50 million protesters take to the streets . . .
Ten central trade unions (CTUs) in India activated a nationwide strike from March 28 to 29 to protest what they call “anti-worker, anti-farmer, anti-people, and anti-national” policies rolled out by the Narendra Modi-led central government. The strike was announced after a March 22 meeting among the CTUs, where it was concluded that the government has done little to alleviate economic hardship amid inflation and the rising cost of living. Union leaders declared the strike a success even though the 50 million protesters who took to the streets was a quarter of the number initially expected by the unions. And while the protests disrupted life in six Indian states, they had minimal impact on the rest of the country.
Issues plaguing India today . . .
While the success or failure of the strike remains debatable, it highlighted serious issues plaguing the Indian economy and the well-being of its billion-plus population. These include the contentious issue of labour rights and the informal sector’s precarious worker conditions, evidenced in many cases, including the 11 migrant workers who recently died in a fire at an iron and plastic scrap warehouse in Hyderabad. The informal sector employs more than 80 per cent of India’s workforce. The protesters demanded that the government provide universal social security for informal sector workers, a higher minimum wage, and freeze all privatization plans that are feared to lead to job loss, among other things. PM Modi’s office refrained from any comment on the strike.
Chronic unemployment . . .
The low strike turnout has been attributed to several factors, including that not many workers can afford to miss out on a day of pay under current circumstances. Earlier this year, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) reported that 53 million Indians were unemployed, of which 35 million were actively seeking work, with the majority aged 15-29. While the unemployment rate in India is not as high as it was at the beginning of the pandemic, when it reached over 23 per cent, it remains high at 8.10 per cent as of this February. India’s young and unemployed need an economy that attracts more investment and finds opportunities for improved human capital and consistently high economic growth. And while opposition parties voiced support for the general strike, they offered few solutions to the country’s chronic unemployment.
- The Guardian: Low turnout for India’s national two-day strike as 50 million join protests
- The Indian Express: Explained: India’s urban unemployment rate in numbers
- The Times of India: Bharat bandh: Public transport, banking services affected on first day of strike