Millions of workers strike in India over reforms, wages

Tens of millions of workers and government employees went on a day-long strike across India on Friday, protesting the government's labour reform policies and demanding better pay.

Thousands of state-run banks, government offices and factories were closed, and public transport disrupted, in the strike called by 10 trade unions.

One of the main trade unions, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), claimed between 150 million to 180 million workers - particularly in the banking, telecom and mining sectors - joined the strike, but those numbers could not be confirmed.

Indian media said transport and essential services like power and water supplies were not affected in major cities like New Delhi and Mumbai. Private banks were operating and schools and colleges were open.

According to broadcaster NDTV, the strike had its greatest impact in the southern states of Karnataka and Kerala, ruled by the opposition Indian National Congress and Left Democratic Front respectively.

Daily life was also hit in the eastern state of Bihar, where shop and business establishments were shut and train and road services were disrupted by union activists.

CITU general secretary Tapan Kumar Sen said the unions were protesting the government's labour and investment policies and demanding an increase in minimum wages.

"We oppose the pro-corporate changes in labour laws and recent decisions to ease norms for foreign investment in areas like insurance and defence."

"The response (to the strike) is massive. At several places, the police tried to break demonstrations, but workers are coming out to join the protests," he said.

The unions also oppose the government's plans to close state-run loss-making firms that employ large numbers of workers as well as government orders to state-run pension funds to put more money in stock markets.

The Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a landslide victory in May 2014 general elections, promising business-friendly reforms to boost the economy.

On Tuesday, the trade unions rejected an appeal by the government to call off the strike, saying the government had not accepted their demands. Only one big union, the Bharat Mazdoor Sangh, affiliated to the ruling BJP, did not join the industrial action.

Last update: Fri, 02/09/2016 - 15:40
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