Shops and banks were closed, factories shuttered and traffic sparse in major cities across India during an industrial strike Tuesday called by trade unions against the government.

Passengers were stranded at airports and railway stations in Kolkata, the capital of India's West Bengal state, as taxis and rickshaws were off the roads.

Eleven major trade unions called for the strike to protest against rampant inflation.

Gurudas Dasgupta, leader of the All India Trade Union Congress, said nearly 5,000 other smaller workers' unions from different trades joined the strike.

The trade unions are also protesting the government's policy of selling stakes in state-owned companies and the lack of social security for non-unionized workers.

In New Delhi and Mumbai the effect of the strike was minimal. Banks and insurance offices were closed but buses and taxis plied the streets and shops were open for business.

The trade unions rejected an appeal last week by the government to call off their strike. Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge had offered to discuss the long-standing demands of the workers with union representatives.

"We need the co-operation of unions in solving workers' problems. There is no point in observing a countrywide strike as it causes a huge loss to the exchequer," Kharge said Monday, in a last-minute appeal to the unions.

Ignoring the government's plea, the unions went ahead with their plans to stop work for the day.

They are demanding an amendment of minimum wage laws to keep pace with inflation, pensions for all workers and the registration of trade unions in different industries.

India's inflation rate has been above nine per cent for most of the last two years, although it dropped to 7.5 per cent in December.