commuters hit as autos join nationwide strike
Commuters rushing to their workplaces Tuesday morning were badly
hit as a section of auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers joined the
nationwide labour strike called by various trade unions. While
many auto-rickshaws remained off the road in the eastern and
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.
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 (AITUC), 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
The chamber also reacted to the opposition of trade unions to
foreign investment into India as also the divestmet of shares in
"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
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
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.
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.