India: general strike in Kerala and West Bengal

A mass 24-hour walkout has brought economic life to a halt across two states in India, protesting privatisation, discriminatory labour legislation, rising prices and low wages.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 14, 2006

Public transport has been paralysed and all flights cancelled, as well as most trains, banks and businesses are also closed. The streets are reportedly deserted of traffic while thousands of armed police have been deployed. Thousands of people also rallied in the Indian capital Dehli in support of the strike.

The walkouts are led by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), with around 3 million members and affiliated to the Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M), which is the governing party in both Kerala and West Bengal, and is an outside supporter of the national coalition government. However, according to the India Times "government officials said they were worried about the strike's fallout" on their "business-friendly policies", particularly in the economically crucial IT sector, where CITU duly relaxed their general strike call.

In fact, call centres in the effected areas are said to be functioning normally, as workers were either instructed to sleep overnight in their offices prior to the strike or were bussed in early by their employers. However, there is much discontent on the streets from workers in other sectors, particularly informal workers and rural labourers, and the business press is worried by the calls to end foreign direct investment, talking of an "increasingly powerful left political front" incorporating both the political parties and the workers' and social movements on the streets, threatening business interests. West Bengal also recently saw large demonstrations against the construction of a car factory on peasant farmers' land.