Thursday, May 14, 2020

Com. Nrisingha Chakrabarty, Secretary CITU, who was Railway worker and a leader of railway trade unions for several years gives us the present publication “History of Trade Union Movement.” 

Exerts from his book. 

                                                                    Samar Mukharjee.


NCCRS Formed 

In this background the AIRF gave a call of holding a convention in Delhi on 27th February, 1974 for considering the steps to be taken for securing justice. The response of the railwaymen was beyond the expectations of the organizers of the convention. More than a hundred organizations of railwaymen responded to the call and sent their representatives. The organizers had invited the Central Trade Unions also to participate in it. The CITU, AITUC and BRMS responded to the call. Through this convention a National Coordination Committee of Railwaymen’s struggle known by its popular abbreviation NCCRS came into existence. The principles followed in formation of its committee was that all organizations were treated with equality having one representative each in the committee subject to the fact that the AIRF was permitted to include the General Secretaries of its affiliated unions as members of the committee. But for conducting day today work a smaller committee known as Action Committee, with two representatives each from AIRF, CITU, AITUC, BRMS, AIREC and AILRSA with Shri George Fernandez as convener was set up. Com. Samar Mukherjee had to use all his persuasive skill to bring about acceptance of this formula by all the organizations. The CITU was represented in the Action Committee by Com. Samar Mukherjee and Com. Nrisingha Chakraborty. 

It must however be noted that forging such unity was not easy. The category sentiment which had been fully roused even before the successful struggle of the Loco Running Staff in 1973 stood in the way. Within AILRSA also there was a vociferous section who were opposing unity with AIRF and the militant pro-unity section had to work hard to convince others. Com. Samar Mukherjee on behalf of CITU had to intervene for building up of the unity. It was pointed out that no single organization was capable of securing these demands and hence efforts for unity should be welcomed. There was a section in AIRF also who did not want such unity. They took objection to the AIRF being given equal status with other organizations. All the pro-unity workers, both within AIRF and outside in various category-wise associations, had to work hard for this unity. The task of the pro-unity section of workers in the AILRSA was all the more harder because ordinary rank and file workers have seen the behavior of the leadership of AIRF and its affiliated unions during their struggle. All these determined efforts by the pro-unity section of workers ultimately paved the way for formation of NCCRS, through this Convention. 

The resolution of this convention was sent to the Railway Minister who was asked to negotiate. The Railway Ministry contended that they recognized two federations, AIRF and NFIR and they are prepared to negotiate with them with the liberty of the AIRF being that it could include anyone in the negotiating team. This point was discussed in the NCCRS. There was a strong feeling that we should not accept such terms for negotiation. But in view of the fact that hopes were already roused among railway men it was felt that a demand for negotiation with NCCRS only would divert the struggle. Besides the AIRF was not prepared to accept this position because it felt that once negotiations were started with NCCRS. Only, the exclusiveness which the AIRF enjoyed so long in matter for negotiation would go. Hence this offer was accepted and negotiation started. 

Strategy of Railway Ministry 

The Railway Ministry from the very beginning had realized that another strike in the railways is inevitable. Hence their entire strategy was chalked out, in order to defeat the struggle. They procrastinated and negotiations continued at a snail’s pace: It may be noted that Shri S.A. Dange from AITUC took part in the negotiations though formally two other members were there. At his suggestion the main demand of parity in wage with the public sector undertakings was left to be negotiated last and negotiation on other small points was started. The Government offered o settle some of the demands on the basis of the Award of Miabhoy Tribunal. For example the demand for 8 hours duty to all railwaymen was countered by the Railway Minister stating that the Miabhoy tribunal had gone through in depth into the provisions of HOER and has made some recommendations which are beneficial to a large section of railwaymen. The Railway Ministry contended that they could not go beyond the Award of this tribunal. Likewise the demand to cheap grain shops was counted by the argument that it would be discriminatory. The authorities contented that more Fair Price Shops would be opened in the railway area. 

The weakness in the strike preparations was that the organizers were overwhelmed by the support, which it received spontaneously when meeting were held. They did not take steps for establishing broad based strike committees at all levels particularly at the departmental levels so that the strike preparations could continue in each department and the works could face eventualities unitedly. 

The preparations of the railway authorities were much more elaborate. They first made an assessment as to how many people would not join the strike. They made and a special note about the people who were undergoing punishments of reversion of removal from service or were facing disciplinary proceedings for major punishment. The Second point which they concentrated was to keep the steel plants or rather all plants full of their required raw-materials. They also built up a surplus stock of food grains in the deficit states. After the strike notice was served on 23-4-74, they cancelled 700 passenger trains and gave preference to the freight movement. They had also a plan to arrest the leadership on a “not too early not too late basis”. Payment of all arrear dues, P.F. loans etc. was stopped so that the workers did not have resources to prolong the struggle. 

Despite these preparations by the authorities to combat the strike, notices were served in all the railways on 23rd April 1974 for a strike from 8th May, 1974. For a strike from 8th May, 1974. 

The negotiations on 30th April, 1974 was more or less bound to failure. It was felt that perhaps entire negotiating team would be arrested as soon as they came out from the negotiations. In such a circumstance steps were taken to ensure that the negotiations are not broken on that day. The Railway Minister offered to sit late in the night or on the next day, but the next day being the first May, the date of negotiations could be fixed on 2nd May 1974. But from the night of first May, the arrest were started, throughout the country in thousands covering both railway trade union and other leaders. Very few of the negotiating team were left out. Most of them were rounded up in the first night, while some went underground. 

On 2nd May 1974, Com. V.R. Malgi died of heart failure after his arrest and the strike in Central Railway at Bombay started after this from 2nd May itself. 

Repression on the Railway Workers 

The repression on railway workers surpassed all previous records. It is necessary to record the nature and extent of the repression not merely to show the heroism and courage with which the railway workers had continued the struggle upto 28th May 1974 but also to warn the railwaymen of what to expect in their future strikes so that they could prepare the railwaymen properly to face such repression. 

1. The workers were denied their due arrears of wages, loans from Provident Fund etc. so that they did not have enough funds with them when the strike started. 

2. The Labour Ministry by issuing a circular exempted the railway authorities from paying the wages of railway workers within the period of limitation as provided under Payment of Wages Act. 

3. Essential Service Maintenance Ordinance was issued once again an though the Railway Minister assured the Parliament that the Government will not arrest anybody or apply MISA against the workers 50000 workers were arrested many of whom were subjected to summary trials and punished with one year R.I. It was widely propagated that all those who join the strike would be so punished in order to strike terror. 

4. The Ration Cards of the striking workers were cancelled by the respective B.D.O’s in some places. 

5. Orders were issued not to give/medical treatment to the striking workers or their family members. 

6. Many Trade Unions and political workers other than railwaymen were also arrested so that they could not help in the railway strike. 

7. 30000 workers were summarily dismissed/removed from service under Rule 14(ii)/149 without any opportunity of self defence. 

8. Prohibitive orders including curfew were imposed on all railway colonies and their surrounding areas so that the striking workers were no able to keep any contact with those who had not joined the strike or hold meetings, processions etc. 

9. Services of temporary and casual labour who joined the strike (about 50000) were straight away terminated without any notice. 

10. During the period of the strike, railway colonies were turned into battle fields; the colonies were surrounded and all male members arrested and told that they have either to go to jail or go to work. Those who refused to go to work were also subjected to physical torture like pushing pins in the finger nails, putting the workers on the railway platforms in hot sun etc. 

11. When the ladies of railway colonies protested against this sort of torture they were also subjected to severe lathi-charge which caused abortion, breaking of bones etc. Workers were forcibly thrown out of their quarters and when this could not be done due to mass resistance, water supply was cut out or roofs broken so that they could not stay in quarters. 

12. When the works under warrant not found in their quarters their belonging were looted in the name of seizure. In workers absence his son was arrested. 

All these show that the democratic rights of the works were completely taken away and the entire population was aghast at the torture. The call for one day token strike all over the country on 15th of May 1974, therefore, received much support. It may be noted that despite such unprecedented repression, the railway workers continued their struggles till 28th May 1974. 

A CITU worker Com. Ramaswamy laid down his life in an attempt to stop train service by sitting on railway track. 

The repression on the railwaymen had brought the opposition parties together against the Govt. and the strike on economic demands of the railwaymen received political support as never before. At the same time, some deprecating features were also noticed. The Govt. could mobilize a section among the office bearers of the organizations which were leading this struggle, to issue press statements and campaign among the striking workers to give up the struggle. The reformist leadership of AIRF and some other organizations had been telling the workers during the struggle preparations that a complete railway strike for seven days would bring about the down fall of the Gov. which however, was not correct. The strike started to weaken at some places in which workers had joined the strike for the first time in their life. The continued barrage of propaganda through the official media as well as section of the press who were directed to publish only the official news bulletin and the statements issued by the section who withdrew at the instance of the railway authorities had contributed to the weakening of the struggle. 

Will continue…..


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