Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Historic Railway Strike of 1974 

by Com A.Mathew, Secretary, Kamgar Ekta Committee, Maharashtra 



(……Continue) 



However even after calling off the strike the Government continued with its victimisation and fascist onslaught. 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. 

Simultaneously with this onslaught against the striking workers, the Government 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 among the workers. 

It must be noted that with the change of the Government in 1977, with the coming to power of the Janata Party, most of the dismissed permanent workers were reinstated without break in service. However it was the casual workers who continued to bear the brunt of the victimisation. 30,000 of them were never reinstated. 

(C) Lessons from the historic strike 

The heroic strike of the rail workers and the heroism shown by them and their families will always inspire us. It was a glorious chapter in the history of the working class movement and there is much for us today to learn from it. 

The weakness in the 1974 strike preparations was that the organizers were overwhelmed by the support, which they received spontaneously when meetings were held. They did not take steps for establishing broad based strike committees at all levels particularly at the departmental levels so that the strike preparations could continue in each department and the workers could face eventualities unitedly. They did not prepare the workers for a long struggle and instead gave them the false hopes that if they could carry the strike for seven days the Government would give in to their demands. Unlike the Government which had put in place plans for crushing the strike well before the strike started, there were no similar preparations made before hand by the workers leaderships. 

The railway strike of 1974, and the fascist response of the Central and State Governments has shown to the railway workers and the working class of India, that the working class needs to prepare for any class action with even more planning and determination so as to defeat the machinations of the Government and the top management. We need to mobilise all members right from the grassroots upwards and they should all be enabled to participate in decision making on how to conduct the strike and when to call it off. It is only the democratic involvement of all the participants that can ensure that the strike is successful. The many successful agitations of loco drivers, guards in the Railways as well as outside of the railways show that only when all the members are fully mobilised is victory possible. 

The working class needs to build its own fighting unity amongst itself , among the members of a particular factory, industry or trade as well as among all members of the class irrespective of the divisions that are artificially imposed on them in the name of permanent versus casual labour, skilled versus unskilled labour, managerial versus unionised labour, Government employee versus private sector employee, or any of the many ways that the authorities try to keep us divided. 

Conclusion 

The Indian State is not a democratic state as far as the workers and toilers are concerned. On the contrary the experience of the working class shows that it is the dictatorship of the ruling capitalist class in actual practice. In times of peace it makes a pretence that it is there to look after everyone’s interest. But as soon as the working class or any section of the population demands the rights that belong to it, the Indian State throws off its “democratic” cover and shows its brutal fascist character. The way all the arms of the state, from the elected representatives at the Central and State level, the Government officials , the police, the army and the courts coordinated their attacks to suppress a democratic right to protest, the way the entire state machinery was brought to bear on the striking workers, showed that the Indian state was waging a war on its own people, its own workers who were demanding improved working and living conditions. 

The fact that in actual practise the Indian State is a dictatorship for workers and toilers was once again proven immediately after the Railway Strike, when internal emergency was declared on June 1975. All rights that are ”guaranteed” under the Constitution were suspended including the most basic right, the right to life. There were mass arrests all over India and any kind of protest was met with utmost brutality. 

When it is a question of attacking the people, the entire state machinery shows its efficiency and it acts like a well oiled machine to achieve its aims. When it is a question of providing relief to the people in times of calamity or distress, there is total paralysis on the part of the state machinery. with one arm blaming the other. The executive will blame the legislature, the legislature will blame the executive, the police and the courts and so on . They are all equally culpable and all are part and parcel of the same Indian State which functions to suppress the rights of the people much like the British Colonial state before it. 

This fact has been proven time and again in the 1984 massacre of people of Sikh faith, in the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid and the massacre of ordinary Hindus and Muslims after that and in the massacre in Gujarat in 2002. The anti worker and anti people character of the Indian State has again been seen in the last few months and even today in the way crores of hapless migrant workers are having to walk barefoot thousands of kilometres to reach their own homes. 

The recent Covid crises has brought our how no thought was given to the lives and livelihoods of crores of our people by the Government, which imposed the lockdown at a few hours notice. Crores of workers were longing to return to their homes, but were deprived of all means of travel. Lakhs of railway workers, including loco pilots, guards, station masters, signalling and maintenance staff etc were eager to run the trains so as to carry them home. But because the capitalists did not want the workers to go back to their homes, the Government did not budge. It was only after mass protests from all over India over the hundreds of workers dying while walking home that the Government finally started the trains and buses to carry them home. 

While doing practically nothing to help the people by way of providing them food and health facilities, and at the same time preaching to the distressed populace to be “atmanirbhar”, the Centre and several state governments have further attacked labour rights by amending labour laws. This shows that these political parties in power serve the capitalists and have no accountability towards the Indian citizens. 

The ruling parties have also used the occasion of the crisis to further the capitalist agenda of “Divide and Rule” that has been implemented by all the capitalist parties since independence, including the genocides of 1984, 1992-93, 2002 and the latest in Delhi this year. 

The Covid crisis has also sharply brought out the fact that it is the labour of workers and peasants that is essential to society! 

We the working class need to understand the power of our class and of our numbers. We are the majority of society and it is we who produce all the wealth in this country along with our hard working peasant brothers. It is only a tiny handful of big monopoly capitalist houses ,that number not more than 150, that fully control the Indian State and use it to crush us and deprive us of the wealth that we ourselves produce. It is these small handful of monopoly capitalists who have benefitted and grabbed the lion’s share of all the wealth that is produced in our country. 

We should build a strong unity overcoming all the barriers of occupation, region, religion, caste and union or political affiliation to fight for our cause. We should unite with the vision of fighting for an India that our martyrs bravely laid down their lives for – an India in which every person, irrespective of religions, region, caste or gender would be enabled to lead a life worthy of human beings. If we are able to unite ourselves, there is no force on earth that can defeat the power of a united working class and peasantry 

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