Nationwide strike affects banks, transport; unions warn of more protests
New Delhi, Feb 21 : India's financial sector, including public-sector banks, were shut and transport affected in large parts of the country during the last day of a two-day nationwide strike called by trade unions Thursday to protest government's economic policies they say has led to inflation and job cuts.
The second day of the strike was largely peaceful, except for some violence in the national capital where a flash mob attacked at least 12 factories, and in West Bengal's Jalangi in Murshidabad district where a panchayat worker's ear was chopped off allegedly by supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress.
A day after violence rocked Noida, a suburb near Delhi, 400 of the 1,200 industrial units resumed work. But, around 200 workers pelted stones at a factory, breaking windows and damaging vehicles. Police later arrested five people,
The banking sector was the worst hit as one million employees struck work.
"Around one million bankers struck work. The two-day strike affected the clearance of around 14 million cheques valued around Rs.800 million," C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), told IANS.
The 11 trade unions, including the ruling Congress' Indian Trade Union Congress (INTUC), had called the shutdown and asked the government to enforce their 10-point charter, which includes controlling inflation and price rise, generating more jobs and enforcing labour laws.
The trade unions said they will soon launch a bigger agitation.
"The two-day countrywide agitation has been successful but we will launch a bigger agitation and this is only a beginning of the chapter," All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said here.
"It is not us but the government which is responsible for the strike, which has reportedly caused a loss of 26,000 crore rupees. Had they paid heed to our demands, it would not have happened," he said when asked about strike's ramifications on the economy.
The impact was seen in the parliament too.
The Left parties boycotted President Pranab Mukherjee's first address to the joint sitting of the two houses of parliament as a mark of protest.
Before the address, members of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the Forward Bloc raised slogans against the government policies and waved placards inside the parliament complex.
In the national capital, the industrial and financial sectors were crippled and public transport was badly hit, inconveniencing tens of thousands. Around 29 industrial areas with over 100,000 small and big factories all across the capital were shut for a second straight day, union leaders said.
In the Okhla industrial estate in south Delhi, a flash mob attacked at least 12 garment factories. The mob dispersed only when security forces intervened.
The shutdown was pretty much total in Kerala, where the Left is not in power but has influence, and in Left ruled Tripura.
Most markets, shops and business establishments, government offices, educational institutions, banks and financial institutions were shut in many parts of the country. Barring private vehicles, public transport remained off roads too.
In West Bengal, the situation was a little different. Transport services returned to normal, but the state's industrial sector was partially hit.
A panchayat worker's ear was chopped off, allegedly by supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress for not attending office on the first day of the strike Wednesday. The Trinamool Congress has opposed the stir.
The attack took place when panchayat worker Hazrat Omar arrived at his office.
More than 100,000 workers joined the strike in the sprawling industrial belt in Gurgaon, bordering Delhi, with all four Maruti Suzuki plants closing down.
"Because of Wednesday's violence at Noida, small and medium-scale industries in the belt declared a one-day holiday Thursday," Jaspal Rana of Hind Mazdoor Sabha told IANS.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) said the violence during the two-day strike would shake investors' confidence in the Indian economy.
Assocham pegs the loss to the economy due to the two-day strike at Rs.26,000 crore.
"A loss of about Rs.26,000 crore estimated by the Assocham should have been avoided at a time when the economy is battling one of the worst slowdowns," it said.