The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Surjeet strike step-in

New Delhi, Aug. 27: The copyright holder of strikes has stepped in — not to enforce — but to try and get the truckers’ agitation called off.

Veteran CPM leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet has intervened in efforts to end the truckers’ strike after a meeting between finance ministry officials and transporters failed to make headway once again.

In the first sign of a breakthrough, the finance ministry decided to set up a committee to look into the transporters’ problems. Unions in some states also withdrew from the agitation.

Besides withdrawal of service tax, the transporters are reported to have demanded the release of the All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) office-bearers who have been arrested.

Asked about the arrests of AIMTC office bearers, Surjeet said the strike could not end with the arrests. “I agree with their (truckers’) demand and the government is working in the direction to end the strike,” Surjeet said.

“The AIMTC got a call from Surjeet to come to the finance ministry. We were told we would get an audience with finance minister P. Chidambaram, but that didn’t take place,” an AIMTC leader said.

“We have full faith in Surjeet. He has assured us that he will talk to Chidambaram today on the issue,” AIMTC vice-president Gurinder Pal Singh told reporters after the meeting.

Publicly, Surjeet has stood by the demand of the truckers but at the UPA-Left coordination committee meeting two days ago, the Left leaders had advised the government to talk tough with the strikers.

“Surjeet first made the suggestion and I seconded it,” CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said. Rarely has the Left spoken out with such decisiveness against striking workers.

“The government has to take some measures. The mischief of truck owners cannot go on. Vegetables and fruits are not coming to the market,” Bardhan added.

What has added to the Left’s disapproval is the involvement of the Shiv Sena — a trade union leader from the party is leading the strike. “The Shiv Sena has an eye on the forthcoming Maharashtra polls,” said a senior Left leader.

The Citu and Aituc, the two major central trade unions, have no base among truckers.

The antagonism between the unions led by the Left and the Shiv Sena dates back to the 1980s. The Left unions had then clashed with the Sena unions in Mumbai in the textile industry.

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