Violence mars India trade union strike
New Delhi, Feb 20 : A two-day nationwide strike called by several trade unions to protest anti-worker policies, labour law violations, inflation and fuel price hike of the government turned violent on Wednesday on its first day with protesters torching vehicles at Noida and the day beginning with the killing of a union leader in Ambala in Punjab.
The flare up in Noida, including a hosiery complex, shattered the overall peace in rest of India though the very strike began with a tragedy in Ambala.
Protesters set at least five vehicles on fire near a factory in Greater Noida.
Reacting to the Noida flare-up, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader and well known trade union activist Gurudas Dasgupta said the "day starts with a murder of a union leader itself at Ambala and though we are for peaceful strike, if anyone attacks us we will defend ourselves."
"You are estimating loss of the strike but do you calculate the loss of people dying from hunger. When hunger is the problem, I have a right to protest. The bandh is peaceful and one single incident of Noida should be not blown up. We do not approve of violence but I do not know what happened in Noida," he told reporters and TV channels.
In Ambala, the trade union leader was crushed by a bus while he was trying to stop it from being put on service. Violence erupted soon after as angry workers damaged police vehicles and clashed with cops.
The strike evoked mixed response in India hitting banking sector and transportation.
Trade unionists said they are expecting about ten crore workers to participate in the two-day strike.
Trains services in Odisha and Bihar were affected as protestors demonstrated over the trade unions' strike across India.
The strike impacted partially in West Bengal with fewer people venturing out and transport system hit in some places. Several shops in Kolkata however kept their shutters down.
The flight operation from Kolkata's airport is normal while some suburban trains that ferry office goers to the city were partially hit.
"We will observe a full protest for two days but we will not force anyone to do anything and avoid political collision," said CITU West Bengal State Committee Secretary Debanjan Chakraborty.
Chakraborty said CITU (which is affiliated to India's largest communist party CPI-M) will make its maximum presence felt in the industrial belts of West Bengal and urge labourers to not go to work, with protests planned at the gates of some factories.
The West Bengal government plied state-run buses to foil the strike but there were fewer commuters. The government also ensured the State worked on Wednesday and Thursday with the adoption of a no work, no pay policy for the two-day strike. State employees have been warned they will not be paid if they joined the strike.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has warned of police action if there is any attempt to forcibly close down shops and factories.
"Everything will remain open in West Bengal," she said on Monday, adding that she would herself act like a security guard of the various establishment and the government will even compensate any damage to property by the strike enforcers.
Unlike in the past many of the factories in the industrial belt of West Bengal are open. In the industrial town of Durgapur in south Bengal, life is normal.
There has been no report of any major violence so far.
Industry body Assocham has estimated that the loss to the economy from the strike will be Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 crore as the bandh is likely to hit the banking sector and the public transport severely.
Banking system was hard hit by the strike.
In Delhi transport system was hit too with passengers arriving at New Delhi railway station and getting stranded as taxis and auto-rickshaws either refused them or overcharged.
In Mumbai, banks were shut but trains and buses services were running normally and government offices remained open. There were no reports of disruptions at the Mumbai airport as the airport union stayed away from the strike.
The strike hit transport and banking in Kerala. Reports said buses and taxis were off the roads and shops and restaurants were kept closed. Train services were not affected.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi or TRS reportedly announced its support to the strike.
In Goa, as many as 13 trade unions have joined the two-day nationwide strike.
Transport and banking have been major causalities as Kadamba Transport Corporation, which operates major shuttle service and bank unions, are supporting the strike.
Bus commuters were stranded at bus stops with taxis and autos overcharging them or refusing ferrying them to their respective destinations.
River Navigation department has also joined the strike despite Goa government invoking Goa Essential Service Maintenance Act banning strikes in all units/sections of transport and RND.