On 2nd of August 2019, in spite of pouring rains, railway workers belonging to various unions and associations thronged a hall in central Mumbai to protest the 100 day Action Plan of the Ministry of Railways.
The meeting was organised by a joint forum consisting of All India Guards Council (AIGC), All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA), All India Station Masters Association (AISMA), All India Railway Track- Maintainers Union (AIRTU), All India Train Controllers Association (AITCA), Indian Railways Ticket Checking Staff Organisation (IRTCSO), Rail Mazdoor Union (RMU), Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) and Lok Raj Sangathan (LRS).
Com. A. K. Srivastava, Zonal Secretary, AIGC, in his welcome address expressed the hope that the hard work to unite all the category-wise associations of railways will lay the foundations for the unity of rail workers to oppose the anti-worker and anti-people policies of the Railways and the Government.
Com. Mathew of KEC explained how immediately after the 100 Day Action Plan was announced, railway workers came out on the streets to protest. This forced the Railway Minister Piyush Goyal to announce on the floor of Parliament on July 10th 2019 that “There is no plan to privatise Indian Railways and Indian Railways will never be privatised.” Com. Mathew then went on to show in detail how the Indian Railways was being privatised step by step right from 1992, though each time they would call it by a different name and announce that the railways is not being privatised. It is clear that government spokesmen, from the Prime Minister downwards, are all lying when they declare that Indian Railways will never be privatised. The truth is that the privatisation of Indian Railways has been going on stealthily for more than 20 years, in the form of outsourcing, corporatisation, PPP and FDI.
Now after re-election, the 100 day Action Plan is being pushed by the NDA government to further accelerate privatisation of the Indian Railways.
Com. B.N. Bharadwaj, All India Vice President of AILRSA gave many examples of the surreptitious privatisation that has been going on. The IR had a staff strength of 24 lakhs 30 years ago. Now it is come down to 13.5 lakhs and they want to reduce it further to 10 lakhs. This is being done despite the frequency of trains having multiplied.
Com. R. K. Meena All India Vice President of AISMA explained that privatization will not only adversely affect the rail workers but also passengers. He said the fares will go up since capitalists are not going to operate for service but for profit. There is no doubt that with privatisation there will be more accidents. So many facilities currently given to passengers will be withdrawn. It is necessary to make the passengers conscious to strengthen the struggle of the railway workers.
Com. Avneesh Kumar, National Spokesperson of AIRTU said that privatisation is a slow poison for Indian society, where the rich are growing richer while the poor are growing poorer. Whichever party has been in power, BJP or Congress, they have all followed the same policies. The struggle against privatisation is not only the struggle of the railway workers; it is the struggle of the people of India.
Com. Subhash Mhalgi, General Secretary of RMU said that irrespective of which government is ruling, privatisation will continue because there are powerful forces that are driving this. All political parties have ruled at the centre and all have followed the same policies. He said the workers in all seven production units of the Indian railways have come out in massive resistance against corporatisation, and we must all stand with them.
A presentation by LRS pointed out that in the present system, workers and passengers who will be most affected by the rail privatisation are never consulted about decisions that directly affect them. There is urgent need to build their unity as the plan is against the interest of both the workers and passengers. The Plan proposes the removal of subsidy on passenger fare. The annual subsidy is reported to be only Rs. 30,000 crore for 800 crore passengers, which the government claims it cannot afford. However, this government could afford to write off bank loans of Rs. 2.5 lakh crore of a few hundred capitalists during just last year and provide tax concessions of over Rs. 5 lakh crore annually mainly to capitalists! The real aim is to increase passenger fares to make them attractive for capitalists to run passenger trains and lower the fare on goods transport, a long-standing demand of capitalists
The struggle against rail privatisation is a part of the bigger struggle to oppose the economic policy of globalization through liberalization and privatization that has been pursued vigorously since 1991 irrespective of the party in power. Privatisation can definitely be successfully opposed by a united struggle of workers and users. He gave the example of the successful fight waged by LRS along with other organisations against the privatisation of electricity distribution in Kalwa, near Mumbai.
After the presentation, the floor was thrown open to the audience. Participants agreed that privatisation is against the interests of passengers too so we should make them aware of its harmful effects and make them a part of our struggle. The involvement of families and women in particular would further strengthen our struggle. We should also reach out to workers of other sectors and seeks their support against the privatisation of railways and at the same time support their struggles.
The participants pointed out that the safety of both passengers and workers is compromised as rail privatisation has led to the use of more and more untrained contract workers. Providing safe affordable rail service is the duty of a government. If a government cannot fulfil this basic duty it has no right to be in power. Railway is a basic service for the society so it cannot be looked at from the profit angle. The policy of privatisation is being pursued for the benefit of the capitalist monopolies, who are the real rulers of our country, and that is why all the parties of the ruling class always supported privatisation. The only long-lasting solution is to change and replace this rule of capitalists through their loyal parties
The meeting unanimously adopted the following resolution:
A) We oppose the 100 Day Action Plan announced by the Railway Minister as regards privatisation of the running of existing passenger trains of Indian Railways, corporatisation of the 7 production units of the Indian Railways and raising of passenger fares. We will agitate in various ways till the above plans are withdrawn.
B) We call on all railway workers across the country to join this movement and build a united opposition to these plans.
C) We call on workers of all other sectors to join the movement of rail workers to oppose the policy of privatisation pursued for the benefit of Indian capitalists and multi-nationals.
D) Privatisation and the proposed 100-day Action Plan is against the interests of passengers as well. We call on passengers to join rail workers in this movement, and together demand improvement in existing rail services to provide affordable, safe and comfortable rail services as well as humane working conditions for the railway employees.
In his concluding remarks, Com. Mathew reminded everybody that in 1974, all unions, including the National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR) and All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), came together under one banner of the National Coordination Committee of Railwaymen's Struggle (NCCRS) which made the strike historic. There is once again need to build that kind of unity of rail workers to defeat the privatisation of railways.
The meeting was yet another demonstration of the resolve of rail workers to oppose the privatisation of Indian Railways which has been built over the years with people’s money and by the toil of lakhs of workers. Over Rs.6,00,000 crores of people’s money has been used to build it; Rs. 70,000-80,000 crore of public funds are being put in during the current year itself. No government has the right to hand it over for private profit.
It is clear by now that the aim of successive governments has been to hand over all profitable activities to Indian and foreign private companies, leaving only loss- making activities under state ownership.
The new push for the privatisation of railways is part of the overall offensive of the re-elected BJP government to accelerate the privatisation program. It has set the highest ever divestment target of over Rs. one lakh crore for the current financial year. More than 46 PSUs have been identified by Niti Aayog for privatisation or closure, including many of them for strategic sale.
Privatisation is not only against the interests of the workers of the sector being privatized, but against the general interests of society as a whole. It results in depriving millions of poor people of essential services such as transport, education, health care, water supply, etc. It is the duty of a government to provide these basic services of good quality in adequate quantity at affordable prices. Profit cannot be the motive of providing such services.
Privatisation is being pursued at the behest of Indian and foreign monopolies who want to acquire public sector assets built with people’s money at throwaway prices. They are looking for new avenues for reaping maximum profits, to come out of the current crisis.
The struggle against the privatisation of Indian Railways is a struggle against the capitalist class, headed by the monopoly houses. In order to defeat this anti-worker, anti-social program, the fighting unity of all railway workers and of the entire working class has to be strengthened. The united working class has to demand immediate halt to the privatisation offensive and also demand that the state works to ensure sukh and suraksha for all, and not just for a tiny minority of capitalist exploiters. This demand will be realised only when the working class along with peasants simultaneously wages the struggle to become the real rulers of the country.