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Standstill in parts of India as workers go on strike
Publication Date : 21-02-2013
Hundreds of thousands of workers and government employees have heeded a call by India's major trade unions to strike in protest over high inflation and the government's recent reforms, disrupting transportation and banking in some areas.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had appealed to the trade unions not to strike. Talks continued till the last minute, but failed.
While the two-day walkout that ends today had less impact in metropolitan areas like Mumbai and Delhi yesterday, places where trade unions have a strong presence were hit hard.
In the leftist stronghold state of Kerala, for instance, shops and restaurants shut down and public transport came to a standstill in many cities and towns.
Sporadic violence also broke out as a mob of workers, demanding higher pay, went on the rampage breaking factory windows, equipment and vandalising vehicles including a fire truck in an industrial area in Noida, near Delhi.
Police brought the situation under control at several factories by afternoon. In the state of Haryana, a trade union activist died after being hit by a bus he was trying to stop from plying the roads.
In Mumbai, where dominant political party Shiv Sena had opposed the strike call, transport services were up and running. By contrast, most buses and taxis stayed off the roads in Delhi.
Hundreds of branches of state-controlled banks across the country also shut down as 11 trade unions joined hands for the first time in three years to protest against economic reforms, demand an increase in the minimum wage to 10,000 rupees (US$184) a month and an end to the sale of state-run firms.
Trade unionists said that they were satisfied with the response.
"It was a complete success," said leftist lawmaker Tapan Sen, who is leader of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions, one of the unions in the protest. "All the banks and financial institutes were closed and even private banks wherever there is a union were shut.
"In major sectors of the economy - from factories to coal fields - workers are on strike," he said. "Now we expect the government to discuss our demands."
The unions are opposing reforms which since last September have included the opening up of the retail and aviation sectors and a hike in prices of subsidised diesel fuel. While the government has said these measures are necessary, they have been unpopular.
"There is the issue of the plight of workers," said Uttar Pradesh- based political analyst Sudhir Panwar. "There is resentment there against economic liberalisation which hasn't benefited everyone."
Industry body Assocham estimated the strike would bring losses of about 200 billion rupees.
The strike comes at the start of the tough budget session of Parliament today. Opposition parties are expected to corner the government over a US$750 million bribery scandal.
After an all-party meeting yesterday, Dr Singh said: "I hope all parties will cooperate... This session of Parliament is going to transact important financial business and it is our sincere hope that we will have a productive, constructive debate leading to agreed solutions to the many problems that our country faces."