Thursday, February 21, 2013

India: Nationwide trade union strike hits banks, Noida protests turn violent

Bharat Bandh turns violent in Noida.

Noida, February 20, 2013
[Protesters put a truck on fire during the 2-day trade union strike in Noida.]
A union leader was killed in Haryana and factory units damaged in Delhi suburb Noida in sporadic violence on Wednesday as the start of a two-day nationwide strike called by trade unions evoked a mixed response with banking services paralysed and public transport disrupted. Kerala, Tripura and Bihar were among the worst hit states where normal life was thrown out of gear while stray incidents of violence were reported in Odisha and Karnataka. Protest marches were taken out in several cities.Flight and rail operations remained unaffected in the strike called by 11 trade unions against UPA’s economic and alleged anti-labour policies.
Reports from state capitals said financial services were crippled and bus commuters faced difficulties.
In Noida Phase 2 area, workers clashed with factory owners in a hosiery complex and set ablaze vehicles prompting authorities to deploy PAC in the area. Workers went on a rampage and damaged industrial properties, police said.
From Sector 82 till Greater Noida entry point, which is the industrial belt, workers set ablaze a car, bus and a fire engine, police said.
“People just barged in, looted everything in sight and even tore our registers,” an industrialist said while another said every single building in the hosiery complex had their windows broken and many vehicles were set on fire.
Life was partially affected in Trinamool Congress ruled-West Bengal with shops, markets and business establishments closed in many parts of Kolkata while government run buses and trams operated in large numbers.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is against bandhs and had warned government employees from remaining absent, claimed attendance at the state secretariat, Writers’ Buildings, was 100 per cent.
In the national capital, commuters faced hardships as a section of auto-rickshaws and taxis remained off the road in support of the strike. Bus services were partially hit as a number of bus unions, including a section of Delhi Transport Corporation employees, have also extended support.
The strike call in the country’s financial hub Mumbai witnessed near cent per cent participation by employees from banking and insurance sector leaving their operations totally paralysed.
In Punjab, a trade union leader, who was squatting along with a group of workers near Ambala bus depot as part of the two-day nationwide strike, died after being hit by a bus he was trying to stop from plying, a senior roadways official said.
“The incident took place around 4am this morning when Narender Singh, a bus driver by profession, tried to stop the vehicle which was being taken out from the Ambala Depot despite the strike,” district president of Haryana Roadways Workers Union Inder Singh Bhadana told reporters in Ambala.
Bhadana alleged that the district administration tried to forcibly ply the bus, which hit Singh, who was also the treasurer of a AITUC union, killing him on the spot.
After the incident, the other workers resorted to violence damaging vehicles belonging to the Ambala’s deputy commissioner of police and SHO of the Baldev police station area, police said.
Meanwhile, Bhadana demanded a case to be lodged against the general manager of the rsoadways, failing which they will not allow the body to be cremated.
In view of the tense situation, heavy police force had been deployed at the bus depot and its surrounding areas.
Earlier, however, AITUC general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said that the victim was allegedly stabbed to death by some miscreants.
Many banks were closed and public transport disrupted but the capital, New Delhi, and business centre, Mumbai, were mostly unaffected and financial markets were open.
“We want the government to take note of this,” said Akhtar Hussain, vice-president of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, or Indian Workers’ Union.
“They think they can turn a blind eye to our demands, but they must know that enough is enough. We need our demands to be met. The government needs to be more serious.”
In New Delhi and Mumbai, bus and suburban train services were running without disruption. Some taxis were off the roads but offices and schools were open.
Elsewhere, however, public transport was not running, banks were closed and most shops and offices kept their shutters down.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry said on Tuesday that the two-day strike was expected to cause an estimated loss of Rs. 150 billion-200 billion ($2.8 billion-$3.8 billion), hurting sectors such as banking, insurance and transport.
[Overturned cars are seen as workers turned violent in Noida during the 2-day nationwide trade union strike. Shashank Shekhar/HT Photo]
Failed talks
Central trade unions called for two-day mega strike as their talks with the government failed to reach a conclusion.
Apart from unions owing allegiance to the Left, the pro-Congress INTUC and pro-BJP BMS are also participating in the strike.
The unions have put forward a charter of 10 demands such as urgent steps to control price rise, strict enforcement of labour laws in all places of work, social security net for workers in the unorganised sector, end to disinvestment in PSUs and raising minimum wage to Rs. 10,000 a month.
Eleven central trade unions had on Monday stuck to their call for the nationwide strike from Wednesday after talks with senior ministers — AK Antony, Sharad Pawar and labour minister Mallikarjun Kharge, convened at the instance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — failed.
Particular attention was drawn to the huge food subsidy given by the government to ensure availability of food grains to the poor through the PDS system.
The representatives were also told about the government’s initiatives in introducing amendments to various labour laws.
The ministers said the National Employment Policy would be announced shortly to encourage more employment to women and promote skill development.
“All these issues had been agreed upon by the labour parliament, which is a tripartite body, with government representation. But the issues have not been implemented,” Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) secretary general Baijnath Rai told IANS.The strike has been called jointly by the BMS, Indian Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and other such central organisations.
Major trade unions on Tuesday held separate meetings ahead of the two-day general strike called by them from Wednesday demanding redressal of 10 demands.
The meetings were basically a “stock taking exercise” ahead of the strike call, CITU general secretary Tapan Sen said.
He said the government was given enough time to meet the demands but it failed to address the issues afflicting the working class.
PSU bank employees strike
Normal banking operations were hit as employees of public sector banks went on a two-day strike in response to a call given by central trade unions to press for wage hike in the backdrop of rising inflation.
The nation-wide strike call has been given by United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), consisting of nine national level unions, including AIBEA, NCBE, BEFI, INBEF, NOBW and AIBOC.
Apprehending disruption in their normal banking operations, many banks had already informed their customers about the proposed strike.
[Trade unions stage a joint march during a two-day general strike in Kottayam. UNI]
Meanwhile, sources said, banks have taken steps to ensure that public do not face problems at least on the cash front during the strike period.
Banks have fed additional cash in ATMs to meet the cash needs of their customers.
Bank unions are pressing for early wage revision of employees, which they said is due from November 2012. They are also opposing banking sector reforms and any plan for merger of banks.
There are 26 public sector banks with employees strength of around 10 lakh.
In December 2012 also, four bank unions went on strike opposing amendments carried out in Banking Regulation Act and Banking Companies Act, enabling foreign equity in public sector banks.
(With PTI and IANS inputs)
The Hindu, New Delhi, February 20, 2013

Violence mars trade union strike

J. Balaji
  • Cars burn in an factory parking lot during the first day of 'Bharat Bandh' called by trade unions, at industrial area phase 2 in Noida. Photo: PTI
    PTI Cars burn in an factory parking lot during the first day of ‘Bharat Bandh’ called by trade unions, at industrial area phase 2 in Noida. Photo: PTI
  • Policemen chase protesters during bandh called by trade unions, at an industrial area in phase-II of Noida on Wednesday.
    PTI Policemen chase protesters during bandh called by trade unions, at an industrial area in phase-II of Noida on Wednesday.
  • People look on near cars burnt by people at a factory, during the first day of 'Bharat Bandh' called by trade unions, at industrial area phase 2 in Nodia on Wednesday.
    PTI People look on near cars burnt by people at a factory, during the first day of ‘Bharat Bandh’ called by trade unions, at industrial area phase 2 in Nodia on Wednesday.
  • Bandh supporters stopping a train during the first day of the nationwide trade unions' strike at Patna Junction. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar
    The Hindu Bandh supporters stopping a train during the first day of the nationwide trade unions’ strike at Patna Junction. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar
    One killed in Ambala, workers attacked in Noida
    Violence, including attack on those who turned up for work in Noida, burning of their cars and other vehicles, and mowing down of a trade unionist in Ambala district of Haryana, marred the first day of the two-day all-India general strike called by 11 central trade unions.
    In Ambala, local leader Narinder Singh was fatally knocked down by a State-owned roadways bus, which he and his fellow protesters attempted to stop.
    The strike call evoked mixed response across the country on Wednesday.
    The functioning of banks, insurance companies, transport, coal, telecom and oil industries, central and State government undertakings, and Central/State government offices in many places was affected. Kerala, Tripura, Bihar were among the worst-affected States.
    In Delhi, government offices functioned as usual but not many autos or taxis were seen on the road. In some States there was only lukewarm response.
    Stray incidents of violence occurred in Odisha and Karnataka. There was only partial response in Tamil Nadu with shops open as usual, and taxis and auto-rickshaws plying normally in some cities. Workers took out rallies, held protest meetings, dharnas near their place of work in various cities across the country.
    Commuters, patients, students, vendors, and those arriving at or going to airports, bus stands, railway stations and offices were put to great hardship due to non-availability of transport in many places.
    However, flight and train operations remained unaffected. The unions were demanding, among other things, check on price rise, more employment generation, better social security to the unorganised workers, ban on contract labour system, and fixing minimum wages at Rs. 10,000 a month.
    AITUC general secretary and CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta claimed that the strike was “unprecedented” and received massive response on day one. It reflected the people’s anger against the government and its policies, he said.
    Normal life paralysed in Tripura
    Syed Sajjad Ali adds:
    Normal life and business came to a standstill in Tripura as trade unions enforced two-day nationwide general strike commenced on Wednesday morning. The strike called by 11 trade unions evoked complete response across the state with business establishments and educational institutions remaining closed.
    Government offices recorded very thin attendance while vehicular movement was off the road. No untoward incident reported from anywhere in the state.
    The strikers organised picketing outside some government offices. Emergency services and all activities relating to assembly election were kept out of general strike.
    The 48 hour bandh also affected functioning in ONGC in state. ONGC workers’ Union supported 10-point demands of the trade unions.
    The workers’ union however informed that the staffs engaged in gas exploration and distribution units have joined duty. ONGC is providing gas to state’s thermal power projects and is partner of ambitious 726MW power plant at Palatana in south Tripura.
    Train services hit in Bihar
    Patna: The trade union strike hit train services in Bihar as Left unions staged rail rokos, leaving local and outstation passengers stranded at various stations in Bihar.
    Members of several unions, namely All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and supporters of all the Left parties sat in dharna at Patna’s Dak Bungalow square. They marched to the Patna junction and staged a rail rook, blocking trains and tracks.
    At the Patna junction, rail announcements relayed information on train delays owing to the “jan andolan.” Passengers had to face delays of over two hours as trains were stalled in their tracks. The Magadh Express was terminated in Patna and other trains were rescheduled.
    Big shops in key locations downed their shutters. Banks and government offices were also found to be shut. Fewer autos plied on the roads, cycle rickshaws were deterred from operating, while several main routes were barred for movement of vehicles. In some places in Bihar, protestors pelted stones at buses and vehicles. Outside the Patna junction, protestors burnt tyres.
    Anganwadi sevikas and helpers joined the strike in large numbers. “The government promised that anganwadi workers would be considered for promotions, but they have not kept their word. We are surviving on Rs. 3,000 a month. Our condition is worse that that of the labourer,” Asha Devi, an Anganwadi sevika said. Many complained that the government funds for buying provisions for the mid0day meal were not consummate with the rise in prices.
    In addition, Beedi workers and pan stall owners also lent their support to the strike.
    Besides the main demands of rolling back foreign direct investment and reining in inflation, the strike also called for security of women at work place, ending crimes against women, implementation of the Justice Verma panel’s recommendations, cracking down on spurious liquor.
    “The response has been great in Bihar,” Deepankar Bhattacharya, general secretary CPI (ML) (Liberation) told The Hindu. “All trade unions, farmers, unorganised sector workers, bank employees have all supported the bandh. Common people have also joined in since the issues raised are not limited to the labourers. Inflation, price rise, land acquisition are concerns in the entire country. We have also demanded the implementation of Verma committee recommendations in the upcoming budget session. We also want the government to declare prohibition in the ongoing budget session in Bihar. If the government does not pay attention to the voice if the working people, it will be doing so at its own peril. Our people are ready to ensure a successful bandh in Bihar and Jharkhan on the second day too. In terms of participation the band is a success, but ultimately it is about achieving our goals. If we don’t, the movement will have to be intensified,” Mr. Bhattacharya said.
    He said that labour unions had staged a huge strike in Delhi in 1992. But the Babri Masjid was “demolished to vitiate the atmosphere in the country and stifle the voice of the workers.”

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