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Issue # 1423      12 August 2009

India’s banks hit by strike

India’s more than one million-strong unionised bank employees went on strike on August 6, led by United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU). The two-day strike caused complete disruption of banking transactions all over India, from the financial capital state of Mumbai to the smaller remote states. Just in Rajasthan, for example, the state’s UFBU coordinator Mr Chawla asserted, that bank transactions worth US$360 million per day involving 2.5 million customers were shut down.

The strike started on a symbolic day, an important secular festival between sisters and brothers. Money is withdrawn from banks to make gifts to sisters who visit brothers to tie a binding bracelet to the brother.

People were so sure of the success of the strike that long lines were seen the day before at bank counters. ATMs dried up soon after the strike started.

According to news agency Press Trust of India, “Banking operations in the country were impacted severely.”

Reports from Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and other major banking centres indicated a total crippling of the industry. More than 70 percent of the banks in India are state-owned since Prime Minister Indira Gandhi nationalised them in the 1970s. State-owned banks have successfully maintained the good health of India’s financial system by forwarding easy loans to small and medium-sized employers, the working class and self-employed.

Bank employees, organised by left-led unions, have struggled hard to prevent attempts to privatise these banks, as desired by the neo-liberalisation enthusiasts of corporate India. These hard working employees have improved services to Main Street and insulated banks against the global financial crisis, which has not affected the Indian system with the same intensity, as is also the case in China. It is because of public sector banking that several other countries escaped the impact of this global crisis.

Employees were seen gathering in large numbers shouting slogans, demanding the Indian Banks Association (the employers) stop the reduction of earlier agreed to wage rises. The association wants to lower the 17.5 percent hike to 13 percent. Besides the restoration of wage increases, the employees also want a second chance to opt for pension schemes. The workers are enthusiastic about the state ownership of the industry and demand that the state should act as a model employer to the country.

People’s Weekly World

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