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Asia Minute: India’s Labor Day

Pixabay Commons
Pixabay Commons

Labor Day has been a national holiday in the United States for 120 years. While the September observance is only made in the United States, there’s some activity in the labor movement that’s been taking place this month in Asia. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Labor Day came a bit early this month in India.  Ten trade unions called a nationwide strike on Friday.   The target: economic reforms being pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Especially plans to sell off some government companies, privatize more businesses, and allow more foreign direct investment in certain sectors.

One easily understood dispute surrounds the minimum wage.  Finance Minister Arun Jaitley offered to raise the federal minimum wage by 40% to about $136 dollars a month.

Union leaders rejected that move.  Saying the government needs to at least double the minimum wage to begin to have an impact on the nation’s poverty.  The unions are also calling on the government to guarantee social security and universal health care.  The Modi administration wants to put more public money from state-run pension funds into the stock market, another move opposed by organized labor.

As for Friday’s strike, union officials said as many as 180 million workers took part. From state bank employees and postal workers to teachers and construction workers.  There’s no way to independently verify those numbers, but media reports across India did say that banks and government offices were closed Friday. And public transport was disrupted in several parts of the country.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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