Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Strike of Indian Rail Workers Begins    May 8, 1974 

Credit...The New York Times Archives 


About the Archive 

This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. 

NEW DELHI, Wednesday, May 8—A nationwide railway strike began this morning, threatening food deliveries, industrial production and power supplies. 

Thousands of railway workers in such cities as Bombay, New Delhi, Calcutta and Madras walked off their jobs at dawn, following a breakdown of Government efforts to resume talks. “The strike will be total,” said a railway union spokesmen this morning. 

The dispute, marked by furious allegations by unions and the management, has stirred tension and uncertainty within a flagon in economic crisis. The Railway Minister, Lalit Narayan Mishra, said that a strike would “shatter the economy.” 

The restless mood in New Delhi was underscored in a message from prison by George Fernandes, a 44‐year‐old Socialist party leader and organizer of the strike. Mr. Fernandes, who is one of the more than 1,000 union leaders and railway workers recently arrested, said: “The time for action has come. For railwaymen it is now do or die.” 

The strike is the most severe threat that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's Government has faced. All police leaves have been canceled. The army and local security forces are standing by, to man communications services. 

Because the railways are the pulse of India's economy, serious disruption could cripple the nation of 570 million. India has Asia's largest network of railroads, and trains carry almost all her necessities. 

In all, 600,000 tons of freight and seven million passengers are carried daily on the British built railway system. The railroads are the nation's largest single employer, with 1.7 million permanent workers and 300,000 people working on temporary basis. 

A prolonged strike would seriously disrupt industrial life, Power supplies would dwindle for lack of coal, steel mills and industrial plants would curb, production, truck and car trans port would be curtailed if gasoline fails to reach filling stations. 

Tension High With Food Shortages and Cutbacks in Industry Feared 

The Hindustan Times said that a railway strike would mean “terrible” hardship in the cities, heavily dependent on train supplies. A Communist party leader asked Mrs. Ghandi to intervene directly in the dispute saying that the nation was facing a “national calamity.” 

The current unrest comes at an especially difficult moment because the oil‐price increase, Government mismanagement, food shortages and the worst inflation in history have left the nation in a bleak mood. 

Both union, leaders and Government officials have come under angry criticism in the last week. The Government's abrupt action last Thursday jailing hundreds of union leaders was bitterly attacked by opposition politicians and wide section of the press. 

The arrests were made under emergency called the Maintenance of Intenal Security Act. Mr. Mishra, the Railway Minister, said that it was necessary in the public interest” to arrest Mr. Fernandes because “he was planning to paralyze the, national economy.’ Mr. Mishra said Mr. Fernandes's aim was to create chaos and economic crisis in the country. 

Why the Government has since seized more than 1,000 union leaders — railway union leaders say more than 3,000 —seems unclear. Talks have broken down because of the arrests, and union officials refuse to meet with the Government until those held are released. 

The moderate newspaper Indian Express accused Mr. Mishra of “recklessness” in his decision, to round up union leaders. The Statesman has termed the arrests “singularly stupid.” 

Perhaps the root of the dispute is that many railway men say that other workers in public‐sector industries — coal mines, steel mills, electronic factories—are earning more money and getting bonuses. In many public‐sector industries, the minimum wage is $45 a month, plus a bonus of two or three months a year, depending on the profits of the industry. 

The minimum wage on the railways is about $26 a month, and there is no bonus. Mr. Fernandes has asked for a 75 per cent increase, plus a bonus system. 

The Government rejects this, saying that all Government employes received 40 per cent wages increases last year, and that the raises demanded by the union leader mould cost the hard‐pressed nation $700‐million. The Government says that an increase to railway workers would have a ripple affect upon other unions who will demand similar increases. 

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