Saturday, May 23, 2020

1974 RAILWAY STRIKE-ITS PROGNOSIS AND IMPACT ON THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT AND RAILWAY MEN IN PARTICULAR 

RG Pillai, Joint Secretary, Dhakshin Railway Employees Union(DREU) 



We are organizing this “CHIRASMARANA” on the eve of the Zonal conference of AILRSA on 30th May to commemorate the historic and epoch making general strike of Indian Railway men in May 1974 after 42 years. Many stalwarts of the movement who led from front have departed us. Many are incapacitated and are unable to join us. A good number is here among us with the fond memories of struggle they had led not only in 1974 but in various struggles that paved the way for 1974 strike and the sufferings they have undergone not only in the struggles, but in real life as a railway men, the deprivation they along with their family suffered as labor historian recorded “…During 60s unrest grown among Railway men in the issue of low wages, harsh working conditions and long working hours. Negative response from government repressive measures again labor militancy in the context of emerging social movements against injustice deprivation and impoverishment across country….” 

Inability of two federations to fight for their grievances and protect their interest generated a sense of frustration and alienation among workers. In this background of unbearable working hours, continued impoverishment despite hard work, forced some of the erstwhile leaders of Firemen council to gather together with the active support of Com. K.Anandan Nambiar, veteran leader of SIRLU/DREU and MP and formed firemen council first in Southern Railway and waged first strike action in 1967.In 1968 strike South Central railway fireman also joined. Subsequent strikes , formation of AILRSA at Vijayawada waging of successful 1973 August Strike are well narrated and is part of AILRSA history which need not be repeated here. One day token strike on 19 Sep 1968 was also rudely repressed invoking DAR and banning resulting in large scale Victimisation and removal of 19 workers. The victims successfully revoked when the Government needed left support. 

When railway men were developing their own organization and fighting for their demands similar developments were also taking place in other sectors also on the national scale. The central trade unions INTUC,HMS, AITUC were cooperating with the governments in the back ground of India Pak and India China war and ‘Defence of India rules’ was in force even after the end of war and the collaborated with the government and capitalists were intensifying their exploitations and making huge profit and they have even fraudly amassed the amount collected from the workers for defense fund. Working conditions were unbearable often extending hours without overtime in the name of Defence of India. Rule and local struggles broke out in almost all industries under the leadership of a sector of militant wing of AITUC which culminated in the formation of CITU with the slogan ‘Unity for struggle-Struggle for unity’ on May 30, 1970 at Calcutta 

This had enthused the entire working class and resulted in formation of a government supported national council of trade unions(INTUC, HMS, and AITUC) and another united council of trade unions led by CITU(CITU,HMP,UTUC)and the struggle between working class and capitalist class got widened and nationwide protest and strike action which has conducted in 1973 against price rise and the participation was unprecedented. This has emboldened the railway workers also. 

The hold strike action by loco running staff braving the repressive measures using DIR,MISA and NSA etc,dismissals,removals,severe other punishments including reversion and punitive transfers ignited the fighting spirit of other sections and disillusionment of the leadership of AIRF and NFIR grew widely across the country and one after another category associations were formed on their own and came forward to fight against repressive measures, inhuman working conditions and on many other local issues forming joint action committees at many places even involving local leadership of recognized unions especially AIRF unions. Loco running staff of southern railway and south central railway had gone in to a strike in 1972 which engulfed the whole of south. Even though Sri. BVS Rao then president withdrew the strike from jail, ignoring this, strike continued for few more days and he was isolated and new militant leadership was firmly installed in their annual meeting at Burdwan in January 1973 which then adopted a phased program with the aim of resorting and stoppage of work. NFIR and AIRF also decided to go into strike from 07.05.1973 and 27.08.1973. AILRSA tried for united struggle but a leadership of NFIR /AIRF did not respond. AILRSA started work to rule movement from June10th. This turned into countrywide action of loco men from august 1st which was settled on August 13th with a written agreement. 

During the period various struggles also broke out at various places and one worth mentioning is railway men struggle in Kerala for supply of rice at cheaper price in1973 September which was joined by all union and association including AIFR/NFIR union which was settled through negotiations after sanctioning Rs 500 famine advance by railway board and assurance was given for distribution of essential commodities through railway store. The strike was total for 3 days. Similar agitation was conducted in Nagpur division and railway employee participated in Maharashtra bandh in January 1974 against price rise. An All India Railway Employees Confederation [AIREC] was formed coordinating all category wise organizations. 

DREU from 1965 onwards was organizing the casual labourers all over southern railway on a large scale and conducting large militant struggle including ‘gherao’ of PWI’s for continuous engagement without artificial break and with benefits like regularization in service etc.. DREU also picked up the issues of engineering gang men and loco maintenance staff and all other sections of workers vigorously and were conducting series of agitations and when a key man at Mannanur was arrested and harassed, entire gang men /gate men of PGT division struck work for 2days and the administration had to retreat and settle. 

When workers were restive on their deplorable state of affairs were on the move, came the third CPC report denying need based minimum wages which was calculated at Rs 314/- and recommended only Rs 185/- which the government enhanced to Rs 196/- on their own. This has further intensified their disenchantment and urges for united struggle developed everywhere. Sensing the mood of workers and their losing influence a section of leadership of AIRF turned left and brought George Fernandez as president advocating united struggle. Under this president ship, AIRF decided to convene a joint meeting at New Delhi on February 27, 1974. There was a debate in AIREC meeting at Madras whether to attend the joint meeting or not and the militant section could prevail upon them to attend the meeting and paved the way for formation of NCCRS. Nationwide general strike was declared to commence from May 8 and struggle committee of 13 members where elected with George Fernandez as convener [AIRF-3, AIREC-2, CITU, AITUC, BMS two each]. 

Even though negotiations where conducted, no fruitful decisions could be arrived at as the government was not serious to settle the issues. And hence the negotiations failed the negotiating talks was to resume on 1st May but the government did not respond and the same also failed. George Fernandez and many of the committee members came for the discussion were arrested in the early hours of 2nd May itself. Leadership at all level were arrested nationwide on May 2nd itself under MISA and were jailed. In Kerala many of us jailed in Viyyoor were released only on June 4 even though strike was withdrawn on May 28th without any settlement. The working class and entire trade union movement except INTUC lend their support to the cause of railway workers and also the battle of Railway workers because it was the battle of entire trade union movement, entire Indian people fighting for democracy. “The creaking machine of the state of the economy cannot tolerate the luxury of trade union right in India.” The master phase of the state of authoritarians rule is being revealed. Against this new type of unity, of a new consciousness in the part of workers and organizations is seen and it is plain that the mass of workers through sheer class instinct met the new challengers bravely and courageously and held out for 3 long weeks and a world record for railway strike. The high water mark in the activity of Indian Railway working class a united activity forged in the teeth of determined opposition and hostility of Congress government. All opposition party right or left stood against the government. The repression and victimization including eviction of families from quarters, denial of water and electricity, forcefully compelling to join duty using police forces at bayonet point, Fifty Thousands employees were arrested, ten thousand were jailed, Thirty thousand families evicted from railway quarters, thousands of dismissals /removals/reversions etc., were unprecedented and civil war like situations was created. The role of leaders like A.K.G. with failing health was unique in defending the workers and his timely and bold intervention in Kochi to conduct the marriage of striking gagman as scheduled, which the police and railway administration tried to prevent. 

As a bye product of railway strike and subsequent political development state of emergency was declared. And workers travails continued. But when the election was conducted in 1977, Indira Gandhi Government was swept away and Janatha party-new dispensation-formed Government at central and all the punishment and other penal actions were revoked and all were reinstated. Even though the demand of 1977 strike was not immediately considered, when political crisis developed in 1978 and 1979.Charan Singh Government was pressurized by left parties to sanction PLB(Productivity Linked Bonus) in background of strike decisions by all union including NFIR. Cadre restructuring implementation, assured progression scheme etc, have improved the prospect of railway men except Gang men who are only recently given career progression and the same is not fully implemented yet. We could get 40% increase in wages as demanded by the union in 1997 while implementing 5th pay commission as left parties pressurized UF Government which was surviving with their support, 6th pay commission gave 54% increase and many other benefits on their own and UPA Government surviving with left support implemented it and consequently pensionary benefits also improved. But previous NDA Government introduced New Pension Scheme from 01.01.2004 for new entrance and the employee are paying 10% of salary to pension fund and there is no defined benefit assured and uncertainty is prevailing on this. 

7th CPC has recommended only 14.2% increase in pay-the lowest since independence-and curtailed many long availed benefit and allowances and reintroduced efficiency bar grant of increment and other retrograde recommendations are given abolishing security of tenure of service. 

AIRF, NFIR took strike ballot twice and employees overwhelmingly supported strike decisions and indefinite strike decision was taken and so as to commence from July11 and notice to be give on June11 along with other Central Government Employee. But they have not taken any follow-up action for success of strike and are reluctant to form a joint action committee on railways and they are trying to confine it with NJAC with Central Government Employees. Not only the retrograde recommendations of 7th CPC is to be fought, but also the danger of privatization of Indian Railway booming large over our head has also to be fought and defeated to protect our long earned benefits including statutory pension and our very existence. Hence we hope the meeting of veterans 1974 strike and south zone conference of AILRSA will appeal to both federation to come forward for united strike action to safe guard our class interest forming NCCRS model joint action committee in Railways comprising of AIRF,NFIR,DREU,AILRSA,AISMA and other categorical associations and unions. This south zone conference of AILRSA will be a water shed in our fight for unity and united struggle as this organization has planned this “CHIRASMARANA” not only to commemorate 1974 general strike but convey a message of unity and united struggle to one and all and make the proposed indefinite strike from July11 a big success unleashing the energy of all of us in a collective way. 

Wish the conference a great success 



P.G. Pillai ,Joint Secretary/DREU, 9495706974

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