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India workers plan massive protest on jobs, prices

MILLIONS of workers will be on the streets across India on Wednesday, picketing and holding rallies to protest rising prices and job losses, union officials said, though there may be little impact on production.

Four major trade unions, including those affiliated with the ruling Congress party and those with the opposition communists, have jointly called for the protests.

"The entire trade union movement of the county unanimously raised their demands and on 28 Oct. we are observing a national protest day," said Tapan Sen, general secretary of the communist-affiliated Centre of Indian Trade Unions.

Among the demands are a ban on futures trading in commodities and making government aid to industry conditional on not firing workers, Sen said.

He and other union leaders said workers would not stop work, but would attend the demonstrations before or after their shifts.

Workers have been affected by the economic downturn that has shrunk domestic demand for goods and slashed exports, and led firms to shed jobs even as food prices stubbornly remain high.

There has been a rise in strikes across the country and these have often turned violent.

A manager at an auto-parts firm in south India was beaten to death by protesting workers last month, while the auto-manufacturing hub of Gurgaon, next to Delhi, has seen sporadic worker agitations for months.

But D.H. Pai Panandikar, head of the think-tank RPG Foundation, said attendance would likely be thin and not lead to violence or cloud India's investment climate.

He linked the surge in trade union activity to a recent string of electoral losses by communist parties, both in parliament and in states seen as leftist bastions.

The communists were part of the previous Congress-led government, but pulled out a year before federal elections in a row over a civil nuclear deal with the United States.

"As long as the communist parties had a coalition with the Congress, the trade union movement was a little bit quiet," Panandikar said.

But with the communists' political defeats the unions have to rely more on direct action to show their existence, while the communists in turn need the union action to try to boost their support.


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