180 million workers have gone on strike in India

Up in arms.
Up in arms.
Image: Reuters/Shailesh Andrade
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India’s labour unions wielded their clout on Friday (Sept. 02) with 180 million workers going on strike demanding higher pay and in protest of the Narendra Modi government’s economic policies.

These workers belong to 10 of the country’s biggest trade unions, and include employees of banks, government telecom companies, and coal mining firms. But Indian railway workers, central government employees, and members of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS)—a sister body of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party—are not participating in the one-day strike.

“Besides ports and civil aviation, essential services like transport, telecom, and banking will be paralysed,” SP Tiwari, secretary of the Trade Union Coordination Committee, a labour union, said on Sept. 01. “The workers will go on strike in hospitals and power plants but the protest will not affect their normal functioning.”

Last year, a similar strike cost the economy more than Rs25,000 crore ($4 billion).

The workers have presented a charter of 12 demands, which includes a monthly minimum wage of Rs18,000 and a pension of Rs3,000. They also want the government to stop disinvesting at various public sector units, change the foreign direct investment policy, and ensure universal social security for all workers.

The government has, meanwhile, promised to look into the protesters’ demands. “In the last one-and-a-half years, the inter-ministerial committee had met with central trade unions,” India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley said. “The government has taken some decisions with regard to those (demands) on the basis of their recommendations.”

The strike has paralysed public transport across some Indian cities. In some states, protesters have clashed with the police.