BHARATIYA Railway Mazdoor Sangh (BRMS) is today a premier organisation fighting for the cause of railway employees since the last 48 years. Formed in 1962 at Gorakhpur as a unit of North Eastern Railway employees the organisation was duly registered in 1965. After the formation of zonal units, an umbrella organisation under the banner of Bharatiya Railway Mazdoor Sangh was formed in Agra on December 24, 1965. Its first convention was held in Mumbai from May 26 to 27, 1966.
The BRMS was formed purely on the nationalist thinking. Although, two already recognised unions were active among railway employees-All India Railway Men’s Faderation (Hind Mazdoor Sabha) based on leftist socialist ideology and the National Federation of Indian Railway (NFIR) as a unit of Congress party. But none of them was basically serious to the well being of the railway employees.
When I look back at the journey of BRMS I find many exclusive milestones in it. The country has not forgotten the historic railway strike of 1974. The decision to call the strike had to be taken when all the efforts of dharna, demonstration and dialogue failed to produce any positive result on six major demands of the employees. A national committee for this objective was constituted at the national convention in New Delhi on February 27, 1974. All the railway employees’ organisations, excluding the INTUC, extended full support to the committee. Shri George Fernandes, the then president of All India Railway Men’s Federation was appointed convenor of the Joint Morcha for Struggle. Apart from the representatives of different railway employees’ organisations, Shri Gajanan Rao Gokhle as working president and Shri Manohar Pathak as organising secretary, represented the BRMS. The Railway Ministry was given an ultimatum either to accept the demands of the employees before April 10, 1974 otherwise they will be forced to go on strike. Prominent demands of the employees included salary equal to the employees of leading PSUs like BHEL, SAIL etc., dearness allowance in every six months and bonus. It is to be noted that the demand of bonus was exclusive raised by the BRMS and the representatives of other unions then ridiculed it.
When all rounds of dialogue failed, the strike was finally called on May 8, 1974. The government arrested Shri George Fernandes on May 2 itself in order to foil the strike. Many other senior workers too were arrested. But the BRMS workers played a key role in continuing the fight. All atrocities by police and army failed to foil the strike.
Since the demand of bonus was primarily made by the BRMS, it continued its fight for it. Hundreds of workers, under the banner of Uttar Railway Karmachari Union staged a day long dharna for it outside the residence of the then Union Finance Minister Ch. Charan Singh. But the result was zero. The fight continued. Meanwhile, the BRMS decided to call an indefinite strike from December 20, 1979. The notice for the strike was served in advance. When the news spread all over the country, those who used to ridicule this demand, also got alerted. Meanwhile Ch. Charan Singh became the Prime Minister and on November 13, 1979 he announced bonus for railway employees on the basis of production. After this announcement, the BRMS withdrew the call for strike.
The BRMS also fought for recognition to railway unions. For the first time the British Government had recognised a union (AIRF) in 1925 on the basis of 10 per cent membership. After Independence, Sardar Patel granted recognition to another union (NFIR) in 1949. But this time the percentage of membership rose to 15 per cent. Later, it was fixed 30 per cent following the suggestion of the Railway Reforms Committee. The unions which got the recognition took it as lifetime recognition. The facilities that they enjoyed after getting the recognition made them lazy and it also reduced their interest in resolving the problems of the railway employees. The fighting spirit in the unions also vanished. But the BRMS continued its fight and became very popular all over the country. Despite qualifying all the criteria for recognition, the rail administration continued to ignore it. It may also be due to the pressure of both the already recognised unions.
The BRMS presented a memorandum to the then Railway Minister Shri Madhu Dandawate on May 9, 1979 demanding secret ballet. The BRMS staged a massive demonstration outside the Railway Ministry in New Delhi on May 8, 1979. The BRMS continued its fight. On June 26, 2002 the Railway Ministry directed all the General Mangers to grant recognition to BRMS affiliated unions. It was informed to the BRMS through a letter on June 28, 2002. But both the earlier recognised unions went to the court where the mater remained hanging in balance. Finally, the mater went to the Supreme Court which on March 8, 2004 directed the Railway Ministry to conduct secret ballet. But the Railway Ministry continued to ignore the apex court’s directives. After some time the BRMS again took the matter to court and the court on March 22, 2007 issued clear directions to the Railway administration to conduct elections within six months. Finally, the administration had to issue notification for secret ballet. The elections were held on November 26, 27 and 28 2007. Many attempts were made to postpone the elections. But the BRMS was infavour of introducing democracy in the railways at any cost. The BRMS finally won in two zones and NFIR (INTUC) lost in seven zones. The credit for introducing secret ballot in the Indian railways also goes to the BRMS. Our fight for the cause of the railway employees will continue in the same spirit as we have been fighting till now.