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Strike rockets into space age, cripples Isro

Left-ruled Kerala's history of street protests entered the space age today when the all-India trade union strike hobbled work at three Indian Space Research Organisation centres, including the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.

By Ananthakrishnan G. in Thiruvananthapuram
  • Published 3.09.16
  •  

Thiruvananthapuram, Sept. 2: Left-ruled Kerala's history of street protests entered the space age today when the all-India trade union strike hobbled work at three Indian Space Research Organisation centres, including the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.

Strike supporters had laid siege to the Isro garage at the city's Pattom neighbourhood, from where buses ferry employees to the Sarabhai Centre, Liquid Propulsions Systems Centre and the Isro Inertial Systems Unit.

A sizeable proportion of the 5,000 employees use the official bus service, which starts at 8.45am every day.

Led by former CPM lawmaker V. Sivankutty, who lost to the BJP's O. Rajagopal in the May Assembly elections, the siege began at 8am and continued till around 11.45am.

"Hundreds of contract staff too work at the three centres, and had also been allowed to use the bus today," a source at the Sarabhai Centre said.

"But the gherao prompted some to go back home while others arrived late. It severely affected work."

The source said this was the first time in at least two decades that a strike had affected work at the Sarabhai Centre, which is usually spared by the political parties because of its reputation.

The protest also hit the movement of rocket parts to Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh for certain scheduled launches. The vehicles in which these had been loaded were also parked at the Pattom garage.

Strike supporters barged into the home-cum-office of a chartered accountant, Prince N. Ravi, and beat him up for working, leaving him bleeding through the nose.

The strike shut down Kerala with private vehicles and public transport staying off the roads and shops downing shutters. Two-wheelers did ply, though, and casual labourers in the unorganised sectors worked unhindered in most places.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had sparked controversy on August 26 by soliciting support for the strike through a Facebook post.

In Bangalore, the IT companies were unaffected. An Infosys spokesperson said the company's centres across the country had arranged additional transport for staff and were able to work smoothly. "It's business as usual," a Wipro spokesperson said.

Some ostensible strike supporters had their own reasons for working, though. The few auto-rickshaws that plied on Bangalore's empty streets made a killing from passengers arriving at the railway stations.

"I paid Rs 300 for a trip that would usually cost Rs 100," said Kumaran Sellappan, who had arrived on the morning train from Chennai.

"Our unions have supported the strike but a few of us took this risk (of being attacked by strike supporters) to make some extra money," an auto driver said, preferring to give only his first name, Devaraj.

Additional reporting by K.M. Rakesh from Bangalore