Millions of workers across the country on Wednesday went on a 24-hour strike to protest against proposed changes in labour laws and privatisation of state-run companies, affecting life in most of the cities.
More than 15 crore workers from 10 central trade unions, including those in the banking, manufacturing, construction and coal mining sectors, are taking part in the strike. BJP-backed BMS and NFITU are not part of the agitation.
The strike hit transport and banking operations across the country. Long lines of commuters and school children could be seen at bus stops early in the morning, while passengers were stranded at airports as taxis and rickshaws stayed off the streets.
Watch: Trade union strike hits transport and banking services in many cities
"Employees of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), nationalised banks, old private sector banks, cooperative banks, regional rural banks are participating in the strike," All India Bank Employees' Association (AIEBA) general secretary CH Venkatachalam told IANS.
In Kolkata, partial impact was seen on suburban trains while shops, markets and business establishments in most areas remained closed. The state administration was plying a large fleet of public buses while partial impact was seen on operations of private buses and taxis.
Minor incidents of violence were reported from some areas of West Bengal. In the capital city, striking workers scuffled with police who tried to stop them from staging a demonstration. In Murshidabad, rulers of the working Trinamool Congress clashed with CPI(M) activists, causing damage to each other's property.
In Bihar, workers of trade unions belonging to the Congress and the Left parties blocked national and state highways and at some places stopped passenger and long-distance trains.
"Road traffic in Patna and across Bihar was badly hit by the strike of the trade unions. Auto-rickshaws and buses are off the roads in Patna and other districts," a police official said.
In Uttar Pradesh, striking employees from INTUC and AITUC unions clashed with members of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh who turned up for work at the Ordinance Equipment Factory (OEF) in Armapore. Some of the employees received minor injuries as the rival groups traded blows and resorted to stonepelting.
State-run buses services were affected in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh, but the strike did not have much of an impact on most of the public sector bank.
“We are opposing the new labour laws. We have other local demands also, like our opposition to privatisation of bus routes,” said Parveen Kumar, a Haryana Roadways employee.
In Kerala, public and private bus services, taxis and autorickshaws were off the roads. Only a few private cars and two wheelers were seen on the roads. Shops, hotels and even small tea stalls were closed in the state.
In Left-ruled Tripura, vehicles did not ply on the roads, while banks, schools and colleges were closed and attendance was thin in government offices. CITU members organised small rallies at railway stations severely affecting train services.
In Karnataka, taxis and autos stayed off the roads despite a state government warning against forceful imposition of the strike. Anticipating inconvenience to students, schools and colleges had declared a holiday.
The strike has the least impact in Tamil Nadu, where schools and colleges functioned as usual and city buses and autorickshaws were seen on the roads.
Over one lakh LIC workers and four government owned non-life insurers are also participating in the strike. Unions in the non-life insurance sector are demanding early conclusion of wage negotiations, finalisation of the promotion policy and scrapping of outsourcing, among other demands.
The unions decided to go ahead with strike as their talks with a ministerial panel headed by finance minister Arun Jaitley last month did not make any headway on their 12-point charter of demands.
Trade unions' 12-point charter of demands includes urgent measures to contain price rise, contain unemployment, strict enforcement of basic labour laws, universal social security cover for all workers and minimum wage of Rs 15,000 per month.
They are demanding enhanced pension for workers, stoppage of disinvestment in PSUs, stoppage of contractorisation and removal of ceiling on bonus and provident fund. The list also includes compulsory registration of trade unions within 45 days, no amendment to labour laws unilaterally and stopping of FDI in railways and defence.