The chamber also reacted to the opposition of trade unions to foreign investment into India as also the divestment of shares in state-run firms.
“Foreign capital is required in India for economic activities such as manufacturing, which will create jobs and ensure social and economic uplift of India and opposing it will only push India’s growing economy into isolation,” Piramal said.
While the industrialists weighed the economic costs, in West Bengal, for instance, it was also a battle of political supremacy. Life ground to a halt in most parts of the state, crippling commercial activities and road traffic. Private airlines cancelled 129 flights.
A Trinamool activist was shot dead and five people were seriously injured in bombings allegedly carried out by the ruling CPI-M in Birbhum district. There were clashes in other parts of the state too.
Life in Tripura was crippled as well with most markets, shops and business establishments, government and semi-government offices, educational institutions, banks and financial institutions shut. Roads were deserted and rail services between Tripura and the rest of the country affected.
In Assam, life was impacted in many places though tea and oil production were not hit.
Elsewhere in India, there was a mixed response.
In Mumbai, barring the financial services sector, including public sector banks, insurance companies and some private banks, autorickshaws and some taxi drivers joining the labour strike, it was business as usual. Pune and Nagpur, in fact, buzzed with activity as Congress MP Rahul Gandhi visited schools in the two cities.
According to Vishwas Utagi, secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association, around one million bank employees protested against a host of issues including foreign direct investments in public sector banks and entry of foreign banks.
In Punjab and Haryana, public bus services were badly hit. And in Chhattisgarh, nearly 250,000 government employees joined the strike and around 550 of them were arrested in capital Raipur.
Congratulating the masses for making the strike a “success”, the CITU warned of more such strikes if the government did not bow to their demands.
“If the government doesn’t concede to the demands, we will intensify our struggle and we are thinking of marching to parliament with a few lakh of people during its coming winter session,” CITU all India secretary Kali Ghosh said in Kolkata.

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