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Rediff.com  » Business » Strike hits bank, govt services hard

Strike hits bank, govt services hard

May 21, 2003 18:00 IST

The day long nation-wide strike call given by the left-led trade unions against the Centre's economic policies on Wednesday left banking and insurance services totally paralysed while evoking a mixed response in some other areas like oil, fertiliser, port and other central sector operations.

The union leaders claimed that about 40 million workers from banks, insurance, PSUs and other key sectors participated in the strike.

In  Mumbai, the industrial hub, workers took to the streets, agitating against the government's labour policies.

The Shiv Sena, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Indian National Trade Union Congress, however, did not participate in the strike, though they agreed.

National Confederation of Bank Employees joint secretary V K Gupta said in New Delhi about 50 million workers -- roughly equal to the population of South Korea -- were on strike. This could not be independently verified.

"The strike is complete," he said. "We want the government to stop privatisation of state assets immediately."

The BJP-lead coalition government is trying to boost growth and efficiency by selling state firms, freeing up imports, cutting red tape and reforming labour laws.

But it has run into opposition from powerful unions fearing job losses and politicians trying to keep control over key state firms. An added complication are elections in several key states this year before a national poll next year.

Bank unions had already threatened to go on an indefinite strike if their demands were not met and accused the labour ministry of "playing hide and seek" game with the employees.

Tens of thousands of police fanned out across the financial capital, Mumbai, to provide extra security and small protests were held in Mumbai, New Delhi and other cities.

Several people were arrested at one protest in the capital, but there were no reports of trouble around the country.

Bond trading picked up and volumes were close to normal after a slow start because of the impact on state banks, traders said. But currency trading was badly hit with traders estimating volumes at around 20 per cent of usual. Stocks were unhurt.

"The strike was a total success, particularly in the banking sector," said All India Bank Employees Association joint secretary Kamal Bhattacharyya. He said the union coordination committee will meet later this week to decide on future action.

The 24-hour strike was supported by the Left Front and 31 other trade unions including the CITU, AITUC and Hind Majdoor Sabha protesting against Centre's labour and divestment policies.

In West Bengal, normal life was thrown out of gear even while no major untoward incident was reported.

"The strike is total and peaceful. We have no report of any untoward incident from anywhere in the state so far," IGP (Law and Order) Chayan Mukherjee said.

In the South, the strike evoked mixed response in  Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka while it was good in communist bastion Kerala.

Meanwhile, the agitating bank unions demanded setting up of a GOM to address the problem of overlapping of labour and finance ministry related issues confronting the banks.

With the Left organisations in West Bengal supporting the strike, life came to a standstill in the capital Kolkata, with public transport remaining off the roads and banks, public sector commercial establishments and educational institutions remaining closed.

According to Eastern Railway sources, strike supporters obstructed traffic at 20 stations in the Howrah division and 19 in the Sealdah division, resulting in the disruption of movement of several long-distance trains.

While the Indian Airlines operated several flights to and from the metropolis, private sector Jet Airways and Sahara Airlines kept their operations suspended for the day, airport sources said.

Normal loading and unloading operations at various docks of the Kolkata Port Trust were also affected due to the strike.

In Mumbai too, port and dock workers joined the 24-hour strike at 8 am which impacting loading and unloading of the cargo at port, All India Port and Dock Workers Federation sources said.

However, the strike did not affect operations at Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport as air industry unions stayed away from the agitation.

Domestic and international flights operated as per schedule.

The BSNL Employees Union, in a statement, said there was complete strike in their units at Kerala, West Bengal, Assam, North East, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Its general secretary Y A N Namboodiri said his union opposed any privatisation of profitable PSUs, including BSNL.

Meanwhile, the general secretary of CITU, M K Pande said the strike was a reflection of determination of the country's working class against, what he termed was moves of the government to 'sell national wealth for a song to serve their masters abroad.'

However, INTUC secretary Chandidas Sinha said that the union was not consulted on the strike issue, citing the reason for not joining the agitation.

AITUC secretary Gurudas Das Gupta said there was a move to dilute the labour laws paving way for the implementation of policy of 'hire and fire.'

On the demand for restoring 12 per cent EPF interest, he said there was a move for reducing it already and even a 1 per cent cut will rob the 27.5 million subscribers.

The other demands comprise widening the social security schemes for all, including workers in unorganised sector and restoration of quantitative restrictions on imports.

Expressing solidarity to the general strike, five of the nine major bank unions, including RBI Employees Association have joined the stir.

The five unions -- All India Bank Employees Association, All India Bank Officers Confederation, National Confederation of Bank Employees, All India Bank Officers Association and Bank Employees Federation of India -- have said the banks fully supported the fight against moves to privatise pension funds.

Additonal inputs: Reuters

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