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General strike brings India to a standstill

21 February, 2013The historic two days general strike called by Indian central trade unions on 20 and 21 February received unprecedented support among workers across India affecting all vital sectors bringing life to a standstill.

The trade unions’ 10 point demands include measures to contain price rise, employment generation, strict enforcement of labour laws and universal social security cover for organized and unorganized workers.

The  demands were jointly made by eleven Central Trade Unions namely BMS, INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, AICCTU, UTUC, TUCC, SEWA, LPF and Independent Federations of Workers and Employees as decided in the National Convention of Workers in 4 September 2012.

Claiming that the general strike is total in all sectors by all workers, in a press release issued on 20 February, 2013, unions stated that, “the unprecedented response to the call of strike throughout the country much beyond our expectations reflects truly the anger of the people against the persistent increase in the prices of diesel, gas, coal, electricity and other essential goods for the bare need of the common people.”

With vigor and determination and undaunted by police repression and government and employers’ threats, the General Strike continued on the second day, 21 February 2013.  Workers from all the major and strategic sectors participated, such as banks, insurance and other financial sectors, oil & petroleum, road transport (both public and private sectors) in many states, defence (civilian), postal, telecom, govt. employees in several states, several departments of Central govt., port & dock, coal & non-coal mines, power and plantation sectors. There was also a large presence of unorganized workers in the protest demonstrations.  

The two days of general strike is a continuation of joint efforts by Indian trade unions that started in 2009. Since then to express resentment over anti-labour policies and government’s inaction to protect workers’ interests, cutting across political ideologies, major central trade unions have come together in a single platform and taken a number of actions.

However, further indifference of the government of India forced unions to intensify their efforts and call for general strike for two consecutive days on 20-21 February 2013 to pressure the Government of India to address some of the basic human and trade union rights issues faced by workers across the country.

At the final moment on 13 February labour minister convened a meeting and appealed to withdraw the strike call. On 17 February, the Prime Minister of India appealed to withdraw the strike and on the evening of 18 February senior ministers held meetings with the trade union leaders. However, as the panel of ministers failed to provide any concrete proposal on even a single demand, trade unions went ahead with the two days general strike.

Ten points union demands are:

  1. Measures to contain price rise,
  2. Measures for employment generation,
  3. Strict enforcement of labour laws,
  4. Universal social security cover for organized and unorganized workers and creation of National Social Security Fund,
  5. Stoppage of disinvestment in Central and State Public Sector Undertakings,
  6. No Contractorisation of work of perennial nature and equal payment of wages and benefits,
  7. Amendment of Minimum Wages Act to ensure universal coverage irrespective of the schedules and fixation of statutory minimum wage at not less than Rs 10,000/- linked with cost price index,
  8. Remove all ceilings on payment and eligibility of Bonus, Provident Fund; Increase the quantum of gratuity,
  9. Assured Pension for all, and
  10. Compulsory registration of trade unions within a period of 45 days and immediate ratification of the ILO Conventions Nos. 87 and 98.