New Delhi: Claiming that their two-day nation-wide strike has generated an "unprecedented" response, central trade unions on Wednesday said the success should serve as a wakeup call to the government for settling their demands, even as they deplored reports of violence on the first day. Union leaders regretted that they were being blamed for causing Rs 20,000 crore loss to the economy and wondered if the government was aware of the loss accrued due to 2G license row, concession extended to corporates in the last budget and farmers' suicides.
"The strike was unprecedented. Never ever have we witnessed such a general strike. We had never believed the general strike would be so massive and widespread," AITUC General Secretary Gurudas Dasgupta, flanked by other union leaders, told reporters in New Delhi. If the hunger strike of Anna Hazare and the protest following the Delhi gangrape could force the government to come up with anti-graft bill and ordinance, Wednesday's strike should compel it to take steps for the settlement of the workers' demands, he said.
"If anybody has an eye to look, if anybody has a brain to think, let the government think what has been the response to the strike and take the lesson from this," he said. He maintained that the government was never ready for talks with the unions when they announced the strike in September 2012 and even when the matter was raised in Parliament and at the standing labour committee's meeting where the Prime Minister was present.
"What is shameful is that of the four senior ministers engaged to talk to the unions by the Prime Minister, Finance Minister P Chidambaram was conspicuous by his absence in the meeting with whom several demands related to his ministry were to be discussed. It only gives rise to the suspicion that it was a make-up show," the AITUC general secretary said. Dasgupta also dared West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to declare the strike as illegal, saying "if she is so confident that because of strike, somebody can be made illegal, let her do it in West Bengal... we will face it."
Right to strike is guaranteed by the Constitution and nobody can declare illegal, he said. The two-day strike has been called up 11 central trade unions to press for their 10-point charter of demands which include pensions for everyone along with removal of ceiling on bonus and provident fund. The unions are also protesting the price hike, inflation and alleged violation of labour laws. The strike has been called jointly by the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), All India Trade union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and other such organisations.
The Independent Federation of Workers and Employees have also joined the protests. Referring to the Rs 20,000 crore loss pegged due to the strike, Dasgupta said, "the loss is because of the government and its policy and not the trade unions."
"May I ask the Finance Minister what is the loss to the country because of the 2G? Because of the concession of Rs 70,000 crore given to the corporates in the last budget, losses due to non-performing assets, the Kingfisher issue and non-payment of income tax," he said.
Dasgupta deplored the violence in Noida and Ambala, and tendered his "apology" for the inconvenience caused to the people because of the strike. He said the trade unions had no option but to call the strike. A joint statement issued by the unions said the strike has been "magnificent" especially in states like Assam, Bihar, Odisha, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. "Despite the vindictive threat and attack by the government machinery in West Bengal, response to the strike has been magnificent," it added. The statement said barring the states of Delhi and Maharashtra, transport sector came to a standstill in the rest of the states while strike was complete in the banking sector. While industrial workers shut down production, the statement said, the post offices and the income tax offices were largely affected by the strike.