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Indian Government Workers Defy Supreme Court, Go On Strike - 2004-02-24


Millions of Indian government workers went on a nationwide strike to protest a Supreme Court decision banning work stoppages by civil servants, and to demand higher wages.

The day-long walkout by employees at state-run companies hit banking and insurance services, and shutdown many government schools and offices.

Public transport also was slowed in some cities. The Marxist-ruled state of West Bengal came to a virtual halt.

The workers were protesting a ruling last August by India's Supreme Court that prohibits government employees from going on strike and allows the government to fire strikers.

The court said strikes by government workers inconvenienced citizens and hurt the economy. It said disputes should be settled in courts. The ruling was handed down in connection with a major strike in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Trade unions have slammed the decision, saying the right to strike is a fundamental right, and industrial action should not be prohibited in a democracy.

The unions want the government to challenge the Supreme Court ruling.

Shantha Raju of the All India Coordination Committee of Unions is threatening more action if the government fails to review the ban on strikes before general elections are held in about two months.

"There will be a sustained campaign against the Supreme Court decision," he said. "Perhaps by the time the government is formed they have to take a review of this, otherwise the unions will be compelled to continue their struggle."

Union leaders say their anger will be "reflected in ballot boxes" if the government does not concede to their demands.

Trade unions say they are also protesting the government's plans to privatize a number of state-owned companies, including some banks. Bank employees are also demanding a wage increase.

Strikes in India cost the government and industry millions of dollars every year.