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New Delhi: The nationwide strike called for by central trade unions on Thursday, coupled with the ‘Delhi Chalo’ rallies of farmers in north India, led to a near total shutdown in a few states and protests in others.
West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have already seen rallies in support amidst what appears to be complete observance of the strike. AITUC General Secretary Amarjeet Kaur said Odisha, Punjab, Haryana, Telangana, Maharashtra and Goa have also seen a “good response.”
Protest rallies were taken out in nearly all major towns and cities including New Delhi.
The day-long strike has been called for by a joint platform of 10 central trade unions, including Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Trade Union Co-ordination Centre (TUCC) and Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
Others are All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Labour Progressive Federation (LPF) and United Trade Union Congress (UTUC).
Various independent federations and associations are also part of the joint platform. BJP-aligned Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is not participating in the strike.
The strike is primarily in protest against the new labour laws, among other workers-related issues. The cause of the farmers and their agitation against the new laws that affects them are also a secondary agenda. The united front of farmer organisations, AIKSCC, has also extended its support to the general strike.
In many states, auto and taxi drivers have decided to keep off the roads. The federations of railway and defence employees too are supporting the strike.
In Odisha, trade union activists staged road blockades in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Rourkela, Sambalpur, Berhampur, Bhadrak, Balasore, Khurda, Rayagada and Paradip, causing buses, trucks and private vehicles to stop.
In Kerala, state-owned KSRTC buses are not plying. Only Sabarimala pilgrims were exempted from the strike, and KSRTC buses, operated in the hill temple route, ferried devotees as usual.
In Bengal, strike supporters were mostly activists of CPI(M)-affiliated outfits like CITU and DYFI. Rallies and road blockades across the state capital Kolkata saw sporadic disruption of private vehicles. Protesters picketed outside Howrah railway station, asking vehicle operators to stop services. A large police contingent was deployed to ensure normal plying of vehicles.
Bandh enforcers also blocked roads in Coochbehar and Jhargram districts, burning tyres and breaking the windscreen of buses, an official told PTI.
Suburban train services in the Sealdah division were affected as agitators blocked railway tracks at several stations, an Eastern Railway spokesperson said.
Bandh supporters obstructed tracks at Dakshin Barasat, Baharu, Dhakuria, Joynagar, Champahati, Subhasgram and Betberia Ghola stations in the south section and Ichapur, Palta, New Barrackpore, Barrackpore and Dumdum Cantonment stations in the main section, he said.
Banana leaves were thrown on overhead wires at Mathurapur and Hotor railway stations in Sealdah south section, thus affecting train movement, the spokesperson said.
Banking operations in public sector banks across the country were partially affected.
Cash transaction including deposits and withdrawal at branches, forex and government transactions have been impacted in many public sector banks where participating unions are strong.
However, State Bank of India and private sector banks are functional.
Many lenders including Bank of Maharashtra had informed customers in advance that normal working could be affected.
The All India Bank Employees’ Association (AIBEA), All India Bank Officers Association (AIBOA) and Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI) are participating in the strike.
Besides, All India Bank Officers’ Confederation (AIBOC) has extended fraternal support to strike.
Domestic workers, industrial employees
Services at LIC (Life Insurance Corporation), GIC (General Insurance Corporation) and the Income Tax Departments are also likely to be hit severely.
“Visakhapatnam steel plant, majority of workers in coal mines, copper plants, port and dock areas are all on strike. Delhi industrial areas are closed down,” Kaur said.
Scheme workers, domestic workers, construction workers, beedi workers, hawkers, vendors, agricultural workers, self-employed in rural and urban areas have also decided to come on to the streets for a ‘chakka jam’ or road blockade.
The demands of the joint platform include cash transfer of Rs 7,500 per month tor all non-income tax paying families and 10 kilograms of free ration to every needy person per month.
The unions have also demanded expansion of MGNREGA, the rural employment guarantee scheme, to provide 200 days’ work in a year in rural areas at enhanced wages and also extension of the employment guarantee to urban areas.
They have also asked the government to withdraw all “anti-farmer laws and anti-worker labour codes and stop privatisation of public sector, including the financial sector and stop corporatisation of government-run manufacturing and service entities like railways, ordinance factories, ports etc”.
Among other demands, the unions have sought withdrawal of the “draconian circular on forced premature retirement of government and PSU employees”.
Other demands of the unions include ‘pension to all’, scrapping NPS (National Pension System) and restoration of earlier pension with improvement in EPS-95 (Employees’ Pension Scheme-1995 run by retirement fund body EPFO).