Millions to Strike in India as Union Backing Singh Joins Protest

Millions of Indian government employees in banks, telephone and transport services will strike tomorrow to protest rising prices and proposed sales of stakes in state-run companies that they say will lead to job losses.

The one-day stoppage has been called by 11 trade unions from across the political spectrum, including the Indian National Trade Union Congress that’s affiliated to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ruling Congress party.

The strike will be the biggest ever “show of unity by all trade unions,” said Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress, which is associated with communist political parties. The walkout against the government’s “anti-worker and neoliberal policies” will cover “all sectors except the railways,” Dasgupta said.

Singh’s government, also roiled by street protests over graft, has faced at least five earlier nationwide strikes since returning to power in May 2009. The administration is bidding to raise money from state companies after a 25 percent slump in the benchmark Sensitive Index in 2011 undermined efforts to sell stakes. The government has met only 3 percent of an $8.1 billion target for asset sales in the year to end March.

“The strike is to put pressure on the government to concede to the demands of workers,” said G. Sanjeeva Reddy, president of the Indian National Trade Union Congress. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will present the annual budget on March 16.

Job Security

Inflation stayed above 9 percent for the first 11 months of last year, before easing to 6.55 percent in January.

Previous strikes have protested increases in the prices of fuels and called for the rollback of now-stalled plans to allow foreign retail chains such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to set up supermarkets in India.

Labor Minister Mallikarjun Kharge said Feb. 24 that the government had taken measures to curb rising prices and improve the lives of lower paid employees. The unions are also demanding adherence to laws on job security and extending social security schemes to daily-wage workers.

The All India Bank Employees Association and All India Bank Officers Association said in a joint statement that their members will support tomorrow’s strike.

Oil Minister S. Jaipal Reddy said Feb. 15 that the government will auction a stake valued at $2.4 billion in Oil & Natural Gas Corp. as it seeks to cut the budget deficit. Meghna Patel, a fixed-income analyst at Mumbai-based brokerage Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd., said the shortfall may widen to as much as 5.5 percent of gross domestic product in the year ending March 31.