One of the largest employer in the world, the 160 year old Indian Railways, is heading for its first indefinite strike in 39 years. The railways’ largest employee union – the All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF) – has issued a call to its 1.4 million workers to strike work, kicking off a process that could bring the utility to a halt by October this year.
AIRF general secretary Shiva Gopal Mishra told RailNews that railway workers have lost patience with the government, which has been backtracking on several commitments made in the past.
“We believe in industrial peace, but since we are not considered relevant by the government of the day, we have been forced to show our relevance by resorting to an indefinite strike,” Mishra said, stressing that railway-men were not looking for some new sops, but wanted the Centre to stick to its past promises relating to the Pay Commission recommendations.
The last railways strike was led by George Fernandes as the AIRF leader in 1974, following which the government declared a state of emergency. Over the next fortnight, AIRF president Umraomal Purohit will engage with other union leaders and set the ball rolling for the strike. Orchestrating a strike in the railways is a time-consuming exercise and may take about three months to kick off.
“There will have to be a secret ballot where all employees would vote for or against the strike call,” Mishra said, adding that the AIRF was confident of other unions joining its movement as they have been party to the negotiations with the government and the railway ministry on several issues which have not been resolved.
The AIRF was the first union to be set up in the railways’ history in 1924, and emerged as the single largest union in railways’ 17 zones following elections by secret ballot whose results were declared this May. This was only the second time union elections were held by secret ballot in the railways’ history.
While unions affiliated to the Communist parties and the Bhartiya Janata Party were routed in the polls, the Congress-backed National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR) sharply improved its tally. Set up by the Congress’ trade union wing INTUC after independence, the NFIR now has the largest bargaining power in five of the 17 zones and is the second largest official trade union.