Thousands of members from at least ten trade unions on Wednesday protested here against the Centre and extended their support to the all-India shutdown by trade unions.
Gathered at the Shaheed Park, the members then walked towards the ITO intersection and blocked a section of Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg.
Holding red trade union flags and braving the winter drizzle, the protesters shouted slogans “Stop attacking students”, “Stop attacking universities”, “India belongs to us”, “Stop dividing us”, and “NRC, CAA, NPR will not be allowed”.
They extended support to the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and anti-National Register of Citizens (NRC) protests as also to protesting students, saying these issues are affecting all Indians, including labour.
The demonstration was called to support the all-India general strike called by the trade unions.
The said they are on streets across the country because they are unhappy with the “Modi-Shah government as they have destroyed the country”.
CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat said people are here as they want to save the Constitution.
“We are here to save the Constitution. Those who are not following the Constitution are nobody to blame anyone else for anything. This is to save India from privatisation and to save the jobs of our people,” she said.
She accused the Central government of not seeing the suffering of the people.
“We are here to get their attention,” she said.
“The workers of India have stood up to save the Constitution. We all are here to save the country,” she added.
A number of protesters also brought their children and, when asked, they said the next generation should be aware of what is happening in the country and “we don’t want them to suffer like we are doing”.
Ther nationwide strike has been called by ten central trade unions — INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF, UTUC — independent federations and associations of various sectors, including some independent unions.
It was called against the “anti-worker”, “anti people” and “anti-national” policies of the Narendra Modi government.
“The national economy is slowing down. The adverse effects are already being felt by the workers in unorganised as well as organised sectors in the form of large scale retrenchment and closures. The government measures are supply-side, when all the economists are unanimous that the crisis is on the demand-side,” said a trade union leader while addressing the gathering here.
While the central trade unions are jointly demanding a national minimum wage of Rs 14,842 per month for Delhi workers, they are also asking for pensions to all, scrapping of the National Pension System (NPS) and restoration of the old pension scheme.
They also demanded control on the price rise in essential commodities, a universal public distribution system, generation of new jobs and filling up of sanctioned posts, among others.
Addressing the gathering, another union leader said that in the name of recession, the central government is taking steps such as reducing corporate taxes, and giving corporates a big bonanza to the tune of Rs 1.45 lakh crore from the national exchequer, while not a single penny is being spent on ensuring job security or employment allowance to the workers.
The trade unions are against the privatisation of railways and corporatisation of 49 defence production units.
Merging 44 labour laws into four codes is also one of the demands of the protesting trade unions.
The nationwide shutdown evoked a good response in Punjab as normal life was disrupted, but in Chandigarh and neighbouring Haryana, it was mixed.
Rail traffic in Amritsar and Ludhiana cities was badly hit for several hours as farmers and members of labour organisations squatted on railway lines.
There was no report of any untoward incident from anywhere in the states.
The activists of several farmer associations were seen asking traders at several places in the Congress-ruled Punjab to keep their shops and business establishments closed to mark the pan-India protest.
Reports of partial shutdown of shops and other establishments were received from Punjab’s Patiala, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar and other places.
With some state-run roadways unions joining the strike, buses were off the roads in Punjab.
In the Punjabi University in Patiala, some students and teachers joined the protest and did not allow others to enter the university campus.
They also condemned the violence at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
In Chandigarh, shops were slowly opening in some sectors but banking and postal services were badly impacted.
However, in neighbouring BJP-ruled Haryana, the impact of shutdown was mixed.
A faction of Haryana Roadways joined the strike, barring a few places including Sirsa.
Sufficient security arrangements were made in both the states to prevent any untoward incidents, said a senior police official here.
Irate protesters set on fire a police vehicle and rained stones and bombs at the security forces, who responded by firing rubber bullets and lobbying tear gas shells in Sujapur of West Bengal’s Malda district.
Sources said the police also baton charged the protesters who had earlier obstructed a National Highway as part of their efforts to enforce Bharat bandh called by ten central trade unions and as also by various sectoral independent federations and associations pressing for a 12-point charter of demands including scrapping of NPR, CAA and NRC and opposing the union government’s disinvestment policies.
The disturbances started around noon when Kaliachak police station personnel tried to remove a road blockade on National Highway 34 at Sujapur, about 350 kilometers north of the state capital Kolkata.
According to the police, the strike supporters resisted violently and pelted stones and threw bombs at them.
Police first tried to control the situation by unleashing a baton charge, but failed to disperse the protesters, who torched a police vehicle.
With the situation deteriorating, the police lobbed tear gas shells and then fired rubber bullets.
Tension still prevails in the area after the violent incident.
The Bharat Bandh had a mixed response in Uttar Pradesh. There were no reports of any violence from any part of the state.
The impact of the strike was marked by apprehensions of violence and a sizeable number of shops did not open in the morning. However, as the day wore on, shops opened though banks, BSNL employees, power employees and other trade unions boycotted work.
Banking services were severely hit and government banks downed their shutters though the private banks continued to function normally.
Police had been deployed in ample measure outside establishments whose employees were on strike. Public transport system however functioned normally.
Postal services were also affected as the employees joined in the strike.
Employees, who were on strike, shouted slogans against the government and in support of their demands.
Power employees staged demonstrations against privatization. The employees alleged that the government was pursuing anti-labour policies.
However, till afternoon, most of the roads in the state capital wore a deserted look as people remained indoors, mainly due to rainfall and dipping temperatures.
The strike call had a major impact on the coal sector in Mirzapur and Sonebhadra.
In some districts like Mau, anti-CAA protesters joined in the strike with posters and placards.