A strike by millions of low-skilled workers in India has seen banks close and public transport disrupted across the sub continent in one of the biggest collective actions by workers in history.
Over 100 million Indian workers, angry about rising prices, low pay and poor working conditions, walked off their jobs on Wednesday, on the first day of a two-day strike organised by eleven major trade unions.
The strikers are demanding a legal minimum wage, fairer contracts and improved working conditions as well as redress for a multitude of other injustices.
“Workers are being totally ignored and this is reflected in the government’s anti-labour policies," said Tapan Sen, general secretary of the umbrella Centre of Indian Trade Unions.
The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had asked for the strike to be called off. He wants all classes to pull together to tackle India’s slowing economy. But workers see this rhetoric as nothing but cover for the rich.
In many areas public transport was not running, banks were closed and most shops and offices kept their shutters down.
In Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha state in the east, protesters set fire to effigies of Singh and ruling Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi.
Several trains were stranded at stations as protesters blocked railway tracks. In the western state of Gujarat, close to 8,000 state-owned buses were off the roads, officials said.
One labour leader was reportedly killed by scabs in the northern city of Ambala.
Another person is reported to have died in Noida, a city where workers earlier clashed with factory owners.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimated losses for the Indian bosses from the strike at more than $3.7bn.