A daylong nationwide strike called by 10 central trade unions on Wednesday disrupted normal life in various parts of the country with coal production, banking operations and transport services being hit the most. The day also witnessed violent clashes in Odisha and West Bengal.
Banking services were among the worst-hit by the bandh as 23 public sector banks, 12 private sector banks, 52 regional rural banks and over 13,000 cooperative banks joined the stir.
Nearly half of state-run Coal India’s daily production of 1.7 million tonne was hit, as a majority of around four lakh coal workers joined the agitation.
However, power generation and other utility services remained largely normal.
Union leaders claimed that over 15 crore workers from the organised sector took part in the agitation. The trade unions had called the strike to protest against changes in labour laws and PSU privatisation among other issues.
The impact of the strike was most visible in West Bengal, Tripura, Kerala, Karnataka, Puducherry and Odisha. The bandh saw partial success in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Gujarat, Bihar and Jharkhand. Normal life was also affected in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Rajasthan.
The strike had little impact in the country’s financial capital Mumbai, except in the banking sector.
In West Bengal, over 1000 people were arrested after Left and TMC workers clashed. Around 300 people were taken into custody in different parts of Odisha as a preventive measure, but were released later.
Train services of South Eastern Railway and Eastern Railway were partially affected.
The unions’ demands include urgent measures to rein in price rise, containing unemployment, strict enforcement of basic labour laws, universal social security cover for all workers and minimum wage of Rs 15,000 per month.
They are also demanding higher pensions, stopping of disinvestment in PSUs, end to contract system, removal of ceiling on bonus and provident fund, compulsory registration of trade unions within 45 days, no unilateral amendment to labour laws and stopping of FDI in railways and defence.
Trade unions said the strike was a “grand success” and added that they would decide their future course of action depending on the government’s response.
General secretary of All India Trade Union Congress Gurudas Dasgupta said: “Support for the strike shows how disenchanted people are with the government’s anti-worker policy and its failure to contain food prices and contain the economic slowdown.”
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions said: “Over 15 crore workers employed in almost all sectors of the country’s economy… participated in this strike. Protest demonstrations, rasta roko and rail roko were held across the country.”
The Labour Ministry, however, maintained that the strike had little impact in most parts of the country. “The situation remained, by and large, normal and peaceful across the country. Most of the employees attended their offices. Trains, buses, auto rickshaws, lorries plied as usual. There has been minimal effect,” it said in a statement.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who had led the negotiations with the trade unions on their demands, said the strike had “marginal or inconsequential impact.”
Congress blamed the government’s “utter apathy” for the agitation. “It seems just as the Britishers wanted to benefit the East India Company at the expense of millions of labourers of this country, the Modi government wants to benefit 5-6 crony businessmen friends of this government”, party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.
The CPM termed the strike “magnificent” and said it was “successful” despite the Centre trying to “dissuade” workers from proceeding with the agitation. “Apart from RSS-affiliated Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, they could not succeed in dissuading any other central trade union,” the party said in a statement.
RSS affiliate Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and National Front of Indian Trade Unions had withdrawn from the strike, saying that they would “give the government time to deliver on its promises”.
The Confederation of Indian Industry termed the nationwide strike as “disruptive and uncalled for”.
With PTI inputs