An important step forward in the struggle against privatization of Railways
On February 1, 2017, unions representing different sections of rail workers gathered under the banner of National Platform of Railway Trade Unions organized an important National Convention on the theme “Save Railways, Save the Nation”.
The Convention reflected the militant fighting spirit of all sections of rail workers — Loco drivers, guards, station masters, engineers and other technical workers of the Indian Railways. It reflected the determination of the rail workers coming from different regions of the country, speaking different languages, to wage a united and determined struggle to defeat the anti worker, anti social and anti national program of privatization of the Indian Railways. The Dakshin Railways Employees Union (DREU), the All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA), the All India Guards Council (AIGC), the All India Station Master Association (AISMA), and other unions of rail workers had jointly organized this Convention, to forge the unity of all rail workers in the struggle against privatisation, and to chalk out the course of the struggle. Leaders of the Mazdoor Ekta Committee, Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) Employees Union actively participated in the deliberations of the Convention and extended their full support to the railway workers in the struggle against privatisation of the railways. All the speakers at the convention were of the view that the agenda of privatisation was the agenda of the biggest Indian and foreign monopolies. The Modi government, like the UPA government that preceded it, were simply implementing this agenda.
On behalf of the National Platform of Railway Trade Unions, Comrade KC James called the representatives of different participating organisations to the stage.
He then called upon Comrade MN Prasad, General Secretary of the All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA) to address the Convention.
Comrade MN Prasad pointed out in his speech that despite the great struggles waged by the loco running staff and other sections of rail workers, we have not been able to block the course of privatization of the Indian railways. The bourgeoisie is going ahead on the course of privatisation. It is implementing the recommendations of the Debroy Committee to divide the railways into numerous corporations, as a prelude to privatisation. The decision to combine the rail budget with the general budget is a clear signal of the government’s intention to privatize the railways.
Comrade Prasad said that it is very clear that no one organisation can successfully wage the struggle to halt privatisation. All the unions in the Railways must necessarily come together under one platform against privatisation. We know that the existence of different unions within rail workers is a sign that there are some differences. Despite these differences, it is our duty to come together under one banner of opposition to privatization, in the interests of saving the railways, saving the nation. Many times, the call for strike has been given, only to be withdrawn later. On behalf of the AILRSA, I pledge to you that if the rail unions actually decide to organize a strike, the Loco drivers of the Indian railways will ensure its complete success.
Comrade Prasad said that there is urgent need to develop the fighting unity of all rail workers around the platform of halting privatisation. He called upon the Convention to take organization steps to create such a platform.
Comrade D. Raghunanandan of the Delhi Science Forum elaborated at length about the Debroy Committee recommendations. He explained how the Debroy Committee proposed to carry out privatisation without using the term privatisation. He elaborated on the negative experience of rail privatisation in Britain as well as the positive experience of the struggle against rail privatisation in France, Germany and some other European countries. In these countries the rail workers had successfully organized to get the support of the broad section of workers who used the railways, in their struggle against privatisation. He also elaborated on the struggle of the people in our country against water privatisation and electricity privatisation. It was essential to bring out the anti national and anti-social character of the privatisation of public services, he pointed out. In conclusion, he pointed out that one of the main factors that was blocking the privatisation of the railways was the opposition of rail workers to this course.
Comrade M. Krishnan, Secretary General of the Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers pointed out that all previous committees set up by governments to look into privatisation of railways recommended privatizing the auxiliary and support services. The Debroy Committee has proposed privatising the core of the Indian Railways — the running of trains. Elaborating on the recommendations, he pointed out how in the name of “unbundling” of the railways, it was being torn limb by limb.
Comrade VAN Namboodiri, veteran founder and leader of the BSNL Employees Union, extended the full support of BSNL workers to the rail workers. Comrade Namboodiri pointed out that the Niti Ayog had recommended privatisation of over 70 Public Sector Undertakings, including BSNL. He elaborated on the militant struggle of BSNL workers against privatisation. In the course of this struggle, workers were coming to their own conclusion about which union represented their interests, and who were speaking the language of the authorities. The same differentiation will take place amongst railway workers.
Comrade Abdul Salaam from Chennai spoke on behalf of the Railway Indian Railways Technical Supervisors Association. He pointed to the role of rail workers during the Chennai floods in December 2015 and during the recent Jallikattu agitation to show how rail workers were always ready to devote their energies to public service. He believed that the people of India were looking forward to an alternative to the present system.
Comrade RK Unnikrishnan, President of the All India Station Masters Association said that his organization was one with other railway workers unions in the common struggle against privatisation. The AISMA would fully participate in the initiative of this Convention to forge the broadest unity of unions in the struggle against privatisation.
On behalf of the Mazdoor Ekta Committee (MEC), Comrade Prakash Rao hailed the initiative of the railway workers unions in organizing this important convention. He pointed out that the first privatisation that had taken place was that of Modern Foods Ltd and BALCO. Led by the MEC, the workers of Modern Foods had waged a heroic struggle against privatisation. Workers carried out protest rallies, they sat on dharna for over 500 days, and they exposed the fraudulent justifications for privatisation advanced by the government. When the government declared that it was not the business of the government to make rotis, we asked “What then is the business of the government?” We challenged the privatisation of Modern Foods in the Courts pointing out that it was against the Directive Principles enshrined in the Constitution. The reply of the court was that privatisation was “a policy matter” which the government was free to carry out. Prakash Rao pointed out that workers must draw appropriate lesson from this that they cannot rely on the courts or the Constitution of this country.
The result of the struggle against privatisation of Modern Foods and Balco was that the UPA government that came to power in 2004 had to disband the ministry of Disinvestment. We demanded that privatisation be reversed. However, we must acknowledge the bitter truth that the UPA government was able to continue privatisation in different forms, because the 60 communist members of parliament decided to pursue the path of collaborating with the government through a “common minimum program”.
If we have to be truthful to our life experience, it is not possible to pursue a course that is beneficial both to capitalist exploiters, and the working class.
In our country, it is the big monopoly capitalists who set the agenda. Who set the agenda for the “socialistic pattern of society” which was referred to by an earlier speaker? If we must tell the truth, it was TATA, Birla, and some other capitalists who proposed this agenda in a document they prepared in 1945-46 which was well known as the Tata Birla Plan. It was a plan to enrich the monopolies, while fooling the working class that it was in their interests. This plan was adopted by the Congress Party.
We are saying “save railways, save nation”, BSNL workers are saying “save BSNL, save nation”. Time has come for us workers to take up the mission of rescuing India from the disastrous anti national course the ruling class is leading us on. If we save India, we will save the railways, we will save everything else.
India needs a revolution. It is workers like you who will have to lead it. In the great ghadar of 1857, they used Chapatis and Lotuses as signal. Today, if you rail workers bring out a small leaflet and distribute it to the people travelling in the trains, think how far and fast the message will go. We have to explain to the people how the privatisation of railways is against the nation’s interests, against society’s interest. Prakash Rao concluded that MEC was working to build the fighting unity of all workers unions.
Comrade AK Srivastava, General Sec All India Guards Council declared that the Guards of the Indian Railways were committed to uncompromising struggle against privatisation. He condemned the anti-worker, anti-people course of the Modi government, including demonetisation, which had resulted in lakhs of people losing their livelihood in the districts of Thane and Mumbai. He declared that the working class and people of India would rise up in rebellion against the course pursued by the bourgeoisie.
Comrade Matthew Syriac, General Secretary of the DREU gave the concluding remarks in the Convention. He highlighted the glorious history of the rail workers in the freedom struggle. He condemned the course being pursued by the government, and called upon all the rail workers’union, and all other working class organisations to give a fitting response. He ended his speech reading out the resolution of the Convention.
The Convention ended with Comrade Janakiraman of the DREU giving the Vote of thanks.