March in Mumbai in support of national strike against price rise, reforms

By Krittivas Mukherjee, India Correspondent

NEW DELHI - Tens of thousands of Indians prepared to march in Mumbai on Monday in support of a two-day nationwide strike by top workers' unions later this week against high prices and government policies to further open up India's market.

The protest organisers said they expected at least 200,000 people to participate in the march that would wind through southern parts of the city, the hub of much of India's financial activities.Already about 50,000 people had gathered, disrupting traffic, police said.

"This is a show of strength by us who oppose the government's anti-people policies and a show of support for the strike," Uday Bhat, president of Sarva Shramik Mahasangh, one of the workers' unions organising Monday's protest, told The Straits Times.

At least 11 of India's top workers' unions across the country have called a two-day strike beginning Wednesday to highlight what they call the 'anti people policies' of the government. The unions are demanding among other things, a minimum wage, pensions, sale of stake in state-run firms and an end to contract labour.

The strike is expected to ground to halt the country's banking sector as well as factories, mines, ports and airports.

So far the unions, which includes one affiliated to the ruling Congress party, have ignored calls by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to desist from the shutdown.

"Such a strike would lead to avoidable loss to our economy and inconvenience to the public through disruption of services," Dr Singh said on the official twitter account of his office.

"While some of the issues raised by the trade unions are already being acted upon and others are at various stages of consideration, I am confident that these discussions would result in a course of action that is acceptable both to the trade unions and the government."

Over the past few months, the government has taken a slew of tough policy decisions, including allowing foreign firms greater access to the retail market, selling shares in state-controlled companies, raising railway fares and tightening spending.

Union leaders said they would go ahead with the strike.

"Government has not taken any action to look into the problems of sky rise inflation, disinvestment in public sector units and non-implementation of labour laws," says Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary of the powerful leftist union All India Trade Union Congress.

Email: mkritti@sph.com.sg