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Millions of Workers Strike in India Over Too-Low Wages

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Tens of millions of workers took to the streets of India in a nationwide strike for higher wages, and unions are already calling it the world’s largest ever industrial action.

The move that saw schools, banks shut, surgeries held off and public transportation halted on Friday, could cost India’s economy as much as 180 billion rupees ($2.7 billion). Estimates say as many as 180 million people around India participated in the strike—that’s 14 percent of India’s total population but the same as more than half of the entire U.S. population going on strike.

Ten of India’s central trade unions that represent workers fed up with their inadequate wages, called for the day-long strike demanding a 692 rupee ($10.39) daily wage and universal social security, among other things in the list of 12 demands. In trying to ward off the strike earlier this week, the government raised workers’ wages 42 percent to 350 rupees per day, which fell far short of the demands, so the strike carried on.

There’s also a political bent to workers’ frustration as the unions are calling the current Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) government “pro-corporate” and “anti-worker.”

“The unprecedented response to the strike, despite the misinformation campaign unleashed by the BJP government aided by BMS [India’s largest trade union, reportedly backed by the BJP and which pulled out of participation in the strike at the last minute], reflects the anger and resentment of the workers against the attacks on their working and living conditions by the neoliberal agenda of the BJP led government,” Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, told India’s Economic Times.

Some have said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been more pro-state, raising money by selling shares in state-owned industries but giving little attention to labor reforms.

According to Sen, the strike is a warning from India’s working class that it will continue to fight for rights.

The government is reportedly setting up a committee to examine giving social security benefits to workers, according to the Economic Times, but nothing has yet been said about what—if anything—will happen with wages.

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