Wednesday, May 13, 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 “History of Trade Union Movement.” 

Exerts from his book. 

Chapter III 

Agitation of Loco Running Staff 

It was in the background of economic crisis and growing upsurge of movement all over the country that the Loco-running staff decided to go into an action, which was well prepared. They started with mass deputations to the Loco Foremen, Divisional Officers, and General Managers. Then they started a work-to-rule agitation. The authorities as usual started victimization. The locomen served notice that agitation would be intensified if victimizations are not withdrawn and the demands not settled. The Government ignored the notice, and from 1st August 1973 the Loco Running Staff started a sick-leave movement which brought the train services almost to a halt in several places. The Railway Minister was forced to invite the leaders of Loco Running Staff Association to negotiate during the pendency of the struggle, through the Labour Minister. After 4 days of negotiation some acceptable formula cold be worked out and the Labour Minister had to sign the agreement, after which the strike was called off. 

The drafting of the agreement was in the hands of the Bureaucrats who left matters as vague as possible. But the question of granting a channel of communication and setting up of a grievance committee had to be agreed to along with an agreement on 10 hours duty from ‘signing on’ to ‘signing off’. 

The AIRF was opposed to any settlement with the AILRSA. The Railway Board was also opposed to it. But the unity of loco men in the struggle and the amount of public support which they received had forced the Railway Minister to seek a settlement. 

The impact of the struggle would have to be grasped. Earlier also the loco men of various railways had conducted strikes but they were limited to one zone or at best the adjoining railway. In 1970, they struck work in the Southern Railway when a section of the leadership of that zone betrayed the struggle. These leaders were replaced. The annual meeting of AILRSA in 1971 brought in a new section to the leadership who patiently tried to develop organization in all the zones before starting an all India movement. It was only after two and half years of patient efforts through lower form of movements that a climate for all India struggle was created and call for struggle was given. 

The success of the struggle of loco men lay primarily in their ability to unite quite a large section of the workers through patient efforts. But the amount of solidarity support which they got from others was never seen before. Even the Press was sympathetic. The reasons were that they were fighting against inhuman duty hours which sometimes extended upto 32 hours with the minimum being 14 to 16 hours at a stretch. 

After the successful struggle of August 73, the bureaucracy in the Railway Board and the AIRF leadership tried to sabotage the agreement. As already described the drafting of the agreement was such that the ordinary members of the LRSA were feeling that the authorities had agreed to implement 10 hours duty within a period of six weeks. Hence by Nov ’73, the loco running staff of Western Railway went into a strike at Gandhidham against its non-implementation. The authorities dilly dallied with the hope that they would be able to break the strike. The AILRSA issued a ultimatum of 48 hours and on its expiry started solidarity action from Northern Railway. The strike this time was total and the Railway Minister was forced to announce in Lok Sabha that 10 hours rule will be implemented in phases in ¾ years’ time. They invited the LRSA leaders and started serious preparations for implementing the agreement. 

The victory had given a big boost t the self-confidence of the railway men. Barring the strike at Adra, there was not such a big victory of railway men for a long time. The two events i.e. Formation of UCTU and success of the struggle of the Loco Running Staff had greatly influenced the subsequent event viz formation of NCCRS and historic strike of railway men in May 1974. 

Struggle Against Craft Bias 

The success of the struggle of the locomen had given rise to the danger of craft bias taking hold in the category wise associations. The abandoning of the first meeting of the LRSGC scheduled to be held at Madras due to demonstration organized by the leadership of the AIRF union had added fuel to fire.  The AIREC declared that the AIRF and NFIR no longer represented railway men and called upon all railway works to join the AIREC. A section of leadership within AILRSA were already hostile of AIRF and M.R. Sabapathy, the President of AILRSA took this opportunity to declare that the AILRSA has joined the AIREC, though the AILRSA had not taken such a decision earlier. 

The pro-unity section of railway men in all organizations had to take note of this fact. The danger of these masses being under the influence of another section of reformist leaders who were active in the category wise association was there. These masses in their anger against the leadership of AIRF failed to see that there was a large chunk of railway men still in AIRF who equally desired unity with category wise association of a struggle for the basic demands of railway men. They failed also to see that category wise associations were best suited to propagate and fight for their category demands. But they cannot and have not been doing justice to the basic demands of railway men and were not taking any steps to secure them, though the Third Pay Commission in their report had refused to grant parity in wages with public sector workers. They also failed to realize that without uniting the broad masses of railway workers both under the influence of AIR as well as those outside, the struggle for basic demands cannot be crowned with success. Above all without such unity, the level of class consciousness cannot be heightened. 

A section in these category wise association did however realize these deficiencies and they made strenuous efforts first to stop the category-wise associations to move away from the path of united struggle of railway men. It was a Herculean task. The AILRSA comrades initiated this struggle for unity of railwaymen. They could, despite existence of opinions to the contrary within their organization, persuaded their working committee to participate in the Convention called by AIRF in February, 74 at New Delhi from which the NCCRS was formed. They noted the change in AIRF which came about in September 1973 after their struggle and this paved the way for building up of united forum like NCCRS from the Convention. The reformists within AILRSA challenged this in the annual meeting held at Varanasi in March, 74. But the urge for unity prevailed and those who wanted to whip up anti-AIRF sentiment were reduced to a minority. Such urge for unity was seen in other category wise associations and pro-unity forces in these organizations were inspired by the decision of the AILRSA annual meeting. The struggle against category bias is still continuing. 

Change in the AIRF Leadership 

The Government in the meanwhile had set up a Third Pay Commission. The entire railway men were looking at Third Pay Commission with the hope that they could get at least parity in wage with public sector employees. But the Pay Commission while agreeing to the fact that the demand for parity in wages with public sector undertakings has some force, did not concede this point (i.e. parity in wages) though the Second Pay Commission had accepted the theory of comparable wage and turned down the demand for need based minimum wage. 

Close after the struggle of Loco Running Staff the annual Conference of all India Railway men’s Federation was held. Shri George Fernandez who was inducted in the railway trade union movement from the Central Railway, National Railway Mazdoor Union gave the slogan of united struggle for achieving the basic demands of railwaymen. Shri Fernandez was at that time Convener of United Council of Trade Unions (UCTU) which had already been leading some statewide industry wide struggles and had become popular among the mass of workers. He was also Chairman of the Socialist Party. Shri Peter Alvares, who was a member of the National Executive of the Socialist Party and had been functioning as President of AIRF, opposed this slogan. A section of workers who had leanings to AITUC and were opposed to category wise associations and also to UCTU had supported Peter Alvares against George Fernandez. There was a sharp division among the delegates and George Fernandez. There was a sharp division among the delegates and George Fernandez was elected as the President of AIRF, which was possible because all pro-unity section of railway men, supporters of CITU and UCTU, supported George Fernandez. 

Will Continue….

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