Partial impact of nationwide trade unions’ strike on Day 1
In Kerala, trade union leaders forced a complete shutdown; private vehicles were also blocked on roads.
The 48-hour nationwide strike called by trade unions against “anti-labour” policies of the central government had partial impact in some states on Monday, with disruptions in Left-ruled Kerala, and closed banks and ATMs in West Bengal. There was not much impact of the bandh in most other states.
The Joint Forum of Central Trade Unions called for a two-day strike to protest the reduced interest rate by the Employees Provident Fund Organisation, rising fuel prices and privatisation of central public sector undertakings. Other than the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the labour wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, almost all other major trade unions are participating in the strike.
Besides the 10 central trade unions, the joint forum includes independent sectoral federations and workers’ associations.
In Kerala, trade union leaders forced a complete shutdown; private vehicles were also blocked on roads. Almost all government offices and business establishments remained closed throughout the day. However, rail and air traffic were unaffected.
The Kerala high court has restrained five unions of state-owned Bharart Petroleum from participating in the strike. On Monday, the court asked the state government to take action against government personnel who participate in the strike.
Many trade union outfits began their stir with a torchlight procession on Sunday night and fiercely defended their decision. “It is a strike for all. Besides hostile labour laws, steep hike in prices of petroleum products break backbone of the common man,” said Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader A Anandan in Kerala.
In West Bengal, government officials said several public buses were ransacked by strike supporters in north Bengal, especially in Cooch Behar district. National highways and railways tracks were blocked at several places, police said, adding that 12 Communist Party of India (Marxist) workers were arrested for blocking roads in Howrah.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is on a four-day tour of north Bengal, asked police to lodge first information reports (FIR) against those supporting the strike. Left parties, especially the CPI (M), its frontal organisations, and the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation took the lead in observing the general strike in West Bengal.
Apart from opposing privatisation in any form, the trade unions’ demands include the scrapping of the proposed changes in labour laws and the national monetisation pipeline. Increased allocation of wages under the rural jobs guarantee scheme and regularisation of contract workers are also part of their demands.
The trade unions in a statement on Monday afternoon said 60% of the tea gardens in north Bengal and 24 out of 54 jute mills in south Bengal were closed. “Attendance at rest of the jute mills ranged from 60% to 80%. All private transport operators across Bengal took part in the strike,” the statement said. “Attendance of workers at the coal mines and steel industries was around 30% and 25%, respectively.”
In Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the strike had some impact in coal mining areas, where work was shut, disrupting supply of coal to power plants. In Maharashtra, some of the power stations had to be shut due to the strike, though it did not impact supply of power to major cities such as Mumbai and Pune.
In Punjab, the banks remained closed and some government buses were off the road. In Guwahati, the capital of Assam, public transport was completed shut, while services in banking and other financial institutions were affected.
In Andhra Pradesh, employees and workers of Rashtriya Ispat Nigam, also known as Visakhapatnam steel plant, in the port city of Visakhapatnam boycotted work and staged a demonstration in front of the factory to protest the Centre’s decision to privatise the steel mill.
In Parliament, CPI(M) MP Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya on Monday moved a motion for suspension of business in the Rajya Sabha under Rule 267 to discuss the issue of the two-day nationwide strike. CPI MP Binoy Viswam also gave a suspension of business notice in the upper house under Rule 267 over the “two-day nationwide strike called by workers across the country to protest against the corporatisation and privatisation policies of the central government”.
Anticipating disruption in power supply, the power ministry on Sunday advised all state governments and electricity authorities to prepare themselves to ensure maintenance and reliability of the electricity grid during the strike.