Monday, May 18, 2020

The Great Railway Strike And After 

Nrisingha Chakrabarty 


B T Ranadive, President – CITU 

(Bhalchandra Trimbak Ranadive (December 19, 1904 – April 6, 1990), popularly known as BTR was an Indian communist politician and trade union leader. 

In 1928 he joined the clandestine Communist Party of India. In the same year he became a major leader of the All India Trade Union Congress in Bombay. He was active with the Girini Kamgar Union of the textile workers in Bombay and with the struggles of the railway workers. He became the secretary of the GIP Railway mens’ Union. In 1943 he was elected to the central committee of the party. In February 1946 BTR played a major role in organizing a general strike in support of the Naval ratings revolt

In the trade union movement, BTR will occupy a special place. He was one of the prominent leaders of the AITUC from the late twenties. He was the initiator of the formation of the CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) and guided its growth as a militant trade union centre till his death. He constantly strove to take the Marxist ideology to the working class, build up class unity and develop the political consciousness of the workers) 


The ensuing pages briefly narrate the heroic tale of the fighting railway workers of our country who waged an unprecedented strike last year. The united strike of the two million railway workers was the crowning culmination of the struggle for workers’ unity that was developing in the country. 

With the workers braving police terror, invasion of the homes by armed CRP, with their women showing unexampled heroism in all parts of India, the railway workers’ struggle inscribed a glorious chapter in the history of trade union resistance. This was the first All India railway strike and perhaps the longest in the world. 

In spite of the steadfastness of the workers, some leaders like the AITUC leaders and its Indian Railway Workers Federation got cold feet and betrayed the workers to continue their line of collaboration with the Indira Congress. 

Today, thousands of Railway workers stand victimized and dismissed. The Railway Ministry quotes falsified figures to show that the Govt. is relenting in its attacks and is taking back the workers. More than 12,000 workers are still deprived of their jobs. Break I service has not been condoned in many cases. And the strike breakers are being rewarded with quick promotions. So manifestly urgent and arbitrary are some of these orders that a number of High Courts – The Calcutta High Court, the Gujarat, Hyderabad and Kerala High Courts – declared these to be illegal and even mala fide. But the Govt. in its contempt for laws has refused to implement the High Court directives and do justice to the affected workers. Even now workers are being victimized afresh. Some are being punished with reversion and penal transfer while being taken back to service. The CITU protests against this victimization and demands reinstatement of all the victimized. The permanent as well as temporary and casual workers must be restored to their jobs. It assures the Railway. Workers and their organizations that the CITU stands by them and will continue its efforts till justice is done to them. 

The brutalities perpetrated against the Railway workers have become an international scandal and a number of workers’ organizations in other countries are realizing the real character of the Indira Government. It is because of this that the Government dared not allow a delegation of transport workers from abroad to visit the country. The Transport unions wanted to assess the post-strike situation on the railways and have first hand knowledge about how the authorities dealt with the strike. The CITU has emphatically protested against this ban on working class leaders while leaders of multinational corporations are welcomed at State banquet. 

As happens after any struggle accompanied by victimization, despondency and despair seize hold of the weaker elements. Fissiparous tendencies quicken and the lesson of unity is easily forgotten. The bond of common sacrifice, sufferings and common cause gets loosened. This gives an opportunity to the authorities to create disruption. 

It is a pity that the NCCRS has not yet met in a big representative Convention, assessed the strike experience and taken steps to strengthen unity. The NCCRS, the embodiment of the Rly. Workers’ unity, was considered an anathema by the Administration and now some of its agents are attempting to bury it. 

Taking advantage of the present despondency and victimization craft and sectarian appeals are being made; opportunist leaders seek to disrupt the unity of the organizations and return to the position before the strike. All this is encouraged by the Rly. Board which wants to see an end to railway men’s unity. 

The workers should remember that the unity is all the more needed to beat off the victimization offensive. 

The AIRF, the Confederation, the LRSA and other organizations all must come together to present an impregnable fortress of unity against the authorities. The NCCRS must be activised and the initiative of the rank and file railway workers must be restored and developed. It is only on the basis of this all-in unity that the railway workers can fight the Board’s offensive. Along with victimization, the Board authorities refuse to implement the terms of agreement with the Loco Staff. All other demands stand frozen. The situation is leading to a bursting point. Let the banner of unity be raised again to guide the railway workers. Let all leaders, all organizations show themselves worthy of the trust that the railway men have placed in them. And let the railway men defeat the game of authorities to created division in their ranks by promoting sectional and separatist spirit among them. 

This will be the best tribute to those who fell in the struggle. 

6th May 1975 B.T. Ranadive. President, CITU 

(Will Continue.....)


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