New Delhi: Operations at banks and airports across the country may be hit on Wednesday with eight million workers planning to walk off their jobs in protest against issues ranging from rising prices to the sale of stakes in state-owned companies.
“This will be the biggest ever general strike against the government,” said Tapan Sen, secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (Citu). “The strike call has been given to voice the protest of people against anti-worker, neo-liberal economic policies.”
The action will be the third nationwide strike faced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government since coming to power in May 2004. The strike has been called by trade unions mostly affiliated with the Communist parties that withdrew support in July from the Union government over the nuclear accord with the US.
The trade unions also plan to block rail and road traffic during the day-long action, Sen said.
The strike call has been given by seven central trade unions and federations of government employees. Their demands include containing 16-year-high inflation, strict implementation of labour protection laws, social security legislation for unorganized labour such as daily-wage workers and extension of the farm loan waiver programme.
“The agitation is a warning to the government that their design of doing as they like to pamper the corporates and speculators, both domestic and foreign, at the cost of the rights and livelihood of the toiling people, will be resisted tooth and nail,” the unions said in a joint statement in New Delhi.
The government is battling inflation amid criticism by opposition parties as it seeks to improve its re-election bid. Singh’s Congress party-led Central coalition will face six state assembly elections this year with the general election due by May 2009. Inflation rose to 12.44% in the week to 2 August.
As many as 15,000 airport workers will stay away from work to support the strike, said M.K Ghoshal, general secretary of the Airports Authority Employees’ Union.
The employees union of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) will protest against the proposed sale of shares in the nation’s biggest state-owned telephone company that may raise as much as $9.5 billion (Rs41,040 crore).
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, which is associated with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Indian National Trade Union Congress, affiliated with the Congress party, are abstaining from the protest.