Hundreds of workers marched with the red flags of the labor unions and chanted anti-government slogans in India’s capital on Tuesday as part of a two-day nationwide strike that began Monday.
The demonstration was held at Jantar Mantar, an area of New Delhi close to Parliament that is often used for protests. Protesters said economic policies under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government were hurting workers and the country's vast unorganized sector.
“Modi government has only one point, that it wants to hide its economic criminality under the garb of communalism and religion,” said Swadesh Dev Roye, a top official with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.
About a dozen labor unions that organized the strike want the government to provide universal social security coverage for workers in the vast unorganized sector, hike the minimum wage under a flagship employment guarantee program and scrap a new labor law that gives employers greater leeway in setting wages and working hours. The demonstrators included contract health workers who wore protective robes and demanded increased wages and regulation of their services.
Strikers are also demanding that the government halt plans of privatization of some public-sector banks and the sale of public assets.
Modi’s government says privatizing some state-owned banks would overhaul the banking industry and that asset sales would help raise money to spur economic growth.
The two-day strike was felt nationwide, and essential services related to banking, transportation, railways and electricity were impacted in several states.
Elsewhere in the country, protests were held in eastern West Bengal state where demonstrators stopped trains at several locations. In southern Kerala, where the state government led by the opposition Communist Party of India backed the protest, streets were empty and shops shuttered.
India’s economy has bounced back after experiencing a major blow during the first two years of the pandemic. But many jobs have disappeared, with unemployment rising to 8% in December.