Thursday, August 13, 2020

Excerpts from History of Railway Trade Union Movement a Study by Nrisingha Chakrabarthy. 



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 The loco men served notice that agitation would be intensified if victimizations are not withdrawn and the demands not settled.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 up to 32 hours with the minimum being 14 to 16 hours at a stretch. 

After the successful struggle of August 1973, 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 AILRSA 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. 

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