The long awaited ‘Bharat Bandh’ day arrived as almost 15 crore Indian public sector workers went on strike yesterday, September 2. This has been hailed by union officials as “the world’s largest ever” industrial action, and cost the economy up to Rs. 180 Billion, according to Assocham, the peak group for Indian chambers of commerce.
A nationwide Bandh on the same day last year reportedly involved 140 million workers.
This time, the unions claimed to have involved 180 million.
The RSS affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), a major union, pulled out of the national strike.
Eleventh hour concessions by the Finance and Labour Ministries (including a 104-rupee rise in unskilled workers’ daily minimum wage) failed to yield off the strike against what unions said were the “anti-worker and anti-people” policies of the present government.
Degree of strike
Public banks and power stations were shut and public transport was halted in some states. 20 protesters were arrested in West Bengal after allegedly damaging government buses.
Schools and colleges in Bangalore were closed as a precautionary measure, and 4,200 buses sat idle in Haryana. Mumbai and Delhi avoided major disruptions but surgeries were delayed at a major hospital in the capital while nurses demonstrated outside. Protesters blocked railway tracks and roads in Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.
Among the trade unions’ 12 demands, few of the demands were a 692-rupee daily minimum wage, universal social security and a ban on foreign investment in the country’s railway, insurance and defence industries.
Supporters of the strike have heavily criticized the Government on several fronts. The Government has raised more than Rs. 564 Billion by selling shares in state-owned industries but pulled back from full privatisation and left labour market reform largely to the states. The present Government’s changes had built on a 25-year neoliberal reform agenda that had left workers across the country worse off.
Less than 4% of workers in India come under labour protection, and even those protections have become more and more eroded. There’s a general sense that instead of targeting poverty they are targeting the poor, and there has been a real running down of spending on essential public services.
Health workers in some states had not been paid in months, food subsidy and distribution schemes were being neglected and private employers who wish to discourage any kind of unionisation are being actively encouraged by the central government.
“The Modi government is probably the most pro-state sector government we’ve had in 25 years,” said Mihir Sharma, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi. “The unions are the only people who have bought the idea that the government plans big reforms.” Sharma said the protests – the fourth all-India strike since 2009 – were to “remind the government of the cost of moving forward with its liberalisation programme”.
The Logical Indian shares its concerns about the state of labour welfare in the country. Our labour force is the backbone of our growth story and thus it becomes essential to take imminent measures to address their issues. Even a single day without them can bring the nation to a standstill. Ad-hoc measures, like increasing the minimum wage at the eleventh hour just to pacify the steam, won’t yield any result. What is required is well thought of action based on proper policy deliberations taking into confidence all the stakeholders.