NEW DELHI, Jan 8 (AGENCIES): Banking and transport services were disrupted and normal life impacted in some parts of the country on Wednesday as tens of thousands of workers affiliated to Left and Congress-backed trade unions led a strike to protest the union government’s economic policies. While ATMs at certain places ran dry and banking services such as cash withdrawal were impacted at some branches of public sector banks, train services were stopped by striking workers in Kolkata.
Buses, taxis and auto-rickshaws stayed off the road in West Bengal, Kerala and Odisha but the strike had almost no impact in national capital Delhi and the financial hub Mumbai. However, work at government departments remained unaffected barring sporadic demonstrations by trade unions.
Trade unions earlier claimed that around 25 crore people would participate in the stir. There were no reports of any impact on essential services from anywhere in the country. Train services were unaffected while electricity generation as well as oil refineries and fuel pumps operated normally.
The government also ruled out any impact from the strike. “They have been doing this type of strikes in every one or two years with many demands,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said. “It has no impact.”
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, however, attacked the Modi government’s policies.
“The Modi-Shah Govt’s anti-people, anti-labour policies have created catastrophic unemployment & are weakening our PSUs to justify their sale to Modi’s crony capitalist friends. Today, over 25 crore workers have called for #BharatBandh2020 in protest. I salute them,” he tweeted. Incidents of violence and arson were also reported from various parts of West Bengal with buses, a police vehicle and government properties vandalised by strikers. Police lobbed teargas shells, fired rubber bullets and baton-charged mob in Malda after protestors ran amuck block a major road, ransacking government buses and torching several vehicles.
In Dum Dum and Lake Town, clashes broke out between Left activists and members of ruling TMC, which did not support the strike call. At least 175 local trains were cancelled in the Sealdah and Howrah divisions of the Eastern Railway owing to rail tracks being blocked. In Left-ruled Kerala, Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC), private buses, auto-rickshaws and taxis stayed away while schools and colleges declared a holiday.
Normal life was hit in Assam as vehicles remained off the roads and markets and educational institutions were shut. A houseboat carrying Nobel laureate Michael Levitt in the backwaters of Alappuzha was blocked for some time by protestors before being allowed to go. Train and bus services were hit in several parts of Odisha.
The strike had little impact in states such as Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Telangana.
Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) general secretary claimed about 25 crore employees and workers across states like Kerala, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and Assam joined the strike. The strike was called by 10 major national trade unions affiliated to the Left parties and main opposition Congress to seek “reversal of the anti-worker, anti-people, anti-national policies of the government” such as privatisation of state-owned companies Air India and Bharat Petroleum (BPCL), labour law reforms, merger of public sector banks and foreign investment in railways, insurance, coal and defence sector, they said in a joint statement. They wanted the government to rein in price rises and unemployment and provide social security for workers.
All India Bank Employees’ Association general secretary C H Venkatachalam said 5 lakh out of 8.5 lakh employees of state-owned banks participated in the strike. He said the merger of 10 public sector banks into four would affect jobs and hit the recovery of bad loans.
According to General Insurance Employees’ All India Association (GIEAIA), class III and IV employees of National Insurance, New India Assurance, Oriental Insurance and United India Insurance Co participated in the strike, affecting some services. The strike was 100 per cent as two unions including AIIEA too participated, GIEAIA General Secretary K Govindan said, adding, the unions are opposing the proposed merger of general insurance companies and labour laws amendment.
All India Reserve Bank Employees Association (AIRBEA) and All India Reserve Bank Workers Federation (AIRBWF) also participated in the strike but State Bank of India, the nation’s largest, stayed out. The government had on Tuesday asked public sector undertakings to dissuade their employees from participating in the strike and had advised them to prepare a contingency plan to ensure smooth functioning of the enterprises.
In some areas of north Bengal, the Trinamool Congress took out rallies opposing the strike and urged people to maintain normalcy. The unions had called the strike to protest against the union government’s labour reforms, FDI, disinvestment, corporatisation and privatisation policies. They are pressing for a 12-point charter of demands of the working class relating to minimum wage and social security, among others.
“We have been opposing government policies on bank merger, privatisation, fee hike and other wage-related issues,” Venkatachalam told agencies. Members of 10 central trade unions, which include AITUC, INTUC, CITU, AICCTU, CUCC, SEWA, LPF, along with various sectoral independent federations, are participating in the nationwide strike, AITUC General Secretary Amarjeet Kaur said.
“We are protesting against rising prices, sale of the public sector (firms), 100 per cent FDI in railways, defence, coal, pharma, animal husbandry, security services, and codification of 44 (central labour) laws,” she told agencies. The demands also include a minimum pension of Rs 6,000 for everyone, minimum support price (MSP) for farmers, adequate supply of ration to people, she said, adding that the demands concern common man’s issues besides worker-centric areas.
In Delhi, she said, rains will not impact the stir as demonstrations will be taken out in industrial areas and workers will assemble at ITO as planned and take out a procession. “We are getting reports from all over India.? BHEL workers have gone on strike, ?oil unions are on strike. There is a situation of bandh in states of north-east, Odisha, Pondicherry, Kerala and Maharashtra. Roadways depots are closed in Haryana,” she said.