Thursday, May 21, 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. 

Solidarity with the Railway Workers 

The battle of the railway workers became the battle of the entire trade union movement, of the entire Indian people fighting for democracy. Except those under the influence of INTUC and the Congress, the entire people lent their full support. The Govt. did its best to turn the people against the railway workers through AIR and official speeches. It cancelled over 300 passenger trains before strike to cause inconvenience to the people, and incite them. But they realized he common bond of suffering and stood by the Railwaymen, thus displaying a high degree of democratic consciousness. 

A large number of mass organization leaders, particularly belonging to CITU, SFI and other peasant and youth organizations were arrested under MISA and DIR. Even women leaders like, Ahilya Ranganekar, Mrinal Gore etc, were put behind the bar. Inspite of such attack these organizations endorsed the cause of the fighting strikers and rendered help through various means including giving shelters and food to the workers who had to leave the colonies to escape police terror. In a number of places, the peasantry also came forward in this task. 

A storm of protest was raised in the Parliament and all the opposition parties supported the strike. But not a single “progressive Congressman” could be seen who could lend support to railwaymen, Many Congress MPs who were heading some categories, associations unilaterally withdraw the strike though he common workers continued the grim battle. Even after the Parliament Session was over an effort was made to bring about a settlement through talks with the Prime Minister. In this meeting, a three-point formula was given by one of the members of Political Affairs Committee. When planned down on the question whether this proposal was an official one the Prime Minister denied the same. The myth of progressivism of Smt. Indira Gandhi was blown up once for all. There was no settlement because the Govt. was bent upon crushing the railway workers’ strike and to create an example before the country. The process was started much earlier and the pattern of things to come was clearly manifested in the treatment meted out to the employees of IAC. Undaunted, the railwaymen carried on with the struggle. 

The Confederation of the Central Govt. employees had decided to go into solidarity action through a work to rule movement from 8th May and total stoppage of work from 10th. But the section led by Madhusudan, C.P. Gupta clique, went back on earlier unanimous resolution to launch solidarity action with railway workers’ strike, negotiated with the Govt. and in exchange for some paltry gains of promotion withdrew from the struggle from 5th May. Though aghast at this betrayal the Confederation implemented the programme with sincerity and lent valuable support. But the division in the ranks did not permit them to carry on with struggle beyond 12th. 

The call for a countrywide general strike on 15th May given by all trade union centres except INTUC and some Federations was a landmark in the working class movement of the country. Inspite of victimization in their own ranks due to their one day strike on 9th April 1974, the State Govt. employees all over the country responded magnificently to this call. So also the employees of LIC and other organizations. Reports indicated that, by and large, working class all over the country swung into solidarity action. 

The CITU and its leaders had some valuable contribution in these solidarity actions. Besides the all India programmes they had adopted other programmes as well, according to local conditions. There was local bundhs like at Andal and various other centres. It is during one such solidarity programme of satyagraha against running of trains by black legs, Com. Ramaswamy, CITU leaders of Madurai, was deliberately run over and attained martyrdom. His wife, who was also with him at the spot, was arrested. 

International Solidarity 

The working class of the world over rose t the occasion and lent valuable support to the railway workers struggle. Unions affiliated to both the TUI(WFTU) and ITF (ICFTU) sent protest telegrams to Govt. of India. The Amnesty International also sent telegram requesting the Govt. to release the arrested workers. Never before, such wide support was received. 

The repressive measures taken by the Govt. of India against railway workers was discussed in the Conference of ITF and it was decided to send a high power mission to investigate the conditions of railway workers. The Govt. of India refused visa and blocked the enquiry. 

The SOHYO and the National Railway Workers Union of Japan, had not only adopted resolutions in favour of railwaymen of this country but also decided to send a sum of Rs.5 lakhs as relief to Railwaymen of this country. The Govt. of India did not allow this help to reach the victimized workers. 

On 23rd October 1974, leaders of National Railway Workers’ Union of Japan. Belgain Railwaymen’s Union, German Railwaymen’s Union, French Railwaymen’s Union, Australian Railwaymen’s Union, Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, Great Britain, Italian Railwaymen’s Union, (SIU), Railwaymen’s Union of Portugal, Italian Railway Workers’ Union (SAUFI), Danish Railwaymen’s Union, Railwaymen’s Union of Malaya, and TUI of Transport Workers (Prague) issued a Statement which ended with the following appeal: 

“We call upon the Government of India to release all workmen who are still in prison and withdraw cases filed against workmen for participating in the strike! 

Reinstate all railwaymen dismissed or otherwise removed from service and also rescind the order of break-in service and other penal measures imposed on railwaymen; 

Respect the rights of Indian railwaymen to organize and to bargain and to act collectively and start negotiations with the railwaymen’s representatives on the issues at dispute”. 

Break Down of The Economy 

Full report about the effect of the railway strike on the economy has not been calculated properly. Unofficially it has been estimated that the total loss to the economy was somewhere near about Rs.1500 crores. The short fall in the income of the railways came to about Rs.110 crores, for which a steep rise in passenger fare and freights was enforced in the Autumn Session of the Parliament. Never before the Govt. was forced to raise the freight and fare twice in a year and to such a great extent. 

During the period of strike itself, the Press had published certain reports which warned the people about impending breakdown of the economy. 

The press also reported that Banks had refused to accept rail receipts and credit to manufactures who had accumulated stocks was made scarce. It was further reported that Birla and other industrialists met Smt. Gandhi and conveyed to her the gravity of the situation created by the strike. 

Quoting all the details now is not necessary. But it was very clear that the effect of the rail strike on economic, commercial and industrial situation was gathering a huge momentum, when the strike was called off by majority decision. 

will continue...


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