World of Labour


The Bengal-Nagpur Railway Lockout

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 9, December 1927, No. 12, pp. 765-766, (760 words)
Transcriptionp: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

There has been a lockout affecting some 12,000 men of the railway workshops at Kharagpur belonging to the Bengal-Nagpur railway, since the middle of September, 1927.

The present dispute has a long history. For more than a year there has been unrest due to ill-treatment, indiscriminate dismissals, and other grievances. On October 2, 1926, there was a strike lasting for two days, which came to an end on a promise of redress and inquiry. Nothing was done and on February 2, 1927, the Bengal-Nagpur Railway Union issued a manifesto setting out the grievances of the workers. Still nothing was done, and on February 12, 1927, a great strike broke out at Kharagpur in spite of the attempts of the railway union officials to prevent it. Over 25,000 railway workers downed tools, and many others were affected. Armed police patrols were sent to Kharagpur and serious conflicts took place, during which guns and bayonets were used and many workers injured.

The strike ended in the middle of March on the assurance of the Agent that he would sympathetically consider all the grievances of the workers provided that the strike was called off immediately. Included in the settlement terms were conditions that no victimisation should take place.

In spite of this, no inquiry into the grievances of the workers has been instituted and instead during the summer the railway managing agent announced that 2,000 men from the Kharagpur workshops would be dismissed on grounds of economy. The general secretary of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway Union, after an interview with the Agent, issued a statement reporting that all the proposals and suggestions put forward by the Union for meeting the situation were unceremoniously rejected and declaring:—

In spite of the denials of the railway authorities, the workers are not convinced that this move is not connected with the last strike, and there are, indeed, reasons to suspect that some officials are trying to wreak their vengeance on the workers.

On September 7, discharge notices were served on about 1,700 workers (about 350 had submitted voluntary resignations, but in many cases it is alleged their signatures had been obtained by force or without their consent).

The next day, the workers resorted to passive resistance, coming to the shops but refusing to work, whereupon on September 12 the authorities declared a lockout affecting some 10,000 workers.

It is a striking commentary on the widespread indignation occasioned by the action of the railway management that the situation was discussed in the Legislative Assembly on September 14, and in spite of the opposition of the Government, a vote of censure was passed by the Assembly on the Government. Mr. N.M. Joshi declared during the debate that it was well known that the works manager had given instructions that in carrying out the retrenchment proposals non-strikers should not be dismissed. Mr. Parsons replied that those instructions had been withdrawn. Mr. Chaman Lal said that he was in possession of documentary evidence showing that the dismissals were directed against the strikers, the object being victimisation, the breaking of the strength of the railway union.

Since September the lockout has continued in force. The locked-out men have little or no funds, and their position is desperate. Their hardships have been aggravated by the refusal of the Agent to pay wages for August to those men who were on the contemplated reduction list. (It is customary in India for wages to be paid monthly, and only after a delay of two weeks.)

Other workers of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway have come out in sympathy with the locked-out men, and altogether over 12,000 are now affected. The action of the authorities, together with the sense of long-standing grievances, which exists very strongly on all railways in India, and the report that similar dismissals are contemplated for the Southern Indian Railway and elsewhere has caused widespread unrest among all railway workers in India, and there has been talk of calling a general strike of all railway workers.

In October the secretary of the All-India Railwaymen’s Federation attempted to send a telegram to other railway centres asking the unions “to prepare for final action; for general strike if necessary.” But transmission of this was refused by the telegraph officials, who state that the contents of the telegram were “considered to be objectionable.” Nevertheless, agitation for a General Strike of railway workers continued to spread.

Relief centres for starving workers have been opened and some remittances have come from abroad. Up to the middle of November the lockout was still in existence.