Millions of Indian Workers Go On Strike

Sunil Freeman

An estimated 100 million Indian workers went on strike Feb. 20 and 21 in opposition to the government’s harsh new economic policies. Eleven major trade unions organized the general strike, which was called in response to sharply rising costs of living, low wages and poor working conditions. Several sectors were hit, with the major impact on transportation, banking and manufacturing. Maruti Suzuki India, a car manufacturer with a history of militant labor action by its workers, closed in response to the strike.

Attendance at some government offices was down and many education institutes were closed as teachers’ unions joined the strike. Universities canceled exams.

The Indian government has struggled recently as economic growth has slowed to a 10-year low. Its response has included reducing fuel subsidies and moving to open the country’s retail and aviation industries for exploitation by foreign corporations, raising concerns about rising unemployment. Labor organizers criticized the economic policies as anti-poor. Workers have also expressed anger about widespread corruption.

Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, charged that “[w]orkers are being totally ignored, and this is being reflected in the government’s anti-labour policies.”Two deaths were reported, and nearly 100 were arrested in incidents related to the strike.

The strike showed the growing militancy and strength of India’s working class, which is rising up in opposition to the government’s neo-liberal economic policies. The work stoppage dealt a blow to capitalist profits. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, a prominent group representing Indian business interests, acknowledged that the strike had resulted in an estimated loss of 260 billion rupees (equivalent to approximately $4.7 billion).

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