(BHUBANESWAR)An activist of the Indian trade union group holds a party flag as he walks past a burning tyre set up as a road blockade on Wednesday. Image Credit: AP

New Delhi: A daylong nationwide strike impacted normal life on Wednesday in various parts of India with coal production, banking operations and transport services being hit the most, while violent clashes erupted in West Bengal resulting in arrest of more than 200 people.

Union leaders claimed more than 150 million organised sector workers went on strike, the call for which was given by 10 central trade unions against changes in labour laws and PSU privatisation along with their other demands. The Bharatiya Janata Party-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and NFITU, however, stayed away from the strike.

The impact was most visible in West Bengal, Tripura, Kerala, Karnataka, Puducherry and Odisha, while partial impact was seen in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Gujarat, Bihar and Jharkhand.

Normal life was affected in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Rajasthan as well, but there was not much impact in the country’s financial capital Mumbai except for the banking operations.

Banking services were among the worst hit as 23 public sector banks, 12 private sector banks, 52 regional rural banks and ore than 13,000 cooperative banks joined the stir. However, staff at the State Band of India, Indian Overseas Bank, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank choose to stay away from the strike.

The All India Bank Employees Association General Secretary, C.H. Venkatachalam, said nearly 500,000 bank employees and officers joined the strike.

The state-run Coal India saw nearly half of its 1.7 million tonne daily production hit by the strike, as a majority of around 400,000 coal workers across the country joined the strike. Union leaders, however, said the impact could be 90 per cent at Coal India, which accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s total coal production.

Power generation and other utilities were largely normal.

Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goyal said the strike would not have much impact as there was sufficient coal stock to meet any eventualities, while there was no problem at all with electricity generation.

Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who was part of the group of ministers that held talks with the trade unions, said the strike “by and large has not had any major impact”.

 

‘Unprecedented’

 

On the other hand, the ten trade unions said in a joint statement the response was “unprecedented” with “millions of workers” staying away from the work.

In West Bengal, nearly 200 people were arrested from different parts after clashes occurred at some places between Left and Trinamool workers including in Murshidabad district.

Train services of South Eastern Railway and Eastern Railway were partially affected, but Metro Rail services in Kolkata remained normal.

Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, who left for Turkey on Wednesday along with Labour Secretary Shankar Aggarwal for G20 Meeting, had appealed to trade unions on Tuesday to call off the agitation in the interest of workers and the nation.

The unions, however, decided to go ahead with the strike after their talks with a ministerial panel last month failed to yield desired results on their 12-point charter of demands.

The demands included 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 Rs15,000 (Dh832) per month.

They are also demanding higher pensions, end to disinvestment in PSUs and 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 FDI in Railways and Defence.

 

Congress solidarity

 

Expressing solidarity with the daylong nationwide strike, Congress party on Wednesday blamed the government’s “utter apathy” for the workers’ 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”, the party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters.

All India Trade Union Congress Secretary D.L. Sachdev said 500,000 industrial workers in the Gurgaon region joined the strike. Workers did not turn up at Maruti Suzuki plant in Gurgaon while Honda Motorcycle plant remained closed.

“The strike has had an impact across the country and even in Delhi. In several areas, the BMS people also joined the strike. Many local and affiliated unions have also joined in the strike,” All India Trade Union Congress General Secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said.

“The strike shows how much people are disenchanted with the anti-worker policy of the government and its failure to contain food prices as well as its failure to contain the economic slowdown,” he added.

The 10 trade unions said in their joint statement that the buses of state transport undertakings in Haryana, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Himachal, Uttar Pradesh and some other states stayed off the road while “defence production came to a standstill” with about half a million ordnance factory and installation workers joining the strike.