Union strike hits financial sector

MUMBAI — Stray incidents of violence marked the start of the two-day general strike in India on Wednesday, even as millions of ordinary people were inconvenienced, or deprived of their daily wages.


Nithin Belle

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Published: Thu 21 Feb 2013, 8:46 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 3:32 PM

A trade union leader was killed in Ambala in Haryana when he tried to stop a bus from plying, while police had to cane a mob in Noida near Delhi, after unruly workers began setting vehicles on fire and stoning factories.

Nearly a dozen trade unions affiliated to all the major parties (including the Congress, the BJP and the left parties) called the two day ‘Bharat Bandh’ to protest against the ‘anti-people’ policies of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The unions are demanding a hike in wages, a halt to divestment in public sector undertakings (PSUs) by the government, a roll-back of the move to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in several sectors and a curb on inflation.

The strike had its impact on the functioning of PSU companies and nationalised banks and insurance companies, though employees working in the private sector largely ignored the call for the strike.

Around one million employees in banks across India struck work. It affected the clearance of around four million cheques valued around Rs250 billion, according to an office-bearer of the All India Bank Employees Association.

Normal life was disrupted in many parts of north India, in parts of the east and the south.

But in Mumbai, India’s financial and commercial capital, things were normal except for the strike by PSU employees. Though state-owned banks and insurance firms did not function, most people were not inconvenienced as private and international banks were open and the vast network of ATMs enabled them to access cash.

Suburban railways, the BEST bus network and taxis and auto-rickshaws were also functioning normally in Mumbai, as the call for the general strike was largely ignored.

Surprisingly, even in West Bengal, the bandh evoked a mixed response. While leftist unions participated in the strike and forced a shutdown in many cities, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is opposed to the communist parties, warned government employees not to participate in the strike.

There was partial response to the strike in the other southern states, except in Kerala, and life was normal in most major cities including Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

In many states across India, unions participating in the strike forced buses, auto-rickshaws and taxis off the roads. In Ambala in Haryana, a bus driver, who was also a union member, was run over by another bus, which he tried to prevent from leaving the depot. Other employees of the state-owned transport corporation then resorted to violence, damaging vehicles.

In Noida hundreds of workers went on the rampage, attacking vehicles and forcing factories and commercial establishments to shut down. The police resorted to caning and brought the situation under control.

While the union leaders claimed that millions of workers had joined the nationwide strike, industry bodies bemoaned that the country suffered losses running into billions of dollars. Ultimately, the worst affected by the strike were those employed in the unorganised sector, including the self-employed auto-rickshaw and taxi drivers and hawkers, who stand to lose two days’ of wages.


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