150 million Indians to go on strike against Modi’s “anti-labour” policies

Shut down.
Shut down.
Image: REUTERS/Sivaram V
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Daily life across India might come to a screeching halt as nearly 150 million employees across banks, public transport, factories, and government companies go on a two-day strike tomorrow (Jan. 08).

The strike has been called by 10 trade unions across the country against what they believe are anti-labour policies of prime minister Narendra Modi’s government. Employees from the power, steel, auto, and financial services sector will participate in this “historic event.”

The strike will also be joined by farmers, who have been protesting against the agrarian crisis in the country for several months now.

“The government has been pursuing anti-economic and anti-labour policies which has forced us to go on this strike,” CH Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Banks Employees’ Association (AIBEA), one of the trade unions that is participating in the protest, told Quartz. “For instance, prices of commodities have been going up and even the essential goods are not available in fair price shops and the government doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it.”

Founded in 1946, AIBEA is India’s oldest and largest bank employees’ union with around 500,000 members.

Another reason for the protest is the fact that India is not creating enough jobs. Ahead of the last general elections, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had promised to create nearly 10 million jobs every year. Despite these tall claims, the employment scenario in the country is so dismal that in the last financial year the total number of employees in India came down, instead of going up.

Another sore point for the trade unions is that a large number of public sector companies are struggling, forcing the government to divest its stake in them or merge them with healthier ones. For instance, in November 2018, the cabinet approved the stake sale of government-owned Dredging Corporation of India to a consortium of four ports.

“The public sector companies have a lion’s share in the economy and therefore steps must be taken to strengthen them instead of privatising them as it may lead to various problems,” Venkatachalam said.

This is the second time in less than a fortnight that bank employees are going on a strike against bank mergers. In September last year, the government had announced the merger of Dena Bank with Vijaya Bank and Bank of Baroda (BOB), which will come into effect from April 01, 2019. Last month, nearly a million bank employees had observed a one-day strike against the merger. However, soon after the last strike, the cabinet approved the merger proving the strike to be futile.

In a filing to the stock exchanges, many banks have already said that the strikes this week may impact their services. “In the event of AIBEA and BEFI proceeding on strike on January 8-9, 2019, the functioning of bank’s branches/offices in some of the zones may be affected,” BOB informed the exchanges on Jan. 05.

This is a situation that has played out in India several times where it has been proven that strikes yield very little results apart from inconveniencing the general public.