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. 

The Role of AITUC Leadership 

There were certain difference in understanding amongst the leadership of NCCRS. There were some deficiencies in preparation of the strike and also some vacillations. All these had influenced the development of the struggle and the way it ended. But the role of the AITUC leadership need a special mention. Shri Mahesh Desai of HMS, which is a partner in the NCTU along with AITUC, termed this as a “Mean Betrayal”. 

It must be understood very clearly that rank and file members of the AITUC unions in the railways pressurized the leadership to join the National Convention held in Delhi on 27th February ’74. They had been fighting shoulder to shoulder with others and had to face repression like others at many centres. But the leadership, within a fortnight of the mighty unity achieved through NCCRS, formed their separate Federation (IRWF) when railwaymen were unitedly heading towards a major struggle and this created apprehensions amongst railwaymen. 

It was very clear that the AITUC leadership was engaged in secret talks with the Govt. behind the back of the NCCRS and the railway workers. 

The press reports indicated that Shri Dange was having a dinner with Shri L.N. Mishra, on the night previous to the countrywide swoop of leaders. Some papers in Wet Bengal hinted that Shri Dange had discussed the subject with Shri Malaviya on 1st May and was always in touch with the Govt. When the whole nation was indignant about the arrests of NCCRS leaders virtually breaking the assurance given earlier and the refusal by the Govt. to release the leaders for negotiation, it was suggested by Shri Dange that those outside should carry on with the negotiations and the Acton Committee should be reconstituted by alternate members from various organizations. These proposals were made pubic before it was discussed in the NCCRS body, which rejected this. When a proposal to secure an assurance of no-victimization provided the strike is withdrawn unconditionally came from him, the NCCRS body questioned him to confirm whether he was in secret negotiation with the Govt. Shri Dange withdrew the proposal and joined with others in attacking the Govt. But the next day, he openly advocated the decision for withdrawal of the strike zone by zone or group by group. This was an open call for withdrawing the strike. Reports from various centres indicate that leaders of AITUC unions in various railways have been asking the workers to join duties. The correspondent of Maharashtra Times, Bombay in May 27 issue said that the Co-ordination Committee for Railway strike in Bombay felt that the AITUC activists were working against the strike. This was the main reason for which an AITUC leader was not allowed to address a rally of railway men after withdrawal of the strike. 

Crowning all, the activities of Kerala Govt. headed by one of their own men, which acted in no way different from any other Congress Govt. and had arrested 411 workers under DIR and MISA in connection with the railway strike in sharp contrast with what the United Front Govt. headed by Com. EMS Namboodiripad had done in 1968, had left no room for doubt about the role of the AITUC leadership. 

It is clear that mainly due to this, one of the most glorious trade union struggles of our times was let down and disorganized. Even some of their front-ranking leaders admitted this to be a stab in the back. 

Withdrawal of the Strike 

In this background, came the resolution for withdrawal of the strike from the jail, which according to press reports was known to them even before it could be discussed in the NCCRS Action Committee. Com. Samar Mukherjee M.P. representing the CITU differed from this call for withdrawal because it lacked proper assessment of the impact on the economy, the doggedness with which quite a large section of railwaymen were still carrying forward the struggle and also the mounting support from the people. In the opinion of the CITU, these factors would have enabled the railwaymen to have a negotiated settlement and could obviate much of the sufferings later on. Com. Priya Gupta, the AIRF General Secretary and a member of the NCCRS Action Committee also expressed his disagreement with this decision. The CITU, however, did not stand in the way of the desire of the majority members. The workers were given hardly 12 hours time to join duties from the morning of 28th May 1974 and thus a glorious chapter came to an abrupt end. 

Aftermath of the Struggle-Unprecedented Victimisation 

The decision for withdrawal of the strike created mixed feeling amongst railwaymen. At places where the shrike was weakening, the decision was accepted with a sense of relief. But at places where the railwaymen were continuing the strike despite all odds, it came as a surprise and workers refused to go back to duty. At Santragachi, the withdrawal was delayed for more than 12 hours. In NFR, workers refused to believe the press or AIR and waited till they contacted the leaders of NCCRS. Unlike 1960 or 1968, there was a high morale amongst the workers and in many places they joined back in a demonstrative manner, through processions and shouting slogans like disciplined soldiers going back at the call of their organization. They were not prepared for abject surrender, as was reflected in further agitations at Samastipur (NFR) against fresh arrests, or at Kurla Car Shed (CR) for reinstatement of their colleagues. The open declarations and assurances which came from the leaders in the Govt. and the officials of Railway Board created a hope that workers would be treated sympathetically and taken back to duty. 

Never before in the history of railway trade union movement, workers were victimized in this fashion. About 20,000 workers were arrested under MISA and DIR. About 25,000 permanent employees were summarily removed/dismissed from service without giving any opportunity to defend themselves under 14(ii) of the D&A Rules. 5000 employees were kept under suspension, 30,000 temporary and causal workers were also removed from service. There was no rhyme or reason behind these orders. 

It was seen that the officers, who were ill at ease due to the rising tide of movement in 1973, were elated as they were able to find the repressive machinery of the state at their disposal and they proceeded to impose discipline amongst the railwaymen. They insisted that those thrown out of job must sign declaration expressing regret for having joined the strike and also assuring that they would not take part in any agitation in future. In some cases, the local officers insisted that the workers signing such declarations should capitalize their influence and organize others to sign such declarations. The Government and the administration refused to resume negotiations with the NCCRS and only entertained those who were in their good books. They secretly encouraged the leaders to come out of NCCRS and even organize splits in various organizations including LRSA and finally the NCCRS. It is with this end in view they unlike in 1960 or 1968 maintained formal recognition but suspended certain facilities of AIRF. A channel of negotiation was kept open with certain selected leaders, at the same time. 

Simultaneously with this onslaught against the striking workers, the Govt. announced different kinds of encouragement to those who did not join the strike in the shape of cash reward, advance increment, extension of service and employment of children. There were instances when even applications were not received and appointment order was issued not in the name of the candidate but as son of a particular employee. This was intended to create a set of permanent blacklegs. 

will continue....


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