The Guardian May 24, 2000


India:
25 million strike against BJP policies

An estimated 25 million workers in India staged a one-day general strike 
on May 11 to protest against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government's 
IMF-inspired economic policies. The strike crippled banking, insurance, 
mining, textile, transport and manufacturing.

Businesses were closed and train and air services disrupted during the 
strike, organised by the National Platform of Mass Organisations, which 
represents the country's leading national left trade unions and 55 industry 
associations.

The two main Communist Parties played a leading role in the strike, which 
was supported by 11 other left parties.

A spokesman for the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) described the 
strike as a "total success".

CITU General Secretary Chittrabrata Mazumdar said: "It is evident from 
today's strike that people participated spontaneously and took it as their 
own issue".

The workers were protesting against BJP economic "reforms" in the 2000/01 
(April-March) budget.

The budget relaxes import protection thereby endangering domestic industry 
and threatening jobs. It also contains cuts of 7.4 percent to the subsidies 
on essential commodities, which will mean higher prices for foodgrains, 
sugar and fertilisers.

In all, the unions are demanding changes in 23 policies of the BJP-led 
coalition Government.

The All India Insurance Employees' Association went on strike against the 
BJP Government's legislation opening up the state-controlled insurance 
sector to private Indian and foreign companies.

"Opening up of the insurance sector is a threat to the economic sovereignty 
of the country", said R P Manchanda, the Association's President.

In a noisy demonstration in Delhi, insurance workers chanted, "Down with 
the policies of the World Bank and the Government of India. Down with 
privatisation."

They were joined by members of the All India Bank Employees' Association 
(AIBEA), which represents nearly 600,000 bank employees or about 50 percent 
of the industry's workforce, who protested against the Government's plans 
to privatise the state-run banks.

Reuters reported that "both houses of India's Parliament were adjourned [on 
the day of the strike] amid uproar over the hike in the prices of 
fertilisers and essential commodities".

Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi condemned the Government for being 
"insensitive to such sensitive issues", but Congress did not participate in 
the strike.

In Communist-led West Bengal, support for the strike was total.

"Everything is shut", said a CITU spokesman in Calcutta. Almost all flights 
out of the state capital, Calcutta, were cancelled. Children played on the 
streets as protesters stopped vehicles on the road.

India's BJP-led, 17-member coalition Government has faced strikes by 
insurance, banking, port, power, oil and transport workers since taking 
power in October 1999.

Its policies of cutting protection and subsidies while privatising state 
industries including telecommunications and insurance have endeared it to 
Indian and foreign big business.

"We have a stable political climate now", Ved Prakash Chaturvedi told 
Reuters. Chaturvedi is chief investment officer at Cholamandalam Cazenove 
India Asset Management, which manages four billion rupees (US$90 million).

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