Spontaneous Outburst of Rail Workers at Jamalpur Workshop in Bihar
Rabi Sen

The Jamalpur Railway workshop in Bihar (Eastern Railway) witnessed an unprecedented outburst of railway workers on 4 June 2010. Never in its history of 148 years, had the workshop experienced a workers’ outburst of this magnitude. The incident took place over the death of Mahendera Mandal, a rail worker of Jamalpur workshop. At about 8 AM he fell from his bicycle due to stone chips lying on the road and was run over by a rushing sand loaded truck. The stone chips and the sand-loaded truck all belonged to a contractor.
Workers of nearby shops rushed to the spot at once and as the news of the death spread thousands of workers soon assembled at the spot. The workers demanded immediate presence of higher officials but the latter did not dare to face the angry workers. Infuriated, the workers then set the truck afire. Railway protection force came to intervene but was chased away by the workers. One ASI of RPF Parameswar Singh was injured in the course of the scuffle and declared dead at the Railway Hospital.
This led to the arrival of the DM and SP with a huge contingent of police force from adjoining police stations. The workers however refused to talk to the DM and asked for the presence of senior railway officials. The police then resorted to lathi charge and blasting of tear gas shells, but this only added to the anger of the workers and the DM and SP had to quit in the face of the workers’ fury.
The enraged workers ransacked the CWM chamber and the administrative building. The siege continued throughout the day till the police opened fire. While the Railway minister announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 400,000 to the family of the deceased railway employee, two FIRs were also lodged against the workers, one by RPF inspector where 19 railwaymen were charged under various sections of IPC including section 302, and the other by the BDO of Jamalpur where another 19 railwaymen were charged under various sections of IPC including section 307. The workers named in the BDO’s FIR are mostly leaders or cadres of Eastern Railway Men’s Union, which had no role in the agitation. The workshop is now under the control of special security force and the railway authorities and civil administration are working overtime to terrorise the workers.
This is not the first time that Jamalpur has seen an accidental death. Last year two railway men and one contract worker had died in accidents. So the question remains as to why this time around the workers got so infuriated.
The organized trade union movement in railways has become weak due to collaborative policies of the reformist unions and the systematic undermining of the trade unions in railway affairs by the railway administration. The anger of the workers naturally sought an extra-union spontaneous outlet. What added fuel to the fire was the fact that the death of the worker was caused by a truck of a contractor. The policy of contractor raj is going on in full swing in the railways and there is palpable anger among workers against contractor raj and outsourcing. Privatisation in the railways is going in the form of outsourcing and as a result, workers of the Jamalpur workshop are extremely badly affected. As many as 62 items manufactured at the workshop have recently been outsourced, and many shops are on the verge of closure. Workers above the age of 50 are also being forcibly employed in new jobs, and this has generated an acute sense of insecurity among the workers. While basic demands of the workers are not met, the high handedness of the bureaucracy is ever increasing.

It is this explosive situation of railway workers at the Jamalpur workshop which led to the unprecedented outburst of June 4. Vanguard workers and trade union activists must grasp this situation and try and channelize the simmering anger of the railway workers towards a new phase of trade union activism and struggles.