Saturday, May 16, 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. 


Aftermath of this Struggle 

The strike left about a lakh of people removed from service of whom nearly 50000 were casual and temporary. Another 30000 were placed under suspension as a consequence of arrest. Over nine lakhs of workers suffered break in-service. The Railway employees were extremely bitter about the Government due to this repressive policy. They demanded that the NCCRS should take necessary steps in this regard. Particularly those who w ere in the Eastern Region and who had been continuing the strike till the 28th f of May, 1974 when the strike was called off, decided that the NCCRS should adopt a programme of sustained activity so that they could secure not only the settlement of question of victimization, but also the demands. 

In the meanwhile the railway authorities wanted to break this NCCRS. They knew that if the NCCRS remained intact then within a very short time the workers would be able to re-group their forces ad launch another struggle. With a view to break the NCCRS/they adopted a new tactics. Contrary to the practice of withdrawing recognition of AIRF and its affiliated unions as was done in 1960 and 1968 struggles, this time the Railway authorities suspended the recognition. They had taken back the card pass and other facilities in consequence of recognition being suspended but the recognition itself was not taken away. Those of the office bearers who had links with the Railway Board and the Railway Minister were told that unless they break way from the other unrecognized organizations and Category wise associations and thus bring an end to the NCCRS, recognition will not be restored and such of the members of the AIRF who were victimized will also not be taken back to service. These people started working within the NCCRS to break it up in order to get back the recognition, the card pass and other facilities including facilities for negotiations. 

Solidarity by the working class 

The CITU understood that unless a powerful solidarity campaign is built up employees would get demoralized and start mutual recrimination which may break the unity that has been built up through the NCCRS. It therefore, gave a call for solidarity with the railway workers not only by raising funds and giving relief to the workers but also for giving them legal assistance which was necessary as there were thousands of cases against railway workers in different courts all over the country. Besides there was a necessity to institute cases against summary trials, MISA detentions and summary removals from service without an opportunity of self-defence which were extremely arbitrary and illegal. In Calcutta a meeting was called with the help of Democratic Lawyer’s Association. It was attended by Com. B.T. Ranadive, Com. Jyoti Basu, Com.P. Ramamurti and others. Eminent lawyers like Com. Sadhan Gupta, Com. Arun Prokash Chatterjee, Com. Somnath Chatterjee, Com. Samir Ghosh etc. attended the meeting. A Legal Assistance cell was organized. Lawyers from Calcutta not only attended the case in West Bengal alone, they appeared in the cases in the High Court at Guwahati, Patna, Allahabad and Jabalpur to help the Railway employees. Similarly legal assistance was provided at Bombay and Cochin. The solidarity movement which was organized after the railway strike was perhaps the biggest in the annals of the trade union movement in our country. Similarly for the first time, the fighting railwaymen themselves came forward in organizing relief to victimized comrades. In some places the number of victimization being more, only small sums could be give as relief to the workers. But in some places like the head office of South Eastern Railway (Calcutta Branch) the workers made it a principle to give the victimized railway workers the same amount of money which they were drawing just before their removal from service. It continued till they were taken back to their services in 1977. This showed that the railway movement was building up some resilience to fight back the effects of victimization. 

The NCCRS was Frozen 

The NCCRS had become a popular organization symbolizing unity of the railway workers through this struggle. After the strike was withdrawn and after the leaders were released from police custody, local meetings of NCCRS continued to take place explaining the reasons for failure of the strike, high lighting the repressive measures taken by the Government and appealing for unitedly fighting back the victimization. The demand was raised that a full meeting of the NCCRS should be called to make a review and take further steps for solution of victimization. 

The full meeting of the NCCRS was called in August 1974. By that time it was known to the railwaymen that the General Secretary of CPI had sent a letter to the Prime Minister for withdrawal of penal measures against the followers of AITUC. Some leaders of AIRF citing this as an example, started to hobnob with the Railway Board for withdrawn of penal measures against the members of AIRF. The points became a matter of controversy in the meeting of the NCCRS. The AIRF leaders contended that since the negotiations were led by the AIRF it was but natural that for solution of victimization also they should be permitted to negotiate with the Railway Ministry. The members of other organizations who were out of the influence of AITUC and AIRF said that while negotiating, efforts should be made to reinstate all who had participated in the strike. The AIRF initially tried to do this. But the Chairman, Railway Board was stated to have remarked “Why are you fighting for the CPI(M) Members.” This showed the intention of the Railway Ministry. They were prepared to accommodate the followers of the AITUC (CPI) and the AIRF (Socialist) but not the followers to CPI(M). This opposition came from the understanding that those who had been fighting for unity of railwaymen rather for the unity of the working class of India based on the policy of unremitting struggle against the policies of the government, as to promote revolutionary trade union movement in India must be the followers of CPI(M). This is one thing which the ruling class dreaded most. 

The AIRF leaders tried to secure the reinstatement of their members as early as possible. It may be noted that the AIRF having a strong net work of organization and having proceeded in a systematic manner of holding of strike ballot etc. had collected some amount as struggle fund. The category wise associations were in a great disadvantage in this regard because these organizations were functioning mostly on category spirit. Membership campaign was sporadic while they had some victimized workers who had to be maintained, and as such they did not have much funds with them in their balance. Whatever little they had was spent in court cases and other measure taken after the strike. 

The relief and legal aid organized by CITU, therefore helped this section most though the cases of all irrespective of their allegiance to AITUC or AIRF were taken up for legal assistance. 

These aspects featured in the discussions held in the meeting of NCCRS in August 1974. All agreed that there is no harm if AIRF represented the problem of victimization of early solution. A decision was taken that a further meeting of the NCCRS should be held in order to make a review of the strike as a whole. The AITUC and such other organizations whose office bearers had called off the agitation before it was finally called off on 28.5.1974, were, however not in favour of a review. The AIRF in order to secure their recognition back was not interested in functioning of the NCCRS. Hence although the decision for holding another meeting of the NCCRS was taken no such meeting took place. The NCCRS was thus frozen at the top. 

The leadership of the AIRF made an attempt of weaning away some category leaders by amending their constitution from their annual conference held at Jodhpur in May 1975 to the effect that the delegates would have the liberty to elect one member of the working committee on their category basis. None of the category wise associations could accept this position, as the popularity of the NCCRS and the urge for unity of the railwaymen at the bottom was such that the local NCCRS continued to function wherever it had come into existence earlier. 

Will Continue…..


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