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In India, 100 Million Workers Strike Against Privatization and Anti-Labor Laws
Turnout estimated only slightly lower than last years historic protests shows little has changed
In an immense outpouring of frustration with a government that continues to enact anti-labor measures despite repeated calls for reform, over 100 million workers across India walked off the job Thursday marking the second straight day of a general strike.
The demonstration was spurred by the announcement of the government's push to privatize the retail, insurance and aviation sectors by opening them up to foreign investment and by the recent price hike on subsidized diesel—reforms that the organizing labor unions are calling "anti-poor."
"Workers are being totally ignored and this is reflected in the government's anti-labour policies," said Tapan Sen, general secretary of the umbrella organization, Center of Indian Trade Unions.
Workers are demanding the government set a legal minimum wage, provide better protections against poor working conditions for those in low paying or unskilled positions, and halt the outsourcing of jobs to foreign investment and private sector markets.
The impact of the stoppage was "felt mainly in heavily unionized state-run institutions," AFP reports, with teachers refusing to work and operations ceasing at India's state-run banks.
Workers, carrying bright red flags, joined together in a rally in the northern city of Jammu, BBC reports.
In the eastern states of Odisha and Bihar, protesters squatting on railway tracks blocked the movement of trains, while buses and auto rickshaws also ceased to run.
Iron ore and coal miners halted production in the resource-rich state of Chattisgarh, protesting against "violations of labor laws and high inflation," said an official from NMDC Ltd, India's biggest iron ore producer.
The strike occurred in towns and cities across the subcontinent with some reports of vandalism against factories and other workplaces that continued to operate.
"We want the government to take note of this," said Akhtar Hussain, vice-president of the Indian Workers' Union. "They think they can turn a blind eye to our demands, but they must know that enough is enough. We need our demands to be met. The government needs to be more serious."
Showing that little has been done to protect India's labor force despite the increasingly upward economic and infrastructure growth, Thursday's action takes place almost precisely one year after what many called "the nation's largest strike" which was similarly protesting the privatization of public entities and lack of labor protection.
Ahead this year's strike, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requested the demonstrations be called off, Al-Jazeera reports. "However," they add, "the strike went ahead after the government refused to bow to union demands to reverse recent reforms aimed at opening sectors, including retail and airlines, to greater participation by foreign investors."
Also on the second day of the strike, Parliament began its opening budget session with the government set to present its expenditure plan for the upcoming fiscal year. According to Reuters, the government plans to "slash a public spending target by up to 10 percent to avoid a sovereign credit downgrade, even though that may create more economic pain in the short run."
Leaders of two main leftist parties said they were boycotting Thursday's parliament session in solidarity with the strikers.