Under pressure from their workers, the largest railway federation in India, the All India Railway Federation, had conducted a strike ballot on the 21st and 22nd of December.
Most of the workers from all circuits showed enthusiastic participation in the ballot in which almost 80% of the workers voted. The ballot resulted in a resounding victory for the motion to go on strike with 96% of votes cast on ‘yes’ . Taking this example, another major union, the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR) will be holding a ballot on the 17th and 18th of january.
The strike is to be centered around a 36 point charter of demands formulated by the union which focusses on several long standing demands, the highlight of which is the opposition against the new pension scheme. Of the 1,000 thousand workers represented by the union, almost 450 thousand are young recruits who fear being deprived of the benefits of pension through this new pension scheme.
The call for strike comes in an overall economic crisis where cost of living is increasing due to inflation, and wages are declining or stagnating. The working class is facing the scourge of contractorization which is depriving them of labor rights and threatening them with pauperization. The strike itself is poised to be one of the most significant developments of labor struggles in India’s recent past. The last time the railway workers were as bold to enter into an indefinite strike was when class struggle was at its zenith, in 1974. This strike was also led by the AIRF and presided over by George Fernandes.
The Indian railways are the single largest employer in India and the 4th largest employer in the world. In many ways it is the lifeblood of the economy, and a strike in this most strategic sector would have the effect of bringing the country to a standstill!
The theme of the charter
Primarily the charter is formed with a trade consciousness bereft of any political aims. It is limited in its goals, to addressing the most empirically relateable demands without any plans on pushing the welfare goals further.
There is no call for abolition of contract labor in entirety, nor a whole scale demand for regularization of all contract workers, but simply alleviating the most painful features of the contractorization system, particularly those relating to pension and retirement benefits.
There is absolutely no mention of repealing acts like the Essential Services Maintenance Act which has been used and abused for decades to suppress strike actions. Particularly, the strike actions of transport workers and especially in rail transport. This would be a most unfortunate omission considering that the railways has faced the worst repression during the emergency period when worker’s rights were severely curtailed and a dictatorial regime was instituted in the country.
A long term programme must be instituted which deals not only with the concerns of the present generation of workers and the new recruits but also takes into consideration the entirety of the public sector and the deteriorating condition of the working class in it.
Need for solidarity
The railway workers face a very stiff challenge ahead of them, and the state would most certainly be more than willing to use force to break the strike. In such a situation, the railway workers would require the solidarity and support of all the workers of India. And the total support of all parties and organizations which commit themselves to the working class.
The New Wave Bolshevik Leninist declares its full support to the railway strike for the fulfillment of their just demands.
All support to the railway workers! Long live the class struggle!