A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since the historic 1974 railway strike which was proposed to start on May 8th but it actually started on May 2nd, 1974 after the arrest of Com. George Fernandes the then President of AIRF at Lucknow after he addressed huge labour day rally on 1st May. After the news of arrest of Com. George spread, strike engulfed various parts of Indian Railways but complete shut down happened on 8th May and it was called off on 28th May, 1974. Railway Strike brought the nation to a halt but even today this strike is remembered as most significant happening after the independence of India. The strike was a result of rocketing inflation and anguish of railway workers against the plights which they were facing due to anti labour policies of the then regime, it turned out to be a major uprising against the system. Workers were hopeful that third pay commission would give some relief but the condition of workers did not improve and as a result under the leadership of Com. George Fernandes, who was then president of All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), railwaymen went on strike on 8th May, 1974 which lasted for 20 days.
It began on 2nd may
Such was the effect of the strike that many other sectors such as banks and insurance employees joined the strike with AIRF for a day and brought the whole country to standstill. Government unleashed severe atrocities on the cadre of AIRF, several railway workers were removed from service and many others sent to jail for as long as 18 months. During this strike 50,000 Railway workers were arrested, over 10,300 Railwaymen were dismissed from service, service of over 5,600 temporary employees were terminated and 4 employees lost their lives. This was a historic strike which attracted worldwide attention. This strike was also a contributory factor in the landslide defeat of the Congress Party, which was responsible for forcing the workers to go on strike. No doubt 1974 strike lasted for few weeks but it produced that much socio-politico-economic effect that whole country was put under emergency in 1975 and Indira Gandhi Government lost general elections in 1977 and first non-congress Government was formed at the center.
The main demand of the employees was payment of bonus under bonus Act. While the Factory Act was in practise railway workers were not treated as industrial employees but as government employees.” The strike had had a great impact as the employees were reinstated when the new government came to power under Madhu Dandavate who was the Railway minister and the productive linked bonus which came into existence in 1977-78 which is still in vogue was due to the strike.
AIRF went on to follow the legacy of warriors of 1974 and continues to do so even when threat of privatization looms large on Railways. AIRF is fighting with great intensity and ferocity for the socio-economic upliftment of Railway staff. AIRF has done a lot to organize women workers in Railways, active participation of women workers is ensured in Trade Unions through various means and it is heartening to mention that response is overwhelming.
Comrades, Let us all come together to pay a true tribute to the martyrs of AIRF and make AIRF more powerful so that protecting the present, future and family of each railway worker is ensured.
Organized laborers and strong unions are always needed.
Shiva Gopal Mishra