History of All India Railwaymen's Federation
During the last part of the 19th Century, railwaymen were inspired by the ongoing freedom struggle. There were several strikes in the railway workshops during that period and in the early part of the 20th Century. After the formation of All India Trade Union Congress, the trade union leaders who were spearheading the freedom struggle and were active in the railway trade union movement, in 1924, formed the All India Railwaymen's Federation(AIRF), consisting of the railwaymen’s unions working on the different railways. Many of them were jailed and dismissed from service. In the early stages, the meetings of AIRF were organised on the sideline of the meetings of the All India Trade Union Congress. The Railways being a strategic industry, it was very important for the freedom struggle to involve the railwaymen in the agitation against British imperialism. The AIRF took steps to unify the railwaymen’s union by merger of small unions into one union on each railway. The British Government also started negotiations with the Federation from 1928 and half yearly meetings were held between the AIRF and the Railway Board, headed by the Chief Commissioner of the Railways. During these negotiations several achievements to improve the service conditions of the railwaymen were reached. The AIRF was bitterly opposed to racial discrimination. It opposed higher scales of pay being given to the Europeans and the Anglo Indians for doing the same work as the Indians. The AIRF also put pressure for the training of the Indian Railway workers. Untill 1947, the AIRF was able to unify the entire railway trade union movement into one union on each railway and one Federation for the whole of the Indian Railways. It was after 1947 that the ruling party floated its own Central Trade Union and also a Federation in the Railways. The first General Strike in the Railways in the post-independent era took place in July, 1960 against the unfavourable recommendations of the II CPC. Though the strike lasted for five days, yet it shook the Government of India who had issued an ordinance and declared the strike illegal. The ordinance provided six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs.500/- for those who joined the strike and one year’s imprisonment and a fine of Rs.1,000/- for those who instigated the railway workers for strike. In this strike 5 persons were killed, 1,60,000 employees were placed under arrest, 50,000 employees were suspended and thousands of employees were removed/dismissed from service. Notwithstanding these hard measures to break the strike, the strike that took place proved to be a landmark in the history of free India. This forced the Government of India to negotiate with the Trade Unions of the Central Government employees and to provide an effective forum for the settlement of their legitimate demands. This machinery was established in the year 1967 after protracted negotiations with the unions of the Central Government employees, including the railwaymen. The machinery is called Joint Consultative Machinery(JCM) for the Central Government employees. Another strike of the Central Government employees and the railwaymen took place on 19th September, 1968 against the Government’s refusal to refer the demands of the Central Government employees for arbitration as provided for in the JCM Scheme. In this strike 48,000 Central Government employees were served with notices of termination of service, 4,000 railway employees were summarily discharged, 7,000 placed under suspension and 8,000 faced trial in different courts of law. 9 persons died in police firing. Most of them were railwaymen. Against this massive victimisation, the leaders of the Central Government employees, including the General Secretary of the AIRF, went on an indefinite fast in front of the Parliament in New Delhi. The Government of India was forced to withdraw the discharge notices and consequently all the discharged employees were reinstated in service. Again in May, 1974, the railwaymen were forced to go on strike which lasted for three weeks. 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. It is, however, a matter of satisfaction that all victimised railway workers were reinstated in service either by the court’s orders or by the announcement made by the Railway Minister of the Janata Government in the year 1977. In the year 1978, the AIRF took a strike ballot for an indefinite General Strike in the railways on the government’s refusal to concede the railwaymens’ demand for payment of bonus. The strike was averted because of the settlement of the demand and Government agreeing to pay Productivity Linked Bonus(PLB) to railwaymen. The PLB which started with 15 days ad-hoc payment has increased to 75 days wages for the year 2009-10. In the year 1997, on receipt of the report of the V CPC, the AIRF along with other unions of the Central Government employees organised a strike. The response was massive. The strike was averted following negotiations between the JCM leaders and the Group of Ministers, as the result of which an agreement was signed on 11.9.1997 which granted 20% additional wage hike over that recommended by the V CPC along with an agreement for resolving the anomalies arising out of it. There has been the policy of having continuous dialogue between the organised labour and the Railway Administration at various levels which greatly helped in maintaining prolonged industrial peace on the Railways. While through these negotiations, legitimate demands of the railwaymen could be settled, the Railway Administration also got an opportunity to use a good industrial climate for the efficient functioning of the Railway System in the service of rail users. The AIRF is a free, democratic and independent organisation. Out of 1.5 million railway workers, 1.1 million are members of the AIRF. It has affiliated unions on all the 16 Zonal Railways and Production Units and the MTP Railway. As opposed to the popular belief that trade union’s sole aim is to organise strikes, demonstrations, dharnas, AIRF and its affiliates have been doing social service through several non-bargaining activities like health check and blood and eye donation camps, sports activities and prize distribution for the children of railway employees, organising drug and alcohol de-addiction, AIDS awareness and family planning camps and providing relief to the victims of natural calamities etc., taking regular coaching classes for children of railway employees and also running computer classes and educational institutions including an Engineering College. The AIRF is concerned about safety on Indian Railways and has been organising seminars and meetings, educating the cadre on safety in railway working. In November last AIRF held the Maha Safety Samvad at Allahabad which was attended by more than 12,000 railway workers, the leadership of AIRF and its affiliated unions, the Railway Minister, Minister of State for Railways, Chairman, Railway Board and other members of the Railway Board. This received highest appreciation everywhere. Notwithstanding all the good work being done by it, the AIRF and its affiliated unions are involved in a bitter struggle and are facing Governments’ offensive on various issues. Railways’ regular activities are being outsourced to corporations or contractors and workers’ unity is being disrupted by granting recognition to non-representative unions. Benchmarking is being pursued without creating the requisite working conditions and providing the required tools, clamps and spare parts on a uniform basis all over the Indian Railways, downsizing of the working strength is being carried out indiscriminately, a contributory pension scheme is being introduced, doing away with the beneficial old scheme and labour laws are being amended to the detriment of workers to placate foreign investors at the behest of IMF and WTO. Since the Indian Railways are the Nation’s greatest asset and second line of the defence of the country, the AIRF and its affiliated unions are determined to continue its constructive activities and at the same time take all possible steps against Railways’ being privatised as also their unity being tempered with.