Sporadic violence marks countrywide Indian strike

AP News
Posted: Feb 20, 2013 11:20 AM
Sporadic violence marks countrywide Indian strike

NEW DELHI (AP) — Sporadic violence broke out in India on Wednesday as labor unions began a two-day strike to protest rising prices and government policies to open the economy.

Millions of factory and bank employees stayed away from work and public transport was shut down in most big cities after major trade unions called the countrywide strike.

A labor leader was fatally crushed when he tried to stop buses from leaving a terminal in the northern city of Ambala.

Workers armed with iron rods smashed factory windows and set a fire truck and several cars on fire in Noida, an industrial suburb of New Delhi.

Factory owners said police did not come to their aid despite frantic calls to them.

"The windows of many factories in Noida were broken. We called the police but they were delayed, and meanwhile the damage was done," said Pankaj Shah, a factory owner.

In New Delhi, buses and the subway system were crowded as few taxis and motorized rickshaws plied the streets. Banks were shuttered, but most shops were open.

Trade unions oppose government policies to open the retail, banking and aviation sectors to foreign investors in an effort to jumpstart India's sputtering economy.

Labor unions affiliated with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the two main communist parties, and even the ruling Congress party-led trade union are demanding that the government roll back its economic reforms, which they say harm workers' interests.

The unions have issued 10 demands, including raising the minimum wage for all workers to 10,000 rupees ($185) a month, controlling prices and providing social security for all workers.

Trade unions say the government's recent moves to open the supermarket sector will hurt millions of small store owners who will not be able to compete against multinational retailers.

Bank employees oppose the government's decision to allow big companies to enter the banking sector and a policy to privatize state-run banks.