Ten trade unions call national strike to complain about high prices and unemployment. Shops, hospitals, banks and schools are closed, transport is blocked, and some buses have been attacked. A 57-year-old woman died in Karnataka. The labour action will be decisive for next May’s general elections.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India will come to a halt today and tomorrow as at least 200 million workers in the public sector, services, communications and agriculture stage a strike across the country organised by ten labour unions opposed to a new labour law that would undermine the rights of workers and unions.
The Indian government approved the new legislation on 2 January. The strike will be a de facto verdict on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will provide an opportunity for millions of workers to protest against high prices and high levels of unemployment.
John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, told AsiaNews that the event was exceptional, "one of the largest ever organised in the country, planned in advance in every detail." In his view, the most important thing is that it "is taking place on the eve of general elections that will mark the fate of the prime minister".
Protesters have blocked several cities, clashes have broken out and damages have been reported. A 57-year-old woman died in in Mundagod, a city in northern Karnataka, during a local protest.
In Maharashtra more than 5,000 workers blocked the Mumbai-Baroda-Jaipur-Delhi highway. In Puducherry (Pondicherry), on the east coast, protesters hurled stones at a Tamil Nadu state bus.
Transport services closed and rail services were disrupted in Kerala. In Odisha (Orissa), shops, schools, offices and markets shut down for 48 hours. In West Bengal, protesters burnt effigies of Prime Minister Modi.
The Bharat Bandh (national strike) is an initiative of the Central Trade Unions (CTU), which is an India-wide labour federation. Unions are opposed to the Trade Unions (Amendment) Bill of 2018 which modified the Trade Union Act of 1926.
Under the law, trade union recognition is mandatory at both at national and state level. However, workers believe that the new law grants the government discretionary power in recognising labour organisations, effectively eliminating the current bargaining process involving employees, employers and the government.
Unions are also demanding the enactment of the Social Security Act to protect workers and a minimum wage of 24,000 rupees (more than US$ 340) for the unorganised transport sector.
Workers in banking, insurance, healthcare, education, transport, electricity and coal mining have joined the strike. Student groups too are protesting as are farmers’ associations that have threatened to call a gramin hartal, a rural strike.
Farmers have been protesting for months over the harsh conditions in the countryside, burdened by debt and an wave of suicides.
Tapan Sen, secretary general of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), one of the striking labour organisations, criticised Prime Minister Modi's government for killing the work culture in the country's public sectors by favouring private players in major manufacturing contracts.