Trade unions across India strike to protest inflation, fuel prices

STORY: Major trade unions on Wednesday (February 20) began the two-day strike as the beleaguered government prepares to present an austerity budget to parliament and weather a corruption scandal in a big arms deal.

Financial services, mining and transport are likely to be affected by the strike, called by all major trade unions to protest high inflation, a fuel price increase and what they say are violations of labour laws.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, grappling with the country’s worst economic slowdown in a decade, asked the unions to call off the strike, but talks between a ministerial panel and union leaders broke down on Monday (February 18).

The streets in India’s financial capital Mumbai of western Maharashtra state wore a deserted look as the public transport including auto rickshaws and buses remained off the roads.

A local Chandu Lal Yadav said that the common man would face the brunt of the strike.

“The government should work towards protecting the interest of the labourers and should also work to solve their problems. This is the demand of the labourers. The strike would affect the daily wagers while the government will not face any loss,” said Yadav.

The trade union strike, which might cripple the economy, also affected the commuters in New Delhi.

A passenger, Arvind Kumar expressed his ire as the auto rickshaw drivers charged double of what they used to charge earlier.

“The passengers are facing the brunt of the auto rickshaw strike. If we are getting the auto rickshaws then they are asking double of what they used to charge earlier. How will the passengers commute?,” said Kumar.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry said the two-day strike was expected to cause an estimated loss of 150 billion-200 billion rupees, hurting sectors such as banking, insurance and transport.

Parliament’s budget session begins on Thursday (February 21).

A local, Shubodip Bhaduri said in eastern Kolkata city that the officer goers faced a lot of problems as public transport was not plying on the road.

“The number of buses plying on the roads is less and the mini-buses are not available. The office goers are facing the problem. I work at the airport and I am facing problem in commuting. That’s why I could not go to office today,” said Bhaduri.

The strike also left many passengers stranded at the bus stands and railway stations, as the authorities failed to make adequate arrangements for them.

“We are facing lot of problems as I am not getting anything to reach to my destination. I am waiting for the past four hours,” said Kishan Kumar, a stranded passenger in northern Kanpur city.

The finance minister plans to cut the public spending target for fiscal 2013-14 by up to 10 percent from this year’s original target, in what would be the most austere budget in recent history as he tries to avert a sovereign credit downgrade.

The session is also likely to be disrupted by opposition protests over a $750 million deal for AgustaWestland helicopters that the defence ministry is threatening to cancel over allegations of kickbacks.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has said the prime minister’s offer of a debate on the deal is not sufficient, but has not specified how it will respond.

The last two sessions of parliament were badly disrupted by opposition protests and little business was conducted.