Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 12, July 1930, No. 7, pp. 442-445, (1,562 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.
During the last two years, from time to time, the railway trade unions in India have, by petitions and deputations, placed the grievances of the railway workers before the authorities.
The Great Indian Peninsular (G.I.P.) Railwaymen’s Union, the largest Railway Union, interviewed the agent of the railways on November 7, 1928, and placed before him a series of demands. The reply of the agent was considered by the Union as unsatisfactory. The leaders of the Union decided to strengthen the ranks of the Union and prepare themselves for strike action, if necessary. Joglekar, Bradley, Alwe, and Nimbkar were actully conducting an organisational tour on the line when they were arrested in March, 1929, and are still in jail at Meerut. Charged with “conspiracy against the king,” they are now being tried, after fifteen months’ convict treatment.
In May, 1929, a deputation of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation met Sir George Rainy, and presented demands. Actually nothing came of it, and in December, 1929, the G.I.P. Union decided to call a strike to take place on February 4, 1930.
Notice of this decision was sent to the agent who interviewed the leaders in January, but no settlement could be obtained.
The chief demands were: increase in wages; a minimum of £2 5s. 0d. a month; an eight-hour day; and the immediate redress of other minor grievances. The wages paid amount to between 16s. and 19s. per month and they work from ten to, in a large number of cases, fourteen and sixteen hours per day.
On February 4 there was a complete stoppage at the Parel and Matunga workshops, and a large number had struck in Sholapur, Dhond, Manmad and Igatpuri. The strike spread quickly until by the end of the week, according to the Press reports, 125,000 rail strikers were out along the line.
On February 6, Kandalkar, Secretary of the Girni Kamgar Union of the Textile Workers, who had been elected captain of the “Volunteer” (pickets) force, was arrested at Kurla. Lalji Pendse was arrested for defying the order prohibiting meetings, and a large number of strikers in various centres.
Ruikar, President of the Union, wired to MacDonald, Wedgwood Benn, and Fenner Brockway, stating that 120,000 railworkers were on strike, enumerating the demands and requesting “intervention under the Trade Disputes Act.”
Ginwala, the President of the G.I.P., and Deshpande, the Secretary of the All India Trades Union Congress (A.I.T.U.C.), wired to the Workers’ Welfare League of India, requesting financial help to support the strike. (The League immediately issued an appeal to the British workers.)
Meanwhile repressive measures were being employed by the authorities to try and break the strike. In several centres the strikers were evicted from their quarters, the women strenuously resisting. Convicts from the Nasik Road jail were brought out to work as blacklegs. This was admitted by Benn in the House of Commons.
On February 24 the All India Railway Federation General Council met and elected a deputation to meet the Government in order to obtain a settlement and urged all affiliated Unions to prepare for direct action, if necessary.
Reports came pouring in from all the centres that the strike was solid and that dislocation of service was general.
On March 1 Chamanlal, Giri, and S. C. Joshi, officials of the A.I.R. Federation, met representatives of the Railway Board. (No member of the G.I.P. Union was present) and settled the strike. The only terms reported were -- No victimisation. Giri went to Nagpur, and Joshi to Bombay to call off the strike.
Ginwala, the President of the Union, immediately repudiated the so-called “settlement,” stating that all the demands must be granted before resuming work and severely criticising Giri and Co., not even communicating the terms of agreement to the officials of the G.I.P. Union. “These gentlemen,” he states, “were only deputed to confer with the Commerce member, and were not authorised to finally accept any terms without previously consulting the Union . . . . Mr. Chamanlal wanted to play the part of the officious middleman; neither Mr. Giri nor Mr. Joshi have the least right to arrive at any settlement behind our backs.”
Ruikar concurred with the sentiments expressed by Ginwala but S. C. Joshi in a statement in the Press declared that he is shocked to hear that Ruikar professes ignorance of what happened at Delhi and states definitely that Ruikar knew exactly what had happened and charges Ruikar with trying to arrange a meeting with the authorities at Delhi so that he would be able to take “credit for the settlement, trumpeting it among the workers and heralding his absolute leadership among the workers.”
Ruikar at a strikers’ meeting in Parel on the 5th advised them to accept the terms offered by the authorities and then prepare for another strike after two months if the other demands had not been conceded. On the other hand, at a mass meeting at Manmad, Kulkarni, Vice-President of the A.I.T.U.C. (the General Council of the A.I.T.U.C. had thrown all its weight into the fight of the G.I.P. workers), himself a rail worker, stated that the terms offered were “humiliating,” and the meeting voted unanimously for the continuance of the strike.
On the same day the Central Strike Committee passed a long resolution describing the reply of Sir George Rainy as a “unique victory, though not coming up to the minimum demands,” but . . . “express anxiety” that thousands are being victimised. In conclusion it stated that the meeting “is of opinion that the strike cannot be called off unless a definite assurance is given either by the agents of the G.I.P. or the Railway Board that all strikers be reinstated either before March 15 or any date fixed for resumption of duty.”
On March 12 Deshpande, the Secretary of the A.I.T.U.C., organised a huge workers’ demonstration in Bombay. It rallied the workers and solidified the ranks in Bombay, after the attempt on the part of the “Rights” and “Lefts,” to break the strife. The “Lefts” were forced by the attitude taken up by the workers to fall into line. Instead of advocating a militant policy the Strike Committee suggested the organisation of “satyagraha” (passive resistance, lying on the line and before the stations), but actually held back hoping that the authorities would reply to the demands made.
The authorities meanwhile had obtained a number of blacklegs, paying them a higher wage and locking out the strikers. At Bhusaval 90 per cent. of the strikers were refused entry when they offered themselves for work after the “settlement,” the same was reported at Matunga, Parel, Itarsi and other places. In some places the strike was reported as being “firm.”
It was only on March 18 that the Strike Committee declared definitely for the continuance of the strike. Reports were coming through of a more determined stand being made by the strikers.
Police repression became more severe, strikers in practically every centre were being beaten up, shootings took place in Bombay and Kurla; hundreds were injured and hundreds more arrested.
By the beginning of April the situation had become serious. S. C. Joshi and others again began cabling to the authorities to “mediate” and that the “Delhi agreement had been flouted.” The Prime Minister and Wedgwood Venn were also cabled to, but no notice was taken. Further a distinct cleavage began in the ranks of the leaders of the strike. S. C. Joshi, Chamanlal and Giri had been repudiated by the strikers and had been attacked by Ruikar and Ginwala.
Ginwala went to Delhi to try and obtain a settlement, and in a statement issued later repudiated what had been said by the Railway Board and by Chamanlal, that the G.I.P. Union was Communist in character. He also appealed to Joshi, Chamanlal, Giri, Kirk and others to sink their differences and gather round the banner of the A.I.T.U.C.
Deshpande, the Secretary of the A.I.T.U.C., issued leaflets calling for support from the other railway workers and calling for a general strike in support of the G.I.P. workers, but this was repudiated by Ginwala.
The lack of cohesive organisational force was quite evident, and the slippery tactics of Ruikar and Ginwala helped to strengthen the position of the railway agent and the authorities.
On April 28 it was announced in the Press that Purandare, the General Secretary of the G.I.P. Railway Union, had sent a wire to the agent stating that the strike was suspended. on March 13 and called off on April 15; that the railway authorities were harassing the strikers by not reinstating them and threatening evictions from their quarters; and requests the agent to cancel the evictions and order the reinstatement of the Strikers immediately.
Later an appeal for financial help was issued, in which it states that nearly 29,000 railway workers are out in Bombay and other parts. It is quite clear that the so-called settlement brought about by the A. I. Railwaymen’s Federation created uncertainty in the minds of the strikers. The strike collapsed not because of the failure to respond on the part of the workers, but due to the failure on the part of the leaders to strengthen the strike from the outset; a very faulty leadership on the part of a few which amounted to sabotage. The 29,000 have been victimised because of the part taken by them during the strike.