Kolkata/New Delhi: Millions of people struck work and scores of flights were cancelled as a 24-hour nationwide strike called by eight trade unions against rising prices and privatisation disrupted life in parts of India, particularly those ruled by Left parties.
The strike was virtually complete in the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) ruled states of West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala, while it evoked a mixed response in states like Tamil Nadu and a tepid reaction in Karnataka.
The financial capital Mumbai and the national capital New Delhi were relatively unaffected except for commuters who were hit with autorickshaws joining the protest.
According to G. Sanjeeva Reddy, president of the Congress-backed Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), around 100 million (10 crore) workers and employees from sectors including banks, insurance, coal, power, telecom, defence, port and dock, road transport and petroleum and unorganised sectors such as construction joined the strike.
"The strike is 99 percent successful," the Rajya Sabha MP and convener of the Coordination Committee of the Central Trade Unions, which called the strike, told IANS from Hyderabad.
The strike, he said, was being held to "reassert" the bargaining power of the trade unions.
According to him, government leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, wanted to discuss the workers` demands. He said senior central ministers had already contacted him for this.
The trade unions that called the strike are, besides INTUC, the Left-affiliated All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the Centre of Indian Unions (CITU) as well as the All India United Trade Union Centre (AITUC), Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS).
The workers want a check on price rise of essential commodities, pro-active measures to protect employment in recession hit sectors, strict enforcement of all basic labour laws without exception, Rs.50,000 crore for an unorganised workers` social security fund, and a halt to privatization of central public sector enterprises.
The demands found resonance in West Bengal, where life ground to a halt in most parts, crippling commercial activities and road traffic.
However, with the opposition Trinamool Congress bringing out processions, a few shops and markets opened as the day wore on.
More than 100 flights run by private airlines to and from Kolkata were cancelled in advance.
Kolkata, which bustles with activity on normal weekdays, saw empty roads as vehicles did not venture out. The strike was total in industrial areas like Taratala.
Government and private buses did not ply and most people chose to remain indoors.
The strike paralysed the industrial belt on both sides of the Hooghly river in Hooghly, Howrah and North 24-Parganas districts, with workers picketing factory gates.
Clashes between CPI-M and Trinamool Congress erupted in several places.
Two people were injured when a scuffle broke out between workers of the two parties over the opening of shops in North 24 Parganas` Baranagar.
Life in Tripura was crippled as well with most markets, shops and business establishments, government and semi-government offices, educational institutions, banks and financial institutions shut. Roads were deserted and rail services between Tripura and the rest of the country affected.
In Assam, life was impacted in many places though tea and oil production were not hit.
Elsewhere in India, there was a mixed response.
In Mumbai, commuters had a tough time as autorickshaws joined the stir but banks and financial institutions, both in public and private sectors, responded wholeheartedly.
According to Vishwas Utagi, secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association, around one million bank employees protested against a host of issues including foreign direct investments in public sector banks and entry of foreign banks.
In Orissa, mining operations in Sundergarh and Keonjhar districts were paralysed. But work in major establishments, including at the state-owned National Aluminium Co (NALCO) mines and refinery in Koraput, was not hit.