The Catholic Church in India has supported some 150 million workers who were on a nationwide strike on Wednesday, that shut down factories, banks, traffic and government offices across India.
Workers across the country are upset about labor policies of the government that are detrimental to the welfare of workers, said Bishop Oswald Lewis of Jaipur, head of the Indian bishops' labor office.
"The Church is in solidarity with striking workers because we are concerned about their welfare," the bishop told ucanews.com, adding that all Catholic forums in the country were supporting the strike.
A national network of 10 leading trade unions, including those in the banking, manufacturing, construction and coal mining sectors, organized the 24-hour strike saying that their two rounds of talks with the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party-run federal government had failed to elicit a favorable response to their demands.
Their demands range from an enforcement of basic labor laws and universal social security coverage for workers to measures to contain rising prices and unemployment.
Media reported that the strike has hit transport and banking operations across the country and that in some parts workers blocked highways and stopped trains. Many schools and colleges as well as factories, government offices and commercial outlets remained closed.
Bishop Lewis said the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been following a development principle "based on private-public-partnership, which actually proved to be benefiting industrialists."
"That is what we have seen in Gujarat,” said the bishop, referring to Modi’s tenure as chief minister of the western Indian state for some 15 years until he became prime minister in May 2014.
"We believe policy changes should be done after wider consultation with all stakeholders, including workers. But we don't see such consultation in the policy making of this government. That is a concern," Bishop Lewis said.
Rocky Green, president of the Christian Workers Movement, also pointed out that "this government is aggressively following certain policies that are seriously hurting workers".
Green said federal policies will "eventually give employers the right to hire and fire workers at will".
Other Christian workers and their organizations across India are also taking part in the strike, said Joseph Jude, president of the Workers India Federation, the official workers' forum that the Indian Catholic bishops’ conference initiated.
"The strike will attract the attention of the nation and the world to the plight of workers in this country," Jude told ucanews.com.
The government's proposed labor law amendment is "meticulously designed to throw out more than 70 percent of the workers" from the purview of the law, ending legal protection and rights to them, said trade union leader Harbhajan Singh Sidhu in a press release.