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EMPTY COLOSSUS: Howrah bridge in Kolkata, which has heavy traffic on a normal day, is seen deserted on Thursday following a nationwide strike called by trade unions.
NEW DELHI: Air traffic was badly hit and work in industrial and public sector financial establishments across the country affected in the general strike called on Thursday by Left-backed Central trade unions. The unions were protesting against the Government's "anti-people" economic policies, proposed amendments to labour laws and "reckless" privatisation.
While the strike was complete in West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura and Assam, a "bandh-like situation" prevailed in Haryana, Orissa and Jharkhand, claimed the Sponsoring Committee of Trade Unions. Transport workers across Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh totally stayed away from work, disrupting normal life. Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the financial loss on account of the strike would be `marginal' though it would be difficult to estimate the extent. Banks would be asked to remain open for extra hours on Saturday in view of the closure on Thursday due to the strike and on Friday for bank closing, he told presspersons here.
Describing the strike as the "biggest ever" action launched by the working class in the globalisation era, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) president M.K. Pandhe said it was "a success and beyond our expectations" an expression of the intensity of discontent among the working classes.
"We have put the United Progressive Alliance Government on notice. If it does not reverse its policies and take into account the aspirations of the working class, there will be frequent and longer-duration strikes," All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta warned.
The unions would wait for a response from the Government before deciding on the future course of action. Mr. Dasgupta said the previous regime was "thrown out" because of its policies and if the present Government continued to pursue the same policies, it would face the consequences.
He was particularly cross over Mr. Chidamabaram's recent statement in New York that India would pursue the new economic policies though there were some difficulties (the reference being to the Left).
The union representatives claimed that six crore workers and employees, both from the organised and unorganised sectors, joined the strike. Airport Authority of India Employees joined the protest against the Centre's plan to modernise the Delhi and Mumbai airports through the privatisation route. While Indian Airlines cut down the number of flights, private carriers clubbed, rescheduled or cancelled their services. The Kolkata airport was the worst affected in the 12-hour strike, with members of the AAI Employees Joint Forum abstaining from work.
Almost all flights to Kolkata were cancelled and only one Indian Airlines aircraft landed and took off through the day.
Of the 68 scheduled flights at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, 54 operated, eight were cancelled, four rescheduled and two clubbed.
There was no disruption at the Mumbai and Chennai airports with AAI executives and Air Force personnel manning fire services. Normal operations were reported at the Thiruvananthapuram, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calicut, Hyderabad, Kochi, Jaipur, Guwahati, Goa, Jammu and Varanasi airports .
The strike was near-total in the oil sector, public sector banks, insurance and telecommunication offices, industrial units in Gurgaon, hydel projects in Himachal Pradesh, and the public sector IT and IT-enabled services in Karnataka.
Of the six lakh coal mining workers in nine companies, more than 70 per cent abstained from work.
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