On May 4, 2010, Mumbai was brought to a grinding halt as a result of the strike of Suburban train drivers. The impact of the strike reverberated in the halls of parliament. Only after the Union Government announced that it would address the demands of the motormen by June 15 2010, did the motormen announce the temporary suspension of their agitation. The motormen had made their point, not only to the Railway Ministry, but to the whole country.
Earlier, on May 3, 2010, the thousand train drivers organized under the Joint Action Forum of Central Railway and Western Railway Motormen and Loco Running Staff went to work without food or water for the whole day. This was their way of registering their protest. By late evening of Monday, these motormen started collapsing while doing their duty and had to be taken to hospitals. As a result the train services in Mumbai which carry 40 lakh passengers a day came to a grinding halt by the night of May 3.
The motormen’s demands are long standing. Earlier too, on January 26, 2010, India’s Republic Day, the motormen had threatened a strike. They withdrew it at the last moment in the face of assurances of the government, which turned out to be false.
The main demands of the motormen relate to wages and working conditions.
The workload on these motormen is extremely strenuous and the management has been continuously intensifying the degree of exploitation of these workmen. The suburban services run nearly 22 hours a day. Each train has at least 12 coaches, and in peak hours, it carries more than 6000 passengers at any moment, with hundreds hanging out, and hundreds more on the roof of the train. The motormen have been demanding that there be an assistant motorman for each train, for purposes of safety of the passengers, and the running of the train. The Railways have pointedly ignored this just demand, even though railway rules dictate that trains carrying more than 1200 passengers must have an assistant motorman. The Railways’ excuse is that this rule applies for long distance trains, and not suburban trains! It ignores the fact that steering suburban trains in a city like Mumbai is much more strenuous for the driver than driving long distance trains.
The railways run all 365 days a year, day in and day out. These motormen have perforce to work the entire year around, shift wise, and the shifts are extremely irregular. Overall, the exploitation of these motormen has been increasing, while their wages have remained stagnant. In these circumstances, the motormen are justly demanding increase wages and benefits.
Mazdoor Ekta Lehar fully supports the struggle of motormen of the Mumbai suburban railways against the attacks on their wages and working conditions.