Home India Politics A strike call that has galvanised the Mamata government

A strike call that has galvanised the Mamata government

By Sirshendu Panth, IANS,

Kolkata : The general strike called by 11 central trade unions Tuesday has emerged as the latest political flashpoint in West Bengal, with the Mamata Banerjee government pulling out all stops to ensure it does not succeed while the opposition Left Front seems determined to extend it to a general shutdown.

In a state known for its “cholche na, cholbe na” (nothing is working, nothing will work) ways, the Trinamool regime’s drive, almost on a war footing, to keep things running on the strike day Tuesday has made analysts take notice.

The striking trade unions include the left labour arms CITU, AITUC, UTUC, AIUTUC, and Congress trade union wing INTUC, besides the BMS, HMS, TUCI and NLO, who have joined forces in support of a 10-point charter of demands.

The strikers have opposed privatisation and disinvestment of state-run sectors, “unbridled” corruption and price rise, and demanded steps for preventing industrial owners from breaking labour laws, social security for unorganised sector workers, amendment in the minimum wage act, abolition of contract worker system.

The government’s strong response was unlike the drill during the 34-year Left Front governance when the ruling coalition itself called annual shutdowns and strikes on various issues and ensured life came to a standstill.

In contrast, the nine-month old Trinamool dispensation has already issued a circular barring its staff from taking leave Feb 28, senior ministers have been threatening departmental employees with dire consequences if they join the strikers and series of meetings are being held daily at the state secretariat to make foolproof arrangements for keeping life normal.

Observers feel Trinamool’s political strategy is to demoralise the left, on a high after their well-attended rally last Sunday, by making the strike come a cropper.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is leading the anti-strike offensive, with Industry Minister Partha Chatterjee, Labour Minister Purnendu Bose, Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee and Transport Minister Madan Mitra playing key roles.

Banerjee has instructed senior police officers to prevent any breach of peace and foil the agitators’ attempts to use coercive tactics to enforce the strike.

Addressing the unorganised sector workers, Banerjee herself spoke out against the strike.

“Do not allow the strike. Keep the state running, keep your families running. Do not fall into traps or provocations,” she appealed.

The soft words were followed by a terse warning.

“Promote only those who are working and not those who don’t. I will take appropriate steps to ensure there is no CPI-M (Communist Party of India -Marxist – the spearhead of the Left Front) affiliated partycracy among the workers,” said Banerjee addressing Purnendu Bose, who was also present.

Through the week, senior ministers like Mukherjee, Mitra and Chatterjee have held daily media briefings articulating the government’s tough stand.

The transport minister, in a stern warning, said: “Those who don’t come that day could face discontinuation of service. That has been said clearly and the government will decide on the reasons for leave. Leave cut and salary cut is there. They may even lose seniority.”

The government has promised that over 1,000 state government buses will hit the roads. Mitra has met taxi, mini bus, private bus and auto rickshaw operators and requested them to deploy their full fleet.

Police presence will be increased in the airport premises to maintain unhindered air services.

Mukherjee and Chatterjee have announced that Trinamool workers will hold peaceful marches in every locality to prevent disruption in normal life, while the party has launched a campaign to mobilise public opinion against the strike.

The Left Front has opposed the circular and the government’s anti-strike moves.

LF chairman Biman Bose termed the circular “obnoxious” and equated it with the mode of operation of the country’s erstwhile colonial rulers.

The left leaders have been holding street corner meetings to draw public support for the strike.

The left peasant unions have called a rural Bengal strike protesting against farmer suicides, and demanding reduction in fertiliser rates and minimum support price for farmers’ produce. Left affiliated unions among state employees, and in sectors like banks, LIC, and teacher bodies have extended support to the strike.

Only Feb 28 can tell whether Bengal will see another total shutdown or a normal week day.