Sporadic violence has broken out in India as unions began a two-day strike to protest at rising prices and plans for foreign takeovers.
Millions of factory and bank staff stayed away from work and public transport was shut down in most big cities after major trade unions called the countrywide strike.
A union leader was fatally crushed when he tried to stop buses from leaving a terminal in the northern city of Ambala.
Workers with iron rods smashed factory windows and set a fire truck and several cars on fire in Noida, an industrial suburb of New Delhi.
Factory owners said police did not come to their aid despite frantic calls.
“The windows of many factories in Noida were broken. We called the police but they were delayed, and meanwhile the damage was done,” said one, Pankaj Shah.
In New Delhi, buses and the subway system were crowded as few taxis and motorised rickshaws plied the streets. Banks were closed, but most shops were open.
Trade unions oppose government policies to open the retail, banking and aviation sectors to foreign investors in an effort to jump-start India’s sputtering economy.
Unions affiliated with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the two main communist parties, and even the ruling Congress party-led trade union are demanding that the government roll back its economic reforms, which they say harm workers’ interests.
The unions have issued 10 demands, including raising the minimum wage for all workers to 10,000 rupees (€135) a month, controlling prices and providing social security for all workers.
Unions say the government’s recent moves to open the supermarket sector will hurt millions of small store owners who will not be able to compete against multinational retailers.
Bank employees oppose the government’s decision to allow big companies to enter the banking sector and a policy to privatise state-run banks.