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Nurses protest against the government in Chandigarh, India, on Friday.

Nurses protest against the government in Chandigarh, India, on Friday. (Photo: Ajay Verma/Reuters)

World's Largest Strike? Tens of Millions in India Rise Up Against Right-Wing Economic Policies

Public sector workers across India went on strike to protest Prime Minister Modi's push for privatization and demand higher wages

Nika Knight Beauchamp

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

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

"Our strike will be 100 percent successful ... we will prove that this strike is the world's largest ever," Pandey said.

"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 defense industries," the Guardian reports.

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

Al Jazeera reports that union officials "said about 180 million workers, including state bank employees, school teachers, postal workers, miners, and construction workers, were participating, but the figure could not be independently verified." 

Prof. 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," according to the Guardian.

"Less than four percent of workers in India come under labor protection, and even those protections have become more and more eroded. 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," Ghosh told the Guardian.

Striking workers march in Jharkhand, India, on Friday. (Photo: CPIM/Facebook)

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

The BBC observes that "Sen's union has accused the government of a 'vile conspiracy... to privatize the public sector and invite foreign capital in some parts of industry.'"

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