Workers across India rose up against harsh labor reforms proposed by the government with a 24 hour general strike. Trade union leaders estimated 150 million workers took part in the 24 hour strike, which took place Wednesday, September 2. It was the largest strike in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power in May of 2014.
The impact was felt across the country. Transportation was brought to a standstill in major cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, with bus, taxi and rickshaw drivers participating. Other sectors included banking, telecommunications, electricity, postal service, coal, steel, and jute. A particular major economic impact was felt in the ports, where goods meant for export were delayed.
Ten large union organizations organized the strike, citing policies that would make it much easier for companies to fire workers. AASOCHAM, a major Indian organization representing corporate interests estimated economic costs of the strike at $3.7 billion. Those capitalist interests, and the Indian government, working to attract foreign companies, see policies that protect worker rights as an impediment to that effort.
Among the reforms was one making it much easier for factories to fire workers without first receiving government approvals. The government reforms would undo policies that had allowed at least some minimal protections for factory workers. Under current law, factories employing more than 100 workers must receive government approvals before firing them. The Modi government proposal would allow factories with fewer than 300 workers to fire them without any government approval.
In Kolkata, the capitol of West Bengal, police attacked striking workers, hitting them with batons, and workers, many carrying communist flags, fought back. Communists have been particularly active in labor actions in the state for decades. Approximately 200 people were arrested in West Bengal.