India's banks hit by strike

India's more than one million-strong unionized bank employees went on strike, Aug. 6, led by United Forum of Bank Unions or UFBU.

The two-day strike is causing complete disruption of banking transactions all over India, from the financial capital state of Mumbai to the smaller remote states. Just in Rajasthan, for example, the state's UFBU coordinator Mr. Chawla asserted, that bank transactions worth $360 million per day involving 2.5 million customers were shut down.

The strike started on a symbolic day, an important secular festival between sisters and brothers. Money is withdrawn from banks to make gifts to sisters who visit brothers to tie a binding bracelet to the brother.

People were so sure of the success of the strike that long lines were seen the day before at bank counters. ATMs dried up soon after the strike started.

According to news agency Press Trust of India, 'Banking operations in the country were impacted severely.”

Reports from Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and other major banking centers indicated a total crippling of the industry.

More than 70 percent of the banks in India are state-owned since Indira Gandhi, the first woman prime minister, nationalized them in the 1970s. State-owned banks have successfully maintained the good health of India's financial system by forwarding easy loans to small and medium-sized employers, the working class and self employed.

Bank employees, organized by left-led unions, have struggled hard to prevent attempts to privatize these banks, as desired by the neo-liberalization enthusiasts of the corporate India. These hard working employees have improved services to Main Street and insulated banks against the global financial crisis, which has not affected the Indian system with the same intensity, as also in China. It is because of public sector banking that several other world countries escaped the impact of this global crisis.

Employees were seen gathering in large numbers shouting slogans, demanding the Indian Banks Association (the employers) to stop the reduction of earlier agreed to wage hikes. The association wants to lower the 17.5% hike to 13%. Beside wage hike restoration, the employees are also asking for a second chance to opt for pension scheme. The employees are enthusiastic about the state ownership of the industry and demand that the state should act as an ideal employer to the country.