Tuesday, May 19, 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 

“The Great Railway Strike And After 

Exerts from his book. 

8th May 1974: 

A day which will be remembered by every railwayman in the country, because on this day they unleashed a mighty united struggle to win their just demands, which lasted for 21 days creating a world record. 

This day also will be remembered by the entire working class of the country, because this revealed the monster face of the Congress Govt. of ruthless suppression and for the first time in the annals of trade union movement of the country the entire class swung into solidarity action on the 15th May ’74. 

What were the causes for such a mighty action of 17.5 lakh railwaymen ? The immediate cause was provided by the refusal of the The Third Pay Commission and the Govt. to do justice to the railway workers and deny even that much wage which was granted to other organized industries. 

Exploitation of railwayman 

The Congress Govt. at the Centre has been faithfully continuing the policies framed and followed by the British Colonialists in running the railways with the objective of exploiting the resources and people of the country including railwaymen – rather the process has been intensified. 

The Govt. refused to implement the Washington I.L.O. (1919) Convention and treat the railwaymen as industrial workers. Loco sheds and consequently the Loco Running Staff have been taken out of the perview of Factories Act. General working conditions have been deteriorating. The railwaymen demanded that they should be treated as industrial workers, with duty hours not exceeding 8 a day and full trade union rights i.e. the right to chose or form their own Association and facilities for collective bargaining. 

The railway workers demanded need based minimum wage – at least parity with the wages granted by several wage-boards to comparable major organized industries of the country. 

They wanted protection against erosion in their real wage by introducing the principle of linking D.A. with price index and full neutralization-a principle which has been accepted by many wage boards. 

They also wanted abolition of casual labour system-a demand based on the principle of “equal pay for work of equal value” as defined in I.L.O. Convention No.100, which the Govt. of India had already ratified in 1958 but refused to implement so far. 

They also demanded “Bonus” which was being granted to industrial workers as a measure of “deferred wage”. but not railwaymen. 

A demand for cheap grain shop with adequate supply of rations was also raised. 

These demands were urgent and insistent. Railwaymen, who have a proud heritage of struggle had earlier struck work for 5 days in 1960 on these demand forging link with the Central Govt. Employees. Again in 1968, a call for one day token strike was given. 

The Govt. on both the occasions ruthlessly suppressed the struggle. The token strike in 1968 was betrayed by Maniben Kara and others of AIRF. 

Developments leading to formation of NCCRS 

One has to know wherefrom the railwaymen got the courage to fight once again. The sabotage from within and the betrayal of 1968 token strike had shaken the faith of railwaymen on AIRF. But there were some new developments. Some category unions came into existence, which started to fight for their demands on local basis. The United Front regime in West Bengal particularly the united struggles of workers of jute and other Industries had inspired the railwaymen and big struggles burst forth in North-east Frontier and South Eastern Railways in 1970. There was a struggle of Locomen also in the Eastern and the Southern Railway in 1968 and then in May 1970. The discontent did not confine itself to just forming separate organizations. It started bursting out all over the country in local struggles which sometimes spread over the zones. In course of these struggles a new sense of unity was also growing amongst railwaymen which took organizational shape in various joint Committees. 

The restive mood of the workers were noted by the leadership of AIRF and NFIR. They wanted to utilize this situation in order to get some concessions. Hence they conducted a strike ballot in January 1973. Though the overwhelming majority cast their votes in favour of strike, they did not launch any strike action. But pressed by deepening crisis, the Government was not in a position to oblige the leaders. Hence when the report of the Pay Commission was submitted on 31st March, 1973, it was seen that none of the basic demands of railwaymen were conceded. There was practically no rise in pay. On the other hand, the implementation of the report would have reduced the monthly pay packet of some railwaymen. Even then the recognized unions pleaded for negotiation in Joint Consultative Machinery. 

The S.Ms&ASMs of Western Railway started a spontaneous strike action in April ’73 and struggle of Loco Running Staff’s burst forth in May, 1973, which revealed the depth of discontentment amongst railwaymen. There was however intense rivalry amongst various organizations of railwaymen and Central Govt. Employees. Left alone, they could not have united themselves easily for a joint struggles. The United council of Trade Unions therefore decided to take a hand in the matte and the Convention held on 25th & 26th July 1973 at New Delhi was a tremendous success though a section of Central Government Employees, under the influence of Right C.P.I. and AITUC leaders, kept away from it. The second struggle of the Loco Running Staff in August, 1973 forced the Government to reverse its policy and negotiate a settlement with the striking leaders and concede their demands to a great extent. This big victory roused the railwaymen; other struggles had burst out. 

The Railway Ministry admitted that between April and October 1973 about 4.5 lakh man days were lost, nearly double the figure for the preceding two financial years. These struggles broke out mainly for category demands under the leadership of unrecognized category wise Associations. It must be understood that the entire leadership of all these organizations were not yet ready for a joint struggle. But fight for unity was on and it paid a rich dividend in September 1973 when in the AIRF annual Convention a proposal for holding a national Convention excluding INTUC as a preparatory measure to an all India Strike moved by the ordinary delegates was passed. 

The national Convention held on 27th February was a hall mark in this fight for unity and reflected the growing urge for united struggle amongst railwaymen. More than 3,500 delegate a most double the number the organizers had expected, representing 110 organizations thronged the pandal in the Badminton Hall from all corners of the country. The last minutes disputes and hitches in forging unity, had to be tackled and the CITU represented by Com. Samar Mukherjee M.P. played an important role in this. An ultimatum was served that the Government must concede the basic demands of treating the railway workers as industrial workers, their duty not exceeding 8 hours a day and with full trade union rights, grant of need-based minimum wage pending which parity in wage scale with other industrial undertakings of both Public and Private Sector, Grant of Bonus, De-Casualisation, Full neutralization of rise in prices through adequate D.A.. etc., BY 10TH April 1974 or face an indefinite strike in the railways. The National Co-ordination Committee for Railwaymen’s struggle (NCCRS) was formed with one representative from each of the participating organizations while Comrade George Fernandes was elected its Convener. An Action Committee was also formed to conduct negotiations. The die was cast. Te clarion call for struggle heralded throughout the country unleashed tremendous enthusiasm amongst railwaymen. Decision to build up NCCRS at all levels was taken. The General Council of the CITU in its Visakhapatanam meeting held in April ’74 adopted a resolution in support of the struggle of railwaymen and directed all its units to render all possible support and help to the struggling railwaymen. 

An attempt was made to organize other section of Central Govt. Employees as well through a Convention on 15th March ’74 in which all sections of workers had joined and a resolution was adopted stating that the Central Govt. Employees would not remain a silent spectator in the event the railwaymen launch an action and directing all units to prepare themselves to join in action. This was virtually a decision for strike in case the strike of railwaymen comes about and hopes were roused amongst railwaymen that all sections of Central Govt. Employees would join them in the struggle. 

Government’s Attitude 

One need not deal here with the justness of the demands of the railway workers and the falsity of the Government’s claim about its inability to meet them. The railways like the other infrastructure are used to help the capitalists and traders-this is what is really meant by describing them as “public utility” and that sums up everything. The railways have continued in a blatant form, the colonial wage structure in company with plantations and some other industries. Conceding the demands on wages, bonus, dearness allowance etc. would have forced a major change in the economic policy and would have hurt the gains of the industrialists and as such they had no desire to even negotiate on these demands. 

While a diabolical plan to crush the struggle was being hatched by a Government and confidential instructions were being issued to all State Governments by the Home Ministry to form co-ordination with Railway Officers to keep strict vigilance over the leaders and prepare a list of the leaders to be arrested, to use MISA and DIR to detain the leaders without trial on a “not too soon not too late” basis and to prepare the entire repressive machinery of the State including the army; the Railway Board’s office was busy in preparing a blue print for building up active group of black legs from amongst the railwaymen and other measures to tackle the railway operations. When the General Managers sent frantic calls stating that required number of black legs were not available, the Railway Board itself started frantic search for possible defectors from the ranks of various constituents of the NCCRS. Some of these secret circulars found a way to the press. These were raised in Parliament as well as during negotiation. 

That the Government did not wish to negotiate was clear from the fact that only a Member of Railway Board was deputed t negotiate at the initial stage, who said no to every demand. The NCCRS meeting on 15th April ’74, therefore decided to start the strike from 8th May ’74 and fixed the date of strike notice on 23rd April ’74. It is only after this that a pretence of negotiation was started not with any real desire to settle the issue but to confuse the people. Some partners of the NCCRS were taken in by this hoax and deputed their top functionaries to take a hand in the discussions, though they were not member of the Action Committee. It is known that except implementation of Miabhoy Tribunal Award and fair price shops without any assurance of regular supply, nothing was agreed to. This was a clever use of keep important people chained to Deli. The leaders of the Loco Running Staff Association, were also not allowed to go back, though the Grievance Committee meeting was over. While negotiations were going on over a 1000 trains were cancelled. 

(will Continue……)


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