For nearly 3 decades, the government and the railway ministry has been systematically following an anti worker anti people agenda. This is to intensify the exploitation of the engine drivers and others concerned with the running and maintenance of trains and the railways and to ignore implementing safety measures to protect the lives of railmen as well as the passengers.
For nearly 3 decades, the government and the railway ministry has been systematically following an anti worker anti people agenda. This is to intensify the exploitation of the engine drivers and others concerned with the running and maintenance of trains and the railways and to ignore implementing safety measures to protect the lives of railmen as well as the passengers. Whenever an accident takes place, the first to be blamed are the engine drivers, who in most cases are not alive to defend themselves. Nearly a lakh engine drivers of the country are in a fighting mood in defence of their rights and the rights of the passengers. The Mumbai suburban engine drivers protest of May 2010 is a harbinger of even bigger struggles. A correspondent of MEL participated in a Convention attended by nearly 1000 delegates from all across the country on August 31, 2010. We present below the views of the engine drivers and their organisation, the All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA).
Comrade M.N.Prasad, the General Secretary of AILRSA gave the inaugural address. He pointed out that the engine drivers of our country are on the war path against their harsh and super exploitative working conditions as well as their extremely low wages. This was happening for the first time after the historic railway strike of 1974. The Mumbai motormen, through their action in May which paralysed this city, have shown that fire is burning in their hearts. They were supported by sympathy actions by engine drivers all across the country.
The government is not addressing the grievances of the motormen. Instead, it is working out plans to suppress any future action of the workers. The authorities have planned to recruit drivers to take care of a future strike by motormen. 170 such drivers had been recruited and were being trained. During the strike in Mumbai on May 3rd and 4th, 1500 engine drivers were brought from all over India to run the trains in Mumbai. However, all these drivers went on hunger strike in support of the Mumbai motormen and refused to run the trains as strike breakers.
Railway authorities have reduced the staff strength to 13 lakhs from 20 lakhs in 1980. On the other hand the goods transported by the railways has increased eight fold in this period. The number of passengers has also increased manifold. The railway ministry has set a target of reducing the manpower every year by 3%.
The 6th Pay has shown utter contempt for engine drivers. The basic entry pay of Assistant Loco Pilot is Rs 1900 which is only Rs 100 more than the lowest wage in the railways. The government is using the fact that it can declare the railways as "essential services" like that of other crucial sectors like airlines, to pressurise motormen into giving up their struggle. The engine drivers will never give up the struggle for rights. .
The AILRSA has managed to unite the majority of engine drivers. Whereas there were 16 unions representing engine drivers previously, now all of the workers are united in the AILRSA. In 1974 then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had challenged the Loco Running Staff. The engine drivers had taken the lead in the historic railway strike of 1974. Now too, we will give a fitting reply to the government.
The Central Trade Unions are opposed to the just demands of the engine drivers.. These Unions had tried to organise a Conference of loco running staff in Mumbai in May 2010. When they realised they did not have the support of the motormen, especially of Mumbai, they hastily shifted the venue and changed the date to July 13, 2010. The Railway Management assisted by providing special AC 3 tier coaches to the organisers of this Conference. However the workers rejected this Conference and it was a setback for the government. The Railway Minister promised the delegates to the Conference in New Delhi that she would provide new hospitals and schools for the railway men. These would be provided under the so called public private partnership (PPP) project of the railways. She wants to mobilise rail drivers to support the privatization program of the railways.
The Railway Minister has declared that AILRSA does not have recognition. They responded with, "we do not want the Government's recognition. We have the recognition of the engine drivers of India. Without any assistance from the Railways, we are organizing this conference with nearly 1000 delegates."
AILRSA thanked Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS) and Kamgar Ekta Chalwal for the leaflet that was brought out and distributed at this convention supporting the demands of the engine drivers of India. The representative from Lok Raj Sangathan to the AILRSA Conference was welcomed and garlanded, as a special invitee.
The representative from LRS addressed the workers: "all of you are working under extremely harsh conditions and LRS fully supports your demands. The government fears the engine drivers, who led the historic 1974 strike. It has been doing everything possible, including using the central unions to break the unity of the workers, in order to prevent the engine drivers from organising for their rights and for the rights of all."
He pointed out that the bourgeoisie and its government have a vision that by 2020 they will become big players on the world scene. In this vision of theirs, he clearly pointed out, our role will only be to work as wage slaves, in the factories, sweatshops and SEZ’s. Our homes will be demolished under the name of beautifying the cities. He called on the engine drivers to oppose this vision. The working class of our country is a lion that has been put to sleep. This lion had to be awakened. He said the working class needs to elaborate its own vision for a new India where it would be the needs of the working people that would be of paramount importance to society. Who will take up this task of elaborating this vision and bring about this unity, he asked. The assembled delegates roared back “WE WILL”.
Delegates from different parts of the country such as Howrah, Madi,Vishakapatnam, Bilaspur, Bhusaval, Ferozepur, Mumbai, Bokaro, Jamshedpur, Kota, Ujjain, Samastipur, Vijayawada, Chennai, Trivandrum, Khulera, Nagpur, Pagewadi, Bina, Sealdah, Pathankot , Kharagpur, etc addressed the Convention.
Com. Telekar spoke on behalf of the motormen of Mumbai. He described how they had braved all kinds of pressure including arrest and intimidation by the government and had successfully united the motormen of Mumbai.
The mood of the meeting was very militant. It was unanimously decided that if by October 11, 2010, the railway authorities do not respond to the grievances of the drivers, the AILRSA will launch a nation wide agitation.
MEL fully supports the just struggle of the engine drivers of India.