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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 May, 2003, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Striking Indians 'had no option'
A rally by the youth wing of the Communist Party of India-Marxist during the anti-privatisation strike
Young communists joined in the protests
Striking bank employees in India say they had no option but to protest against government privatisation plans.

Many of them say they have tried to raise the issue in talks with the government but have received little response.

"We told the government to take up our issues a year ago but they refused," says union leader VK Gupta as he shouted anti-government slogans along with fellow strikers.

We are not opposed to modernisation or liberalisation or greater efficiency in the industry but we cannot accept surrender to the whims of capital
Bank official Sukhomoy Mitra

But he defended their action, especially its impact on ordinary Indians.

"We are aware of the inconvenience it has caused," he said, promising to clear the backlog of work once the strikers returned to work.

"But the real question should be addressed to the finance minister who refuses to meet us."

Fears

Mahajan has been a bank employee since 1977 and who faces retirement in 15 years. He is worried he could be laid off before then, losing out on his pension into the bargain.

Children playing cricket in a normally busy street in Calcutta
Children took advantage of the quiet streets
"The main issue is privatisation - it should not happen. There is no question of [the privatisation plan] going through - all industries are behind us," he said.

Another striker echoed this view, saying the government was selling profit-making state-owned companies.

"We had no alternative but to go on strike. No one's listening to what we are saying. What can we do? Besides going on strike we have no options," said another.

Some say the Indian banking industry is under pressure from the World Bank to trim its work force.

"They want to privatise everything like it is in America. They want do away with job security - they have no concern about someone who is close to the end of his career," says Ajay Kumar Sharma.

Foreign pressure

"Bank employees are among the lowest paid in the country today when compared to civil servants and other government employees.

There will come a time when all Indian industries will shut down - look at the market today, we are flooded with foreign, Chinese goods
Ajay Kumar Sharma

"There will come a time when all Indian industries will shut down - look at the market today, we are flooded with foreign, Chinese goods. They want to shut down Indian industry and bring American goods here," he added.

The strike had particularly strong support in the eastern state of West Bengal which is ruled by a Communist government.

Bank official Sukhomoy Mitra said they would do everything it took to oppose the privatisation plan.

"We are not opposed to modernisation or liberalisation or greater efficiency in the industry but we cannot accept surrender to the whims of capital."

Communist Party leader Gurudas Dasgupta is one of prime movers of the strike and says he is pleased with the response.

"We are seeing a lot of support for our movement because of the policies which are being followed in the country under this government.

"This might be the biggest general strike in independent India," he said.


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