MY LIFE AND STRUGGLES – 31
GLORIOUS RAILWAY STRIKE – 1974
Bonus Convention held at New Delhi focused demand of Bonus to CG Employees. The slogan ‘Bonus for All’ caught imagination of workers. This was effectively taken up by Railway workers under leadership of Com. George Fernandez, Secretary General of AIRF.AIRF organised a Convention of all unions in Railways on 27th February 1974 to discuss the matter. More than 3000 delegates representing about one hundred unions attended. National Co-ordination Committee of Railwaymen’s Struggle (NCCRS) was formed as also an Action Committee with Com. George Fernandez as Convener. It was decided to organize indefinite strike from 8th May 1974, mainly on the demand of Bonus. Confederation of CG Employees and NFPTE (KG Bose) also gave strike notice. NFPTE (OPG) not only did not give strike notice, but also opposed it.
The central government was rattled by strike decision. Strike was to start from 8th May but due to mass arrest of George Fernandez and other leaders, it started 6 days earlier in Railways. Central government met strike with utmost cruelty and vengeance. Tens of thousands of workers were arrested and jailed. Railway Quarters were searched and even family members were beaten and harassed. In many staff quarters, water – electricity connections were cut. It was all-out attack on workers.
In Calicut, procession organized in support of strike was lathi-charged by police. Participants severely beaten. Two newspaper reporters also badly beaten and hospitalised. It was terror unleashed against strikers and their supporters. Due to split in Confederation and NFPTE, the strike could not be continued for more than 3 days by central government employees and was withdrawn. Railway workers continued strike. Strike support committee was doing all what could be done.
It was at this time that Com. A.K.Gopalan, M.P. , great working class leader, along with his wife Com. Suseela Gopalan arrived at Calicut. He was not well and doctors advised complete rest. He was taking rest at the residence of Advocate P.K.Kunhirama Poduval. When I reported to him about the serious situation in Railway Colony, he wanted to go to there immediately. Though we tried to stop him, he was adamant. Wherever there is suffering, he will rush there, despite ill health.
We started for Railway Colony. He stepped out from car at entry gate of the colony and started walking. Com.A.Kunhiraman Nair, veteran NGO Union leader and some other comrades also reached by the time. We were about 6-7 people and led by Coms AKG and Suseela, started walking slowly in to the colony through the small road. Women and children who were alone in colony houses saw AKG, started joining us. Within few minutes, it became a big jatha and culminated in the school premises inside colony. By this time, police reached. Party comrades also reached. A loudspeaker was brought and Com.AKG started speaking. One police official, without knowing who it was speaking, came forward and threatened to arrest. AKG told him that ‘I am AKG and you can arrest me’. The poor policeman was dumbfounded, became silent. By that time, senior police officers came and normalised the situation. AKG spoke consoling the families of Railwaymen and told that nothing will happen to them. He warned police officers that he will come and sit in dharna if harassment continues. The meeting was over after Com. Suseela Gopalan also addressed. After this incident, there was a halt to harassment of families in colony.
The Railway strike continued for about three weeks. All leaders and thousands of workers were arrested. Heavy victimisation took place. It was only after change in government at Centre that victimisation could be got vacated. Strike was full success in P and T in Kerala and W.Bengal. 40 workers were terminated and many workers including me suspended. Continued agitations were organised against victimisation. It was only after Janatha government was formed in 1977, that reinstatement and vacation of victimisation could take place. (to be continued).Photos 1. George Fernandez 2. Suseela Gopalan 3. Memorial to Com. A.K.Gopalan 4. Com.A.K.Gopalan.