Indian Railways strike of 1974 is a saga of heroism of ordinary railway workers and their families who dared to stand up against the might of the Indian state. It is the most widespread revolt by the working class in independent India and the biggest strike in the history of Indian Railway. How many of us know about this heroic story of the ordinary railwaymen resisting terror unleashed by the Indira Gandhi regime?
The strike commenced on 8 May 1974. The strike was brutally suppressed by government with thousands being sent to jail and losing their jobs. The strike was called off on 27 May 1974. The 1974 strike forced political parties across the spectrum to spell out their stand clearly. The strike also provided a stunning launch pad to mass appeal for those like George Fernandes who, as the president of the All India Railwaymen's Federation (AIRF), was the main leader of the strike. Although portrayed as a failure, the strike achieved later what it sought to achieve then.
Historically in Indian Railways the trade unions played to the tunes of government and Railway management , to keep the working class "disciplined" . The leaders has always been "rewarded" for this "job". By and by the distance between the officially recognised unions and the rank and file widened because ordinary railwaymen no longer saw the unions as representing their interests before the government. And by 1974 the working class discontent led to the brink of a revolt. AIRF in some ways has been forced to accept this reality.The 1974 rail workers' strike was a unique event for several reasons. It occurred at a time when labour militancy was at its highest in independent India. The strike and the manner in which it was put down marks a turning point in history in India.
The strike was held to demand a raise in pay scale, which had remained stagnant over many years, in spite of the fact that pay scales of other government owned entities had risen over the years. The Railways, although government-owned, remained an organization in which the accepted worldwide standard of an eight-hour working day was violated with impunity.
The book "THE INDIAN RAILWAYS STRIKE OF 1974:A Study of Power and Organised Labour" by Stephen Sherlock is a study of relationship amongst the railway workers, unions and the state during 1960-74 and their role in bringing about a countrywide railway strike in 1974. The author examines the rejection of the officially sanctioned unions by many railway workers and their attempts to give shape to new organisations which better articulated their interests.Part One of the book analyses the structural relationship amongst the officially recognised unions, railway workers and the management, and the reasons for the recognised unions' declining support. Part Two discusses the strategies followed by the recognised unions to undermine the new unions. Part Three traces the course of the 1974 strike itself and the government's decision to crush the strike.