Election for Recognition of Unions in the Railways: Our experience of contesting in ECR

-- D P Bakshi

Despite considerable downsizing the Indian Railways still remains the largest industrial-cum-service sector in our country. But this biggest contingent of the organised working class remains largely cut off from the mainstream of the trade union movement even as railway workers reel under growing workload, unsafe and unsatisfactory working conditions and the crushing burden of the deepening economic crisis. The participation of railway employees remained minimal during the otherwise historic recent general strike on 20-21 February.

Against this backdrop of a protracted lull in the railway employees’ struggle, the elections for recognition of unions provided an opportunity for an organised campaign among railway employees over the issues that affect them. This was the second such election held simultaneously in all the 17 zones of the Railways in which registered zonal unions with a post-registration life of at least two years could participate. Of the three unions affiliated to AICCTU active in the Eastern, East Central and North Eastern Railways, only one – the East Central Railway Employees’ Union – satisfied this condition and participated in the election.

Our organised propaganda campaign was focused on the following points:

i) Intensifying protests against privatisation, outsourcing, downsizing & growing contractualisation,

ii) Developing more effective integration of railway workers’ struggle with mainstream TU and working class movement,

iii) Promoting a vibrant and participatory democratic TU culture against the suffocating domination of TU bureaucracy,

iv) Developing closer lively ties between regular and contract workers in the railways, and

v) Instead of treating the question of ‘recognition’ as a status bestowing special privileges on ‘recognised’ unions, linking it to the question of intensification and radicalisation of the railway employees’ movement.

The ECREU polled an encouraging total of 5874 votes, almost 10% of total votes polled numbering 59,352. The ECREU was thus placed fourth after unions affiliated to AIRF, NFIR and dissident faction of AIRF respectively. The break-up of our votes is as follows: we finished first in Samastipur Division (more than 2500 votes – close to 30% of votes polled in the division) and third in Dhanbad Division (more than 2000 votes), in the remaining divisions of Mughalsarai, Danapur and Sonepur we polled close to 1,000 votes in Sonepur but very low votes in the other two. The ECREU covers parts of Jharkhand, Bihar and Eastern UP and if we can systematically raise the level of our functioning over the entire zone and link it more closely with the work and influence of the Party in the whole region, the ECREU can surely emerge stronger in the coming days.

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