Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dear Comrade,
The streets of Chicago witnessed huge assembly of protesters demanding 8 hour working day on 1st May 1886. 40,000 workers were present in these demonstrations.  The agitation continued on the 2nd and 3rd May as well. On the 3rd May at McCormick Farm Machinery Plant, using the pretext of clashes between strikers and strike breakers police opened fire killing six workers.  The Hay Market meeting was called on 4th May to protest against these killings. 
The meeting was peaceful, till the police appeared at the end.  An unidentified person hurled a bomb killing one police man and wounding five people on that fateful day at the Hay Market.  The State of Illinois which governs Chicago exploited this incident to suppress the working class movement.  Eight worker leaders of Chicago, seven of whom had left the meeting place before the bombing were arrested and jailed. Ultimately four leaders were hanged on 11th Nov, 1887.   Their names are Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer.  In 1893 the Governor of Illinois accepted that the trial had been patently unjust, condemning the entire judicial system.  The Jury was offered money by the Chicago Tribune if it found the eight men guilty.  

The words of Spies: “There will come a time when our Silence will be more vocal than our Words” were prophetic as May Day became International and the voices became deafening. Not many lives were lost in the Hay Market on May 4th. The four trade union leaders sentenced to death and executed at Chicago in connection with this incident were the real Martyrs.  It is in commemoration of these Chicago Martyrs a Resolution was passed in the first conference of the Second International in 1889 at Paris on the centenary of the French Revolution to declare May 1st as Labour Day.  
Rail workers have played a crucial and leading role in the history of the Indian Trade Union movement.   The struggles conducted by rail workers had begun in the 19th century itself. The first war of Indian Independence, as is well known, had begun in 1857.  Within a couple of years, there have been struggles by railway workers, in different places.  Those struggles were all local involving a few workers.
             One of the important struggles, a really historic one, was the struggle of railway workers in Howrah, in Bengal, involving about 1200 workers.  It is historic in two ways. One the demand - The demand of the strike was for 8 hours of work a day. Two, it happened during April-May 1862.
       The historic importance of this struggle is that even before forming a proper trade union, a strike demanding 8 hours of work had been conducted. This had happened in Indian Railway, 24 years ahead of the struggle of Chicago workers for 8 hours of work!
Loco Running Staff were waging for limiting the working hours from 1960 onwards.  The historic strike of loco men in Aug 1973 was a land mark. An agreement was signed between the Government of India and AILRSA on 14.08.1973; limiting the working hours to 10 hours.
        The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways headed by Com. Basudeb Acharia submitted their report on 22.12.2004, recommending limitation of duty hours of Loco Running Staff to 8 hours. 
        The SPAD meeting minutes (14.06.2012) also recommended limiting working hours, continuous night duties, and improving the working conditions etc.
        AILRSA Madurai Division approached Regional Labour Commissioner challenging the Continuous classification.  After conducting a detailed Job Analysis of the engine crew, RLC/Chennai recommended for Intensive Classification.   But panic-struck GM/SR appealed to the Ministry of Labour and Joint Secretary Ministry of Labour which upheld the RLC decision.  The hell-bent Railways administration has now approached the Honorable High Court of Chennai.
         Though various committees headed by renowned judicial members like Justice. G.S. Rajadhyaksha(1946), Justice. N.M. Miabhoy(RLT-1969), Justice. H.R. Khanna(RSRC-1998),  and various trade unions recommended to reduce the duty hours of running staff for the sake of safety in Railways and the wellbeing of the workers.
          The relentless, untiring and valiant struggles launched by AILRSA have resulted in opening the eyes of the Government of India Realizing and recognizing the disputes raised by AILRSA, consisting of four major demands, which involve question of National importance and the need to address and resolve them has prompted the Government of India to constitute through the ministry of labour, a National Industrial Tribunal (NIT), under the Industrial disputes Act, 1947, on 27-01-2012. Arguments of the Case are still going on. Next hearing is posted on 16.06.2015.
 Alas !  the situation prevailing in Chicago during 1886 continues to exist in the Indian Railways even today in 2015.  It is for the working people to find a way out of the situation.  Eight hours work, 48 hours a week was the demand in 19th century and it still remains in our charter in the 21st century also.  The exploitation continues.  It’s high time we awoke from our slumber and continued our struggle. 
        The essence of reduction of working hours is ultimately reduction in the level of exploitation.  For an efficient and effective struggle it has to be linked to the struggle for change in the system itself, a system where exploitation of man by man ceases to exist.  
              Let us march unitedly towards that, and let us struggle unitedly.

AILRSA SWR organising May Day rallies in front of all Crew Booking Lobby’s by 10.30 hrs on 01.05.2015, jointly with NREU, AISMA & AIGC


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