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Birth of NFIR

The INTUC and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha both believed in a democratic social order and the urge for unity and understanding was so strong that as a result of continuous parleys between the leaders of the INTUC and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha, it was decided that some machinery at the Central level be set up so that the two Federations viz., INRWF and AIRF, could work unitedly in their dealings with the Railway Ministry.

As a result of continuous parleys and personal interests and efforts of Late Shri Jai Prakash Narain, Shri Khandu Bhai Desai and Shri Harihar Nath Shastri, unity between the two Federations was achieved and an instrument of amalgamation was drawn on April 19, 1953. The Working Committees of both the Federations approved the instrument of amalgamation, which was later ratified by the General Councils of both the Federations. As a result, the merged Federation was named as National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR) and started functioning for the welfare of Railwaymen.

The refreshing professional approach adopted by INRWF, better known as NFIR since May 1953 galvanised Labour Movement in the Railways. The response of the Railwaymen was so wholehearted and positive that the membership, which was 1,50,000 in 1949, rose to 2,28,254, when the First Convention of NFIR was held at Vijayawada in November 1955. The present figure of membership stands at 9,16,000.

Shri Hariharanath Shastri, President INRWF died in an aeroplane accident in December, 1953. Shri S.R. Vasavada, the then Working President, was unanimously elected as President.

In the meanwhile, saboteurs had begun to work actively from within; they had set themselves to wreck all attempts at forging complete unity. As a result, serious cracks appeared in the edifice of unity culminating into Shri Guruswami calling a meeting at Madras in May, 1955. In the meeting Shri V.V. Giri was elected as the new President who, however, declined to accept the offer and appealed to restore unity amongst the Railwaymen.

The first convention of the NFIR, as decided by the Working Committee, was held during November, 1955 at Vijayawada, wherein the new Constitution was adopted which laid down the foundation for a genuine and democratic Trade Union Movement. Shri S.R. Vasavada was elected as President and Shri P. Subbaramaiah as General Secretary.

In an all India Convention held in August 1956 at Pune, convened by Shri Guruswami a decision was taken to form a new Organisation called the All India Railwaymen's Federation. It was highly significant that the Communist leader, Shri S.A. Dange, was personally present to bless the new move.

Repeated efforts made in 1956 and 1957 to bring about unity failed. The lessons of the failure were loud and clear. The unity failed primarily for the reason that the agreement while bringing about the organisational unity failed to recognise the importance of ideological identity. Secondly, the process of unity was started from the wrong end i.e., from the top.  No unity can be lasting unless an urge for the same arose from within.

But sincere efforts, honestly pursued, could not remain without yielding result. Having seen the genuineness and transparent sincerity of the NFIR, the veteran leader, Shri T.V. Anandan decided in merging the Southern Railway Employees' Union of AIRF with the Southern Railway Employees' Association of NFIR. The South­ern Railway Employees' Union was a strong bastion of the AIRF in the South and Shri S. Guruswami was its President. It required rare courage and sense of statesmanship to take a decisive step for unity, as Shri Anandan did.

Ultimately, AIRF separated from the amalgamated Federation and started functioning independently since Pune Convention during 1956. Since then, two independent Federations viz., National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR) and All India Railwaymen's Federation (AIRF) started functioning as the two recognised Federa­tions on Indian Railways.

In the very first meeting of the Working Committee of the merged Federation, viz., the NFIR, the basic principles on which the Federation should work were laid down as follows :
  • The Federation and its affiliated Unions will pursue only peaceful and democratic methods for the fulfilment of their objectives;
  • It would be the general policy of the Federation to secure settlement of problems of Railwaymen by peaceful nego­tiations and recourse to conciliation and arbitration;
  • The Working Committee directs its affiliates to ensure that the Organisation at all levels is free from elements who do not follow the aforesaid policy of the Federation; and
  • The Federation shall not encourage or participate in Category-wise Organisations.
As the longed for unity in the labour movement on the Railways could not be achieved with repeated efforts, alternatives were to be found for consolidation of the movement. In the meantime, a congenial atmosphere for the betterment of labour movement on the Railways sparked with the initiatives taken by the establishment of JCM, wherein both the NFIR and the AIRF were eqully represented. The forum of the JCM made a sea change in the atmosphere, as a result of which arbitration in default of settlement ' was accepted by both the Federations. Both believed in industrial unionism and often met unitedly the challenges of fissiparous tendencies. Then the Federations had made the Railway Board to agree to consult them before taking important policy decisions.

The NFIR signified a vibrant new approach in tackling the problems of the Railway Workforce. A novel approach was proposed to redress the grievances of the Railwaymen and disputes were sought to be settled through peaceful and constitutional means. This in turn was well appreciated by the Administration and the public. Top priority was given to safeguard and promote the interests of the Railwaymen. The workers who inspired by the democratic functioning of the organization, their confidence was buttressed by the evolution of leadership from the ranks of the cadre. Keeping away from political wrangles the nascent organization concentrated on the mechanism and technique of redressing the grievances of the workforce by intellectual and tacit negotiations. Constructive approach supported by pragmatic ideologies blended with professionalism adopted by the organization i.e., NFIR enabled it to become a premier Federation of Railwaymen in the Country.

Rightly, the NFIR being the follower of Gandhian Principles and ideologies, was convinced that strike was the last resort for settlement of industrial disputes. It was also felt that Satyagraha could also be resorted to secure justice. At the same time, the NFIR always saw in the labour movement on organised effort of reconstruction of Society on the basis of social and economic justice. Hence, the Country's interests could not be ignored. Under the circumstances, the NFIR while standing to secure justice for railwaymen continued its efforts for Nation's progress. At the same time, the Unions of NFIR took upon themselves, the responsibility of cadre building. The Federation feels proud of its thousands of activists spread over Indian Railways. They are doing efficient field activities with disciplined approach. The image of NFIR is very much on the rise due to its continuous and consistent approach.

As always the NFIR continued to glow its light with its commitment to secure redressal of grievances through democratic and constitutional means, every strike and its failure further reinforced NFIR and its genuine commitments and convictions. This in turn has enabled the Federation to get its demands conceded through peaceful negotiations. The recommendations of the Miabhoy Tribunal (1969) were accepted in toto in respect of hours of work and were implemented by the Railway Ministry. This was on account of the agreement reached between the NFIR and the Railway Board. The same Tribunal's recommendations regarding Casual Labour were also accepted and the process of decasualisation was initiated. NFIR's demand for a comprehensive review of upgradation of posts in Group ' D' and Group ' C' services, for setting up of a bipartite Anomaly Committee and discrepancies arising out of recom-mendations, was also acceded to.