New Delhi: Slogans rent the air against the Narendra Modi government’s privatisation push at railway stations across the country by protesters under the aegis of the 10 Central Trade Unions (CTUs) and Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), on a day when bank employees began a two-day nationwide strike.
In a joint action call given by both the groups, with the SKM spearheading the ongoing farmers’ agitation, Monday, March 15, was marked as “anti-privatisation” and “anti-corporatisation” day to register a joint protest against the central government’s ambitious disinvestment drive in public sector undertakings (PSUs), envisaged under this year’s Union Budget.
“The protests have been carried out throughout India at more than one lakh spots, in front of offices and in front of railway stations. The kisans participated in rural areas and suburbs,” the CTUs said in a statement on Monday.
In the national capital, a demonstration was staged in front of the New Delhi Railway Station which mainly saw participation from trade union leaders and members. Similar protests were held at the district level in multiple states, including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Telangana among others.
The call for a two-day to strike against the Modi goveernment’s move to privatise two public sector banks, given by United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), an umbrella body of nine bank unions, was also successful, union leaders said on Monday.
“Today protests are happening across the country against the privatisation of public sector enterprises. All the striking bank employees were joined by central trade unions, other employees’ unions and farmers,” said Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). She said railway stations were chosen as a “symbolic” place to challenge the “draconian” policies of the Modi government.
“Demonstrations and rallies were organised by bank employees and officers throughout the country, including in states where elections are scheduled in the coming days,” C H Venkatachalam, general secretary, All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) told NewsClick over phone from Chennai. He said only in cities such as Nagpur, where COVID-19 cases are surging, a congregation of striking employees and officers was not possible.
Meanwhile, solidarity poured in for bank employees from other unions active in public sector enterprises. A lunch hour demonstration was organised by the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) employees across the country. Likewise, the employees of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) too held lunch time gate meetings at the call of All India Reserve Bank Employees Association and All India Reserve Bank Workers Federation.
The United Forum of Regional Rural Bank Unions (UFRRBU) also gave a call to observe a work strike for two days in support of the bank employees’ protest against privatisation.
Venkatachalam said the strike action was being observed in almost all the Public Sector Banks (PSBs) and older private banks. “Notably, young employees were on the forefront today. They were mainly inspired by their experience in the private sector,” he said, adding that the youth is now eyeing “regular, permanent jobs.”
‘Policies to Hurt Common Man The Most’
In the Union Budget 2021-22, presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in February, the Centre announced a disinvetsment target of Rs. 1.75 lakh crore – Rs. 75,000 crore from disinvestment and Rs. 1,00,000 crore from sale of stake in public sector banks and financial institutions.
For the previous fiscal, this target was Rs 2.1 lakh crore, of which the 2021-22 budget had pegged the revised estimates at Rs. 32,000 crore – indicating that the process was derailed due to the pandemic-triggered economic shocks.
Additionally, Sitharaman also announced the Centre’s decision to privatise two PSBs (in addition to IDBI), one general insurer, along with partial listing of the state-owned Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) – all prompting the recent wave of strikes by financial sector employees.
The strike by bank employees is to be followed by a one-day strike by insurance employees on March 17 by those in General Insurance Corporation (GIC) and on March 18 by LIC employees.
Anurag Saxena, general secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Delhi, who was sloganeering at New Delhi Railway Station in solidarity with the striking bank employees, said the privatisation spree launched by the Modi government would “hurt the common man the most”. Ire against the government, prompted by rising petrol, diesel and gas prices, was clearly visible among the protesters.
“In addition to all this, the government is only double hitting the working population of the country with the codification of labour laws,” Saxena rued, adding that the “all must join hands to protest against such policies of the government.”
Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), who too joined the protest at New Delhi Railway Station, said the farmers and workers unions are together in “the fight against Modi government’s policies” which favour “a few corporate houses.” AIKS is among the constituents of the SKM.