India: Huge strike challenges Modi

September 2, 2016
Public sector workers protesting
Public sector workers in India on strike.

Tens of millions of public sector workers in India went on strike to protest Prime Minister Narendra Modi's push for privatisation and other right-wing economic policies.

“This strike is against the central government, this strike is for the cause of the working people,” Ramen Pandey of the Indian National Trade Union Congress told Al Jazeera.

The Guardian reported: “Among the trade unions' 12 demands were a 692-rupee daily minimum wage, universal social security, and a ban on foreign investment in the country's railway, insurance, and defence industries.”

Modi's administration has opened up several state-run industries to private foreign investment since his election in 2014.

Al Jazeera reported that union officials “said about 180 million workers, including state bank employees, school teachers, postal workers, miners, and construction workers, were participating”.

The Guardian reported that Professor Jayati Ghosh, a development economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said Modi's changes had built on a 25-year neoliberal reform agenda that had left workers across the country worse off.

“Less than four percent of workers in India come under labour protection, and even those protections have become more and more eroded,” Ghosh told The Guardian. “There's a general sense that instead of targeting poverty they are targeting the poor, and there has been a real running down of spending on essential public services.”

“We have been putting forward our demands for the last five years,” said Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. “But over the last year no minister has even met the trade unions one of 10 groups boasting a combined membership of 180 million workers that called the strike.”

The BBC said: “Sen's union has accused the government of a 'vile conspiracy … to privatise the public sector and invite foreign capital in some parts of industry'.”

[Reprinted from Common Dreams.]

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