Violence erupted in several parts of West Bengal on Wednesday during a nationwide strike called by 10 trade unions in protest against government policies, PTI reported. There were reports of buses being burned and vandalisation of public properties. At least 55 people were arrested in the state till the afternoon, according to a senior Kolkata Police officer.
Demonstrators burnt tyres, blocked streets and railway tracks in parts of East Burdwan district. Buses were vandalised in Cooch Behar district, and stones were pelted at buses in East Midnapore district, where protestors clashed with police personnel.
People participating in the strike tried to go past barricades in Kolkata’s Central Avenue locality, following which police reportedly used force to control the crowd. In the city’s Lake Town and Dum Dum neighbourhoods, clashes between Left supporters and Trinamool Congress workers were reported.
Members of a students’ union of Jadavpur University also joined the strike and protested near the campus. The strike affected train services in Howrah, Sealdah, and Kharagpur sections, with at least 175 local trains cancelled in the Sealdah and Howrah divisions, said an Eastern Railway spokesperson.
Earlier in the day, protestors blocked a railway track in Howrah while four crude bombs were recovered by police from another track near Hridaypur station in North 24 Parganas district, ANI reported. Some violence was reported in Jadavpur and Behala, according to NDTV.
The Left accused Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of doublespeak as the state government came out against the strike. Government buses were plying normally in Kolkata, but there were fewer private buses in the early hours of the day, according to The Indian Express. Heavy police deployment was seen in several areas of Kolkata. The ruling Trinamool Congress held rallies against the strike in northern parts of the state and urged people to maintain normalcy.
Banerjee said people trying to enforce the strike did not have a political base in the state, PTI reported. “CPI(M) has no ideology,” Banerjee added, according to ANI. “Planting bombs on railway tracks is ‘gundagardi’. In the name of movement, commuters are being beaten up and stones are being pelted. This is ‘dadagiri’, not a movement.” She accused Left parties of trying to get attention, and said: “Instead of gaining this publicity, political death is better.”
The “Bharat bandh” received support from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who claimed the Centre’s “anti-people and anti-labour” policies had created catastrophic unemployment.
Some parts of Kerala had very little traffic and shops were closed. Metro stations in Kochi were largely empty, The Indian Express reported. Public transport remained off the streets and banking services were disrupted because of the strike.
Schools and colleges declared a holiday on Wednesday, and three major universities postponed their examinations, according to PTI. Shops, hotels, and other businesses remained shut all through the state. However, medical shops are reportedly open in major towns.
Most government officials did not attend office, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Flight and train services were not disrupted, and no protests were held at railway stations.
Police vehicles were provided to patients going to hospitals for treatment. “This strike is against the anti-labour policies of the centre,” said Binu Baburaj, a government official. “Most of the state government staff in Kerala are participating in this protest.”
Nobel laureate and biophysicist Michael Levitt was left stranded in a houseboat in Alappuzha, Hindustan Times reported. Protestors stopped his boat for more than three hours even though the tourism sector was exempted from the strike.
Tepid response in Karnataka
Almost 15 lakh power-sector employees took part in the protests in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, said All India Power Engineers Federation Chairperson Shailendra Dubey. They protested against the central government’s proposed amendments to the Electricity Act, and other privatisation measures that, they claimed, were against the interests of consumers. The strike was called by the National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers, a joint group of unions and federations of the country’s electricity employees.
A protest took place on Chennai’s Mount Road. Government and private buses plying between Puducherry and Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu suspended services on Wednesday. Several protestors were detained in Chennai when they tried to block roads, NDTV reported. Bus services and road transport were unaffected in the state, though banking services were partially hit, according to PTI. Many ATMs were not working, said All India Bank Employees Union General Secretary CH Venkatachalam.
At least 800 workers of trade unions were arrested in Coimbatore. Some impact of the strike was seen in Kanyakumari and Theni districts.
In Madikeri in Karnataka, a state transport bus was damaged in stone pelting, The Indian Express reported. On Tuesday, Bengaluru City Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao had said no permission would be granted to any organisation to hold rallies. The strike had no effect on normal life in the state, and most vehicles were out on roads, and schools, colleges and shops were functional, PTI reported. However, labourers did not turn up at the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee yards.
In the cities of Vijayawada, Guntur, Ongole, Tirupati and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, the police stopped Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India activists from obstructing the movement of state-owned buses.
Protestors gathered at ITO in Central Delhi despite rain but the city remained largely unaffected by the strike. The strike also did not have much effect in Maharashtra. Trade union leader Ajit Abhyankar said at least 15,000 people associated with various central trade unions, the Bhartiya Kamgar Sena, and other government establishments took part in a rally outside the district collectorate in Pune.
In Odisha, the strike hit road and rail traffic in Talcher, Bhubaneswar, Brahmapur, Bhadrak and Kendujhargarh, NDTV reported. Banking and roadways were partially hit in Rajasthan, and a protest was held in front of the LIC office in Jaipur, reported News18.
In Rajasthan, the impact of the strike was seen in Sikar, Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh districts, where public transport was disrupted as roadways employees associated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions went on strike.
Banking services were partially disrupted in Gujarat but transport services ran as usual. “Banking services in Gujarat were partially hit as employees associated with All India Bank Officers’ Association joined the strike,” Dhiraj Desai, the general secretary of Bank of Baroda Employees Union, told PTI. Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara and Mehsana were the towns most affected in Gujarat.
In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, the impact of the strike was visible in the mining areas and the banking sector, Hindustan Times reported.
Activists of several farmers’ associations asked traders at many places in Punjab to keep their shops and establishments closed. In Patiala, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Amritsar and Jalandhar, there were reports of a partial shutdown. Road and rail traffic was blocked in Amritsar, Sangrur and Longowal. Most buses stayed off the roads in the whole state.
Trade unions conducted protests in Shimla and other parts of Himachal Pradesh despite heavy snow and rainfall.
Ten trade unions – Indian National Trade Union Congress, All India Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All India United Trade Union Centre, Trade Union Coordination Centre, Self Employed Women’s Association, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, Labour Progressive Federation and the United Trade Union Congress – have called for the nationwide strike along with various sectoral independent federations and associations. Various bank employee associations also joined the strike.
The unions earlier said that 25 crore people were expected to take part in the bandh, and that this would be “followed by many more actions seeking reversal of the anti-worker, anti-people, anti-national policies of the government”.
The trade unions’ concerns
Among the foremost grievances of the trade unions is the proposed Industrial Relations Code. While the government has said the code will simplify old and complex labour regulations, improve the business environment and spur employment, unions have called the related bill “anti-worker” for allowing employers to hire and fire workers more easily, arguing that it has no safeguards for workers, makes it harder for workers to negotiate better terms and wages with employers, and makes strikes more difficult.
The Industrial Relations Code Bill is part of wider government efforts to streamline and simplify the plethora of existing and overlapping labour laws by creating four labour codes – each on wages, industrial relations, social security and occupational safety, health and working conditions.