Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: Trade unions, irrespective of their political affiliations, have collectively decided to launch an "effective country-wide agitation" against the economic policies of the Centre, All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said on Wednesday.

Coming down heavily on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram for the policies, the AITUC leader, who is also a member of Parliament, said the stir had been planned to force the Union Government to "listen to the voice not of the unions but to that of the poor, unemployed, underprivileged sections of society and the working class." A convention of leaders of the unions would be held in the first week of August in which the further course of action would be decided. A nation-wide general strike was among the various options under contemplation.

The agitation would be based on a range of issues including reduction of employee provident fund interest rates, the failure to bring in comprehensive laws for workers in farm and unorganised sectors, the move to increase issue price of foodgrains, privatisation of fundamental functions of banking services, disinvestment of profit-making public sector units and refusal to provide funds for revival of viable PSUs.

Asked whether the Indian National Trade Union Congress and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh would join the stir, Mr. Dasgupta told presspersons here that "we are continuing our discussion with the INTUC. If they agree, we will extend our invitation to the BMS. I hope that the INTUC will agree."

Contending that Dr. Singh was following the policies of his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the economic front, Mr. Dasgupta said the Centre was not filling vacant posts, numbering 1.5 lakh, in its departments and public sector undertakings. "The Government is employing contract labour where workers do not get minimum wages." Coming down heavily on Dr. Singh, the AITUC leader said the Prime Minister had met representatives of the unions only once so far. "For him, capitalists are the only friendly political force. Trade unions are hostile."

Bank staff to protest

C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees' Association, said the association had decided to start a nationwide struggle in the first week of July to protest against the policies of the Centre vis-à-vis nationalised banks.