Friday, May 15, 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. 

….Contune 

Role of AITUC 

A few words are necessary to explain the role of the supports of AITUC who were functioning within the AIRF union. From 1965 or so the followers of AITUC started to fight against undemocratic functioning of the leadership of AIRF. They stated aligning with some of the disgruntled sections within the AIRF and has some role in the division of unions in NER. After 1970, when they formed a new union in Northern Railway as Northern Railway Worker’s Union, they started a plan of organizing unions in every railway where they were thrown out of leadership by those following the Socialists in AIRF. As the AIRF leadership recognized the union led by K.L. Gupta in North Eastern Railway they got entrenched in the rival union and got it affiliated to AITUC. They formed unions in N. Rly., E. Rly., S. Rly. In Southern Railway they walked out of the DREU without any valid reason, and formed a new union under the name Railway Labour Union (RLU). They however continued to function in SER and C. Rly. In the unions affiliated to AIRF, though they got the SE. Railwaymen’s Union affiliated to AITUC as well, on the ground that the union in Central Railway was affiliated to HMS. In the South Eastern Railway union they moved undemocratically and arbitrarily suspended and dissolved the branches which were held by forces opposed to them. In Central Railway they were moving along with forces who betrayed the 1968 token strike call. 

After the formation of NCCRS when serious preparation were being made by all for the success of the strike, the AITUC called for a Conference of railwaymen I March 1974 from which a new Federation under the name of Indian Railway Workers’ Federation (IRWF) was formed. 

Formation of this Federation did not have any impact on railway men. But when the workers were heroically fighting for the success of the struggle braving repression, Shri S.A. Dange gave a call on May16 or so to all railway workers to resume duties on the basis of the situation prevailing at a particular spot which produced disastrous results. It demoralized the struggling workers and resulted in weakening the struggle even in the places where the majority workers were still continuing in strike. This was not liked by railway workers. Later on when they came to know that proposals for recognizing the IRWF were considered by the then Railway Minister late L.N. Mishra and he had agreed to place it for a cabinet decision, the railway workers were aghast. 

The AITUC later tried to justify such withdrawal on local basis. According to them the movement started by Shri Jaiprakash Narayan against corruption and mal-administration of the Congress Government was a fascist movement and stated that the railway strike was supposedly strengthening the fascist forces. Besides they stated that due to the major section of NCCRS leadership having been arrested and some being underground to avoid arrest, there is no centralized leadership which could take stock of the situation and give directions. Hence, he had stepped in for bringing about the settlement and gave the call. The railway workers however termed this as betrayal. 

Solidarity by Central Government Employees 

One of the features of the 1974 strike was that deviating from the earlier practice of all the Central Government employees fighting together as was done against the recommendations of the Second Pay Commission in 1960 or for common demands as in 1968, this time the Railway employees were fighting alone. The idea behind was that the railways being an industry it was expected that they would get parity in wages with other public sector undertakings. Had this struggle succeeded it would have pave the way for other Central Government employees to secure parity in wages. 

The Central Government employees, at least a section of them understood, the importance of this struggle. Hence when repression started from 2nd May, 1974 and the railway workers started the struggle, they took a decision entirely voluntarily to support this strike from the 9th May itself. The section tried to mobilize the entire Central Government employees to joint in the action though not invited by the Railway comrades. But a big section among the Central Government employees moment opposed the idea and remained aloof. Therefore, only a very small but an advanced section of the Central Government employees movement joined in this struggle from 8th May as a measure of solidarity. By 10th May it was clear that they have not been able to inspire the rank and file central Govt. employees to join in this struggle and hence they decided to withdraw the struggle on 10th May. 

Brief though it was, the gesture making a common cause with the railway workers fighting for principle like parity in wages or equal pay for equal work had created a good impression among the Central Government employees as a whole. The honest elements who could not join felt sorry and somewhat ashamed for their inability. 

Withdrawal of the Strike 

Despite weaknesses the strike continued in a large area in and around Calcutta and Bombay. The strike in Bombay started weakening from 24th of May, particularly from the Western Railway which later on affected the Central Railway also. By 26th of May there were hardly any strike in the Bombay area. Only the lading cadres were still continuing the struggle. This had a telling effect on Shri George Fernandez who was still heading the AIRF union in Central Railway. He sent a notice outside for consultation with those who were still out, favouring calling off the struggle. But before some consultation could take place, Shri George Fernandez withdrew the strike from inside jail. Some leading Cadres protested against this type of withdrawal but the workers took into account the reality and went back to tier jobs. 

A Brief Analysis 

Without attempting to make a complete review of particular struggle, it is necessary to put on record that this was perhaps the first time that railwaymen unitedly struck work on a countrywide basis. The limitations of 1960 and 1968 strike have already been noted. This time more than eleven lakh of workers joined strike initially and the figure came down to about nine lakh by 15th May, 1974. Break in service was imposed on this nine lakhs of workers. The second point which should be noted is that the leadership mainly depended on spontaneity and was under the illusion that strike if successful even for seven days, would force the Government to come to a settlement. They never took into account the fact that the authorities were equally prepared for holding out in any strike for about three weeks or even more. The third point that should be noted is that the Government had started unprecedented repression on the workers which suppressed what has taken place during the British regime. Fourth point which should be borne in mind is that the people had given unfettered support to the railway workers although they themselves suffered from the effects of the railway strike. The press was also to some extent sympathetic as with the Government news they also published the local situation which ws known to them. Fifth pint is that the railway workers were so overwhelmed by the failure of the strike that they did not protest against the undemocratic manner, which the strike was called off. The last point is that all those who are interested in developing at least a militant movement of railwaymen must take into account the weaknesses which were revealed from the conduct of this historic struggle, which had started from the second May 1974 at some places. They must also take note of the fact to what low the railway authorities and the Government could stoop to in order to break a strike in the railway, so that they could prepare the railwaymen for organizing a strike in future. 

Will Continue…..

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