Major Strike in India to Oppose Economic Policies
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's administration faced its
first general strike since coming to power last year, as a million
workers or more planned a nationwide protest Thursday to oppose its
Indian authorities had prepared emergency plans to deal with a one-day
strike called by bank and airport workers. A spokesman for the Airports
Authority of India said on Wednesday that it had sought help from
the air force, the navy and government agencies to maintain normal
The walkout has been called by some labor unions to protest what they
call a failure of the government to review its major policy initiatives.
Their list of 16 demands includes ending asset sales of profitable
state-owned companies, lowering the limit on foreign investment in
telecommunications, stronger labor laws and higher interest rates
on pension funds.
"Workers will remain absent from their duties throughout the country
in government offices, banks, ports, airports, telecom and industrial
units," said Swadesh Dev Roye, secretary of the Center of Indian Trade
Seven trade unions, six of them affiliated with communist parties
that support Singh's federal coalition government, have called the
strike, which could also affect work in insurance and oil companies,
railways and offices of the federal and state governments.
"The strike is likely to have some impact on the government's economic
policies because the communist parties, which support the government,
are backing the strike," said K.K. Mital, chief investment officer
of Escorts Asset Management in New Delhi. "The communist parties are
there to put pressure on the government."
As many as 20,000 of 22,000 airport workers will stay away from work
to protest a government plan to sell stakes in the airports in Mumbai
and New Delhi, the busiest in India, the workers supporting the strike
said. Air-traffic controllers will not participate.
Bank unions said they were fully committed to the strike.
"The strike would be near total, with more than 95 percent of the
bank employees participating in it," said C.H. Venkatachalam, general
secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association.
Other unions withheld their support. India's biggest union, the Bharatiya
Mazdoor Sangh, which has 8.4 million members and is associated with
the main opposition party, Bharatiya Janata, is abstaining.
"The strike has been called with political intentions and is not related
to the welfare of labor," said Amar Nath Dogra, the union's secretary.
The Indian National Trade Union Congress, which is affiliated with
the Congress Party, also is not supporting the strike.
Singh's government has struggled to implement its economic agenda,
which is intended to help economic growth by increasing foreign direct
investment and financing social welfare programs by selling assets
in state-owned companies.
The government has increased the overseas direct investment limit
in telecommunications to 74 percent from 49 percent and in aviation
to 49 percent from 40 percent. It plans to ease investment restrictions
in insurance and banking sectors and, for the first time, to allow
overseas investment in retail trade.
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