Millions of workers in India have joined a one-day general strike today, Friday.
The right wing media have been quick to report that it’s “business as usual” in most of India, but a mass of reports from around the country paint a different picture.
In states such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Tripura, the strike brought about a near total shutdown. Buses, auto rickshaws, and trains were paralysed as striking workers blocked roads and railway tracks.
As a result, many schools, colleges and offices also closed.
Called by nearly all of the country’s trade union groupings, the strike is against the economic and labour policies of the Narendra Modi government.
In particular the unions oppose proposed “reforms” that will remove basic legal protection from huge numbers of workers. They would make it easier to sack people, ram through increased contract work and enable employers to hire at less than the minimum wage.
Unions are calling for a universal minimum wage of 15,000 rupees (£175) a month.
In Kolkata, the state capital of West Bengal, thousands of workers marched along railway lines with a sea of red banners emblazoned with hammer and sickle emblems. They brought an attempt to run scab trains to a swift end.
India’s banking system also ground to a halt with millions of rupees worth of financial transactions blocked by the action. Some 15,000 bank workers in the Telangana region of southern India joined the strike.
In the capital New Delhi over 1,000 nurses started an indefinite strike. Police manhandled many of the strikers and even arrested some of their leaders, but the nurses remained defiant.
GK Khurana of the Nurses Federation union said, “Nurses across India have joined this strike. My detention will not deter us. We strongly condemn the manner in which the government is treating its employees.”
She added that the union has been struggling for over nine months seeking a rise in the entry level pay scale.
Some heavy industry has also been hit hard.
The All India Coal Workers Federation general secretary DD Ramanadan said, “Dispatch, production and transport of coal have come to a standstill. Around 300 workers have been arrested in Rajmahal and Chitra mines areas.”
In the Gurgaon-Manesar-Bawal industrial region, near New Delhi, many car factories came to a standstill as workers stayed away.
While some reports suggest an uneven response to the strike, it is clear that the action has caused major disruption.
If the unions continue to make common cause with non-unionised workers and students they could turn a day of opposition into a far greater threat.