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Get set for the mother of all strikes

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September 28, 2005 15:35 IST

Planes grounded. Banks shut. Government offices shut. Industries crippled. Agitations on the streets. Trains disrupted. 

This is not a doomsday scenario, but a distinct possibility on Thursday, September 29.

Never mind a Supreme Court ruling banning bandhs, about 5 crore (50 million) airlines, banks, insurance, post, mines, jute and textiles industries workers and public sector unit employees are expected to join the 24-hour strike called by Left-affiliated trade unions.

Many state governments -- including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and the Union Territory of Chandigarh -- have warned employees against joining the strike, but public sector units workers have vowed to make the strike a success.

Agitators have threatened rail rokos in many places across the country.

Kerala and West Bengal, red bastions both, are likely to be the hardest hit. The Chandigarh Union Territory Power Men's Union has threatened to strike work, raising fears of a blackout in that city. Reportedly, Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo member Sitaram Yechury is in Mumbai to goad railway workers into joining the strike. If local train services are hit, the financial capital of India will be crippled.  

About 20,000 members of the Airports Authority of India Joint Forum have pledged support for the strike. Twenty-nine airports across the country will be affected.

Though the civil aviation ministry has promised to ensure air traffic is not affected -- and is even enlisting the army, the navy and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's support -- don't expect smooth sailing when you head for the airport on Thursday.

Reportedly, the ministry has asked airlines to reduce flights by 25 per cent. So, checking if your flight is on is a good idea. Also, since most of the striking workers are ground staff, you might face problems with trolleys, check-in baggage, etc.

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the All India Trade Union Congress will be spearheading the strike. Five major bank unions -- AIBOC, AIBOA, AIBEA, NCBE and BEFI -- have called the strike to protest the government's proposed changes in Banking Regulation Act and also Industrial Disputes Act.

However, four other bank unions -- Indian National Bank Officers' Congress, Indian National Bank Employees Congress, National Organisation of Bank Officers and National Organisation of Bank Workers -- will not go on strike.

If you're wondering why the mess, the striking unions have a 16-point charter of demand. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government has reneged on its promise to better the lives of the working class, they claim. They want the UPA government to stick to the Common Minimum Programme, which is the glue that joins the Communist parties with the Congress-led coalition.

The strike is to protest against the privatisation of PSUs, the encouragement to private participation in the modernisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports and the hike in foreign direct investment in the telecom sector.

The agitators want the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act amended to bring urban and rural poor into the ambit, halt moves toward downsizing of workforce, stop the contract system of employment, comprehensive social security for the unorganised sector and a hike in the employees' provident fund scheme's interest rate.

The Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh, which is affiliated to the Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh, has pledged moral support to the issues but is not supporting the strike actively. The Congress' trade union wing, the Indian National Trade Union Congress, is also not supporting the strike.

The Bhilai steel plant in Chhattisgarh would suffer an estimated Rs.2.5 billion loss for a single day's strike. Do the math on what the total loss for the nation would be if all PSUs stop work, no cheques are cleared by any nationalised bank, no deposits are accepted and no insurance claims settled. 

rediff Features Desk