Trivandrum, India (INS News) — Kerala chief minister AK Antony has called leaders of the staff unions, who are on an indefinite strike from February 6, for talks, even as the strike turned violent at many places in the state today.
The meeting will be held at the Secretariat Durbar Hall at 11 am on Saturday, Antony told journalists after an unofficial cabinet meeting. The union leaders, who attended pre-strike talks on March 5, are invited. Ministers representing various constituents of the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) will also participate in the talks.
The chief minister, who has all along been maintaining that there was no question of restoring the curtailed perks against which over half a million employees are on warpath, said the talks were possible after unofficial parleys by UDF leaders with the striking unions.
Antony said there would be an end to the stalemate if the employees took a realistic approach in view of the bad financial shape of the state and the hardships to common men. He however did not reveal what was up his sleeves to end the stalemate.
The leaders of the striking unions, cutting across the political spectrum, also accepted the invitation for talks. They said the fact that the chief minister had to change his attitude and call them for talks had proved that the strike was a success.
Meanwhile, strike supporters stoned a bus carrying MLAs belonging to UDF while they were returning to the Legislators’ hostel after the budget presentation in the Assembly. The strike supporters also roughed up Asianet cameramen who were shooting the strikers forcibly closing the shops. Media persons and traders came under attack at several other places in the state.
Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) and Kerala Journalists Union (KJU) in separate statements condemned the attack on media persons and asked the strike leaders to rein in their followers. The strike convener CH Ashokan apologised to the media for the incidents and alleged that the attacks were the handiwork of those who are out to defeat the strike and tarnish the image of the striking employees.
All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad, who held talks with a cross-section of Congress and UDF leaders, had made it clear that the party high command would not intervene to settle the strike, while opposition LDF continued its boycott of assembly proceedings over strike-related issues for the fifth consecutive day on Friday.
The readily acceptance of the invitation to the talks by the employees with Antony did not changing his attitude that talks were welcome but there wont be any compromise on the cost-cutting measures, comes in the wake of the increasing conviction that a prolonged strike would cost them dearly in salaries and there would not be much to gain.
The Congress has urged its affiliated employees’ unions to withdraw from the strike immediately. The AICC has also warned Congress workers against publicly criticising the state government-a warning that could silence the striking Congress unions as well as Antony’s critics within the assembly.
The Opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) had also made it clear that it had no intention to take over the staff strike but offered moral support. LDF convener Paloli Mohammed Kutty asked the government to come forward for talks with unions and announced its decision to hold torchlight processions throughout the state on March 11 in support of the employees’ stir.
Meanwhile, 28 employees more were picked up by the police today under the Kerala Essential services Maintenance Act (KESMA) taking the total ESMA arrests since February 6 to 521.
The Opposition today boycotted the presentation of budget for 2002-03 on the strike issue and staged a dharna in the foyer of the house and took out a procession to the Secretariat.