Millions of Indian workers launched a 24-hour strike on Wednesday against what they said were Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “anti-labor policies,” prompting billions of dollars in economic losses.
Ten major unions called the nationwide strike over the government’s pro-business initiatives after recent talks with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley broke down.
The unions — which represent a wide range of industries, from banking to coal mining — are demanding the government dump plans to sell off stakes in state-run companies to boost the public purse and to shutter unproductive factories.
“We are against these anti-labor policies. The government is going to change the laws to benefit the corporates,” said Gurudas Dasgupta, secretary of the Indian Trade Union Congress, which has 3.6 million members.
“The changes they want to bring are against the working classes. I am very confident of a hugely successful strike,” he told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.
Later on Wednesday, Dasgupta told The Times of India that the response to the strike was “magnificent” and estimated that more than 150 million workers participated, though the figure could not be independently confirmed.
Workers in the banking, manufacturing, construction and coal mining sectors were among those who walked off the job, according to union leaders.
Modi won a landslide election victory last May, promising a string of business-friendly reforms to attract foreign investment and revive Asia’s third largest economy.
But the opposition has blocked flagship tax and land reforms, aggravating investor concerns, while the unions are increasingly angry over the reforms.
“The Modi government has turned a blind eye towards the problems being faced by the labor class,” Dharmendra Kumar, president of The Hawkers’ Federation, said at a news conference.
“The government must rethink its labor policies. Modi has made a mockery of us by telling the world to come and manufacture in India because it has the cheapest labor.”
The Hawkers’ Federation is demanding that a monthly minimum wage hike from $72 to $226 be extended to the informal sector.
India’s economy grew by a slower-than-expected 7 percent in the first quarter of the financial year and experts warn reforms are needed to at least keep that pace to create jobs for millions of young people.
Previous strikes have shut down cities and cost the Indian economy millions of dollars in lost production.
Industry body Assocham estimated $3.7 billion in economic losses from Wednesday’s strike, singling out the country’s ports where exports were stranded on the docks, reported The Times of India.
Al Jazeera and wire services