Hundreds of thousands of employees have gone on strike in India to protest against the government's reform policies. Banks, factories and government offices were closed across the country.
The Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) said anywhere between 150 million and 180 million employees in the banking, telecom and mining sectors had stopped working on Friday to demand better wages and show their opposition to new policies. The number of striking workers could not be independently verified.
Banks, shops and schools were shut in several parts of India. The southern states of Karnataka and Kerala also reported stranded commuters from cities where public transport workers had joined the strike. Essential services, including transport, power and water supply were not affected in major cities.
"We oppose the pro-corporate changes in labor laws and recent decisions to ease norms for foreign investment in areas like insurance and defense," the left-wing CITU's General Secretary Tapan Sen told news agencies. "The response [to the strike] is massive. At several places the police tried to break demonstrations, but workers are coming out to join the protests."
Ramen Pandey of the Indian National Trade Union Congress also said the strike was "against the central government" and "for the cause of the working people."
Ten major trade unions called the strike on Friday after unsuccessful talks with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who offered to increase wages of unskilled workers from 6,396 rupees ($95, 86 euros) a month to 9,100 rupees.
Only one major union, the Bharat Mazdoor Sangh - backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party - did not join the strike.
The unions are opposing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's plans to close state-run firms that employ a large number of workers but are incurring losses. The workers are also opposing the administration's plan to close down factories and raise foreign investment limits in some industries. Many fear that they will lose their jobs if privatization continues. They also want a minimum wages hike of 18,000 Rupees ($269) a month because of rising prices.
According to the latest budget, presented by Jaitley earlier this year, the government aims to raise 560 billion rupees ($8.3 billion) through privatization of state-run firms, which experienced losses of around 4 billion dollars in 2015.
mg/sms (AFP, dpa)