ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Historic Railway Workers’ Strike

Remembering May 1974

In May 1974, railway workers went on a strike in what was perhaps the most intense working class action in independent India. In what--in retrospect--seems like a dress rehearsal for the Emergency, the government clamped down in a draconian manner. Curiously, however, many political forces and personalities who were to play a major role in the anti-Emergency movement distanced themselves from the strike.

The railway workers’ general strike in May 1974 was perhaps the most intense assertion of working class action in independent India. In terms of its geographical spread or the number of participants or its impact on the national political scene, the strike was indeed unprecedented in both pre- and post-independent India.

It is now 42 years since the strike shook the nation. Yet, the event can only be reconstructed on the basis of records left with a few participants in the strike, media reports that are far and few and oral tradition. In other words, the official records that have helped reconstruct labour history in India during the struggle for independence are yet to be thrown open in this case. This, then, is only an attempt to narrate the strike in a manner of storytelling and unveil in the process the potential that exists for a larger study as and when the official records are made available.

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