Left unions up the ante with nationwide stir against reforms

Left unions up the ante with nationwide stir against reforms

New Delhi: Trade unions allied with the Left Front plan to protest against the tabling of the insurance Bill, the banking reforms Bill, and other reform-oriented legislation by the United Progressive Alliance government, and are planning a nationwide strike on 20 August for starters.

The government is expected to unveil several reform-oriented Bills after parting ways with the Left, which supported it for the first four years and two months of its rule. The Left Front has traditionally been opposed to reforms in areas such as insurance and banking, and is also against the divestment of the government’s stake in public sector firms.

On their part, the Left Front’s constituents will try and block such efforts through protests and strikes. The 20 August strike, for instance, is expected to be near-complete with unions in insurance firms, banks, telco Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Indian Railways and in Central public sector firms participating in it.

“We are also talking to the employees union of the Airports Authority of India to enlist their support for the strike," said Revolutionary Socialist Party, or RSP, general secretary G. Devarajan.

“There is a clear link between the signing of the (Indo-US) nuclear deal and the speeding up of economic reforms, and we are going to expose the government’s game plan. The government is already committed to a quid pro quo with the US and other first world countries," said a Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, leader who did not wish to be identified.

The Left Front, of which both the CPM and the RSP are constituents, is opposed to the nuclear deal, and withdrew support to the government over the issue. The government has since won a trust vote in Parliament which essentially allows it to go ahead with the deal.

According to the general secretary of the All India Insurance Employees Association, K. Venugopal, apart from economic reforms, the 20 August strike will also raise issues such as inflation and disinvestment. “Our demands include protection of PSUs (public sector undertakings), wage revision and controlling price rise," he added.

C.H. Venkitachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association, said the union had demanded rejection of the Raghuram Rajan committee report, which proposed a larger role and share for private capital in the banking sector, as well as the proposed amendment to the Banking Regulation Act. “The total capital invested in the banking sector in India is only Rs4,400 crore, whereas the deposits mobilized are around Rs5,50,000 crore. So, a huge chunk of the people’s money could be controlled by private players if this is allowed to go through," said Venkitachalam.

A panel headed by former IMF chief economist Raghu-ram Rajan had, in April, presented a report on reforms required in the financial sector.

The BSNL Employees Union and the Committee of Central Public Sector Trade Unions, too, will participate in the 20 August strike. According to V.A.N. Namboodiri, an office-bearer with the telco’s trade union, around 300,000 BSNL staffers are expected to participate. CPM leader Tapan Sen said employees of Central PSUs would also participate because their demands for hig-her wages have not been met. PSUs did not come under the ambit of the Sixth Pay Commission that, earlier this year, recommended significant raises for government employees.

J.P. Chaubey, general secretary of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation, said his organization would lend its support to the strike, but was undecided about striking work.